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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Science to Inform Management of Floodplain Conservation Lands in a Changing World

Overview

Recent extreme floods on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers have motivated decision-makers and resource managers to expaned floodplain conservation lands. Within Missouri, there are more than 85,000 acres of public conservation lands in large-river floodplains. Floodplain lands are highly dynamic and challenging to manage, particularly climatic conditions change. These lands have the potential to provide valuable ecosystem services, like wildlife habitat, nutrient processing, carbon sequestration, and flood-water storage, that produce economic values in terms of recreational spending, improved water quality, and decreased flood hazards. However, floodplain managers may need tools to help them understand changing conditions on conservation lands.

This project worked with floodplain managers to identify the information most needed to understand nonstationary conditions, and to develop tools they can apply to conservation lands to improve decision making. Through an online survey and workshop with managers, the researchers found that time, funding, and a perceived disconnect between research and management limited the ability of managers to use new scientific information. However, managers revealed that they were willing to partner with scientists to identify science needs and products useful for management decisions. Floodplain managers agreed that metrics of water inundation, including depth, extent, frequency, duration, and seasonality are the most useful metrics to inform management of floodplain conservation lands.

The research team used scientific models of flood inundation under different climate scenarios to examine these metrics for the lower 500 miles of the Missouri River to aid in current and future management decisions of conservation properties. They found that annually, climate change is estimated to increase the duration, frequency, depth, and extent of flooding. However, these patterns vary seasonally, with inundation increasing in the spring and decreasing in the fall.