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Bioretention Swales: A Nonstructural BMP Approach to Achieve New Standards

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Bioretention swales are unique stormwater management facilities that possess the multifunctionality of conveying, treating, detaining, and infiltrating runoff. The bioretention system consists of an organic soil media layer that supports a robust ecosystem, including native vegetation, microorganisms, and macroinvertebrates. During the more frequent smaller storm events, which make up the majority of annual runoff, stormwater is treated by the bioretention system, and then either discharged through an underdrain or infiltrated. During extreme storm events, such as the 10- and 100-year events, the swales convey stormwater safely to downstream receiving waters. Newly-adopted Stormwater Management Regulations in New Jersey have forced engineers to incorporate low-impact development (LID) technologies into their designs. The LID approach uses decentralized, nonstructural best-management practices (BMPs), such as rain gardens and swales, located throughout the site, to mimic the natural hydrology and treat polluted runoff. We have utilized bioretention swales in our designs to meet the stringent new rules, which regulate the quantity and quality of runoff, the volume of recharge, and the use of nonstructural strategies on the site.

This manuscript examines our experience with the design and application of bioretention swales in New Jersey. We discuss their components, hydrologic processes, and water quality benefits. We then discuss how their functionality allows engineers to meet the stringent New Jersey Stormwater Management Regulations. Finally, three case studies are presented to demonstrate how bioretention swales were incorporated into LID designs for a community center parking lot, a highway retrofit, and a high school.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: October 1, 2007

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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