When it rains: How the Mississippi River Basin is handling increased rainfall, flooding

Editor’s note: “When it Rains” is the the first collaborative project between Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk, an independent reporting network comprised by Report for America host newsrooms in partnership with the University of Missouri and the Society of Environmental Journalists, funded by the Walton Family Foundation. The desk’s mission is to increase coverage of agriculture and water use in an ecosystem from where 90 percent of America’s agricultural exports are grown and that provides drinking water and a livelihood for millions of people. This introduction and the entire project were published on The Columbia Missourian and in the participating newsrooms on October 10, 2022.

After floods hammered St. Louis and eastern Kentucky this summer, the Ag & Water Desk wanted to know: Is rainfall increasing in the Mississippi River basin? We worked with the nonprofit research group Climate Central to produce new data analyses on this question. The answer was “yes.”

We found that average annual rainfall has increased by 2-8 inches in the past 50 years throughout much of the region while also falling in heavier bouts, causing repeated flooding and raising many questions about how we live in a wetter world.

Editors and reporters across 14 of the Desk’s partner news outlets then talked with experts, regulators, advocates and residents about how this change is affecting the region and what people are doing about it. The Desk also worked with journalism students at the Missouri School of Journalism to get community input through an online survey, which further shaped the series.

Stories in the project include:

The Mississippi River basin is getting wetter as climate change brings era of extremes 

A search and rescue team wades through Troublesome Creek in Eastern Kentucky, searching for flood victims in an area jumbled with debris on July 31, 2022. (Photo by Jeff Faughender/The Courier-Journal)

To stay or to go: Increased flooding forces towns to make hard choices 

Laurie Thomas sits on the front step of her mother’s home for the last 50 years Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Freeport, Illinois. This past May, floodwaters rose to the first step and inundated the basement. (Photo by Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

A wetter world is changing farm country. Can growers adapt?

Ray McCormick shows off some native plants on wetlands he restored on his land near Vincennes, Ind., in May 2021. McCormick is a farmer and conservationist who sees lands in his area regularly flooding with increased rainfall. (Robert Scheer/Indianapolis Star)

Making room for the river: Communities look at nature-based solutions 

A pond marks where a levee was breached during the 2019 flood of the Missouri River in Atchison County, Mo., flooding levee district board member Regan Griffin’s farmland. The board hopes to set this levee back in the future. (Eva Tesfaye/Harvest Public Media)

Sidebars: Your questions answered; How we reported this series

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