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Working Together Across Boundaries to Protect the Blue River

Dr. Heidi Mehl shows the competing native mussel (pictured left) and invasive clam (pictured right) found in the Blue River headwaters.

“We have an opportunity with the Blue River to show that smart urban growth is not only possible, it is the economically responsible path,” says Dr. Heidi Mehl, director of water and agriculture programs for The Nature Conservancy KS. “By protecting headwaters and stream corridors, developers can be profitable while at the same time preventing costly flooding and water quality impacts downstream. There’s an opportunity for the Kansas City metro to place conservation at the forefront and become an example that other cities look to for smart urban growth.”

The Nature Conservancy’s mission is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. More specifically, the Healthy Streams for Kansas Initiative is working to improve water quality and water security through large-scale protection and restoration of streams, and to increase awareness among Kansans and inspire action for stream conservation. In Kansas City, Missouri, The Nature Conservancy KS tackles this work in partnership with the Urban Waters Federal Partnership working to Renew the Blue. In fact, The Conservancy has been protecting land in the watershed since the 1990's with conservation easements, but it was time to look closer. So, The Nature Conservancy partnered with Kansas State University and Heartland Conservation Alliance to better understand the impacts of land development, conservation strategies and changes in climate within the Blue River watershed. K-State researchers developed a model to predict the impacts of different development scenarios and shifts in climate compared to conservation strategies that could be enacted. The results were clear: continued land protection around the river’s headwaters is one of the most important things The Nature Conservancy can do for the Blue. Also, The Conservancy helped Urban Waters partners to create the first ever Blue River Report Card and helped produce the documentary film “Blue River.” These are powerful tools for bringing awareness to the importance of protecting our natural resources close to home and lay the groundwork for future success.

In early 2019, The Nature Conservancy closed on a 101-acre conservation easement in Johnson County, protecting it from future development. And these acres weren’t selected at random—they are strategically located adjacent to other protected land, increasing a corridor of conservation in the highly-urbanized Kansas City metropolitan area. Only working collaboratively and across boundaries will we be able to protect our urban rivers and streams for the benefit for everyone in the watershed.

From left to right, Jared Clements, Urban Waters Intern, Kelly Blandford, The Nature Conservancy and Heidi Mehl, The Nature Conservancy, conduct a site visit of protected land along the Blue River.

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