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Illinois

Jason's Journal: What Happens When a Wetland Floods?

By Jason Beverlin
Deputy Director of the Illinois River Program

If you live in the Midwest, you know that spring rains can quickly get out of hand. Major floods can be bad news for people and for nature, damaging homes and drowning crops, breaking levees and submerging restoration projects.

It’s important to remember that flooding is a natural part of the way a wetland ecosystem works, and most plants and animals have adapted to seasonal flooding. But Emiquon’s hydrologic cycle—how the water flows on, above and below the ground—is abnormal because it was pumped dry for many decades. The levee, which is a clay core covered with topsoil, protects our restored lands as the river goes up and down, but with such a rainy spring, we needed to do more. We successfully bolstered the levee with about 200 feet of sandbags before the worst of the flooding this year.

Although we’ve talked a lot in this journal about how successful the restoration at Emiquon has been, it’s still very much a success story in progress. Because not all of the land has been restored yet, we still farm about 400 acres, so we have multiple different land uses that complicate the hydrology. In order to prevent serious crop damage, we used a tractor and portable pump to keep the land dry enough for farming. This is a time-intensive operation---our preserve caretaker, Mark Jones, had to check the pumps every hour or two, 24 hours a day. As restoration here continues, we’ll eventually be able to gain better control of the hydrology, allowing it to mimic natural ebbs and flows.

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