Natural Solutions Tool
Use of the Natural Solutions Tool is free for nonprofit entities, government agencies, community groups and individuals. However, fees apply for for-profit companies to keep this resource updated and maintained. Please click here.
In 2021, the Greater Chicago Watershed Alliance (originally established as the Chicago-Calumet River Watershed Council) began an 18 month effort to develop the Natural Solutions Tool in order to identify where nature-based green infrastructure projects are needed and can have the most impact with all of the many benefits for people and ecological health they provide.
Founded upon five modeling objectives that drive us towards healthy, equitable, biodiverse, protected, and connected landscapes and communities, the Natural Solutions Tool incorporates 84 data layers that allow users to visualize and customize data to address complex environmental challenges and substantiate the work we are doing to address them.
The Tool was custom built using local data to meet our goals and the choices of modeling objectives and data layers to use were the result of a months-long, multi-stakeholder process which included a Technical Advisory Team of 30+ technical experts and members of the Watershed Alliance Steering Committee including Friends' executive director, planning director, policy manager, and planning and GIS specialist.
The Natural Solutions Tool analysis incorporates 42 subwatersheds within over 1,300 square miles in four counties (predominantly Cook and Lake). It provides understanding of:
- Detailed modeling objective layers searchable down to an unprecented parcel level;
- Data overlays such as local climate projections, political boundaries, natural areas, and trails;
- Age, race, and economic demographics; and
- Regional needs and opportunities.
The Technical Advisory Team selected the subwatersheds and the Tool's boundaries include the entire service area for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, a core Watershed Alliance partner.
It can be used to inform decision making, reveal opportunities and priorities, for advocacy and community protection, substantiating grants and investments, and strategic planning.
Friends' staff will begin training users after that and those interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Based Upon a Winning Model
The Natural Solutions Tool creation process is being administered by Friends of the Chicago River in partnership with The Trust for Public Land’s Climate-Smart Cities program. This type of tool has been successfully implemented in 14 other U.S. metro areas and has become a resource for decision makers to implement strategic green infrastructure projects. Examples of completed similar tools include Los Angeles, Boston, and Camden, NJ.
Photo: Caroline O’Boyle (right), Chicago Program Director for the Trust for Public Land, and Adam Flickinger from Friends staff launching the project with the Watershed Alliance in October of 2021.
In addition to the Natural Solutions Tool creation, the Watershed Alliance has undertaken a coinciding catalytic multi-benefit ecosystem restoration project at Indian Ridge Marsh-South in partnership with the Chicago Park District. Learn more about this Watershed Alliance pilot project here.