With 60,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 500,000 acres of lakes, Tennessee is home to one of the most biodiverse freshwater aquatic species in the country. Since two out of three Tennesseans live in urban areas however, watershed health is an issue.

The Tennessee Healthy Watershed Initiative (THWI) funds projects to preserve and restore healthy watersheds under the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

The initiative awarded $1.4 million to projects since its launch in 2011, with awards ranging from $20,000 to just over $157,000. Submissions for 2016 funding are being accepted through November 18.

TDEC communications officer Kim Schofinski said that what sets THWI apart is that it has supported restoration projects in addition to protection projects. Funding for the initiative still fluctuates.

"Currently, there is not an established and consistent funding source," Schofinski said, "We initiate a request for proposals when the commissioner’s office is able to find an available funding source."

Schofinski said following the application process, proposed projects are reviewed by a technical advisory group, which makes recommendations to the commissioner of which project to choose.

Two of the 16 projects that received funding from THWI between 2012 and 2016 were undertaken by UT faculty members.

Andrea Ludwig, associate professor in biosystems engineering and soil science and watershed faculty consortium chair, was awarded $90,000 in 2014 along with five UT faculty members to continue developing a handbook for developing water control measures for urban development projects.

Ludwig said the handbook would be a resource for engineers to help protect waterways from increasing urban development.

"We've been pretty fortunate to be able to work with TDEC who has recently had some resources available to put forward on this sort of work," Ludwig said. "I've been with the University for six years now, and I think the expectations for faculty to secure external funding are increasing every year and the amount of funding at the state and federal level for grants seems to be diminishing every year. We're lucky that TDEC has had those resources available recently. Any work being funding at the state and federal level to help our natural resources is definitely high priority.”

Assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering Jon Hathaway said his project on sustainable urban water management would not have been possible without a $113,000 award by THWI in 2014.

"Funding such as the THWI are extremely important to my program, providing opportunities to study water quality controls, fund graduate students and provide educational opportunities for K-12 students and practitioners," Hathaway said.

THWI will accept applications for funding until November 18.

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