The Grand Challengers Podcast Episode #24

The ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of green infrastructure, opening a ‘can of worms’ and gaining control of watersheds

Guest: Jon Hathaway

February 20th, 2024

Episode Teaser


“…Bioretention, I always call it in my classes, the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of stormwater management…”

Jon Hathaway, ….Associate Professor in sustainable urban water management, green infrastructure and urban pollutants at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, USA. Jon completed his Bachelor in Environmental Engineering in 2002 as well as his Masters and PhD in Biological and Agricultural Engineering in 2005 and 2010 at North Caroline State University. He has a passion for natural systems, from wetlands to bioretention and other green infrastructure and has been refining their design and implementation for stormwater management and combatting climate change.

On today’s show, Jon and I discuss and compare notes on the practice of green infrastructure in the United States of America and across the world. We not only cover technological aspects including the so-called ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of green infrastructure, but also current challenges in regulations across the US. In stepping up to the challenge of climate change, we also discuss how to better harness green infrastructure’s interconnectivity in watersheds through smarter design and control.


Jon M. Hathaway is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He obtained his Bachelor in Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering at the University of North Carolina in 2002 followed by his Masters and PhD in Biological and Agricultural Engineering (Masters with a minor in soil science) in 2005 and 2010 respectively. Jon’s research interests include urban pollutant fate and transport, green infrastructure and low impact development. He delves into anthropogenic influences on the environment, innovative monitoring instrumentation and broad topics around stormwater and coupled human and natural systems.

Jon has published over 70 scientific articles around his research interest and is active in the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) as well as the International Water Association’s Joint Committee on Urban Drainage (JCUD). He has supervised a large number of PhD and Masters students during his career and serves as committee member on a number of boards across the US, solidifying a long-standing working relationship not only within Academia but also with the stormwater practice in the United States. His current research has amassed over 10 million US$ in funding to embark on projects that will improve stormwater management not only in the US, but also globally.

Resources Related to the Episode

  • Travel and biking
  • “If I could draw better, I would be an architect” – I’ve had this discussion in depth on Episode 2 with Scott Lloyd and Episode 23 with Markus Vogl of the show
  • What are constructed wetlands? [USEPA] [Melbourne Water]
  • Who is Bill Hunt?
  • Green Infrastructure terminology debate… there are three good papers I would recommend!
    • Fletcher, T.D., Shuster, W., Hunt, W.F., Ashley, R., Butler, D., Arthur, S., Trowsdale, S., Barraud, S., Semadeni-Davies, A., Bertrand-Krajewski, J.L. and Mikkelsen, P.S., 2015. SUDS, LID, BMPs, WSUD and more–The evolution and application of terminology surrounding urban drainage. Urban water journal12(7), pp.525-542. [Link]
    • Ruangpan, L., Vojinovic, Z., Di Sabatino, S., Leo, L.S., Capobianco, V., Oen, A.M., McClain, M.E. and Lopez-Gunn, E., 2020. Nature-based solutions for hydro-meteorological risk reduction: a state-of-the-art review of the research area. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences20(1), pp.243-270. [Link]
    • Matsler, A.M., Meerow, S., Mell, I.C. and Pavao-Zuckerman, M.A., 2021. A ‘green’chameleon: Exploring the many disciplinary definitions, goals, and forms of “green infrastructure”. Landscape and Urban Planning214, p.104145. [Link]
    • Low Impact Development, as detailed by the USEPA
  • We reference the discussion on terminology in Episode 21 with Danielle Dagenais, one of the authors of the famous terminology paper that Jon mentions. You can check out her episode for a deeper journey into the ‘rabbit hole’.
  • Jon’s early work on swine lagoon seepage, treating groundwater contaminated by agriculture
    • The Simpson Movie [Trailer Link] – funny take on the big issue of swine waste
    • Cook, M.J., Hathaway, J.M. and Evans, R.O., 2008. The impact of swine lagoon seepage on shallow groundwater quality: Groundwater remediation through lagoon closure and pumping. Transactions of the ASABE51(3), pp.891-900. [Link]
  • Jon’s work on microbial water quality in green infrastructure and bioretention systems – the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of green infrastructure
    • Hathaway, J.M., Hunt, W.F. and Jadlocki, S., 2009. Indicator bacteria removal in storm-water best management practices in Charlotte, North Carolina. Journal of Environmental Engineering135(12), pp.1275-1285. [Link]
    • Hathaway, J.M. and Hunt, W.F., 2011. Evaluation of first flush for indicator bacteria and total suspended solids in urban stormwater runoff. Water, Air, & Soil Pollution217, pp.135-147. [Link]
    • Hathaway, J.M., Brown, R.A., Fu, J.S. and Hunt, W.F., 2014. Bioretention function under climate change scenarios in North Carolina, USA. Journal of Hydrology519, pp.503-511. [Link]
  • David McCarthy and his work on microbial water quality and removing bacteria and pathogens from stormwater runoff
  • More about the impact of tyre wear particles [Link] and a recent Swiss report on it being the largest source of microplastics
    • Switzerland’s SABAs (”Street Wastewater Treatment Facilities”) – a version of a bioretention system [Link in German]
  • Backyard GI: Mason, L.R., Ellis, K.N. and Hathaway, J.M., 2019. Urban flooding, social equity, and “backyard” green infrastructure: An area for multidisciplinary practice. Journal of Community Practice27(3-4), pp.334-350. [Link]
  • Stormwater Maintenance in the US, useful links:
  • Regulations in the US around stormwater
  • The challenge of climate change on green infrastructure and stormwater management
    • Weathers, M., Hathaway, J.M., Tirpak, R.A. and Khojandi, A., 2023. Evaluating the impact of climate change on future bioretention performance across the contiguous United States. Journal of Hydrology616, p.128771. [Link]
    • An example of a multi-functional playground that buffers floods [Link]
  • For those who are not entirely sure of imperial units…
    • 1 foot = 30.48 cm
    • A rain of 20 inches = 508 mm
  • Some initial work on monitoring and control in GI that Jon has been undertaking
    • Persaud, P.P., Akin, A.A., Kerkez, B., McCarthy, D.T. and Hathaway, J.M., 2019. Real time control schemes for improving water quality from bioretention cells. Blue-Green Systems1(1), pp.55-71. [Link]
    • Huff, J., Watts, J., Khojandi, A. and Hathaway, J., 2023, April. Deep Temporal Neural Networks for Water Level Predictions of Watershed Systems. In 2023 Systems and Information Engineering Design Symposium (SIEDS) (pp. 108-113). IEEE. [Link]
    • Persaud, P.P., Hathaway, J.M., Kerkez, B. and McCarthy, D.T., 2024. Real-Time Control and Bioretention: Implications for Hydrology. Journal of Sustainable Water in the Built Environment10(1), p.04023011. [Link]
  • Bill Hunt is a key person that inspired Jon to do what he does, likewise Ana Deletic inspired me and recorded a very memorable show with me. Check out Ana Deletic on Episode 9 of the podcast to hear her journey
  • The academic headache of grant writing and acquisition as well as the emergence of imposter syndrome [A useful article]. I also had a deeper discussion with Liah Coggins on Episode 12 about imposter syndrome, you can check out her episode for more reflection on this.
  • The importance of stupidity in scientific research: Schwartz, M.A., 2008. The importance of stupidity in scientific research. Journal of Cell Science121(11), pp.1771-1771. [Open Access Link]

