Flooding becoming more common but there is a solution

WISCONSIN — Wisconsin started off the month of October with widespread flooding. Areas such as Green Bay have already set the record for having their wettest year ever according to the National Weather Service — and there are still two more months to go.

Looking at annual rainfall averages for every state since 1950, it’s very noticeable that every single state east of the Rocky Mountains is seeing more rain per year. Wisconsin is seeing nearly 4″-6″ more on average — while Iowa is seeing over half foot in some years.

Increase in annual rainfall since 1950. While the Western United States has seen little increase, the eastern half of the USA has seen significantly more rainfall on average per year.

You might be thinking, how could more rain be a bad thing? If it’s a slow rain that can soak into the soil in most cases, it’s not bad at all. But in the cases of torrential downpours, most of that rain turns into runoff which causes issues downhill. These downpours that can cause flooding for others downstream are getting worse. Out of all the rain events we see throughout the year, the top one percent largest rain events are actually seeing more total rainfall and causing more erosion with it. Some areas might be seeing a trend of it — raining more often. But for most of the Great Lakes Region and the East Coast, it’s raining more every time a storm rumbles through.

Increase in heaviest precipitation events from 1958-2016. In other words out of all the individual rain events we get, the top 1% that produce the highest accumulations are actually increasing in size. A 1% event in 1958 might of been 5 inches of rain but now it’s closer to 7 inches. Over time you’d expect more examples of large rainfall events but these events are getting bigger, not staying the same in total accumulation.

It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to more frequent flooding. While levies and storm control projects provide an expensive and often temporary fix there are projects to restore wetland habitat going on right here in Wisconsin aiming to slow flooding events and limit erosion.

One such project is being proposed in Ashland County which is on the coast of Lake Superior. In recent years sediment runoff has been incredibly visible due to flood events coming out of Fish Creek. These flood events increase the amount of sediment in the water and make the water in Chequamegon Bay murky and endanger local fish populations.

“What do we do on the landscape so we don’t have this destruction in the future? Part of that is looking at areas that can hold and store water. The biggest thing we’re trying to do is slow the water down.” said MaryJo Gingras, who heads the Ashland County’s Land and Water Conservation Department.

Since the early 1900s estimates by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources show nearly half of all Wisconsin’s native wetlands are gone.  In 1991, Wisconsin led the way by becoming the first state in the nation to regulate its wetlands under the federal Clean Water Act. Projects such as ones being proposed in Ashland County aim to improve key locations that can serve to slow flooding events and store that water that’s beneficial to wildlife and humans.

“No matter where you are in the state, most of our wetlands are degraded,” said Kyle Magyera. He works for the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, a nonprofit that advocates for the protection and restoration of wetlands.

Larger rain events and higher accumulations may continue but one possible solution to mitigate the impacts is by restoring wetlands and limiting erosion causing practices.

For more information on Wisconsin wetlands impacts here’s a link, When Big Storms Inundate Wisconsin, How Could Wetlands ‘Slow The Flow’? or if you have land you’d like to see restored feel free to reach out to wisconsinwetlands.org.

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