The Green Infrastructure & Low Impact Development Series contains posts that explore some of the Best Management Practices (BMPs) of Green Infrastructure and LID for both urban and rural applications. The IRWP is currently working with our local cities, counties and partnering organizations to implement green infrastructure and LID elements within the Illinois River Watershed. Watch for these demonstration projects in public spaces to see first-hand stormwater management in action!  


When we think of swales, usually, we think of ditches or channels that run along the sides of our roads, neighborhoods or farms to move water from one place to another. They serve an important purpose for catching water and conveying it to another place, which helps to reduce flooding and provides some sediment control within our watershed. Most swales are planted with grass and kept mowed, and sometimes include check dams for slowing down water and improving water retention.

Photo ONE_ Bioswale-GraphicBioswales are engineered channels for stormwater. Photo Credit: Asakurarobinson 

Bioswales take this concept a bit further by incorporating engineered soils and vegetation such as trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials. This type of treatment mimics nature’s ability to clean stormwater by removing sediments, turbidity, heavy metals and other pollutants through complex processes such as uptake by vegetation and their root systems. Much like wetlands or a marsh, the combination of good soils and vegetation act like a sponge for stormwater runoff. Using vegetation and land contouring is referred to as soft engineering, which can replace gray infrastructure such as curbs, gutters and traditional methods of water conveyance, like the use of concrete.  Vegetated bioswales are also more aesthetically pleasing and can offer habitat for wildlife.

Photo TWO_SAms Club_IRWPSam’s Club Bioswale treating parking lot runoff, Rogers, Ark. Photo Credit: IRWP

Placing bioswales along parking lots, medians and road sides can improve water quality by allowing water to infiltrate and filter through natural processes. One of our current conservation efforts is to install more bioswales, along with other green infrastructure elements, to improve water quality through an Arkansas Natural Resources Commission and EPA 319 grant. IRWP is working along the Greenway with Alta Planning and the cities of Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville.

Photo THREE_CurryAtRainGardenRogersTrailheadEPA Region 6 Administrator Ron Curry visited Rogers Mercy Trailhead recently during a quick trip through the Illinois River Watershed, accompanied by Kyle Weaver, Congressman Womack’s Program Director and Dr. Delia Haak, IRWP. Photo Credit: IRWP

Recently, we completed the installation of a new bioswale at the Mercy Trailhead, a stop long the Razorback Greenway trail system in Rogers, Ark. This green infrastructure element captures stormwater from the parking lot, cleans and filters it, and reduces sediment entering the nearby waterway (Osage Creek), which is a tributary to the Illinois River.  Natives grasses (Switchgrass ‘Shenandoah,’ Little Bluestem and Buffalo Grass), New England Asters, River Birch trees and various wildflowers adorn the dry creek bed and have already began to slow down and filter stormwater. The bioswale is accessible to view along the crushed granite porous pathway that follows along the linear channel. These elements are a beautiful addition to the site and serve a wonderful purpose of improving and protecting our natural resources.

Cover Photo_IRWPBioswale recently installed at the Mercy Trailhead, Rogers, Ark. Photo Credit: IRWP

Visit this FACT SHEET on Bioswales, produced by the US EPA.

The Illinois River Watershed Partnership works to improve and restore the Illinois River Watershed through public education, water quality monitoring, and conservation/restoration projects. Check out our website for current events that continue to educate stakeholders of the Illinois River Watershed about Green Infrastructure and Low Impact Development, as well as events that offer volunteer opportunities to make a positive difference! []

Related Posts:

5 for 5: Five Green Infrastructure Features at Five Razorback Greenway Trailheads

GI & LID: Phosphorus Removal Structures

GI & LID: Permeable Paving