As rainwater runs down polluted streets, bioswales have become part of the city’s solution to absorb and collect stormwater runoff in what appears to be nothing more than a sidewalk tree and flower bed.
In actuality, these beds are deeply excavated curbside cutouts filled with gravel, designed with specially selected plants to store and absorb up to 2,244 gallons of water during a storm.
The new project is part of a $335,000 initiative to add to the already 119 bioswales citywide, with hundreds to be completed by the end of this year and thousands in the next five.
Combined with two similar installations completed earlier this year in Jamaica Bay and the Hutchinson River tributary, the three bioswale projects are expected to collect more than 7 million gallons of stormwater annually; water that would otherwise be deposited in the city’s sewer system.
“We want these green infrastructure bioswales to absorb rain, keep it out of our sewer, and that way we will have fewer overflows and no overflows if we’re lucky,” said DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland. “We know they work, it’s just a matter of how much they work.”
Designed after a similar project at the Bronx River House, the bioswales along Grove Street, between Goodwin Place and Wilson Avenue, will drain into a concentrated point and be monitored over the next several years for effectiveness.
“We’re replicating it here so we know it is going to work,” he said. “This work is essential to our shared goal of a healthy Newtown Creek and New York Harbor.”
According to Venetia Lannon, DEP regional director, heavy downpour episodes of more than four inches of rain per hour have increased by 50 percent over the past 25 years.
“Four inches an hour doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is enough to overwhelm our city’s wastewater treatment plants,” Lannon said. “When it's raining and coming down hard the water treatment plants back up and it goes into our waterways.”
The city plans to spend $2.4 billion in the next 20 years to fund green infrastructure and $2.9 billion on grey infrastructure upgrades to reduce combined sewage overflow.
“Rain takes litter into our storage drains and that too overflows into our waterways, bringing plastics into our oceans,” she said. “So when it rains it has a big impact on our environment locally as well as globally.”
Councilwoman Diana Reyna joined Strickland and Lannon at the unveiling on Monday, June 3.
“I’m excited to have bioswales in Bushwick,” Reyna said. “This is an incredibly innovative way to address street flooding, reduce sewer overflows into Newtown Creek and green the neighborhood.”