Florida Field Guide to Low Impact Development

Bioswales/Vegetated Swales

This bioswale cross section (left) depicts the swale with an underdrain, which may not be necessary in naturally well
drained soils. Surface runoff from the adjacent impervious area enters the swale diffusely through an energy reducing
gravel strip and then flows through vegetative buffers along the edge of the bioswale. Swales can be designed with swale
blocks (dashed lines perpendicular to flow arrows in plat view (right)) if there is a significant slope or by setting the
discharge elevation of the control structure higher than the swale bottom if the swale has little relief.

Definition: Objectives:
A bioswale or vegetated swale is a form of The function of these open-channel (broad)
bioretention used to partially treat water drainageways is to convey stormwater runoff.
quality, attenuate flooding potential and convey They are often used as an alternative to, or an
stormwater away from critical infrastructure. These enhancement of, traditional stormwater piping.
systems are linear, with length to width dimensions Bioswales are often integrated into parking lot and
much greater than the more typical 2:1 applied to road medians and parallel to roadways to infiltrate
bioretention cells. and treat a portion of the stormwater volume.
These systems can often be integrated into existing
ditch and swale systems to increase their treatment
function. Where soils are well drained, infiltration
can also be facilitated in the swale by placing ditch
blocks or weirs perpendicular to the flow path,
Applications causing small volumes of water to be captured in
‚‚ Parking lot island and medians the swale and allowing more time for infiltration.
‚‚ Residential roadside swales
‚‚ Highway medians
‚‚ Landscape buff

© 2008 University of Florida—Program for Resource Efficient Communities 1

Dry swales reducing storm flow velocities when compared to provide both quantity (volume) and quality pipe systems. Additional considerations include Stormwater implications – Bioretention the following: swales provide both stormwater treatment and ♦ Bioswale function and treatment is improved conveyance functions. Where the volume of runoff exceeds that treatment through fine filtration. These should not be installed in areas with high water areas can provide significant aesthetic benefit tables where groundwater reaches the bottom of while avoiding water requirements associated with the swale. Two types of wetland systems from frequent storm events by vegetated swales are commonly used. They can also conserve Plant material selection and location are critical biodiversity when native plants are used. vegetated swales percent of the area from which it is receiving are designed to capture and retain stormwater stormwater. as well as the treatment through prescribed filter media. groundwater table. ‚‚ Increase infiltration and swale storage opportunities. other landscape types. small storm volumes groundwater recharge can be captured and allowed to infiltrate within the ‚‚ Multifunctional conveyance bioswale. Swales are most effective when serviced. The size of the filter stormwater via the following processes: 1) bioswale will determine the volume of runoff that passing through surface vegetation. under system drain systems may be used to attenuate peak flows ‚‚ Can be aesthetic part of and force water stored within the swale through a landscape and improve soil filter media before continuing downstream. purpose of a bioswale is to increase the function of vegetation and microbes these conveyance systems by integrating features ‚‚ Reduce total volume of that improve water quality. Florida Field Guide to Low Impact Development Overview: Conveyance systems are often required to move Benefits: stormwater away from critical infrastructure. As a simple rule of thumb. The ‚‚ Treat water quality using soil. Large areas should be divided and in recessed drainageways. disconnecting impervious areas from downstream Bioswales can be found in an open area or within waterways. A wet swale typically has water tolerant This is an infiltration dependent practice affected vegetation permanently growing in the retained by soil type. By creating in. Wet swales use residence time and natural growth to Design Considerations: reduce peak discharge and provide water quality treatment. provides pre-treatment of stormwater to 2 © 2008 University of Florida—Program for Resource Efficient Communities . imperviousness of the contributing used in conjunction with other IMPs. such as watershed. size of the area body of water. system. and dimensions and slope of the swale bioretention basins and infiltration trenches. Bioretention swales to create a multifunctional system. Where soils are poorly drained. The shape and location of remove coarse to medium sediments. extended of the bioswale(s). reduce runoff volume stormwater runoff and enhance landscape aesthetics. 2) percolating can be stored or reduced. 3) be required to handle the design storm. and 4) providing protection to natural a restricted area like a parking lot. which provides benefits. which typically do not treated using multiple swales. control by facilitating stormwater infiltration. Swales are impractical for areas with very flat grades or steep slopes. further stormwater devices will detention treatment and some biological uptake. vegetation within the swale and ditch blocks helps to stabilize soils and increase sedimentation potential. For biodiversity larger flow events. The swale component when applied in areas with well drained soils. while the the bioswale and selection of vegetation can also be bioretention system removes finer particulates integrated into the site’s overall landscaping design and associated contaminants. Water conservation implications – Like the total surface area of the swale should be one bioretention basins/rain gardens. design choices. and should be used to serve areas of less than 10 acres with slopes Water Protection Benefits: no greater than 5%. Vegetated swales need irrigation beyond plant establishment.

