Program Purpose: Climate Resilience for Watersheds, Nature and People

It’s not by chance that the more fierce thunderstorms happen in the heat of summer. Water and weather are intimately connected in that way. As air temperatures rise, the atmosphere holds more moisture and energy in it. That extra humidity in the air has two effects: it further adds to the warming effect and it increases the intensity of rainfall events that follow. This is one of the many ways that our water resources are affected by shifting local weather patterns and the global changing climate conditions that drive the local weather.

The waters of Tennessee play an important role in this dance of changing conditions and extreme weather, including floods, drought, and storms. Our streams and lakes are being affected by the changing weather of recent decades. A primary example was the extreme rainfall and flooding event in middle Tennessee in May 2010. This flood was typical of the projections made by scientists for the expected impacts on our water cycles from the steadily increasing global average temperatures. Even one degree more heat in the air and water effects aquatic life and can contribute to increased frequency and intensity of rain, snow, and wind storm events. The risks that come with these changes are not limited to extreme weather. Warmer waters also raise the risks of water pollution, fish stress and disease, more water borne and insect borne illness for people and animals, more invasive species, and secondary impacts of both drought and flood conditions to farms, towns, and natural habitat.

The staff of the Cumberland River Compact is working to address these risks to our water resources from changing climate conditions. Since 2006 the Compact’s program director, Gwen Griffith, has collaborated with the Model Forest Policy Program on the Climate Solutions University: Forest and Water Strategies (CSU) program. Gwen directs the CSU virtual planning curriculum that guides communities through a 10-month climate adaptation planning process. Each community comes out of the program with a locally focused, actionable, and ready to implement climate adaptation plan. To date, 33 communities across the country have completed climate adaptation plans through Climate Solutions University program.

In Tennessee four communities have participated in the CSU program. The City of Cookeville was the southeast pilot community in 2009 and became the first city in TN to include climate provisions in their new Cookeville 2030 Comprehensive Plan. In 2010, Sumner County Planning participated in the first full year of the CSU program. They developed a climate adaptation plan that identified resilience goals for the county to increase tree canopy county-wide, develop policies to protect the steep forested slopes of the ridge region, and improve stormwater management practices. In 2011, the Middle Nolichucky Watershed Association led the planning process for Greene County, TN and developed a plan focused on riparian restoration and forest conservation in this rural county.

In 2015 the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (NMPO) led the CSU planning process and developed a regional resilience plan covering their 7-county region in middle Tennessee. Their plans brings a resilience focus to issues of sustainable growth, transportation planning, and public health, equity and welfare.

Despite the high risks that changing conditions pose to our waters, forests, wildlife and people, this challenge brings with it big opportunities to work together on the many ways we have available to reduce the impacts of changing conditions to our watersheds and our communities.

Details of the Climate Solutions University program and examples of completed adaptation plans are available through our partner’s website, the Model Forest Policy Program, at

(Map to the right are 33 CSU Communities from 2008-2016)

    Click below for more information on the connections between changing climate conditions and water resources:

    US EPA Climate Change in Water Sector | River Network – River Voices July 2016: Climate Change

    Climate Wizard | Climate Central