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Daily Plant Masthead

Volume XXVIII, Number 5959
Tuesday, Oct 08, 2013

Pop-Up Wetland Comes To Mill Pond Park

On September 10 and 11, the finishing touches were put on a unique stormwater retention system at Mill Pond Park in the Bronx, below a drainpipe of the Major Deegan Expressway.

Over two days, a few dozen volunteers placed native plants into the engineered soil of the holding system. Some of the volunteers bobbed gently on wood pallets, while others lay across narrow walkways above the wetland ecosystem being constructed.

This experimental system, being called a "pop-up wetland," is located at the Pier 5 section of Mill Pond Park on the Harlem River shore. The project, by the non-profit group Bronx Council for Environmental Quality, was designed by dlandstudio and the Gaia Institute and built with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through the Wildlife Conservation Society/NOAA Regional Partnership Grant for Community-Led Restoration. The plants were donated by the Van Cortlandt Park Greenhouse and the Greenbelt Native Plant Center, and will be maintained by volunteers from Sustainable South Bronx. The system will be in place for the next year.

Visitors to the park will immediately see the bright blue and yellow basins, made of plastic highway barriers and lined with a rubber swimming pool liner. The basins capture stormwater from a drainpipe of the Major Deegan Expressway, which normally flows directly to the Harlem River, part of the Hudson River estuary. Instead, the water will flow through a wetland plant system (in the blue basin), which filters excess nutrients and toxins from roadway runoff, including heavy metals and volatile organic compounds. One inch of runoff from the highway fills the wetland basin with one foot of water. Overflow from very heavy rains will spill into a drier prairie system (in the yellow basin). Both are planted with native sedges and rushes.

A plain brown shed houses the U.S. Geological Survey's water testing equipment. Tests will measure the level of contaminants flowing from the drainpipe, and again after the water is filtered through the plants. The information from this location and others will provide a picture of the health of the Harlem River. Ecologists will also be able to judge the effectiveness of innovative systems like this one in improving river health. The river, once the most popular location in New York City for crew races and recreational boating, now has the highest number of sewer outfalls of any water body in the city. It also absorbs untreated stormwater flowing from the Deegan Expressway, the Harlem River Drive, local roads, and the Metro-North rail corridor.

The Harlem River extends about six miles from Spuyten Duyvil in the north to Randall's Island in the south. In 2009, the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality (BCEQ) formed the Harlem River Working Group, a collaboration of mostly Bronx-based advocacy groups focused on increasing public access to the waterfront and improving water quality. BCEQ's 12th annual Water Conference on September 18 at Hostos Community College promoted best management practices for capturing and cleaning stormwater runoff and creating new waterfront amenities, including greenways, for communities beginning to reclaim the formerly industrial Harlem River shoreline.

Submitted by Ellen Macnow


“The work of art is a scream of freedom.”

(1935 - )

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