The USGS Water Science School
This picture shows a house across the street from Peachtree Creek, near downtown Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
"Why is the front door 10 feet off the ground?"
The answer is:
"Because the first floor of the house is 10 feet up."
"Why would someone build a house with the first floor so high?"
The answer is:
"They didn't. In 1977 the house was raised 10 feet because Peachtree Creek flooded the first floor in 1975 and 1976."
"Why would someone build a house where it floods?"
The answer is:
Well, this is harder to answer. One possibility is that when these houses were built in the late 1940's and early 1950's that Peachtree Creek did not flood as often and as severely as it does now. Studies have shown that as development and the amount of impervious surfaces increases in a watershed, streams can flood more often.
If you are not familiar with the term "impervious surface," this picture will help explain it. As cities grow and more development occurs, the natural landscape is replaced by roads, buildings, housing developments, and parking lots. The metro Atlanta region has experienced explosive growth over the last 50 years, and, along with it, large amounts of impervious surfaces have replaced the natural landscape.
Impervious surfaces can have an effect on local streams, both in water quality and streamflow and flooding characteristics. The picture to the right illustrates how water-quality problems can occur from development. Sediment-laden water from a tributary where construction is taking place is shown entering the Chattahoochee River, just west of Atlanta.
A significant portion of rainfall in forested watersheds is absorbed into soils (infiltration), is stored as groundwater, and is slowly discharged to streams through seeps and springs. Flooding is less significant in these conditions because some of the runoff during a storm is absorbed into the ground, thus lessening the amount of runoff into a stream during the storm.
As watersheds are urbanized, much of the vegetation is replaced by impervious surfaces, thus reducing the area where infiltration to groundwater can occur. Thus, more stormwater runoff occurs - runoff that must be collected by extensive drainage systems that combine curbs, storm sewers, and ditches to carry stormwater runoff directly to streams. More simply, in a developed watershed, much more water arrives into a stream much more quickly, resulting in an increased likelihood of more frequent and more severe flooding. As this picture of Woodward Way, which runs alongside Peachtree Creek shows, frequent flooding causes problems for residents and also the local government which has to clean up the sand deposited on the road, and also had to install the drainage pipe to move water off the roadway back into Peachtree Creek.
Can you guess how many baths you can get from a rainstorm?
Visit our Activity Center and find out.
Rivers and sediment
Stormflows Streamflow patterns Measuring streamflow Floods Q&A
Impervious surfaces and flooding A water monitoring site High-water marks