processes. large storm events. ♦ LEED for Neighborhood Development Pilot Plants should be selected specifically for their (GCT Credit 9: Stormwater Management) nutrient uptake ability and site appropriateness. permeable soils. increased contact time. slight slopes. Soil infiltration ‚‚ Swale design. costs per square foot were $0. Cost of this practice compares favorably to other LID practices. ‚‚ On-going managemen HOA or Regulatory Considerations: To receive permit credit for a bioswale under ♦ Poorly drained sites require an underdrain Florida’s current stormwater regulations requires system. That means there accumulation of debris around structures and must be consideration of: signs of excessive sedimentation.wbdg.5 Manage storm water using low-impact biodiversity. including outlet capacity should be tested annually to determine design if soils are becoming clogged. and high systems.50 (source: www. swales or berms to slow phosphorus content and high phosphorous stormwater) sorption capacity.Florida Field Guide to Low Impact Development Operations and Maintenance: Design Keys: It is important that the storage capacity ‚‚ The design of a bioswale and functional integrity of the bioswale be is a balance of stormwater maintained through regular monitoring and conveyance function with maintenance of vegetation. ♦ FGBC-Home Standard (waterfront prerequisite: soils used in construction should have a low use of terraces. infiltration of 80% of the runoff from a 3-year. blocks or weirs perpendicular to the flow to facilitate storage volume and extend time for Credits in Green Building Certification infiltration. Army Corps of Engineers study from 2004. and storm water drains away from the building ♦ A high flow bypass (outlet or control structure) foundation using legal drainage conveyance should be included to safely convey high flows. use native plants to improve (1. mulch runoff: swales.S. ♦ NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines Where possible. all rain should have a high carbon to nitrogen ratio. dense vegetative cover. storage. ♦ LEED for Homes (SS 4. short runoff contact and gutter treatment or underground stormwater time. systems on-site) Vegetation is ideally a fine. Regular inspection of bioswales and biological treatment should be conducted to identify signs of erosion. terraces and/or rain gardens and organic matter incorporated into the soil created to catch and filter stormwater. gutter system maintenance.5 inches). compacted soils. steep slopes. infiltration and soil and structures. In a U. © 2008 University of Florida—Program for Resource Efficient Communities 3 . Programs: ♦ Where phosphorus control is important.3. Maintenance is required more frequently runoff velocities and discharge rates reduce the but is considerably less costly than curb and effectiveness of swales. Maintenance ‚‚ Location in the treatment train requirements include seasonal trimming of ‚‚ Plant material selection vegetation and removal of debris and trash that ‚‚ Soil composition may foul downstream structures. infiltration capacity. ♦ Florida Yards & Neighborhoods (stormwater ♦ Where nitrogen control is important. 1 ♦ Slopes greater than 5% require multiple ditch hour storm (2. development when possible) Check dams.org). On the Swales are inexpensive relative to traditional curb other hand. and small Relative Costs: storm events all aid pollutant removal.3 management of runoff tolerant species that provides high amounts of from roof) vegetative surface area for contact with stormwater. close-growing water.

org/regional_planning/LID/ swales.gov/owm/mtb/vegswale.html Credits Authors: Mark Clark Soil and Water Science Department Glenn Acomb Landscape Architecture Departmen Fact Sheet Illustrations: Glenn Acomb Landscape Architecture Department Wei Ren Landscape Architecture Department Fact Sheet Illustration Assistance: Brian Niemann Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Layout: Barbara Haldeman Program for Resource Efficient Communities This fact sheet was produced with funding from The Elizabeth Ordway Dunn Foundation. Florida Field Guide to Low Impact Development References and Resources: EPA Stormwater BMP Fact Sheet: Grassed Swales http://cfpub.gov/npdes/stormwater/ menuofbmps/index.pdf Massachusetts LID Toolkit – LID Factsheet – Vegetated Swales http://www.cfm?action=browse&Rbutton= detail&bmp=75 EPA Storm Water Technology Fact Sheet: Vegetated Swales http://www. pdf California Stormwater BMP Handbook – Vegetated Swales http://www.epa. 4 © 2008 University of Florida—Program for Resource Efficient Communities .cabmphandbooks.mapc.com/ Documents/Development/TC-30.epa.