Thinking. Doing. Making a Difference.
Nutrient losses and soil degradation are symptomatic of the current state of agricultural systems that define much of the Illinois landscape. Excessive nutrients in waterways are currently the leading cause of water quality impairments in the Midwest and across the globe. Furthermore, the loss of soil and its carbon-rich organic matter is detrimental to crop cultivation, water quality and infiltration, nutrient cycling, pest moderation, as well as the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Though federal and state agencies have developed strategies to combat these issues, it is apparent that their success will require extensive new collaborations, innovation in tools and approaches, and significant financial resources. This report examines a range of approaches to drive improvements in agricultural systems that rebuild soil health and reduce nutrient losses in Illinois. Read the synopsis in the Executive Summary, or learn more about the findings and recommendations outlined in the three-part report: Part 1: Market Drivers Overview, Part 2: Policy Briefs, and Part 3: Soil Carbon Strategy
As part of Delta’s work with iconic buildings, we have partnered with Chicago’s landmark Field Museum of Natural History on a series of projects that improve the building’s energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste diversion, and building operations since 2013. Projects have improved restaurant waste diversion through composting, replaced thousands of incandescent bulbs with LED lighting, and expanded the rooftop solar array. These initiatives earned the Delta continues to partner with the museum to achieve its sustainability goals.
Delta, in collaboration with the Natural Land Institute and the Illinois Environmental Council, published a statewide report titled, “Preparing for Long-Term Stewardship: A Dual Approach for Illinois.” The goal of the report is to outline a more sustainable conservation funding model through the creation of formalized regional partnerships and an agricultural investment cooperative. The research was informed by a robust barriers and policy analysis, numerous formal and informal conversations with practitioners, and a nationwide scan of successful conservation models. Overall, we hope that the implementation of the report’s dual approach strategy will lead to an increase in protected acreage and more sustainable farming in Illinois.
Delta, in collaboration with Alliance for the Great Lakes and the City of Hobart, is utilizing funding from the US EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to install green infrastructure sites that will capture, infiltrate, and treat urban stormwater runoff. Four to six sites in the Indiana city will be designed with a combination of soil and vegetation that will naturally manage runoff through systems such as bioswales and rain gardens. The goal of the project is to see an 800,000 gallon reduction in runoff and will help mitigate flood and water quality concerns locally while reducing water pollution in the Lake Michigan watershed.
Delta Institute, with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in coordination with project lead Kansas State University and numerous project partners, is developing a community-led air pollution monitoring program in the Little Village, South Loop, Riverdale Community Area, and Southeast Side communities of Chicago. This project engages residents living in neighborhoods that lack adequate air quality monitoring stations. Community members are engaged to determine the specifics of their own monitoring plan, and are trained to use low-cost portable devices that collect ambient air data. The project has completed summer air monitoring and will soon begin winter air monitoring. The findings of this project will be distilled into a guidebook that other communities can use to develop their own air monitoring programs with low-cost devices.
Through a grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Delta is partnering with the City of Lansing’s Public Service Department’s CART program, Hammond Farms Landscaping Supply, and Live Green Lansing to develop and implement an innovative sustainable pollution prevention pilot. The food scrap collection program will work with 10-12 restaurants in Lansing, MI to divert up to 2,140 tons of food scraps from landfills, and convert the scraps into a rich soil amendment that will be distributed back to the community, and to institutionalize food scrap diversion practices in a number of the restaurants beyond the pilot.
In 2014, Delta Institute launched the Love Lake Michigan campaign. Its primary goals are to increase a sense of ownership and appreciation of this cultural, environmental, and economic asset among all who experience it. Users are invited to take a pledge to love the lake at LoveLakeMichigan.org, where they will also learn about the lake, and find opportunities to volunteer. All are encouraged to use the campaign’s photo frames and hashtag #loveLakeMichigan on social media. That sense of ownership can catalyze actions to protect it, so it can be enjoyed now and in future generations.
Through funds from the Great Lakes Protection Fund, Delta is partnering with Berkeley, CA based nonprofit WattTime, smart technology maker Energate, and Rocky Mountain Institute to deploy a small pilot of new smart thermostat technology in the Chicago area. WattTime’s Clean Power Mode pulls more power from the grid when it is supplied with clean and renewable energy sources, and less when it is supplied with polluting fossil fuels, allowing the user to lower their overall carbon use with minimal impact to comfort. More than fifty homes and two commercial buildings will participate, and the information collected will help determine how the technology works in the field in real buildings, and the level of monetary savings and carbon and mercury emission reduction.
