Wildlife Friendly Solutions to Flooding and Other Water Challenges

Imagine your house regularly floods when the local river leaves its banks after a heavy rain.  Now imagine that your Congressman announces a plan to build a levee along the river to protect you and your neighbors, and even better, the federal government is picking up more than half of the tab for this multi-million dollar levee.  The decision is made and the levee is built.

Fast forward 10 years.  Your house has not flooded since the levee went up, but neighborhoods upstream and downstream that never flooded before are now beginning to flood because your new levee is pushing the water you used to get in your basement, into their basements.  You also notice that the fishing is not nearly as good in the river.  This is because the new levee cut off the fish from their favorite rearing and spawning pools that would form in the river’s floodplain after a heavy rain.  With the levee in place, the river is cut off from its floodplain and those fish nurseries have dried up.  Even the bald eagles that you used to love watching fish in the river have moved on.  You figure they don’t come around anymore, having just as much luck fishing as you do since the levee went up.


This hypothetical is real – but we can fix it

Unfortunately this story is not just in our imaginations.  Time and time again the federal government sponsors levees and other large structural projects like sea walls and dams that solve a water challenge, but create a whole host of other public safety and wildlife impacts.

US Fish and Wildlife Service - Northeast Region/Flickr
US Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region/Flickr
Fortunately America can do better.  We have the ingenuity and knowhow to create a different future for our rivers and communities vulnerable to flooding.   Instead of the federal government sponsoring a levee, strong new federal water planning guidelines could require the government to utilize nonstructural and restoration approaches to address river flooding.  So instead of a levee, the federal government could restore wetlands along the river, which naturally store flood waters, and have the added benefits of cleaning water, and providing wildlife habitat.

Let’s go back in time again to when your Congressman is working with the federal government on solving your flooding problem. This time, instead of the levee, the federal government, guided by stronger federal water guidelines, chose to convert an abandoned industrial park along the river into wetlands.

Now fast forward 10 years.  The wetlands are in place and you notice that the fishing is better!  You also have a boardwalk through the new wetlands, which is your favorite place to see a nesting pair of bald eagles that just moved in, because the fishing is so good.  And your neighboring towns have less flooding and cleaner water with more fish.

These better restoration solutions can become a reality in communities all over the country, but we need stronger federal water planning guidelines to get us there.  National Wildlife Federation has been working for more than a decade on new federal water planning guidelines that require low impact, restoration and non-structural approaches to addressing flooding and other water challenges when those measures could provide an appropriate level of protection or benefits.  But the White House’s latest “draft Interagency Guidelines” do not include this requirement.

Take Action for Clean Water and Wildlife!

Fortunately it is not too late to make a difference!  The White House is taking comments until Thursday June 27th on new “draft Interagency Guidelines” where they can, if they choose to, include this requirement.

Tell the White House that we don’t need to choose between a healthy environment and solving water challenges – that we need strong federal water guidelines that only allow levees and other structural projects to be built when nonstructural and restoration solution are not available.

Take Action ButtonFor clean water, bald eagles and great fishing, contact the White House today!