Wilderness Underfoot: Flooding is an unavoidable fact of nature

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-111099120110597.jpg’, ”, ‘Two distinct kinds of flooding cause most of the damage in our region – In Illinois, the most common kind of flood is the “overbank flood.” This occurs when creeks and rivers take in more water than they can handle – or when they’re blocked up by ice-jams or debris. The water current breaks free of the banks and flows into adjacent areas. These floods usually build up over hours, days or weeks, so we have plenty of notice. They tend to happen in the spring and early summer. The second most common flood is the “flash flood.” It occurs when sudden storms strike. Flash floods are especially dangerous in urban areas, where parking lots and man-made structures prevent absorption of water into the soil, instead sending it rapidly gushing into low-lying areas. Flash floods are more common in the middle or late summer. Most flood deaths in Illinois are the result of cars driving into flash flood areas.’);

To protect lives and property, it is important that we come to terms with the natural water cycle and the phenomenon of flooding…

History should help us be better prepared for floods, yet these events often seem to catch us off guard. Flooding can be expected to occur around any creek, river, lake, seacoast, or artificial channel. In fact, anywhere heavy rains fall, floods are inevitable. The problem is sometimes aggravated by the rare occurrence of the 100-year flood, which can take newer communities by surprise, causing death and inflicting hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

The 100-year flood is the worst flood likely to occur in any 100-year cycle. Unfortunately, most communities have been developed to withstand the less catastrophic 10-year flood. Over the last century, as urban and suburban developments have crept across our region, the expansion has often come about without careful consideration to flood cycles and the potential for ruin in the event of catastrophic flooding.

Our weakness for building near creeks, rivers, and lakes – let alone right in the middle of wetlands – increases the likelihood of disaster striking. Most water channels and water bodies have natural floodplains surrounding them. Flood plains are low-lying areas where excess water overflows during the rainy season or when sudden severe storms occur. Some floodplains are regularly filled with water, while others are only flooded in the wettest years.

When water overflows onto a floodplain, it helps replenish wetlands and it lays down rich new soil. This fertile soil supports lush plant growth and attracts lots of wildlife. To developers, the spectacular scenery and excellent soils add up to the perfect place to build homes, shopping centers, and businesses. While modernized building codes and state laws have gradually helped to steer construction away from areas of high risk, the rules often overlook the potential for the most severe flooding. It is also difficult to undo any development that took place decades ago.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!