Delta Institute will work with partners, including the City of Gary and University of Chicago Harris School, to establish Steel City Salvage, to establish a marketplace for reclaimed lumber and building materials from vacant homes in Gary. The project was a winner in the 2016 Knight Cities Challenge and builds off of Delta’s previous work in Gary to implement a deconstruction pilot program. The project will assess conditions for establishing a marketplace, establish the physical facility, test different ways to bring reclaimed materials and share learnings with other weak market city planners. Delta and partners will then develop and test three strategies for bringing these materials to market in Gary, creating long-term, sustainable economic benefit for Gary and its residents.
In partnership with the Alliance for the Great Lakes, Delta is creating a prioritization map and scoring matrix to pinpoint high-priority areas in the Lower Fox River Watershed where maximum reductions in Phosphorus and Nitrogen loading can be achieved through an adaptive management approach. From the map and matrix, Delta will create a framework that enables the City of Appleton's waste water treatment plant to meet its water quality standards by paying farmers upstream for nutrient reductions. This connection between downstream users and upstream conservation practices could provide an innovative and sustainable solution to nonpoint source water pollution.
The US EPA’s Technical Assistance for Brownfields (TAB) program provides technical assistance to local governments, non-profits and tribes for the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields. As one of 16 partners for the TAB program, Delta Institute serves as a technical assistance provider and program contact for the states of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Delta provides technical assistance in a variety of ways, including: holding workshops to help communities strategize around brownfield reuse, translating technical environmental reports into community and economic implications, conducting feasibility studies for brownfield reuse strategies, and helping communities create and analyze brownfield inventories.
From 2014-2015, Delta Institute provided technical assistance to North Branch Works in planning for the sustainable redevelopment of the North Branch Industrial Corridor in Chicago. After assessing the existing conditions of the corridor and facilitating engagement with community stakeholders, Delta helped create three redevelopment scenarios for the River Works site at Cortland and the Chicago River along with community-driven redevelopment principles that will be used to inform future redevelopment efforts in the North Branch Industrial Corridor.
The City of Gary has multiple parcels that are vacant due to demolition and hundreds more planned for demolition over the next five years. This inventory of planned demolitions and city owned vacant parcels sets the stage for the City and Delta to develop and use a strategic approach to choosing the location and timing of this work. An approach that will strategically aggregate vacant land to enhance preservation of the dunes, create space for green infrastructure, native plantings, open spaces or parks, and improve the quality of neighborhoods for residents. The overall impact of this project will be improved conservation, cost savings to the city and a strategy for vacant or soon to be vacant land.
One of the tensions in the country’s transition away from coal is the potentially destructive impact that coal plant closures can have on local communities. Delta Institute meets communities where they are, recognizing that each community has its unique set of challenges and helps them plan proactively for the closure and potential redevelopment of the coal plant. Specific work include community visioning, stakeholder facilitation, government grant writing assistance, technical assistance, feasibility studies, community engagement, and reuse strategy development in communities across the country.
Severe disinvestment in communities surrounding the Illinois Medical District (IMD) has led to a neglected urban landscape that does not support the physical, social, or employment needs of local residents. Delta is working to trigger positive change by engaging stakeholders from community-based organizations, area institutions and businesses and identifying opportunities to attract investment and redevelop brownfields in a way that will benefit local residents.
Delta Institute is partnering with Public Sector Consultants to proactively address climate change-related sedimentation issues facing marinas and harbors. Through this project, Delta is creating a policy framework with an innovative funding approach to reduce long-term harbor maintenance costs, improve water quality, and address both environmental and economic risks associated with fluctuating lake levels at harbors and marinas by focusing on sediment reduction activities in Great Lakes coastal watersheds.
Delta is currently partnering with The City of Gary to pilot a deconstruction project of blighted properties within the city. Delta will select 12-24 homes deemed suitable for deconstruction, the systematic dismantling of a home, which allows for the harvest of reusable materials and architectural elements. The pilot program has the potential to yield positive environmental and economic outcomes by diverting waste as it adds reclaimed materials into the materials reuse market and by future job creation. At the completion of this pilot, Delta plans to create a guide explaining the financial aspects of deconstruction, which will allow other blighted cities to determine if deconstruction is the economically viable path for them. Delta also hopes to replicate this project, expanding it to a larger number of homes in Gary.
