The highest property in the Urbana-Perry Park neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, sits just 10 feet above sea level. Homeowners William and Bonnie Kitts have lived there for nine years.
“This is actually my wife’s father’s grandfather’s home that he grew up in,” William Kitts said. “Most of the neighbors grew up here and know each other.”
Over the years, residential, commercial and industrial development has replaced grass and other porous surfaces. Heavy rains, especially at high tide, flood the area because the stormwater runoff has nowhere to go.
“The residential community hasn’t changed a lot, but the land use around it has been altered over the years,” said Jessica Brown, stormwater specialist at the University of Georgia’s Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.
To help communities like Urbana-Perry Park mitigate stormwater flooding impacts, the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant launched the Coastal Georgia Rain Garden program in 2019 with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The program is designed to improve stormwater management by teaming up with residents and small businesses in coastal communities to install rain gardens.
“Working with homeowners to adopt practices and invest in natural infrastructure projects on their properties offers an alternative to overhauling stormwater systems, which can be incredibly expensive,” Brown said.
Rain gardens are shallow, landscaped depressions that capture and filter stormwater and allow it to soak back into the ground. They are a cost-effective tool that can reduce flooding from runoff and treat pollutants before they enter waterways. They also conserve water and provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.
Brown worked with Keren Giovengo, who manages the EcoScapes sustainable land use program at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, to develop a rain garden guide that features information about rain garden design and selecting native plants for coastal environments.
Brown and Giovengo also piloted a program in Glynn County that allowed homeowners or businesses to apply for funding to help offset the cost of installing a rain garden. Six property owners in the Urbana-Perry Park neighborhood, including Kitts, applied for and received funding. Brown and Giovengo provided technical support to each homeowner, assisting with design, maintenance and planting.
Kitts worked with the city to get a permit so he could install his rain garden in a public right-of-way to capture runoff from the road and reduce the burden to mow that area.
“My neighbors who walked by over the last few months and saw the holes in the yard, are now walking by complimenting the beauty of it,” Kitts said. “I’ve got two or three more neighbors interested in installing a rain garden on their properties.”
“If I can encourage not only my neighbors but the city as well to install more rain gardens in our right of way spaces, it could be beneficial to the stormwater system, the city’s budget, and it’ll make the entire city look great.”
Rain gardens installed through the pilot program ranged in size from 25 square feet to several thousand square feet. They treat runoff from over 7,600 square feet of impervious surfaces and filter over 203,000 gallons of stormwater runoff annually.
“This program was meant to help provide and reinforce knowledge, as well as create an opportunity for people and communities to take action,” Brown said. “I really had no idea how empowered communities would be with technical and financial incentives. It has been thrilling to see these residents come together and support one another.”
Urbana-Perry Park residents have watched their gardens fill during recent summer rain events. The captured rainwater is cleaned as it slowly seeps into the ground, improving the water quality in Brunswick’s surrounding waterways while mitigating floods in the neighborhood.
Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant hopes to find additional funding to sustain the stipend program and ensure that it remains equitable and accessible to the communities that need it most.