Bioswales designed to redirect storm water, reduce flooding in Millvale

| Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Millvale has a history of heavy rains flooding its streets, but borough officials hope two new man-made devices will mitigate some flooding.

In a partnership with local environmental organizations, crews recently created two bioswales — landscape devices designed to slow and redirect storm-water runoff — on the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities' Mt. Alvernia campus along Hawthorne Road.

“The bioswales are important because we have a huge storm-water management problem in our region in general, and Millvale, in particular, has been subject to flooding,” said Jeff Bergman, TreeVitalize project director.

“Green infrastructure is a very effective and cost effective way to deal with storm water.”

The bioswales are part of a larger storm-water mitigation project. The borough of Millvale, with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and TreeVitalize Pittsburgh, received a grant of more than $700,000 through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, or PENNVEST, to plant 850 trees in the borough and build the two bioswales to help absorb storm water back into the ground.

One bioswale, located along Hawthorne Road, is about 400 feet long and collects water from the campus site and the roadway. The second bioswale collects water from a parking lot and hillside above Hawthorne Road.

Art Gazdik, an engineer with Groundwork Civil who worked on the engineering design for the bioswales, said the bioswales will help mitigate some local flooding issues at the bottom of Hawthorne Road at Evergreen Road.

“It mimics the stream that would have been in the valley prior to that valley being filled (for development),” Gazdik said. “It replicates the natural process that would occur to slow the water down quite a bit. … Water would flow through this area in a matter of seconds, but water routed through this bioswale would take about an hour from top to bottom.”

Best Feeds Outdoor Design completed the landscape design for the projects by adding flowering plants to the parking-lot bioswale and focusing on native plants along the Hawthorne Road device.

“We were looking to create something that looks like a natural stream bed, and that's what guided the plant selection down there,” said Matt Little, landscape division manager.

The North Area Environmental Council also partnered with the borough and Groundwork Civil to receive a grant through the Allegheny County Conservation District to monitor the water flow for up to one year to determine the efficacy of the bioswales. The data will be used to create site-specific future bioswale projects in the Pittsburgh region.

“We're very lucky to have them,” said Eddie Figas, the borough's community and economic development director, of the bioswales. “It all comes down to water collection and getting as much water out of the system as possible. We would rather have it absorbed into the ground naturally than having it run off and collected in the sewer system.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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