UGA’s Cooperative Extension office in Camden County has experienced its fair share of soaked floors and wet shoes. When it rained, water streamed into the building.

UGA’s Cooperative Extension office in Camden County is home to the new bioretention cell.

Fortunately, these days the floors remain dry thanks to the installation of a new stormwater management practice that alleviates flooding and serves as an educational tool for visitors.

In 2019, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant teamed up with the Camden County Extension office and the Camden County Department of Public Works to find a solution to the flooding. The fix was a bioretention cell that captures and treats runoff by mimicking the natural water cycle.

“A bioretention cell is a landscape depression that is designed to hold the rain for about 24 to 48 hours to slowly allow the water to seep back into the ground,” said Jessica Brown, stormwater specialist for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, who led the project.

As stormwater flows over surfaces like the parking lot outside of the extension office, it picks up pollutants and carries those to streams and larger waterways, degrading water quality, Brown said. The bioretention cell limits the amount of runoff, keeping nearby bodies of water clean.

A bioretention cell is a stormwater management practice that helps mitigate flooding risks by layering organic materials such as sand, top soil, gravel, mulch and plants.

Brown first learned about the flooding issues from Jessica Warren, Camden County Extension agriculture and natural resources agent, who is based at the facility Woodbine, Georgia.

“Our office had some flooding issues when we had heavy rainstorms, or severe weather events, since the parking lot is slightly graded towards our building,” said Warren. “We would have water come in the doors and saturate areas in the office, so you would see it standing several inches up on the foundation of the building.”

UGA PSO Scholar Jake Forcier talks with Brown about his plans for the bioretention cell. Photo taken prior to February 2020.

With a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the assistance of a UGA student studying biochemical engineering, Brown designed and oversaw the installation of the bioretention cell.

The project was a valuable experiential learning opportunity for Jake Forcier, a UGA Public Service and Outreach Student Scholar interning with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

Brown “truly set me up for success and allowed me to put my best foot forward in my first engineering project outside of school,” Forcier said. “Going out there and seeing all my calculations being used to properly dig the bioretention cell was a really cool experience.”

Camden County’s Public Works Road Crew helps prepare the plot of land for the installation of the bioretention cell. Photo taken prior to February 2020.

Camden County’s Public Works Road Crew provided the tools and construction assistance for the installation. They worked alongside Warren and Brown to excavate the area and add sand and topsoil to form the base layer of the bioretention cell. Mulch, rocks and gravel form the second layer, and a variety of native plants including swamp sunflower, blue ageratum and blue-eyed grass were planted on top.

While the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the progress of the project, the bioretention cell was fully installed and functioning by the end of 2020. The native plants have been established in the area, and two rain barrels donated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Coastal Resources Division have been installed. The final step of the project is to create and display educational signage at the site in 2021.

Brown and Warren plant various native plants in the cell.

“We will hopefully have an open house and some educational events that will help give people examples and a demonstration of what they could do with their landscape issues, [such as] how to better integrate native plants or how to manage stormwater issues in their landscape,” said Warren.

The project, which was recently awarded the Four for the Future award by Georgia Trend and UGA Public Service and Outreach Division, has also opened the door for the Camden County Extension office to serve as an example for other communities in coastal Georgia experiencing similar issues.

Warren (pictured on the left) and Brown (pictured on the right) partnered together to create the bioretention cell that will serve as an educational tool for community members.