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A Blueprint for Cities to Reduce Stormwater and Flood Damages

Submitted by Russ Rote, USACE Nashville District

Nashville, Tennessee, recently won an award from Cities of Service for its development of a strategy to improve waterways and help mitigate future storm damage. The strategy, called Storm Busters, is a proven plan in which the mayor’s office engages volunteers to help mitigate damage from stormwater runoff and improve the health of the city’s surrounding waterways by planting trees and rain gardens, cleaning waterways, and restoring river and stream banks. 

In May 2010, 14 inches of rain fell in a two-day period in Nashville, which resulted in an historic flood that brought devastation to the city’s infrastructure and environment. Additionally, the pow-erful rains had flooded the city’s rivers, streams, and creeks, collecting and carrying materials such as household construction, waste, and woody debris downstream. Even though the waters subsided, the remaining debris was blocked or buried in the waterways or distributed across abutting properties and fields. This debris and the build-up of sediment and silt were dangerous for the environment and could potentially cause increased flooding and stream bank erosion. 

As part of Nashville’s recovery and restoration efforts, Mayor Karl Dean and Chief Service Officer Laurel Creech worked with the Water Department and community partners to identify ways to reduce the impact of future flooding, strengthen the city’s stormwater management system, and prepare the city to be more resilient in the face of future natural disasters. Some of the solutions depend on water being better dispersed and naturally absorbed. 

The City outlined a volunteer initiative in the Impact Nashville Service Plan, including planting trees and rain gardens in flood-affected areas to help absorb and manage stormwater and put in place a stronger natural absorption system for future rain events. Since 2010, HandsOn Nashville, the Cumberland River Compact, and other local conservation organizations have planted more than 7,300 trees and 60 rain gardens across the city, mitigating more than 2.5 million gallons of stormwater. In addition, thousands of volunteers are working to restore Nashville’s vast number of waterways. 

To date, volunteers have assessed more than 200 miles of waterways and cleaned 30 miles of waterways, removing nearly 300 tons of trash and debris. Funding to support the ongoing sustainability of these projects includes federal grants, support from the Nashville Tree Foundation, environmental grants and donations, and corporate sponsorships. Nashville citizens are planning to continue to implement preventative measures in efforts to create a more resilient and healthy infra-structure for its citizens. 

As designed, the plan can be modeled by municipalities that want to make their city stronger and more resilient to weather-related events. Nashville’s successes are presented in a report called “Storm Busters Blueprint,” which identies several key steps that a city might follow. These steps and requirements are abbreviated below: 

  • Conduct an initial planning meeting. 
  • Work with partners to engage volunteers. 
  • Measure the impact to demonstrate the results. 
  • Secure resources and material to complete project. 
  • Recognize volunteers who make Storm Busters a success. 
  • Request that the city or other organizations assist in training the volunteers. 

Full details of the report can be found online in the Cities of Service resource library under Blueprints along with other award winning strategies.