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Stamford, Conn., Receives $1M for Bioswales to Cut Flooding, Stormwater Runoff

Thu February 16, 2023 - Northeast Edition #5
Stamford Patch

Mayor Caroline Simmons was joined at Rippowam Park in downtown Stamford by U.S. Congressman Jim Himes (D) and other local elected officials and municipal department heads to unveil the project’s funding
Mayor Caroline Simmons was joined at Rippowam Park in downtown Stamford by U.S. Congressman Jim Himes (D) and other local elected officials and municipal department heads to unveil the project’s funding

The city of Stamford, Conn., took a big step toward implementing green infrastructure by announcing on Feb. 14 that $1 million in congressionally directed spending will be used to construct 20 bioswales around town to help reduce flooding and stormwater runoff as well as improve water quality and neighborhood aesthetics.

Mayor Caroline Simmons was joined at Rippowam Park in downtown Stamford by U.S. Congressman Jim Himes (D) and other local elected officials and municipal department heads to unveil the project's funding, noted the Stamford Patch, a community news site that reports from many U.S. towns.

Bioswales are shallow trenches often constructed near catch basins with plantings and vegetation to help slow down rainwater, absorb runoff and filter out pollutants.

"We know bioswales help reduce flooding and stormwater runoff by 30 percent," Simmons explained. "[They are] a great way to help keep our residents safe when there are storms. [They] make our city more resilient, [and] help mitigate the effects of climate change."

In addition, she noted, bioswale use can remove contaminants from water and beautify neighborhoods.

Building them in Stamford fits in with Simmons' larger goal of making the city more resilient and sustainable, while also adding to the aesthetics of sidewalks with plantings and greenery.

Himes, who helped secure the funding, said the implementation of the green infrastructure will help improve the lives of Stamford residents since they will clean and beautify the city with more foliage. He called bioswales "win-wins," while adding that nearby Long Island Sound also will benefit.

"This is really a contribution to the cleanliness of the sound and all that that means for our area," he noted in his comments. "Environmentally, Stamford will be identified as a real leader for how to do urban spaces in a sustainable and responsible way."

Effective Bioswales Require Strategic Placement

Patch reported that Simmons hopes construction can take place as soon as possible, although she said it will take some time to identify the proper areas for Stamford's bioswales.

"We saw what happened after Hurricane Ida flooded our city, so we want to get these up as soon as possible[to] experience all the benefits," she added.

But Tyler Theder, with the city's Stormwater Management Department, told Patch that the bioswales will be strategically placed, primarily in the downtown area near catch basins.

"These things are very specifically located to be approximate to an existing drainage structure, and also in a place where we're not going to cause any problems; not near building foundations or other things where infiltrating water can be a negative," he explained. "We want to use bioswales as water quality treatment, and we want to make sure we put them in spots where they're going to provide the most benefit.

"Science tells us that any time there's more than 11 or 12 percent impervious surfaces — like rooftops, buildings, sidewalks or roadways — that the downgrading water quality is negatively impacted by them," he continued.

The way bioswales work is by making a cut through the granite curb, Theder noted, which allows storm water to enter the constructed trench/garden area. About 4 to 5 ft. below the surface, there are assorted sizes and grades of rock and aggregate material to help filter the water.

"What we're really trying to capture is that first flush — that first [measurable] precipitation that occurs on paved areas after the rain begins — because that's what is going to wash the oils, any trash debris, or residuals off the paved areas and into the bioswales for pre-treatment. Then any leftover spillover is going to go into the catch basin and the drainage system."

All this water must end up somewhere, Theder explained, and in Stamford's case, that is the Long Island Sound.

"It all goes there, and a lot of the time the only treatment that we have is really in the catch basin itself," he added. "This natural systems-based approach to green infrastructure is really important from a water quality perspective."

Bioswales Can Add to a Downtown's Aesthetics

David Kooris, president of Stamford's Downtown Special Services District, and a member of the mayor's climate council, told Patch he is looking forward to seeing the environmental and aesthetic impact of the bioswales.

Kooris plans to work with the city to find the best locations for them, and help keep them free of trash and debris once they are operable.

"It's not just about the utilities underground, but what happens on the ground as well," he said. "You can't really [build] them right where you have on-street parking [where] someone is going to be getting out of their car. Plus, we don't want to put bioswales where they will interfere with outdoor dining. It's about trying to find that balance."

Kooris also told Patch that he expects the bioswales, with their plantings and foliage, will add to the holiday and seasonal scenes in downtown Stamford.

"Just like we decorate the streets' trees with lighting, I do expect that [bioswales] would become part of that palate that we look to add onto to make it as great of an asset as we can for downtown and all of its visitors," he said.

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