Brooklyn residents are very familiar with the Gowanus Canal in New York City. This canal has become one of the most polluted the waterways in the U.S. thanks to waste disposal and sewage runoff as well as industrial pollution from paper mills, chemical plants and gas plants. It’s so polluted, in fact, that it has been labeled as a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
One great garden
While making the Superfund list qualified Gowanus Canal for a $500 million budget to clean up the canal by 2022, the city decided to take on another project to help intervene in the crisis now. The project, dubbed GrowOnUs, is a small floating garden that is proving it can make a real difference.
The GrowOnUs garden contains 30 different plant species that are designed to soak up the chemical like a sponge to clean the canal. It works through a process called phytoremediation. This process addresses environmental issues by using plants to eliminate pollutants without needing to discard them somewhere else.
Some of the plants used include smooth cordgrass, seaside goldenrod, swamp rose mallow and sumac. There were three prior attempts to grow plants in the Gowanus Canal water. Each of these attempts failed because the plants couldn’t survive in the polluted waters. The new plants are more conditioned for the job and are thriving in their work.
Each plant is grown inside a metal culvert pipe and the other materials used to construct it – like recycled bamboo, coconut fibers and plastic bottles – are eco-friendly as well. Below the floating garden, you’ll find mussels living in substrate, which act as an additional cleaner for the polluted water. The entire garden takes up 125.7 square feet.
Balmori Associates, a New York landscape and design firm, put together the GrowOnUs floating garden with the assistance of a $20,000 grant provided by the Cornelia & Michael Bessie Foundation. Balmori Associates hopes to expand this experiment to use productive floating gardens to clean more waterways through phytoremediation, desalination and rainwater collection.
Which waterway would you like to see a GrowOnUs floating garden clean up next?
Imagery courtesy of Balmori Associates.