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American Society of Landscape Architects


September 2006 Issue

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

Stormwater Special: Bioretention 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 neighbors.

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