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About RainSmart

RainSmart is an incentive program for residential property owners that reimburses qualified Chattanooga residents for installing rain gardens & rain barrels, & native plantings that reduce the amount of stormwater that leaves their property. That means less water in our storm sewer systems, & less in our creeks & streams.

  • RainSmart Program's goals: Reduce stormwater runoff, encourage public envolvement & educate homeowners
  • What is stormwater? Stormwater, or stormwater runoff is excess rain water that occurs when rain falls on impervious surfaces (such as your roof, a parking lot, etc.) and doesn't get absorbed into the ground. This excess water then runs off those surfaces, and ends up in our creeks and streams. Stormwater can overwhelm our local water bodies, and introduce pollutants it has picked up along the way such as trash, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, sediment, e. coli, etc.
  • RainSmart is an incentive program for Chattanooga homeowners that reimburses eligible projects like rain gardens & rain barrels, because they capture stormwater and keep it on the property*

Programs inculded with RainSmart:

  • Rain garden reimbursement
  • Rain barrel reimbursement
  • SupportScapes native planting reimbursement
  • Rain Barrel Distribution Day
  • GRN: Growing Resilient Neighborhoods

 *Reimbursement is under discretion of the City's Water Quality Program. Projects must meet all requirements and documentation as provided by the RainSmart program to be eligible


Am I eligible?

Applicants will be prioritized based on site constraints on the property that allow or prevent a successful water quality project.

  • Must be a City of Chattanooga resident
  • Applicant must own the property
  • Project must demonstrate runoff reduction
  • Cannot currently work for the City of Chattanooga
  • Must be up to date on their water quality fee and property taxes
  • For our purposes, the rain garden or rain barrel will be collecting rain water from your roof via your gutter downspouts. This means you must have gutters and they must be connected to your rain garden or lead there through approved methods to be eligible for the RainSmart program


What is a rain garden?

A rain garden is a simple landscape feature for reducing stormwater runoff. It is a shallow depression filled with sandy soils, and planted with native plants suited to fluctuating water levels. Rain gardens help reduce stormwater runoff, & support the ecosystem by providing habitat & food for local species such as pollinators, birds, insects, & other organisms.


rain garden cross section diagram

*image: https://kglandscape.com/rain-garden-everything-need-know/


  • Rain gardens support our local ecosystem by using native vegetation
  • Rain gardens can reduce the amount of stormwater that leaves your property
  • Rain gardens are NOT water gardens
  • They do NOT contain standing water year-round
  • Rain gardens capture water during a rain event and then dry out within 72 hours (preventing any mosquitos from breeding)
  • They are NOT meant to decrease or prevent erosion on your property
  • They are NOT meant to decrease or prevent flooding on your property


Is a rain garden right for your yard?

Here are a few things to consider when thinking about a rain garden for your yard. While rain gardens are a great way to conserve stormwater, & support our local pollinators and ecosystem, they are not suitable for all yards and cannot solve all stormwater related issues. Please read the following to get a better idea if a rain garden is the right option for you. Once you apply, a RainSmart representaive can help you better assess your yard if you are still unsure.


  • If the spot in your yard where you would like a rain garden does not infiltrate water well now, it will not infiltrate better as a rain garden
  • If the place where you would like to put a rain garden is on a steep slope, this can make it more difficult for a sucessful project
  • Does your home have gutters? For our purposes, the rain garden will be collecting rain water from your roof via your gutter downspouts. This means you must have gutters and they must be either connected to your rain garden, or lead there through approved methods to be eligible for the RainSmart program such as a pipe, swale etc.
  • If you are experiencing stormwater on your property originating from off site, it is likely that RainSmart won't be able to address those issues


How do I get reimbursed for a rain garden?


We have 2 options available for rain garden installation/reimbursement. Keep these in mind and if you need more information we can send it to you when you fill out your application.

The "Install Only" Option: Follow the steps below to install a water quality project at your home

The "Workshop" Option: Follow the steps below to have your water quality project installed. In addition, we will host a half-day educational workshop at your home where the public & your friends/family can help with planting & mulching while learning more about water quality!


The process/how to apply:

  1. If you meet our eligibilty requirements: Please fill out this

    RainSmart application.

  2. We will reply via email and schedule a day to come out and assess your property for the project. We call this a "site audit".*If you have not received an email in response to your application within one week, please check your spam folder, or call (423) 643-5877.
  3. After we assess your yard, we will send you an estimation of your rain garden size, the reimbursement amount, & how much water you will be capturing
  4. Your property will have to pass a "percolation test" - this measures the infiltration rate of your soil and is vital to a sucessful project. It's easy. Just follow these perc test directions
  5. Who will be creating your project? You can choose install the project yourself, have one of our RainSmart Qualified Landscapers, or have someone else you choose- do it for you
  6. We will have you sign our "Homeowner's Agreement", which we will go over with you
  7. We need a plan drawn of the project - either by you, or a landscaper/contractor - which we will have to approve. (This can be basic, and we will provide templates to help you)
  8. The project will need to pass 2 inspections to make sure the construction meets our standards. -- One is when the rain garden has been dug out to subgrade, the other is when the projected is complete
  9. You or the landscaper will turn in all receipts for materials and labor along with our signed Homeowner's agreement
  10. We will begin processing your reimbursement


Thinking of building your own rain garden?

Check out these resources & guides


What is a rain barrel?

A rain barrel is a container or cistern that is placed below your gutter downspout to capture stormwater. They are a great way to have free water. This water is not potable, but can be used for various things such as watering your lawn or garden, washing outside windows & other items, or simply slowing down the flow of water from your downspout to your yard. 

image2 rain barrel diagram

*Image: Eagle Creek Alliance



How do I get reimbursed for a rain barrel?

If you already have a rain barrel installed at your home, or have purchased one that you can install, click the link below to see if you are eligible for reimbursement


I don't have a rain barrel, does the WQP offer them?

The Water Quality Program offers subsidized pricing on rain barrels for Chattanooga homeowners once a year through our annual Rain Barrel Distribution Day event. These barrels are already being sold at a subsidized price, so they are not eligible for further reimbursement




When people think of water quality, plants aren’t often what comes to mind. But take a moment to think about our natural water bodies, and our wild landscapes as real life examples of land and water working together. 

A healthy stream is surrounded by different species of grasses, rushes, shrubs, trees, and flowering plants. On a streambank, these plants make up what is called a riparian “buffer”- which is dense vegetation lining the banks that helps hold the bank together, keeps unwanted objects (such as trash) from entering, & provides habitat for creatures that make their home in and around the creek.

Does a meadow have trouble absorbing rain water? Does a forest? Only when we displace these systems with concrete or other man made impervious surfaces, do the natural areas have trouble bearing the load of extra water. The extra water is called stormwater runoff. It runs off of our roofs & roads, over burdens our creeks, causes erosion and flooding, and carries pollutants into our waterways. 

A SupportScape is an intentional planting of native plant species that is meant to mimic the stormwater mitigation that naturally occurs in meadows, forests, and other natural areas. SupportScapes give your yard support for stormwater, pollinators, soil stabilization, and the ecosystem.



Other ways to help

In partnership with the City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County, the My Tennessee: Clean Water Starts Here was founded in 2018. The award program recognizes and showcases homeowners and business owners around Chattanooga that implement sustainable and responsible environmental practices on their properties, benefitting not just their lawns but the entire community’s ecosystem.

Photo by Phillip Stevens and Matt Lea