Natural flood management means looking beyond levees and floodwalls

Posted in: Environmental, Municipal, Water


Natural flood management
Natural flood management

The threat of flooding is increasing and impacts intensifying. The cost of building and maintaining structural flood mitigation measures continues to rise. We must consider more sustainable approaches to flooding, such as natural flood management. Investing in a broad range of responses to reduce flooding may be the answer. It’s time to reconsider the limits of our engineered solutions and look at a more sustainable approach to flooding.

Dams, levees and floodwalls have a long been the structural flood mitigation measures used to prevent the advance of flood waters. Structural measures are effective in protecting specific places. However, manmade structures may not be the best or only tool for minimizing the risk and damage of flood waters.

Natural flood management means using natural processes to reduce the risk of flooding.  Examples include re-connecting brooks, streams and rivers to floodplains, former meanders and other natural storage areas. In addition to benefits to flooding, it also means enhancing the quality and capacity of wetlands and improvements to biodiversity.

This flood management option uses natural processes and systems to slow down and store water. Excess water is stored in a timely and natural manner so that landscape beauty and biodiversity are improved, and recreational opportunities are enhanced.

Natural flood management works with natural processes to help reduce the risk of flooding. By retaining water in times of high water by reducing stormwater runoff and protecting floodplains, natural flood management practices absorb rainfall. This prevents water from overwhelming pipe networks and pooling in streets or basements.

These natural practices can complement structural measures to enhance infiltration, open space preservation, and floodplain management. When managed at a watershed scale and combined with existing structural measures, our natural resources can serve as a vital tool to reduce the risk of flooding.

We need to recognize that nature’s power is on our side. We must look for new solutions.


Karen Wiemeri

About the Author

Karen Wiemeri, P.E., is a project manager in the Water Group. She provides design and technical support for structural flood mitigation measures. Through her work with structural flood mitigation and stormwater management, Karen has an increased interest in more sustainable approaches to flood risk management that can complement existing defenses.

Read more posts by Karen Wiemeri

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