Tennessee Aquarium, partners unveil vision, tools for region’s freshwater future

Authored By Eric Wise

Thrive and the Southeast Tennessee Development District have partnered with the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute to unveil a regional vision and tools that show area leadership how to treat natural resources as opportunities rather than obstacles.

On May 9, elected leaders, developers and other decision-makers will visit the conservation institute’s flagship facility on the banks of the Tennessee River to hear presentations from both organizations, according to a news release.

The event marks the launch of A Watershed Moment, a full-color printed map and vision, compiled from public input during the Thrive 2055 planning initiative, according to the news release.

Additionally, the development district will present “Hydro Lit,” a “water quality playbook” that was created on behalf of the district by graduate students in the College of Architecture and Design at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

“One major takeaway for this event will be how important advance planning is, whether we work in conservation or just enjoy being outdoors,” Dr. Anna George, the conservation institute’s director and the aquarium’s vice president of conservation science and education, said in a prepared statement. “Whether it’s a weekend camping with friends or a design for urban spaces, having a conversation in advance about our expectations, needs and challenges will help us create a result with joint ownership.”

During their visit, guests will receive printed copies of the Watershed Moment map and digital copies of “Hydro Lit,” according to the news release.

The 200-plus-page resource guide contains ways southeastern developers can preserve water quality and natural features while continuing to stimulate the responsible growth of the region’s communities.

As they crafted the proposals that became “Hydro Lit,” UTK students spoke directly to residents, companies and government agencies throughout the region, according to the news release.

This on-the-ground research helped them better understand the challenges the Southeast faces in growing in a sustainably water-friendly fashion.

“I think the experience brought the students face to face with the real challenges and the circumstances that would lead to water quality threats in the future,” Brad Collett, assistant professor in UT’s School of Landscape Architecture, said in a prepared statement. “That type of direct research as a way of grounding their proposals was one of the biggest benefits to them and really elevated the credibility of the proposals they developed.”

Using “Hydro Lit” as a guide, developers will be able to find ways to work with the environment, rather than against it, said Chuck Hammonds, assistant executive director of the development district.

“After this event, we hope that folks will look at development in a different light,” Hammonds said in a prepared statement. “Sometimes, if you incorporate those natural features into a development, it not only protects that environment but also enhances your appreciation of that feature.”

A Watershed Moment is a double-sided map of a geographic region including the Tennessee River watershed and its tributaries, according to the news release.

One side of the map highlights water features, historical sites, forests, trails and other natural resources across 16 counties in Southeast Tennessee, North Alabama and North Georgia.

The other side details collaborative vision statements from people of the region and broad action plans for the protection and promotion of these resources during the next several decades.

“I think that a lot of us take a region’s natural treasures for granted,” Thrive communication and outreach manager Ruthie Thompson said in a prepared statement. “The hope for us is that this map, this vision, will first bring hyperawareness to people in the region of what we have, how precious and rare it is and how vital it is that, as we grow, we prioritize what we want to save because once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”

During their visit, attendees will be given a tour of the conservation institute’s research facility, which was completed last October, according to the news release.

During their tour, attendees will be shown some of the site’s sustainable design features, including a rainwater catchment system, landscaping that reintroduced native plants and terrain sculpting that helped rejuvenate a nearby wetland.

Recently, the conservation institute received high praise during the Building Recognition in Chattanooga Awards, which recognize projects completed by Chattanooga-based firms that are prime examples of construction innovation, engineering and design, according to the news release.

The institute received four awards: People’s Choice for Sustainable Project of the Year, People’s Choice and Judge’s Choice in Best Commercial Design, and People’s Choice for Collaborative Building Team of the Year.

For a forum discussing ways to design future communities that will benefit from a harmonious existence with nature, the conservation institute was an obvious partner and the ideal venue, Thompson said.

“[Dr. George] and her crew are doing such incredible education and outreach, and they are underutilized at this point,” she said in a prepared statement. “This event had to happen at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute. It just had to.”

For more information about the event and to register to attend, click here.

For more information about the conservation institute, click here.