Preserving the Environment

These Miniature Gardens Prevent Flooding, Pollution and Look Pretty, Too

May 19, 2014
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These Miniature Gardens Prevent Flooding, Pollution and Look Pretty, Too
Curb side bioswales are designed to sop up rainwa­ter or sewer runoff that floods and pollutes the city's waterways. Getty Images
Oh, and they're helping this city save billions of dollars.

Anyone who’s living in a part of the country that’s been slammed by a torrent of rain recently (ahem, Florida) will appreciate this. There’s a new green buzzword that, as climate change forecasts much more severe weather to come, we need to add to our vocabulary: Bioswales.

In New York City, a coastal metropolis that still has images of Hurricane Sandy flooding its streets on its mind, thousands of these bioswales are popping up across the city. The most interesting part? New Yorkers probably won’t even notice them because they just look like any other curbside garden.

So what are these things exactly? Like a giant sponge, bioswales are designed to sop up rainwa­ter or sewer runoff that floods and pollutes the city’s waterways. The water that’s soaked up from the soil in the bioswale is stored into the earth below and nourishes the plants on top. As Fast Company reports, the bioswales in New York are about five-feet deep and can suck up as much as 2,000 gallons of water.

MORE: How the Oyster is Cleaning Up the Chesapeake Bay

But not only are the plants and trees sitting on top of the bioswales literally turning the city streets greener (hello, increase in property values!), but the bioswales themselves are saving the Big Apple a whole lot of money. Bioswale installation, which is part of the city’s $10 billion green infrastructure overhaul of its wastewater system, is much cheaper than putting in new piping systems into the concrete.

“The savings are in the billions because we’re deferring building massive treatment tunnels,” Margot Walker, the director of green infrastructure partnerships at the Department of Environmental Protection, told Fast Company.

For concrete jungles like New York City that do not have a lot of top soil to soak up rainwater, these bioswales are a smart additional defense system for extreme weather patterns to come.
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