DOI / VISTA Team Projects

Heartland Conservation Alliance

Brianna Leiker

DOI / VISTA: Brianna Leiker
Supervisor: Jill Erickson
Address: 4750 Troost Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri 64112
County: Jackson
Voice Telephone: 816-813-0944
Web site:
Congressional District: 5
Bureau: United States Geological Survey (USGS)


Founded in 2012 by a group of citizens who care deeply for the beautiful places in our city, Heartland Conservation Alliance’s (HCA) mission is to build an alliance of individuals, groups, and communities to protect natural resources across the Kansas City region for the enjoyment and benefit of all. They believe in power of the people and are working to actively engage the public so our work will make the place we call home- where we work, play, live- have lasting value. Their current project focus is the Blue River Watershed.

About the Surrounding Community

Covering 270 square miles, the Blue River comprises the largest watershed in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area and is home to one million people. Its drainage is divided between Kansas and Missouri, and flows through three counties, twelve cities, and ten school districts. The Blue River is impaired by bacteria, nutrients, low oxygen content, and Chlordane.  The lower watershed has been urbanized, industrialized, and channelized by the US Army Corps of Engineers, primarily for flood mitigation. Land use along the first four miles of the river is industrial with many salvage yards and similar operations within the original flood plain.  In the portion of the Blue River watershed where HCA is focusing, the median household income is approximately $30,000 per year, in contrast to almost $57,000 per year for the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Within these areas, approximately 82% of the population is African American or Hispanic, compared to 20% across the MSA.

The Blue River watershed has suffered from frequent and serious flooding (including loss of life and significant property damage), combined sewer overflows and basement backups, degraded water quality from point and non-point sources, and habitat loss from channelization; all of which significantly contribute to poverty, economic disinvestment, and blight. While the Corps of Engineers and City have invested over $300 million in flood damage reduction, flooding has not been fully mitigated. And there are approximately 3,000 vacant lots documented in the project area, many of which are in areas prone to flooding and sewer backups. These vacant lots and associated abandoned structures impose a heavy burden of maintenance on the city, estimated at about $8.4 million annually. This in turn increases utility rates and diverts revenue from other City maintenance and neighborhood programs.  The vacant lots are also a magnet for illegal dumping, crime, and they create significant blight.  According to U.S. EPA, the area ranks in the upper decile of Missouri communities for numerous Environmental Justice indicators, particularly exposure to hazardous airborne pollutant; and proximity to contaminated sites and active treatment, storage, and disposal facilities. Additional issues include little access to open space, safe, healthy outdoor recreation options, “food deserts”, and undesirable uses such as scrap metal yards. 

Project Overview

DOI/VISTA Lauren Garrott works with the HCA Program Manager and HCA’s partners to better connect youth and adults from target communities to programs, education, training, job opportunities, and services and resources. Currently, the DOI/ VISTA is working to establish a volunteer Urban Eco-Stewards program to support HCA and partners’ projects that provide job and leadership skills and address blight and natural resource degradation. Eco-Stewards are recruited from targeted communities that are identified using Census demographic data and poverty indicators. Through the Urban Eco-Steward project, HCA and the DOI/ VISTA are helping their partners increase their capacity to provide community services and engage more youth in order to restore and protect the natural environment in impoverished communities.

Sponsors and Partners

For more information please visit:!steering-committee/cqof