Phase 3 of the Saskatchewan Avenue West rejuvenation project in Portage la Prairie includes work that may involve more than what the average Portager is aware of. Councillor Terrie Porter is chair of transportation and says bioswales are included in the construction work.

She explains one bioswale will be located on the north side at the far west end of the Avenue running from the tracks down to 18th Street. The entrance by the Co-op gas bar is at Elm Street, and will run from there to 20th Street. 

Porter explains what they are. 

"In simple terms, they're green infrastructure and they're like a channel -- gently-sloped ditches -- that reduce the velocity of the stormwater that's going on the streets, and also the snowmelts. It allows the water to penetrate down into the soil and vegetation, and filter out pollutants before they enter our drainage pipes that go to Crescent Lake. There are currently about five drainage pipes that go down to the Crescent. I know there's one here at 20th St. SW. Just think of them as a natural filtering system."

Bioswales not only transport water, but also filter, hold it, and then move it. 

Porter also outlines what pollutants the new infrastructure will channel.

"They could be car oil. They could be construction debris or road salt, pesticides, and chemicals such as nitrogen and phosphorus from our fertilizers," continues Porter. "All of that, believe it or not, when a storm comes, is what's on our street and that's what's getting washed away first. The whole point of the bioswales is to hold that water and gently filter out all that pollution, bring it up to the vegetation, and the vegetation and soil work together to take out those pollutants. They then transport that water down through the drainage that has been cleaned. So, the important thing about bioswales is that they mitigate flooding and reduce pollution. It gives that extra time for the groundwater to be recharged."

She notes the water then becomes cleaner and more environmentally friendly. Porter talks about the soil and vegetation. 

"That soil they put in the bioswales is specifically engineered to hold water. It's going to be approximately five per cent clay. The vegetation in there, which could be grasses, shrubs, small trees, and perennials, is drought-resistant. But they also have big water uptake; big roots that mean more water absorption. They clean pollutants off our street before all goes down through the drain through the various drains to the Crescent."

With bioswales only implemented at the far west end of the Avenue, the rest of the roadway will have other features performing some of the same functions. Porter says you will notice some raised structures with vegetation. Trees will also be found in some of them. Planters and various garden boxes are located in some of the medians and on the side of the street.

"Those are actually rain gardens. So, they're very similar to the bioswales, except they don't really transport the water, because that's what the bioswales do. They do the same thing as the bioswales in absorbing and filtrating the water, and taking out the pollutants in the soil with the vegetation. The main job of rain gardens is to filtrate all that water and then get into the ground, clean it out, and then take that down through the drainage pipes to the Crescent. There will be a lot of trees that also observe the stormwaters, while leaves and branches and provide cooling shade for the water that has to go down to Crescent Lake."

She explains the shade helps cool water so that it's not overly hot when it travels down through the drains. 

"It provides a canopy and a cooling effect on the Avenue because you don't want your drive through here to be +30° or 35°. Driving down the Avenue, it's asphalt. It's very hot. Believe it or not, it has proven to reduce speed, and everybody driving down can enjoy it. All this green infrastructure is the environmentally friendly way to go. And I just wanted to educate the community on this. It's the answer to our drainage challenges. On that note, it not only makes our Avenue more beautiful and attractive to everybody, but we are also environmentally friendly."

Porter says your drive down this part of the Trans-Canada Highway through Portage will showcase beautiful flowers and trees, which attract birds, butterflies, and bees.

"I think our Avenue is going to be state-of-the-art because we've incorporated this environmentally-friendly infrastructure, trees, and vegetation. As we grew through this last part of our project, it's going to be beautiful and enjoyed by all. I just want to remind everybody coming down the Avenue thatin the latter part of our Phase 2 and 3, this will be done this year. When you're driving down the Avenue, it is a construction zone from the west side, and will be reduced to one lane. I want everybody to be mindful of their surroundings. Slow down; there are construction workers out there. There's a lot to look at, a lot to admire, but there are also people on the streets who are working, and there are pedestrians. So, just be mindful to slow down. It's only going to take another five minutes to go through Portage when you drive slower. And thank you very much."

She also thanks Brent from Stantec and Jocelyn Lequier-Jobin, City director of operations, and City Manager Nathan Peto for constant update and communications to the community about the project.