Resilience for Illinois’ Metro East Communities from Bluffs to Bottomland

The Green Crescent Initiative (GCI) is a long-term framework that focuses on strategic habitat and green infrastructure projects that increase flood and climate resilience from the high ground of the bluffs to the low ground of the Mississippi River’s American Bottom. The activities will address long-standing issues arising from the decline of natural systems and the rise of urbanization in the middle Mississippi River region for more than 200 years. Stream channelization, industrialization, neglect, and agricultural practices have destroyed native wetlands, grasslands, and riparian forests in the GCI project area. As a result, residents suffer from flash and sustained flooding, pollution (air and water), water table fluctuations, and destructive soil erosion. Invasive species and sedimentation jeopardize the diversity, function, and stability of stream corridors and wetlands. Additionally, communities are prioritizing poorly planned commercial development and urbanization with minimal investment in natural systems/stormwater management. 

With accelerating climate change and significant development pressure creating more impervious surfaces upstream of these communities, the acceleration of the GCI is needed. Partners have been working to improve flood and climate resilience for decades. In 2016, a Green Infrastructure Framework, covering Madison and St. Clair counties was completed by HeartLands. This Framework identifies the conditions and locations for green infrastructure to be protected, connected, and expanded. 

The GCI is a network of connected corridors of green infrastructure, addressing water quality, habitat, and stormwater capacity issues in the underserved communities of East St. Louis, Alorton, Caseyville, Centreville, Washington Park, Fairmont City, Pontoon Beach, Collinsville and State Park Place in Illinois. These communities are disproportionately affected by racially concentrated poverty, environmental injustice, failing infrastructure, disinvestment, loss of nature, flooding, pollution, and subsequent health problems.

It is our goal to grow the GCI Partnership to include federal, state and local agencies and organizations. As projects are implemented, HeartLands Conservancy will record the metrics, monitor the progress, and report to all partners. The appropriate permanent partner(s) will be identified for each project to ensure future management and long-term monitoring.

Furthermore, the forecast for this region under several climate scenarios includes more frequent and intense rainfall events. Draft policies and guidelines will enable local governments to use appropriate practices and habitat types per ecoregion so that green infrastructure installations will be resilient under these climate scenarios. On-the-ground projects will directly reduce the negative impacts of flooding in communities, improve water quality, improve biodiversity, clean the air, stabilize soils, and provide access to nature and recreation.

Specific partner-identified projects within the Green Crescent Initiative include:

    • Wetland restoration in East St. Louis to increase stormwater capacity, improve drainage function, provide recreation, and increase native wildlife
    • Heron Rookery habitat restoration 
    • Wetland and stream restoration to create regional stormwater storage, habitat and recreation amenities
    • Urban reforestation
    • Sand prairie restoration 
    • Bioretention/detention/green infrastructure strategies to alleviate flooding, infiltration, and combined-sewer backups
    • Identification of additional (future) resilience projects in the project area
    • Development of guidelines, draft policies, and other materials to assist municipalities and organizations  in using green infrastructure, stormwater management, and appropriate native plant types