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A New Chapter for Our Beloved Blue River: Renew the Blue

The Blue River. Photo by Pat Whalen

Heartland Conservation Alliance protects places we love. Working with partners, we conserve and connect people to nature. Because of its importance, partners, and threats, we have focused efforts on the Blue River and its surrounding watershed the past four years. Urban rivers are Kansas City’s most valuable resource. We share a deep-rooted sense of place with these beautiful, powerful, and important waterways that have shaped our region. The Blue River, a tributary of the Missouri River, flows southwest to northeast through the Kansas City region. The headwaters lie in Kansas, near the Overland Park Arboretum. The Upper Blue River, near 135th and Kenneth Road, is wild and undeveloped — the surrounding land is largely owned by private land owners. The Middle Blue River, near 95th Street and Holmes, is urban with surrounding land managed by Jackson County Parks and Kansas City, Missouri, Parks and Recreation. The Lower Blue River is industrialized and no longer wild. Increased development along the river banks caused flooding and pollution. In fact, for nearly a century, heavy rains caused floodwaters to rise over roadways and into homes and businesses. After a record-setting flood in the 1960s, Congress took action and authorized a series of flood mitigation projects in the 1970 Flood Control Act. Construction on the Lower Blue River began in 1983 on a 12-mile-long channel project extending from near the mouth of the Missouri River upstream to 63rd Street. Completed this year, after nearly 50 years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Kansas City, Missouri, worked in partnership to tackle the $300+ Million Blue River Channel Project. “These improvements protect people, property, and prosperity – making Blue River a corridor to live, work, and play without the worry of frequent flooding,” said Kansas City Water Director Terry Leeds. "It took a tremendous amount of cooperation at the federal and local levels to complete the work." During the project, the historic, Civil War-era Byram’s Ford was preserved and a new walking/biking trail was created alongside the river. Other significant achievements include:

  • Removal of 600 acres, 200 structures, and eight miles of roadway from the 100-year floodplain

  • Major improvements to 21 bridges and related utilities

  • Removal of 10,000+ tires

  • Removal of more than 350 abandoned barrels and 95,000 tons of solid waste

“The partnership we formed and the extreme involvement of our stakeholders, not only with the City of Kansas City but with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Congressional leaders, throughout this entire process serves as a model for the rest of the nation,” said Lynda Hoffman, Kansas City Water Waterways Division Manager. “We worked together as a coalition to prioritize regional water resource projects and brought this Blue River Channel Modification Project to the forefront.” Over the past five decades, we learned about working with, not against, our rivers. We value our rivers for their beauty, clean water, green infrastructure, and habitat. We know it is critical to use better, holistic, and sustainable planning to allow more habitat and green space because a purely concrete channel is not desirable in communities. We are so excited to stand on the learning from the past and look ahead to the future. We are prepared to Renew the Blue!

Renew the Blue logo
At the 26th Annual Project Blue River Rescue, volunteers collected trash along the Blue River

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