To the Editor:
There has been a lot of discussion recently about the placement of bioswales, also known as rain gardens, in our communities. These structures are to be placed curbside, along our streets, for the purpose of absorbing run-off water in order to reduce flooding and to lower the amount of water running into our storm drains. The bioswales would be constructed, for the most part, between the curb and the sidewalk on city property.
Bioswales are permeable areas that include plantings and a low barrier fence that take in runoff water and absorb it through a series of special soils and drainage stones. They are attractive and environmentally beneficial. Given the amount of development in all areas of the city and the excessive use of cementing over large portions of building lots, bioswales are designed to help reduce the amount of water that often flood streets and homes during storms.
Bioswales also reduce the amount of water taken in by our infrastructure of storm drains. Many areas have combined sewer overflow systems that mix runoff water with sewage material coming from homes and businesses. When a storm produces so much water that the drains can no longer handle the run-off, huge amounts of combined sewage is released into our waterways adding to pollution.
Unfortunately, the implementation of the bioswale program by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection has caused many concerns and questions to be raised. DEP needs to do a better job of educating people as to what bioswales are and do.
There is also the question as to who will maintain the bioswales. DEP claims they will come around to do that on a regular basis, however, many people are skeptical of city agency promises.
Some ask why aren’t more bioswales constructed on highway medians and along other open spaces. They could be made larger and therefore more water.
People wonder who is legally responsible if someone falls over a bioswale and gets injured, the city or the adjacent homeowner? One would assume that the city is responsible, since bioswales would be placed on city property.
Then there are the issues of what can be done to improve water runoff in general, like why doesn’t the city do a better job of keeping storm drains and catch basins unclogged in order to absorb more runoff water? Also, why isn’t there more effort being made to preserve and protect mature street trees that absorb huge amounts of water? And also, why doesn’t the Department of Buildings enforce regulations more forcibly that ban the paving over of front yards in certain zones that should remain open and porous to absorb rain water?
These issues and questions can be resolved through community discussion and better education efforts. In any event, bioswales are beneficial, however, considerations and explanations to the public need to be given by city agencies if this project is to be successful.