VICKSBURG, Miss. – In this episode of the Engineering With Nature® (EWN®) Podcast, guests are Dr. Brian Bledsoe, director of the University of Georgia’s Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems (IRIS), and Dr. Todd Bridges, senior research scientist for environmental science with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and national lead of the EWN Initiative and the sponsor of this podcast. They discuss a new partnership, the Network for Engineering With Nature (N-EWN), to promote new practices and expertise and to foster the drive and passion for delivering nature-based solutions for infrastructure in the next generation of scientists, engineers, business leaders and decision-makers.
IRIS and EWN have a lot in common. The IRIS vision is to unite the conventional gray infrastructure with green or natural infrastructure to deliver a broader array of benefits continuously for people and society. In the past, infrastructure development was almost exclusively driven by engineering expertise. The progression underway in infrastructure development combines environmental and social expertise and practices with engineering, providing a multidisciplinary approach to collaboration, outreach, communication and solution development. IRIS has effectively bridged the divide between different disciplines — engineers, ecologists, social scientists, public health practitioners, landscape architects, lawyers and policy experts — by, as Bledsoe says, being open and humble and coming together to find equitable and sustainable solutions to 21st century infrastructure problems.
Reciprocal visits by individuals and groups from the University of Georgia and the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center quickly established that the two organizations were on the same page and the conditions were set for developing the N-EWN, which launched October 16. Research is needed to integrate engineering practice with natural systems, while also actively engaging practitioners and the communities that are going to receive and benefit from future infrastructure. Infusing EWN principles and approaches into training and education will support the professional development of practicing engineers — for example, within USACE and the private sector — as well as the development of future engineers, ecologists and social scientists, through new courses and curricula.
As Bridges and Bledsoe discuss, current research activities within the N-EWN fall into four areas:
- Developing rigorous engineering methods, standards and guidelines for planning, design, construction, finance and engagement;
- Making the value case for EWN projects and natural infrastructure that incorporates a broader set of benefits;
- Monitoring these projects thoroughly to improve understanding and consistency in how these systems perform over time; and
- Engaging with communities and working with people to develop policies that enable deployment of natural infrastructure.
When asked why this connection between academia and USACE is so critical now, Bridges was emphatic:
“Because we seek a revolution. USACE began as an institution to support a revolution in the year 1775. That revolution was a different one, of course, but that was the start of USACE. Today in 2020, we are revolutionizing within USACE how we deliver civil works — infrastructure, water infrastructure — for the United States. To power this revolution, you've got to bring in collaborators, and a particularly powerful collaboration is one between academia and a government research and engineering enterprise — working hand in hand with Bledsoe and his colleagues in academia on the same projects will advance our capability to produce these outcomes.”
Both Bledsoe and Bridges believe the opportunity in the 21st century is tremendous — to create infrastructure that supports a variety of value and benefits for communities, the environment and the economy. N-EWN will work to prepare the engineers, ecologists and social scientists of the future and to advance our capabilities to deliver these infrastructure solutions. In reflecting on the opportunities for EWN in the future, Bridges quoted a popular song from 1980s: “The future’s so bright, you gotta wear shades.”
Bridges and Bledsoe will present a live, web-based seminar about the N-EWN on Nov. 17 at 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. You can register to attend the seminar by providing your contact information at the following site: n-ewnseminarreg
Once registered, your name and contact information will be placed on the list of attendees. As the seminar date approaches, you will receive an email that includes information needed for accessing the virtual seminar.