Climate Ready Middle Mississippi (2017)

Client Organization: 
HeartLands Conservancy
Project Location : 
Mascoutah, Illinois (St. Louis, Missouri metro area)
Summary of Project Idea: 


HeartLands Conservancy is a non-profit organization that is “investing in the nature of Southwestern Illinois”. We work in partnership with landowners and community leaders to permanently protect lands including farms, forests, and wetlands, and we are dedicated to our mission of providing leadership and solutions to sustain and enrich the diverse environmental resources of Southwestern Illinois, which includes part of the metropolitan area of St. Louis, Missouri.

Every day we work with counties, cities, and townships across our seven-county region in Southwestern Illinois on a variety of environmental issues, such as water quality, flooding, and biodiversity. We are already seeing the impacts of climate change on our region, and we communicate these issues to our constituents whenever possible. Unfortunately, the issue of climate change is still not at the forefront of thought for most people here. What we are lacking is data and information on the projected consequences of climate change specifically for our region. While most studies focus on climate change’s impacts on coastal regions, we would like a study that focuses on the Middle Mississippi River corridor, with particular emphasis on the urbanized area. This would allow us to clearly communicate the direct impacts of climate change on communities in our region in Southwestern Illinois and the Central Midwest.

A Masters Project in this location would support the mission of and build on the work of the partners in the Middle Mississippi River Partnership (MMRP). The MMRP is a collaboration of 21 federal/state agencies and non-profit organizations that have a common goal of restoring and enhancing the natural resources of the Middle Mississippi River corridor. Formed in 2001, the partnership includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Ducks Unlimited, and HeartLands Conservancy. The MMRP has collected several GIS datasets to support its activities, which may be useful in this Masters Project. The definition of the river corridor used by the MMRP is “lands and waters between the bluffs from the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers south to the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers”. The Masters Project could use this definition or define a larger study area of the counties adjacent to the Mississippi River on either side.

A Masters Project team would be able to provide a comprehensive study outlining the projected impacts of climate change, the need for adaptation, and possible solutions in a persuasive way so that our communities will know how to prepare for and mitigate the changes to come. A study of this type could be useful not only for Southwestern Illinois, but the Midwest as a whole. Locally, we can leverage our relationships with communities, organizations, and leaders to have a large impact in this region.

Goals and Objectives

The project proposed, tentatively titled “Climate Ready Middle Mississippi”, would have the primary goal of creating a more resilient region by fostering climate change adaptation planning in Southwestern Illinois.

Objectives include the following:

  1. Identify the impacts (ecological, economic, social) of climate change on Southwestern Illinois. 
  2. Identify methods or solutions for climate change adaptation and mitigation.
  3. Present and communicate information to relevant audiences.

Theoretical Justification, Social Benefit, or Significance

This project is important in supporting movement on climate change mitigation and adaptation in the Midwest, an area which has generally made slower progress in these areas than the coasts. A project that brings together science and case studies to tell the story of the problem and how it may be addressed will provide a strong impetus for local action by cities, counties, farmers, industries/businesses, and regional groups. Students working on this project will gain an insight into how climate action may be promoted through local channels, preparing them for this type of work throughout the U.S.

Specific Activities

Outline of project:

  • Identify impacts of climate change on Southwestern Illinois. Can use existing information or do more in depth modeling. (First find out whether such regional research has already been done – see eg St Louis universities.)
    • Temperature including drought
    • Surface water including stream and river flows
    • Groundwater 
    • Storms and extreme weather
    • Air quality
    • Seasonal changes (earlier spring, late frosts, etc)
    • Transportation networks
    • Evaluation of impact disparity on vulnerable or minority residents, such as low-income, minorities, and elderly populations.
    • And impacts on agriculture, navigation, human health, energy and water supply networks, the local & national economy, ecology, etc.
  • Identify methods of climate change mitigation and adaptation for non-coastal communities, with solutions for cities, counties, farmers, industries/businesses, and regional groups 
    • Identify the actors (cities, departments, etc); who is best placed to coordinate changes?
    • Speak to cities about their operations and needs to determine what can be done. Use interviews and/or a survey to find out about current operations/issues.
    • Identify solutions that have multiple benefits (e.g., recreation, economic benefits), so decision-makers can sell solutions to climate change deniers
    • Develop a suite of recommended actions specific to Southwestern Illinois
    • Identify ways of messaging climate change impacts to be most effective to these audiences (using social science research methods)
    • Present/communicate to audience(s) about the results of the study and recommended ways to adapt to be more resilient/reduce vulnerability to impacts of climate change, and how to mitigate climate change. 
    • What can local governments do? How can they prepare for climate change impacts in comprehensive planning and economic development planning?
    • How can they get funding to do these things? Especially without state assistance?
    • What can the state of Illinois do to promote climate change adaptation, that local communities can lobby for?
    • Present to:
      • Southwestern Illinois Council of Mayors 
      • Southwestern Illinois City Managers’ Association
      • Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois
      • East-West Gateway Council of Governments
  • Identify strategies to measure the changes in attitudes and programs among these decision-makers
    • Eg a survey, or website with updated information

