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helps build a rain garden at the North Knoxville Branch, Knox County Public Library, in the Edgewood Park neighborhood of Knoxville
Andrea Ludwig, associate professor of ecological engineering, breaks up dirt while helping build a rain garden at the North Knoxville Branch of the Knox County Public Library in the Edgewood Park neighborhood of Knoxville. Ludwig is also the project co-principal investigator and faculty co-advisor for Hydrolunteers student organization. (Photo by Steven Bridges/University of Tennessee)

In an effort to enhance local conservation efforts and help residents who live in a flood-prone area of the city, three UT faculty members will work with a group of homeowners to install rain gardens in the Edgewood Park neighborhood of Knoxville.

The faculty members—Lisa Reyes Mason, associate professor and PhD program director in the College of Social Work; Jon Hathaway, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering; and Andrea Ludwig, associate professor of ecological engineering—are overseeing the rain garden project. They’ve received a $7,000 grant from the Alliance of Women Philanthropists and $1,000 from UT’s Office of Community Engagement and Outreach to fund the project.

Padmini Persaud, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a leader of the Hydrolunteers student organization, shovels dirt while helping build a rain garden at the North Knoxville Branch of the Knox County Public Library in the Edgewood Park neighborhood of Knoxville. (Photo by Steven Bridges/University of Tennessee)

A demonstration garden is now being built at the North Knoxville Branch of the Knox County Library in the heart of the Edgewood Park neighborhood. Interested neighborhood homeowners can apply to have a rain garden built on their property.

Mason said funding will pay for 10 gardens; residents will be responsible for their garden’s upkeep once it’s installed.

“Rain gardens are a form of green infrastructure increasingly used to sustainably manage urban storm water,” Mason said. “In residential areas, rain gardens fed by a home’s downspout can reduce water damage on the homeowner’s property, enhance quality of life through improved green space, and contribute to overall watershed health through reduced storm water runoff.”

While rain garden programs are becoming increasingly popular, they are often not readily available in more urban and socially or economically diverse neighborhoods. They are also more common in rural and suburban areas than in urban areas.

Mason said her project partners previously learned about the impact of flooding in the Edgewood Park neighborhood.

“We’re excited because we get to go to the next step with this same group and implement something to help them,” she said.

The Hydrolunteers, a group of graduate students mentored by Hathaway and Ludwig who volunteer on water-related projects, created the concept for the demonstration garden at the library. They pitched it to Knox County and Knox County Storm water officials.

After getting feedback and tweaking their plans, the students’ designs were approved.

Faculty, student volunteers, neighborhood residents, and county employees began working on the garden last week.

Clifford Swanson, PhD student in civil and environmental engineering hauls a load of dirt while helping build a rain garden at the North Knoxville Branch of the Knox County Public Library in the Edgewood Park neighborhood of Knoxville. (Photo by Steven Bridges/University of Tennessee)

Now the researchers are calling for interested homeowners to apply to have rain gardens built on their property. To be eligible, applicants must be homeowners in Edgewood Park and at least 18 years old, and their property must be suitable for a garden.

Construction of the gardens is likely to begin this fall and continue through next spring.

The researchers hope the project will help them gauge urban interest in rain gardens. They will follow up with the residents involved to see if the gardens are helpful and manageable, and if there are ways the program could be improved.

If the results are positive, the project could encourage other cities to institute rain garden programs.

Contact:

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)