Natural Solutions Tool Elevates Natural Systems, Defends against Environmental Injustice

Thorn Creek, a 20.8-mile-long tributary of the Little Calumet River, flows through Sweet Woods in south suburban Glenwood.

More than 30 partners met this week at the quarterly meeting of the Greater Chicago Watershed Alliance to review the working draft of the innovative Natural Solutions Tool, which will debut publicly at Friends’ upcoming Chicago River Summit on March 8.

´╗┐Friends of the Chicago River and The Trust for Public Land developed the Natural Solutions Tool, which evolved from the collaborative, expert thinking of the members of the Watershed Alliance

The Natural Solutions Tool is a custom-built, multi-stakeholder-defined analysis tool designed to improve environmental, economic, and community health using natural systems. Based upon five themes that drive us towards healthy, equitable, biodiverse, protected, and connected watersheds, the tool incorporates 84 map layers that allow users to visualize watershed data. The purpose is to make it easy for anyone to reveal opportunities to address complex environmental challenges by substantiating and targeting greater investments in nature-based solutions. The Tool once completed will be publicly available to elevate the use of natural systems to defend against environmental injustice and degradation.

“After 18 months of work in partnership with the skilled technical GIS and climate staff at The Trust for Public Land, the Watershed Alliance, and dozens of other stakeholders, we are very excited to be able to offer this new, dynamic resource to our region,” said Adam Flickinger, planning director at Friends of the Chicago River. “Through our exploration of the beta version of the tool, we are already finding useful ways to leverage the greater understanding of the relationships between health, equity, and ecology that it provides.”

The analysis results and modeling definitions are the result of a seven month-long, multi-stakeholder process that included a Technical Advisory Team of 30+ experts and members of the Watershed Alliance Steering Committee including Friends' executive director, planning director, policy manager, and planning and GIS specialist.

Initiated by Friends of the Chicago River in 2020, the 20-member Greater Chicago Watershed Alliance (originally established as the Chicago-Calumet River Watershed Council) is a collaborative forum to maximize multiple ecological, social, and climate resiliency objectives across jurisdictional boundaries.