This scope should be reasonable for a (part-time) 16-month project for 3-7 students that will be completed by April 2017.

Integrative Approach
The proposed research integrates the skills of disparate team members with knowledge of environmental policy, planning, behavior and communication, and GIS to generate an effective final product that offers new and existing climate information, potential best practices, and potential steps forward to local governments. Each element is vital in creating a product that is based on science, has a compelling message, and meets the needs of policymakers.

SNRE Program Areas: 
Environmental Policy and Planning
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Environmental Informatics
Environmental Justice
Role for each program area: 

Environmental Policy and Planning: An understanding of how policy and program decisions are made by local government entities is important to the success of this project. Comprehensive planning is the tool with which future development changes are planned.

Behavior, Education, and Communication: Information and outreach are at the heart of this project; the message about climate impacts and their solutions must be tailored to audiences that include cities, villages, counties, and regional groups.

Environmental Informatics: GIS is a very important tool in assessing and conveying climate impact information. A GIS-based climate vulnerability assessment would be invaluable to this project. A map of potential locations of green infrastructure or other climate adaptation/mitigation solutions would also greatly improve the applicability of the project, providing communities with places to start in discussions of how to implement the recommendations made.

Environmental Justice: Evaluating the impacts of climate change in this region on vulnerable and socially-disadvantaged populations will also make a strong case for implementing climate adaptation strategies in this region. Several such populations exist in Southwestern Illinois.

Other: Cases could be made for including students from the other SNRE program areas as well; these are just the program areas that seem most relevant for the project proposed here.

Team size: 3-7 students would work well; the number of students and their program areas will determine the scope of the project.

Professional Career Development Benefits: 
  • Contacts with regional leaders in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area will be established
  • GIS, research, and environmental planning knowledge and skills will be developed
  • Presentation and communication skills will be developed
  • This project will likely be a highly desired topic at local and regional conferences, including the St. Louis Metro Section of the American Planning Association, Southwestern Illinois Communities Conference, Illinois Planning Association Conference, etc.
Identify expected products/deliverables: 

Deliverables may include:

  • Summary of the current knowledge about climate impacts in Southwestern Illinois;
  • Case Studies of other cities/counties (preferably in the Midwest) engaged in adaptation and mitigation activities; 
  • Training modules on climate adaptation/mitigation targeted at local governments, perhaps using video;
  • Checklist of potential adaptation/mitigation best practices for cities/counties (tailored to type of entity/jurisdiction);
  • Brochures, infographics, and other materials that explain climate-related threats and potential solutions; 
  • GIS-based maps (and associated data) identifying locations of climate-related threats and opportunities, and/or climate change vulnerability ratings; and
  • PowerPoint presentation (or other) to several audiences (e.g. Southwestern Illinois Council of Mayors).

Implementation of the project outputs will occur through HeartLands Conservancy’s activities and outreach efforts towards state and local legislators, landowners, environmental organizations, and other groups. We will raise awareness of the best practices recommended in the Masters Project through our work in community comprehensive planning, natural resource planning, and project implementation, among other avenues.

Contact full name: 
Janet Buchanan
Job title: 
Environmental Planning and Policy
State or Country: 
SNRE Faculty Advisor: 
Paige Fischer
Contact Phone: 
618-566-4451 ext. 25
Contact information: 
SNRE alum
Staff member of a potential client organization
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Luisa Torres-Valencia, MS Environmental Policy and Planning 
Project Status: 
In Progress