Floodplain Rehabilitation

Landowners who provide habitat on their floodplain properties produce a diverse wildlife community on their land, but responsible land use decisions also benefit neighbors and the greater community:

  • Safety is enhanced, lessening the chance of a catastrophic levee or dam break;
  • Flood crests are diminished elsewhere in the watershed;
  • Emergency services are reduced, saving taxpayer dollars; and
  • Clean-ups will be quicker and less costly.

Equally important, when high water is allowed to flow unimpeded into the floodplain, the local ecology flourishes:

  • Groundwater is recharged;
  • Native fish spawn and feed more naturally and freely;
  • Water quality improves by depositing silt-laden sediment and removal of nitrogen fertilizer compounds; and
  • Native plant species that require occasional high water pulses will grow more vigorously.

Sand County Foundation focuses on building partnerships that produce scientifically sound and voluntary approaches because dams can be unsafe structures that impede a river's floodplain.

A key to overall river improvement, in many parts of the country, is to develop meaningful incentives for private landowners to choose land uses that keep floodplain hydrologic functions generally intact. Sand County Foundation has taken a number of steps, including the encouragement of research and education at the Leopold Memorial Reserve, to develop and apply this and other keys to floodplain use that improves land and water health.

The photographs within this series were taken over the floodplains of the Baraboo River and Wisconsin River on June 13, 2008. Some illustrate the negative consequences to people and infrastructure (an interstate highway) when a floodway is overwhelmed by heavy rains.

These same photos illustrate, too, the opportunities that may be available when other private landowners begin to use their floodplain properties in ways that are good for wildlife and lead to less intense flooding, higher levels of public safety, and cleaner water.

Within both the Baraboo and Wisconsin Rivers, Sand County Foundation has been pursuing the next generation of voluntary land-conserving actions, such as sand dike levee removal, that will allow other floodplain lands within the reach of these rivers to provide benefits to people who live near and use these great renewable resources.

Images from a Baraboo River flood in Wisconsin


Wisconsin River with Baraboo River’s two channel effects evident in upper part of photo.


Baraboo River at I 90 94, Hwy 33 view to north.


Baraboo River flow slowed by aged levee.


Baraboo River over Hwy 33 at intersection with I 90 94 view to west.


Baraboo River over ramp at Hwy 33 and I 90 94.


Baraboo River overtopping I 90 94 at Hwy 33 interchange view to southwest.


Baraboo River polluted water impeded by sand dike levee on Wisconsin River west of Portage.


Wisconsin River south of Portage with dirty Baraboo entering in upper part of photo.


Wisconsin River with I 90 94 bridge southwest of Portage.