Delta is leading a coalition effort to reduce sediment and nutrients flowing into the 19,058-acre Bear Creek Watershed in Muskegon County. By striving to minimize these pollutants from both rural and urban sources, Delta will improve water quality and restore wetlands and shorelines, preventing sedimentation and erosion. This project will also provide educational opportunities for residential, commercial, and industrial landowners in the area, as well as for local children. The work is expected to be completed in December 2017.
Delta is partnering with Michigan City and its Redevelopment Commission, Haas and Associates Engineers, and The Alliance for the Great Lakes on Michigan City’s Wabash Street Green Infrastructure Project. This project, which is expected to be completed in Spring 2016, will result in the installation of stormwater Best Management Practices, including rain gardens and bioswales. Other improvements include the addition of sidewalks and crosswalks, as well as safety modifications to intersections. Landscaping, streetscaping, and LED lighting will also be added to create an aesthetically-pleasing environment. Delta will be developing green infrastructure templates that will guide the implementation of core green infrastructure components both for this project and for future projects in Michigan City. Grants from the EPA and the Lake Michigan Coastal Program have made the Green Infrastructure project possible.
With funding from Illinois DNR, Delta is working with municipal leaders in the Calumet region of the Illinois Coastal Management Zone to assess their needs and develop easy-to-use tools and template documents to facilitate cost-effective implementation of green infrastructure strategies. This work will result in a toolkit that will build capacity and reduce barriers for resource-constrained municipalities in the implementation of impactful green infrastructure projects for the benefit of their communities.
Delta Institute is partnering with world-renowned design firm IDEO to develop and pilot new smart grid educational products to engage and empower low-income and hard-to-reach consumers to better understand and manage their energy use. The project team will apply principles of human-centered design to develop products that are inspired by and tested within our target communities. We believe this unique, consumer-driven approach could serve as an effective model that can be scaled up and replicated in larger geographies.
Delta Institute conducted a training for the Cook County Sheriff’s office on sustainable deconstruction practices, enabling the County to train inmates in deconstruction and use paid inmate crews to deconstruct hazardous structures in Southern Cook County and structures managed by the Cook County Forest Preserve. The program will pave the way for inmate trainees to become certified as Deconstruction Workers through the Building Materials Reuse Association, providing a pathway into the workforce for individuals with significant barriers to employment.
With support from U.S. Forest Service, Delta Institute is establishing a hybrid poplar tree farm on brownfield sites in Muskegon, Michigan which integrate environmental improvement with community economic development. In 2013, Delta planted 3,000 hybrid poplar trees which are able to take up or stabilize environmental contaminants, like heavy metals, chlorinated solvents and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can find their way into a community's drinking water. The trees will also reduce stormwater runoff, which the EPA identified as the most important remaining uncontrolled source of water pollution. Once the poplar farm is mature, the trees can be harvested and sold locally, creating economic opportunity within the local community. This project supports Delta’s ecosystem stewardship objective and demonstrates how green infrastructure strategies can yield both environmental and economic benefits to communities and regions.
In partnership with Alliance for the Great Lakes and Chicago Wilderness, Delta Institute is developing tools and engaging state, regional and local stakeholders to prioritize coastal restoration and green infrastructure projects in Michigan City, Indiana. For this project, funded by US EPA and the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Delta is facilitating the stakeholder engagement process and providing technical assistance in the analysis and ranking of climate adaptation strategies and actions. This project provides Michigan City stakeholders the tools they need to be effective stewards of their unique ecosystem and underscores the importance of community engagement in sustainability planning.
With support from USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and in partnership with National Wildlife Federation, American Farmland Trust, Conservation Technology Information Center, EKO Asset Management Partners, American Carbon Registry, Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma Conservation Commission, and DNDC-Applications Research and Training, Delta Institute is working to support farmers in implementing innovative conservation practices through greenhouse gas (GHG) credit markets. Delta is working with farmers in Illinois, Michigan and Oklahoma to test a range of models to estimate and credit on-farm reductions of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions. This project has the potential to set a new approach for conservation agriculture.
In 2014, Delta launched an innovative partnership with The Climate Trust to use nitrogen credit transactions to reduce agricultural nitrous oxide emissions. Delta is leading a coalition effort to engage farmers to participate and will work with farmers to quantify their nitrous oxide reductions, package those reductions into credits, and list those credits on the American Carbon Registry. Profits from the sales will be returned to the farmer, marking the first-of-its-kind credit transaction to reduce this harmful greenhouse gas. This pioneering work supports Delta’s ecosystem stewardship objective and was recognized by the American Carbon Registry with a 2014 Innovation Award.