RainSmart Yards awards homeowners for conscientious, creek-friendly practices in and around their homes.



In partnership with the City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County, the RainSmart Yards initiative was founded in 2018 under the name My Tennessee: Clean Water Starts Here. This award program recognizes creek-friendly yards that capture and retain stormwater during rain events, as well as create habitat for native plants and pollinators.


Take the RainSmart Yards Survey!

In order to receive an award, you must have your yard visited in person by a WaterWays staff member or volunteer.

It’s that time again! After we successfully bested Knoxville last year, we’re bringing back the NoogaKnox Challenge for round two! 

From World Water Day (March 22nd) until the first day of fall (September 23rd) we’ll be counting RainSmart Yard certifications toward our friendly competition with Tennessee SmartYards in Knoxville to see which city has more residents taking action in their yards to protect downstream water quality.

Every yard certified puts us closer to the goal of retaining our crown and the bragging rights that come with it! This year we’re also adding in the “Battle of the Mountains” Challenge where residents from Signal and Lookout Mountain can compete to see which mountain is most invested in improving water quality. 

Our overarching goal is to to motivate all Tenneseans to take an active role in the health of our streams. Make sure to sign up for a RainSmart Yard survey and then check out the ongoing results of each challenge on our dashboards by clicking here for NoogaKnox and here for the Battle of the Mountains!

Check out the NoogaKnox story map for more information!

Let’s talk stormwater. 

During a rain or snow event, the water that falls to the earth is called stormwater. This water soaks into the soil, is carried into waterways, or creates puddles that eventually evaporate, all contributing to the natural water cycle. However, the addition of human infrastructure like roads, buildings, lawns, and parking lots disrupts this cycle and leads to increased pollution and flooding. 

This image shows an example of a municipal stormdrain

When excess water makes its way across impervious surfaces like paved roads, it picks up chemicals and other pollutants which will most likely make their way to rivers and streams. Most stormwater is untreated, going straight from a streetside drain to the nearest waterway.

Understanding this direct connection can make a big difference in the health of our local creeks and streams. Individuals can take actions on their property to mitigate stormwater and limit their overall water usage, lessening their impact on the ecosystem. Keep reading to learn how YOU can make a difference in your community and in your watershed! 


Creek-friendly yards provide all kinds of benefits

Little actions can make a big difference! Our three-tiered system awards homeowners who are practicing sustainability both inside and outside of the home. Use this comprehensive checklist to see what you’re doing right in your yard, and what you can improve! All of the criteria must be completed to achieve an award. If you’re still not quite sure where to start, our staff is happy to conduct a site visit to your home to talk about how we can get you to Gold!

50-74% of stormwater runoff is buffered from any lawn or impervious surfaces.

Invasive species (i.e. kudzu, privet, stilt grass, bittersweet) are either being removed or are not present. Invasive/exotic plants are removed or avoided. 

Native plants are incorporated into the landscape. 

All trash from the property is disposed of properly and not left on the ground. 

Grass clippings are left in place or composted. Improper disposal of grass clippings includes bagged with plastic and trashed, or blown into streets and storm drains. 

The lawn is mowed no shorter than three inches. 

Sprinklers are adjusted to avoid hitting paved surfaces and calibrated to only provide enough water for plant needs. If using septic, NO sprinklers should be used within the septic drain field. 

All downspouts are directed onto a lawn or garden rather than into drainage channels, onto impervious surfaces, or into waterways. 

native plants benefit the landscape

There is a pollinator garden with at least three species blooming throughout each season (spring, summer, and fall).

Personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and all toxic substances (including automotive vehicle fluids) are recycled and disposed of in accordance with EPA recommended practices. 

If you use mulch: Acceptable options include organic pine straw, pine bark, leaves, or hardwood mulch without added dyes. 

If you have a swimming pool: The backwash and drainage is buffered so it doesn’t enter a waterway. 

If you have a pet: All animal waste is collected and disposed of in the trash, composted, or buried a minimum of 10 feet from stormwater access points or waterways. 

If you use pesticides/herbicides: Only affected areas are spot treated using environmentally friendly pesticides/herbicides, such as horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps. 

If you have a septic tank: The system is working properly and is inspected regularly to prevent drainage from entering any waterways. Look for evidence of possible leaks, which may appear in the form of green spots in the lawn or mushy soil. 

If your property touches a waterway, stream, or other water conveyance: Begin creating a buffer zone of native plants that is not maintained by mowing, fertilizers, or pesticides along the waterway. 

Benefits of native plants:

  1. Low maintenance. Once established, native plants generally require little maintenance.
  2. Beauty. Many native plants offer beautiful showy flowers, produce abundant colorful fruits and seeds, and brilliant seasonal changes in colors from the pale, thin greens of early spring, to the vibrant yellows and reds of autumn.
  3. Healthy Places for People. Lawns and the ubiquitous bark-mulched landscapes are notorious for requiring profuse amounts of artificial fertilizers and synthetic chemical pesticides and herbicides. The traditional suburban lawn, on average, has 10x more chemical pesticides per acre than farmland. By choosing native plants for your landscaping, you are not only helping wildlife, but you are creating a healthier place for yourself, your family, and your community.
  4. Helping the Climate. Landscaping with native plants can combat climate change. In addition to the reduced noise and carbon pollution from lawn mower exhaust, many native plants, especially long-living trees like oaks and maples, are effective at storing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. 
  5. Conserving Water. Because native plants are adapted to local environmental conditions, they require far less water, saving time, money, and perhaps the most valuable natural resource, water.
  6. Wildlife. In addition to providing vital habitat for birds, many other species of wildlife benefits as well. The colorful array of butterflies and moths, including the iconic monarch, the swallowtails, tortoiseshells, and beautiful blues, are all dependent on very specific native plant species. Native plants provide nectar for pollinators including hummingbirds, native bees, butterflies, moths, and bats. They provide protective shelter for many mammals. The native nuts, seeds, and fruits produced by these plants offer essential foods for all forms of wildlife.

Information courtesy of The Audubon Society


City of Chattanooga RainSmart Program

RainSmart is a homeowner’s incentive program that reimburses City of Chattanooga residents for installing green infrastructure projects on their property. 

@ 2022 WaterWays