The Forest Preserve District often buys and restores wetlands and floodplain to provide biodiversity and recreational opportunities, but there are ancillary benefits related to stormwater, Schultz explained.
“In addition to providing all of the benefits that go along with open space, the forest preserves are doing exactly what they are intended to do, and that is to hold and store flood waters,” Schultz said.
Water that infiltrates the ground replenishes the underground aquifer, and feeds wetlands and the species that live there.
“We’re allowing the earth to be the sponge that it wants to be,” he said. “The flood waters come up and they have a place to spread out and to then infiltrate and reduce to some extent the flooding downstream by allowing the water to slow down.”
And while some people believe floodplains are worthless land, that is not the case, Schultz said.
“Floodplains provides floodwater storage, biodiversity and space for a natural community,” he explained. “They also can be used for a variety of outdoor recreation activities.”
Not all floodplains are filled with quality plants, but they can be restored to become high-level nature areas.
“A good example of a restored and higher quality floodplain is the land in Hadley Valley Preserve along Spring Creek,” Schultz said. “We re-meandered that creek, removed the agricultural drain tiles and slowed the flow of water so that it has less velocity and less erosion potential. And the water can spread out downstream, so instead of having a narrow chute that cuts through the earth, the water spreads and creates wetland communities along its banks.”
In past land acquisition campaigns, the Forest Preserve purchased many parcels that were located along waterways and headwaters because creeks and the associated wetlands provide the greatest amount of diversity and the greatest amount of restoration potential.
“The more diversity and habitats you have, the more species that you will affect and attract,” Schultz said. “The majority of Forest Preserves lie alongside creeks and rivers.”