S6 E1 Jeff’s Vision for Expanding the EWN Lattice

Air Date: June 14, 2023

About This Episode

Host Sarah Thorne is joined by Jeff King, National Lead of the Engineering With Nature Program, to discuss his new role as the EWN National Lead, his vision for EWN, and what’s ahead for 2023. Welcome to Season 6, Episode 1, of the Engineering With Nature® Podcast.

The theme for Season 6 of the EWN Podcast is “Expanding the EWN Lattice.” Jeff says he was thinking about the growth of crystal structures—like ice crystals—that grow in three-dimensional, symmetric patterns. It is a metaphor for how he sees the EWN Program growing, expanding in a structured way, interconnecting in a specific manner. “When I think about building out all the elements that support and enable expansion of nature-based solutions—really it’s the people, it’s the projects, it’s the policies that determine what can and can’t be done, and it’s also the geography.” He adds, “So highlighting all these pieces and how they fit and intertwine so completely to form a lattice is the focus of this season of the Podcast. We’ll highlight innovative EWN topics and nature-based solutions.”

Sarah notes that, while the theme was intriguing, “it may be a bit geeky.” But it accurately reflects where EWN is going: “It’s growing in a very holistic way. The projects are larger, more complex, with many more partners and collaborators, and working with people at the community level. It’s a good picture and theme for Season 6.”

The EWN Podcast often features the personal journey of the guest, so Sarah asked Jeff to share his story. Jeff started early in his federal career in USACE’s Savannah District. Working in both regulatory and planning divisions, he developed an appreciation for wetlands, coastal marshes, and the features of those natural systems, along with an understanding of their importance within the natural landscape. Jeff collaborated on wetlands restoration work as well as island creation with colleagues at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and Savannah State University. From there he went to work at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Ocean Service at the Hollings Marine Laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina. While he was there, Hurricane Sandy struck the Northeast coast of the United States; and shortly after, the Corps coined the phrase “natural and nature-based features” (NNBF) in a publication that described the value and use of these features in the landscape. Jeff’s interests aligned seamlessly with EWN and the integration of NNBF.

After discussions with Todd Bridges—the recently retired Senior Scientist and former Lead of the EWN Program—about ways NOAA and the Corps could work together on NNBF, they hosted a workshop at the Hollings Lab. It was well attended by a broad range of scientists and researchers who identified several interesting projects, many of which have been featured on the EWN Podcast. The success of the collaboration and the interest generated in NNBF led Jeff to return to USACE. “I really saw an opportunity to continue to advance the knowledge and use of NNBF and be more directly involved with this science and engineering practice. I came over in the summer of 2016 and started working with Todd on the EWN Program. I’m so grateful for that opportunity and continue to just count my blessings every day.” Since that time, EWN has gone from an “experiment” to a full-fledged Program—“a movement with policies and support at the highest levels of government.”

USACE and NOAA workshop participants. Source: https://ewn.erdc.dren.mil/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/NNBF_Workshop_Proceedings.pdf

Collaboration is key to Jeff’s vision for EWN. The partners in the Network for Engineering With Nature (N-EWN) are making significant contributions to the advancement and integration of nature-based solutions (NBS) for resilience strategies. “We want to continue to build on, grow, and enhance those connections and the added value they bring, not just for the EWN Program, but for all who want to see NBS prioritized as an additional tool in the toolbox for resilience.” As Jeff notes, having a unified approach to NBS across federal agencies is a key priority of this Administration. And with increasing opportunities to incorporate EWN into future projects, communities are eager to be actively involved. “Communities and stakeholders want to see NBS as part of an overall strategy for creating resilience, while creating additional value for their communities, whether it is social benefits or environmental benefits.”

Members of the N-EWN leadership team contributing to the 5-year action plan, Feb 2023. Representatives pictured from NYC Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice and University of Georgia Institute for Resilient Infrastructure. Source: Sarah Buckleitner.

Jeff adds that Season 6 will also feature some of the exciting work being done on the military side of the Corps’s portfolio. “We’re working with more than 17 different installations around the country to have NBS included as part of their resilience strategies. We’re talking about the opportunity to create system-scale resilience inside and outside the fence line.”  

The Department of the Navy (DoN), the US Marine Corps (USMC), US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Engineering Research and Development Center (ERDC), academia, and the private sector collaborated to explore natural infrastructure (NI) opportunities for enhancing mission sustainability and resilience on installations, MCAS Yuma, 2022.

Jeff’s vision for EWN revolves around a large team dedicated to advancing the principles of EWN. Currently the EWN portfolio comprises over 60 active R&D projects, marking the highest number in EWN history. Leading each of those projects is a principal investigator who is working with his or her team to deliver the products that advances practice and understanding of NBS. “Part of my vision is to open that aperture larger and bring those individuals into this Podcast to share their stories and offer highlights of what’s been happening with their research.” He adds, “To accelerate the adoption of EWN, we need a much larger network and people that are all rowing in the same direction. That’s where “Expanding the EWN Lattice” really comes into play. We want to harness that energy across the large, multidisciplinary team representing a broad range of organizations that are really moving the needle in this space. That to me is doable and we will accomplish it.”

Episode Guests

National Lead, USACE EWN Program

President and CEO, Decision Partners Host and Co-Producer of the EWN Podcast


Engineering With Nature; EWN; N-EWN; natural and nature-based features; NNBF; nature-based solutions; NBS; natural infrastructure; ecosystem restoration; ecological engineering; ecosystem services; climate change; climate adaptation; collaboration; extreme weather events; community resilience; coastal resiliency

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