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A Watershed Moment: Partnership between CEE PhD Student and Local Middle School is Win-Win

JessicaThompsonStudents at South Doyle Middle School have been getting their feet wet – literally and figuratively – in a water resources engineering project led by CEE PhD student Jessica Thompson. Thanks to a grant through the Tennessee Healthy Watershed Initiative, as well as the young laborers at South Doyle and collaboration with the Tennessee Water Resources Research Center, she’s been able to build and monitor a 60-ft long Regenerative Stormwater Conveyance (RSC) at the school, which backs up to Baker Creek.

RSCs are used to help repair erosion from stormwater outfalls while treating stormwater runoff through filtration, infiltration, microbial action, and sedimentation. They are mostly used in other regions of the country, but Thompson hopes the project will demonstrate that it can be successful in East Tennessee to help slow down the flow of water before it reaches a creek.

Baker Creek is on the 303(d) list of impaired waters, specifically for pathogens, nutrients, and habitat alterations. The 5-acre site at South Doyle Middle School is 74 percent impervious, which means that without the RSC, a large amount of stormwater was running directly into the creek. The RSC treatment method is designed with step pools (dug with an earth mover) to slow down the flow of runoff to make it easier for water to drain into the ground before it reaches Baker Creek. The pools were then lined with a sand and mulch media, rocks, and native plants to help fulfill its dual function: allowing small storms to infiltrate and travel through the system as shallow groundwater flow, and allowing large storms to travel through a series of step pools to dissipate energy and reduce erosive flows.

SouthDoyleSouth Doyle Middle School was a good site for this installation because of its proximity to the creek. Thompson also sees advantages to engaging students in the installation and research stages of the project to encourage them take ownership of the site and care for it well into the future. After Thompson graduates in December 2017, she will tend to the site through the summer, but then the students will have to take over from there. “It’s important that the students are invested in this project for the long-term after my work is done here,” she says. “If this project can prove to be successful, and all indications are that it will be, then we’ll also work toward making local stakeholders aware of its success and pushing for more installations of its kind along impaired waterways.”

Beyond the installation and data monitoring, Thompson is observing the site for ways to optimize its design and using modeling to identify improvements for projects down the road. With the kind of teamwork and commitment established, the project is on track for improving water quality in Baker Creek.