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June 17, 2016

Lifelong Queens Resident Managing Project to Improve Neighborhood Resiliency and Expand Sustainable Infrastructure in Maspeth

Over 100 Picturesque “Bioswales” to Mitigate Street Flooding and Runoff in Maspeth Area

Shavone Williams
Public Information Officer

Dan Leibel
Junior Public Information Officer

Queens, NY—A system of 164 bioswales – designed to use natural drainage to reduce stormwater runoff and help minimize pollution in nearby Newtown Creek – is being constructed in the Maspeth area in a $3.8 million project overseen by lifelong Queens resident Vanessa Galvez, 26, a Resident Engineer for the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC).

“Bioswales are a cost-effective way to boost the City’s resilience against flooding and improve harbor water quality in a sustainable, environmentally conscious manner,” said DDC Commissioner Feniosky Peña-Mora. “Bioswales not only beautify the neighborhood, but also strengthen its capacity for storm management and open opportunities for harbor usage by reducing pollution and toxins present in runoff. We look forward to completing additional bioswale projects around Queens and the rest of the City in cooperation with our partners at the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and the NYC Department of Transportation.”

Bioswales are small natural areas, typically located in a sidewalk near a stormwater catch basin, that utilize extremely porous engineered soil, a variety of plants chosen for their ability to absorb water and thrive in an urban environment, as well as porous concrete to divert stormwater from streets and draw it into the ground. By redirecting thousands of gallons of stormwater from City sewers and sewage treatment facilities, bioswales reduce sewage overflow into local waterways during storms. They also increase a street’s drainage capacity, reducing the risk of flooding.

Supervising the project is DDC Resident Engineer Vanessa Galvez, of Queens Village, who joined the DDC infrastructure division in 2012 – on the same day that Superstorm Sandy slammed into the five boroughs.

“Instead of letting runoff flow into our storm sewers or ponds, or create floods, the bioswales will be collecting the water to saturate the soil, to water the plants and the trees. It will beautify the neighborhood and disperse and clean the water to an extent,” said Galvez, a 2012 graduate from NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. “I take pride in bioswales. If I’m driving around with my family I’ll say ‘Oh look! I built that!’ At first you look at it and you think it just looks like a tree pit, but once you look at all the specs, all the standards, you realize it’s really helping the City.”

Galvez, whose family immigrated to the United States from El Salvador, was the first generation in her family to graduate college. She says her interest in civil engineering was fostered in a mechanical technology class during her time at Thomas Edison High School in Jamaica, Queens after watching a documentary about the Army Corps. of Engineers’ response to levee failure in New Orleans in the midst of Hurricane Katrina.

An avid hiker, rock climber and mountain biker, Galvez says it’s important for city neighborhoods to host vibrant, green ecosystems.

“Plants and other nature help soften the industrial look, especially in Queens,” she said. “If people are exposed to green in their neighborhood it certainly livens it up.”

Galvez has always had an eye for improving quality of life through engineering. She recalled seeing children play in dirty water in the slums of El Salvador when she traveled there as a 12-year-old.

“Looking back on it now, they could have built a simple filter out of rocks,” she said. “Maybe it wouldn’t have cleaned the water enough to drink it, but it might have exposed the kids to a bit more cleanliness. The way we function impacts the cleanliness of the environment. It’s all related.”

Galvez says she is looking forward to planting season this autumn, when the flora will be installed in the bioswales. The $3.8 million project is scheduled to be finished this winter, and also includes installation of new sidewalks and curbs in numerous areas.

“The main goal of the bioswale is to reduce the amount of water that flows into the storm sewer,” said Miguel Ramirez, a DDC Resident Engineer who manages bioswale projects in the Corona/Elmhurst area. “When the storm sewer gets overflowed it combines with the sanitary sewer and that water is not treated. The bioswales’ purpose is to prevent that from happening. With the installation of these bioswales, the water is diverted from catch basins that are connected to existing combined sewer outfalls.”

About the NYC Department of Design and Construction
The Department of Design and Construction is the City’s primary capital construction project manager. In supporting Mayor de Blasio’s lenses of growth, sustainability, resiliency, equity and healthy living, DDC provides communities with new or renovated public buildings such as such as firehouses, libraries, police precincts, new or upgraded roadways, sewers, water mains in all five boroughs. To manage this $15 billion portfolio, DDC partners with other City agencies, architects and consultants, whose experience bring efficient, innovative, and environmentally-conscious design and construction strategies to city projects. For more information, please visit