Pilot Project To Study Upper Mississippi River Flooding, Climate Resilience

A pilot project on flooding and climate resilience in the Upper Mississippi River basin was recently announced by the National Oceanic and Aeronautic Administration and its partners, including the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association.

At least one respondent has questioned whether it is best to study the climate resilience of the river, and its communities, in separate regions rather than looking at the entire river system. 

The pilot project, titled “Building Knowledge to Support Equitable Climate Resilience,” was developed in response to feedback received during a 2021 climate and equity roundtable focused on flooding and resilience in the Mississippi River Basin. It was one of eight roundtables hosted by NOAA across the country with underserved and vulnerable communities and bridge organizations to help communities better understand the issues they face in regard to climate change.

$150,000 NOAA Investment

The pilot project includes a $150,000 NOAA investment in FY22 and in-kind services from partners at the Cooperative Institute for Research to Operations in Hydrology through the University of Alabama, the University of Minnesota and the UMRBA. It has two objectives:

• To better understand the flow patterns of the Upper Mississippi River to provide data on how the river will likely respond to changing climate conditions. This data is crucial for communities to plan for both flood and low flow conditions.

• To engage vulnerable communities to enhance their climate resilience. Customized community engagement strategies for key sets of stakeholders allow NOAA and partners to collaboratively build partnerships and relationships with underserved communities. 

“This project demonstrates how NOAA puts equity into action by working with communities from start to finish to provide meaningful insight into climate risks,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said. “Ensuring that vulnerable communities are better equipped to prepare for and respond to extreme weather and climate change is a critical part of building a climate-ready nation.”

“The NOAA Climate and Equity Roundtable provided valuable insight into the unique and shared challenges of communities in responding to, and preparing for, natural disasters along the Mississippi River,” said Kirsten Wallace, executive director of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association. 

Colin Wellenkamp, executive director of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, a coalition of cities and towns up and down the length of the river, suggested that the study’s goals might be better served by looking at the entire river.

“Splitting resilience up into upper river and lower river has its challenges, since so much of the activity in the upper river influences how much water comes to the south. Indeed, Missouri, Illinois and Iowa have a larger impact on lower river cities than anything else. We would recommend a full river evaluation in the study to not just make upper river communities resilient, but lower as well. That’s why MRCTI mayors are working to absorb risk on-site both for their own protection but also their fellow mayors to the south.”

He added, “We would urge UMRBA to look closely at our Climate Vulnerability Study and use that to guide their work on enhancing resilience. We would also urge a close look at the Galloway Report from 1994, which incredibly recommended things we’re still trying to achieve today.”

Wellenkamp said the MRCTI is an original supporter of the National Climate Adaptation and Resilience Strategy Act (NICARS) which, he said, has a good chance at passing into law by December. “Section 6 of the bill, which establishes the architecture for a national resilience strategy, may offer a good framework for the study authors to consider in fitting the study to a larger federal question. We would also encourage the authors to closely examine the STORM Act (Resilience Revolving Loan Fund), which will be out in early 2023 to conduct a study with this program and its priorities in mind so localities can put the results of the study to work for an actual program on the ground.”