BY: JESSICA BEUKER
For more than a century the Gowanus Canal in New York City has been the victim of extreme pollution. It’s notorious for being one of the most polluted waterways in all of the U.S., thanks to sewage runoff, waste disposal, and industrial pollution from gas plants, chemical plants and paper mills. The situation is so dire, it earned Gowanus a spot on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of superfund sites – eligible for a $500 million cleanup plan that is to be completed by 2022. In the meantime, another smaller project is underway and it’s proving to be quite successful. The project is called GrowOnUs and it takes the form of a floating green oasis.
GrowOnUs, an experiment in floating infrastructure, is a garden made up of 30 different plant species that act as sponges to mitigate the chemicals in the water. The plants are grown inside metal culvert pipes and made buoyant by eco-friendly construction materials such as recycled plastic bottles, coconut fibres and bamboo.
Plants atop the floating island include seaside goldenrod, smooth cordgrass, sumac and swamp rose mallow. According to Takepart, the plants interact with the canal water and improve it through a process called phytoremediation, which is the treatment of environmental issues through the use of plants that can rid of pollutants without having to dispose of them elsewhere. The environment beneath the island is substrate for mussels, which act as cleaners in dirty water.
The floating garden is the work of Balmori Associates, a New York landscape and design firm, and was made possible with the help of a $20,000 grant from the Cornelia & Michael Bessie Foundation. According to GoodNewsNetwork, three previous attempts had been made to produce vegetation in the water, but the pollution was too harmful to the plants. The new garden – thanks to tougher and more conditioned greenery – is thriving.
There is also hope that the floating garden could one day be used to grow herbs and food crops.