A natural solution to stormwater runoff, it’s a buzzword worth knowing

These days, eco-terminology pops up like weeds in your garden. And now, here’s one more to add to your vocabulary:

Bioswale.

That fancy word refers to a simple way of retaining stormwater—in order to improve its quality before it enters our lakes and canals, reduce the threat of flooding, and keep it away from people, places and things.

In South Florida, we commonly see flash flooding, especially on the east side of the county, where 6 inches of water can accumulate quickly in heavy rain. Our stormwater systems aren’t designed to handle quick, large amounts of water—they’re designed to divert a steady flow of water. Heavy rain strains the system, and that’s dangerous for our residents.

Bioswales offer an attractive, environmentally friendly solution for water treatment and retention. Whether designed as a rock garden or as a planted garden, bioswales can become part of the landscape and help our drainage system. They can be a combination of vegetation, gravel, rock and piping depending on the intended use and space available. They improve biodiversity by creating habitats for birds, amphibians and mammals.

Broward County’s Environmental Protection and Growth Management Department regulates stormwater runoff, and new developments must receive a permit from this agency. The department aims to ensure stormwater is captured and diverted so that neighboring properties and habitats are not damaged.

For new construction, the site planning stage is the perfect time to look into a bioswale. A knowledgeable engineer or landscape architect can offer advice during the early processes.

Existing properties also can help by adding specially designed bioswales. They’re low-cost, environmentally friendly alternatives to having rainwater fall from your roof, down your driveway, and into a catch basin. Even better, you can use the collected rainwater as a water source for your landscape or a backup for hurricane season.

Midtown, a new residential development in the city’s MainStreet area, is working through the permit process. Plans for a series of bioswales have been submitted to the county for stormwater management review. They’re the first of their kind for the city. They’re planned along the southeast corner of the development, along Sample Road and along the interior MainStreet roadway. The design consists of a rock bed surrounded by specifically selected plants that thrive in this environment.

So if you see medians and swales around town that are teeming with plant life, they might just be new bioswales—wonderful alternatives to traditional drainage concepts.

What Are the Benefits?

  • Natural water treatment
  • Improved stormwater quality entering the lakes and canals
  • Reduced volume of stormwater runoff
  • Reduced strain on the stormwater system
  • Increased infiltration and groundwater recharge
  • Boost to biodiversity
  • Beautification