Episode Chapters

(Chapters are embedded in the episode for quick access, click this to expand and view all chapters and time stamps)
  • 0:00 Intro
  • 1:59 Guest Intro, US Travel and Mountainbiking
  • 5:33 Jon’s interest in natural systems
  • 8:18 Exposure to green stormwater infrastructure
  • 12:04 Green infrastructure terminology
  • 17:11 Early work on swine lagoon seepage treatment
  • 19:50 Bioretention – the “Swiss Army Knife”
  • 22:19 Indicator bacteria, pathogens and other pollutants
  • 27:14 Interdisciplinary collaboration
  • 30:26 Backyard GI and stormwater asset maintenance
  • 36:39 Origins of GI? and implications for other places
  • 39:37 Bioretention, rain gardens, or biofiltration
  • 42:00 Regulations in the US around stormwater
  • 48:05 Impact of climate change on GI
  • 54:53 Monitoring and control of GI
  • 1:03:28 Q&A Start
  • 1:03:43 What inspires you?
  • 1:06:18 Key event, person, book
  • 1:07:36 Biggest challenge in career to date
  • 1:10:47 If you had a magic wand?
  • 1:13:15 Time management
  • 1:14:44 Advice for young researchers
  • 1:16:58 Where can people reach you?
  • 1:17:35 Final Message
  • 1:19:01 Outro

Connect with Jon Hathaway

Related Episodes

Episode #9 – Ana Deletic
From first flush and manholes to pendulums of stormwater, engineering and life

(Related Topics: stormwater; green infrastructure)
Episode #13 – Veljko Prodanovic
Going vertical in a green horizontal world and promoting urban water and nature co-design

(Related Topics: stormwater; green infrastructure; social aspects)
Episode #20 – Belinda Hatt
Stormwater control measures, healthy waterways, battleships and karate at the riverside camp
(Related Topics: stormwater; green infrastructure; bioretention; terminology)
Episode #21 – Danielle Dagenais
The paradox of nature – process and parts and its implications for green infrastructure
(Related Topics: green infrastructure; terminology; stormwater)