Green infrastructure — an approach to community development and water management that protects, restores, or mimics the natural water cycle — is coming to southeast Arkansas. The Arkansas Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Division (formerly Arkansas Natural Resources Commission) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently awarded a $100,926 nonpoint source pollution program grant to the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture to support the expansion of green infrastructure into southeastern counties within the state.

John Pennington, water quality educator for the Division of Agriculture, said that green infrastructure includes the incorporation of both the natural environment and engineered systems to provide clean water, maintain ecosystem functions, and provide a wide array of benefits to communities, people and wildlife. Green infrastructure is designed to be effective and economical, with the ultimate goal of enhancing community safety and quality of life.

Green infrastructure solutions can be applied on different scales, from homebuilding to landscaping, Pennington said. At the local level, green infrastructure practices include rain gardens, bioswales, permeable pavers, green roofs, green walls and rainwater harvesting systems. At the largest scale, the preservation and restoration of natural landscapes, such as forests, floodplains and wetlands, are critical components of green infrastructure.

Pennington said the grant funding represents a profound opportunity to bolster natural ecosystems in southeastern Arkansas.

“Southeast Arkansas has an amazing amount of naturally occurring green infrastructure, but there is both a need and an opportunity to maintain it,” Pennington said, “while simultaneously increasing the incorporation of green infrastructure into the ‘build environment’ since it can provide so many benefits to the people and communities in the region.”

The grant will support installation of 10 green infrastructure practices in portions of the Bayou Bartholomew watershed. The Bayou Bartholomew watershed is known as the longest bayou in the world, and the second most ecologically diverse waterway in North America, Pennington said. However, the bayou faces water quality issues associated with sediment, nutrients, and heavy metals.

The project seeks to reduce nonpoint source pollution and excessive stormwater runoff through the installation of green infrastructure practices, and encouraging additional green infrastructure practices by providing a series of educational workshops over the next two years.