Investing in Nature-Based Solutions
How we are harnessing the power of nature to address environmental threats that face our communities.
Across The Nature Conservancy and here in Missouri, we are focused on incorporating nature-based solutions to adapt to a changing world for the benefit of nature and people. But what exactly are nature-based solutions and how are they being implemented here in Missouri?
Nature-based solutions can be defined as the sustainable management and use of nature for tackling challenges such as climate change, water and food security, biodiversity protection, human health, and disaster risk management.
What that means is that nature offers us a powerful set of tools for addressing many hazards that face our communities. In Missouri, we are investing in nature-based solutions to show how we can work with nature, instead of against it—and when we do, everyone wins.
Through a collaborative partnership, The Nature Conservancy helped establish Naturally Resilient Communities, which includes over 50 solutions and case studies that can help communities become more resilient to flooding and erosion. It’s a great resource allowing you to filter by cost, region, hazard, and more.
And, to help communities access funding to implement nature-based solutions, The Nature Conservancy developed a guidebook promoting hazard mitigation through FEMA Mitigation Grants. The guidebook includes an overview of FEMA funding opportunities for hazard mitigation, various types of nature-based solutions mitigation techniques (or options), guidance on how to quantify benefits from nature-based solutions, tips for successful grant applications, case studies and more.
Nature-Based Solution Demonstration Projects in Missouri
Our goal for the projects below is to demonstrate how nature-based solutions work, how collaborations make them possible, and how we can learn and develop enabling conditions to make pursuing these types of projects easier.
Eroding streambanks are among the biggest threats to our rivers and streams—dumping tons of sediment and nutrients into the water harms people and aquatic communities alike. Transforming the way we protect streams is a focus for our freshwater team in Missouri.
“This is truly an issue that impacts both people and nature,” said Barbara Charry, TNC’s Floodplains and Nature-Based Solutions Strategy Manager in Missouri. “Landowners are losing their land, it’s taking more money and equipment to provide clean drinking water to our communities, and we are losing habitat for hundreds of species.”
Rip-rap, which is quarry rock dumped along the banks, has traditionally been used to try to fix erosion problems. But rip-rap can be costly, only protects the surface of streambanks, can be prone to failure, and provides little ecological benefit. Fortunately, there are better options—bioengineering solutions that stabilize banks using natural materials such as trees and live plantings that provide better long-term protection as well as critical habitat needed for aquatic species to survive. These techniques are commonly used nationwide but are rarely implemented in Missouri.
We have partnered on numerous stream restoration projects around the state with a host of partners — from private landowners to state and federal agencies — to demonstrate how these natural solutions work.
Recent stream restoration projects include:
Lower Meramec Floodplain Prioritization Tool
Floodplain protection and restoration are key nature-based solutions to help address flooding.
Research done by TNC and partners published in the Nature Sustainability journal has found that across the US, protecting floodplains to avoid damages in places where urban growth is projected can be a hugely cost-effective strategy.
The Nature Conservancy developed a Mississippi Basin Floodplain Prioritization Tool to help identify where the biggest areas of impact for floodplain protection and restoration. Prioritization can be done on water quality, habitat, soils, impacts to people and property damages, and social vulnerability.
Since 2015, the Meramec River Basin in the St. Louis region has experienced several, record-breaking flood events. This has impacted many communities in Jefferson, Franklin and St. Louis counties.
In response, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)—through their Silver Jacket’s program—developed a Lower Meramec Floodplain Management Plan to serve as a blueprint for communities affected by these events. In collaboration with partners, including TNC, they brought together 8 municipalities, 3 counties, and 7 state, federal and NGO partners to develop the plan that spans 115 river miles.
To support the plan, TNC worked with local partners to develop a regional version of TNC’s Mississippi Basin Prioritization Tool.
The Lower Meramec Floodplain Prioritization Tool identifies places to invest in floodplain conservation or restoration based on their community priorities. The tool includes all the structures that were identified by the USACE study as being at high risk for flooding. By activating certain layers on the map, communities can identify the recommendations based on their needs.
levee setback on the Missouri river
In 2019, the Missouri River experienced severe flooding, breaching or overtopping over 100 levees, inundating 1.2 million acres, damaging infrastructure including farms, railroads, interstate highways and closure of approximately 470 roads. Missouri River levee L-536, in northwest Missouri’s Atchison and Holt Counties, was breached or significantly damaged in 7 locations.
The 70-year-old levee could have been at risk for future breaches if reconstructed in the same alignment. The Atchison County Levee District #1 (ACLD) in consultation with the impacted landowners, determined that a levee setback, moving the levee inland to allow more room for floodwaters—combined with a modern design—was in the best interest of their community, now and for future generations.
Construction of the new levee began in August 2020 and was completed in the summer of 2021. The project was made possible through the local leadership of the ACLD and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District, with The Nature Conservancy convening a robust partnership of state and federal agencies, and organizations. All partners contributed significant time, resources, expertise and funding.
Large-scale levee setbacks like L-536, provide many benefits in addition to reducing flood risk up and down the river. They reduce levee operation and maintenance costs, improve water quality and create fish and wildlife habitat. This is a demonstration that can be replicated by local communities at other locations where repetitive damages from flooding are occurring.