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New partnership reveals power, innovation of natural infrastructure

Some of the world’s most important feats of engineering come from natural formations.

Sand dunes are engineered to prevent erosion. Floodplains along rivers give them space to ebb and flow while protecting communities from flooding—and also filter out pollution and provide wildlife habitat.

Now, a new initiative between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the University of Georgia, bolstered by a $2.5 million federal grant, will expand the work of the Army Corps’ Engineering With Nature program along with encouraging natural infrastructure in the public and private sectors. The grant will connect Engineering with Nature with UGA’s Institute for Resilient Infrastructure systems to form a new initiative: the Network for Engineering With Nature.

“We are delighted to be working closely with the Corps of Engineers’ world-class researchers. Together, we can take our research on natural infrastructure to the next level and inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists who will reshape the nation’s water resources infrastructure,” says Brian Bledsoe, a professor in UGA’s College of Engineering who specializes in resilient infrastructure and the project leader. The partnership will also involve experts from the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, the Odom School of Ecology, UGA’s River Basin Center and the Center for Integrative Conservation Research.

At Warnell, professor Nate Nibbelink and Rhett Jackson, graduate coordinator and the John Porter Stevens Distinguished Professor of Water Resources, are working directly with the project.

In total, 16 UGA researchers across 10 different colleges and departments will apply their expertise to the new Network for Engineering with Nature and its mission. The Corps’ Engineering with Nature initiative was originally developed to efficiently and sustainably deliver economic, environmental and social benefits through the use of natural infrastructure. By using a combination of natural and conventional processes and materials, natural infrastructure can protect people, homes and habitats.

In an ambitious set of pilot projects, the researchers will improve methods for using natural infrastructure to strengthen community resilience, create models and dashboards that allow designers to map out how natural infrastructure can provide more benefits to society, and inspire a new generation of engineers, ecologists and social scientists to use natural infrastructure through education and workforce development.

For more information about the Network for Engineering with Nature, visit https://n-ewn.org/.

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