Downtown Bridgeport is planning to emerge from rainstorms with a greener hue, thanks to an environmentally friendly rainwater filtration system being installed across the city.
On June 14, Mayor Joe Ganim joined other city officials in a groundbreaking ceremony for the installation of the city’s first bioswale, located at the curbside of Fairfield County Courthouse at 1061 Main St. A bioswale — short for “bioretention swale” — is a curbside installation that detours storm water runoff away from streets and sewage drains and into a shallow ditch with vegetation and a porous bottom.
Among major urban markets, Portland, Oregon, in 1996 pioneered this alternative approach with a bioswale installation in Willamette River Park designed to help keep pollutants out of the Willamette River. Closer to home, New Haven embarked on a program in 2015 that envisioned the installation of 200 bioswales across the city by 2019.
According to Lynn Haig, Bridgeport’s director of planning, the city’s bioswale project is not a new idea. “The city adopted a plan called Be Green 2020 about eight years ago, and this was one of its recommendations,” she said.
Haig added that the bioswale will divert storm water away from the city’s wastewater system, which carries an extra burden when heavy rainstorms blanket Bridgeport’s flood-prone areas. “The more stormwater that is kept out of that system, the less opportunity there will be for the overflow to be discharged into rivers and sound,” she said.
The first bioswale installation is being funded through a $50,000 grant from the Surdna Foundation, a New York City philanthropy focused on supporting sustainable communities. “The funding source found us,” Haig said. “Surdna reached out to us and encouraged us to find a location to install a green infrastructure project on Main Street.”
The bioswale design for Bridgeport was developed in partnership with the University of Connecticut’s Center for Land Use Education and Research and Michael Singer Studio, a Vermont company concentrating on designing public space installations to achieve environmental regeneration. The courthouse bioswale, which is expected to be fully installed by mid-July, will feature shrubs and decorative flowers, and it will be maintained by the Downtown Special Services District.
“The cost of this installation includes the bioswale design template, which we will now use throughout the city,” Haig said. “Future installations (will be) much cheaper.”
However, the city does not have an exact timetable regarding where and when future bioswales will be installed. “We don’t have a number,” Haig stated. “We would like to implement these where they are most feasible and practical. In some locations, it would be desirable but not practical.”
But while the details of Bridgeport’s bioswale network are being worked out, the mayor has already declared the concept a win-win situation for the city.
“A bioswale not only alleviates the burden on our city’s sewer system but also adds permanent landscaping to our concrete downtown,” said Ganim during the groundbreaking ceremony. “This project improves the quality of life in the downtown area by revitalizing our urban cityscape, while making green advances and improving the pedestrian and visitor experience.”