New Haven invests in ‘bioswales’ to help reduce flooding, create better storm drainage systems

New Haven

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — We have had a lot of rainstorms in recent weeks, and when they hit urban areas, there’s nowhere for the water to go. Everything is covered in concrete and pavement. New Haven is on the forefront of giving that water a place to go, into something called a “bioswale”.

They make look like little decorative gardens, but they are much more. The City of New Haven has funded about 250 of these bioswales over the past few years. The Urban Resources Initiative — or URI — has installed most of them.

“The idea is that we’re capturing some of the normal infiltration that would happen if we hadn’t built sidewalks and roads and other things that aren’t able to absorb that extra water,” explained URI’s Matthew Viens

We’ve seen again and again how storm drainage systems can get overwhelmed in a rainstorm. So what if less water went into the system? With a bioswale, some of that water gets diverted before it ever makes it the storm drains. The bioswales are dug deep, then layered with gravel and dirt to help that water get into the ground naturally.

“I lived in the city all my life and I always drive and see corners flooded and cars can’t get through,” said Roger Johnson as he built the latest bioswale on Washington Avenue. “We’re building these to help relieve some of the flooding and the pressure.”

Johnson is part of Emerge, an enterprise hired by URI to install the bioswales. Emerge helps the formerly incarcerated integrate back into the community.

“I did so much bad that I didn’t ever think I could give back, and giving back through this is a win-win,” Johnson said.

It’s a win for the environment, too. A Yale professor estimates each bioswale keeps 75,000 gallons of water a year out of the storm sewers, and they are still adding more.

“We’ll be digging for the next few weeks, so if anyone is interested in the project, I encourage them to come by, talk to us,” Viens said. “We wear bright green shirts and we’re on site all the time.”

If you want to help the stormwater take its more natural course, experts say if you see any garbage in these bioswales, just pick it out and let the water get where it needs to go.

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