Stormwater Special: Bioretention
Parting of the Waters
Two award-winning stormwater systems in one watershed—one is
embraced by its neighbors, the other despised. Why the discrepancy?.
By Linda McIntyre
Wells Appel Land Strategies
Who wouldn’t want to live near a state-of-the-art stormwater
management system that doubles as a meadow planting and wildlife habitat?
Quite a few people, actually. Two award-winning projects in
Bucks County, Pennsylvania, illustrate the conundrum landscape architects face
when they try to move clients, and the public, in a new direction. Sometimes
ambitious practitioners achieve results beyond clients’ wildest dreams. In
other cases, a project that is successful in its ecological aims is
misunderstood or unappreciated by those intended to benefit, and its creator is
left bewildered and frustrated.
Bucks County’s location almost midway between Philadelphia
and New York City has fostered aggressive residential development since World
War II, along with development’s attendant downsides, including large volumes
of runoff and considerable nonpoint source pollution in local waterways. The
233-square-mile Neshaminy Creek watershed, home to both of these projects, has
suffered in recent years from floods, streambank erosion and sedimentation,
poor water quality, and loss of habitat.
As in other suburban areas, detention basins were used often
in Bucks County, not entirely successfully, to mitigate the impact of
stormwater as the problems became more apparent. Each of these projects took a
more holistic and ecologically sensitive approach, seeking to overcome the
shortcomings of existing detention basins. Each was successful in controlling
water flows, establishing a landscape of thriving native meadow plants, and
attracting birds, frogs, and other wildlife. But while one has been embraced
and celebrated by its community, the other is ignored or reviled by many of its
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