Our Floodplain

Cape May’s floodplains play important roles in maintaining our costal and riverine ecosystems. How do they work?

What is a Floodplain?

Often we think of floodplains as a nuisance to development, since they can complicate our building processes. However, our floodplain is also an incredibly valuable resource for our community.

Floodplain Scene

But what is a floodplain? Floodplains are areas adjacent to bodies of water that flood during periods where water levels rise (like during/after storms, during high tides, etc…). As a result, they are highly dynamic and constantly changing ecosystems that have a variety of social and ecological functions such as:

  • Recreation. The wetlands, beaches, and riparian areas that surround us are important community amenities. Birdwatches, hikers, beach-goers alike regularly enjoy the recreational opportunities that our floodplain provides.
  • Agriculture and fishing. Because floodplains are highly dynamic, they play a crucial factor in replenishing nutrients in our soils. In many parts of the country, the fertile soils found in floodplains create ideal conditions for farming. Coastal floodplains play an important role in maintaining the health of our fisheries.
  • Wildlife Habitat. Waterfowl, fish, and other coastal/riverine critters populate our floodplains, where they breed, feed, and interact.
  • Water Quality Maintenance and Groundwater Recharge. Floodplains act as a filtration system for water entering into our watersheds. They also have the capacity to store water when there’s too much of it and distribute it to our aquifers.
  • Warning. Because floodplains are sensitive indicators of change. They are immensely valuable in alerting us to changes in our natural environment.

Protecting our floodplain

While floodplains are immensely important, they’re also delicate. They work as part of larger systems that are inclusive of surface water and watersheds across large areas. If a single part of this system is disrupted, it can have wide-ranging implications for other areas. As residents of Cape May, it is our responsibility to develop responsibly and treat our floodplains and stormwater drainage systems with care. You can do your part in protecting our natural floodplains by keeping in mind the following:

  • Don’t block culverts/tidegates.
  • Don’t dump waste in or near waterways or storm drains. This includes inorganic waste, like cigarette butts, but also landscaping debris. Even grass clippings and branches can accumulate and plug drainage channels. City ordinances prohibit homeowners and landscape contractors from sweeping or blowing leaves, grass clippings, and soil into the roadways and storm drains. A clogged storm sewer or channel cannot properly carry water and when it rains the water has to go somewhere. Every piece of trash contributes to flooding.
  • Landscape appropriately. If you’re located near a waterway, consider using alternatives to pesticides and fertilizers.
  • Let us know if you witness any illegal activities. It’s difficult to monitor our entire floodplain all the time. If you see the dumping of debris in ditches, streams, the bay or ocean, contact us as soon as possible.
  • Develop responsibly. Our ordinances and regulations serve as protection mechanisms for our natural floodplains. By following our permitting process and abiding by our codes, you’re developing responsibly!

Have questions?

If you would like to learn more about topics like flood insurance, local flood hazards, or historic floods, we’re here to help. Reach out to speak with your local floodplain expert.

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