Graphic of two houses with swale between them with text that says Save the Swales

 What is a Swale?

Swales are everywhere. Their main purpose is to convey rainwater to a storm sewer or a ditch that eventually outlets to a creek.

Much of West Lincoln’s newest construction is designed with swales to carry surface water through backyards and between buildings. If you live in home built within the last 20 years or so and see a low, depressed channel in your yard, there’s a good chance it was put there intentionally.

Swales are one of the engineered solutions to drainage problems that occur as land is being developed from its natural state. Treat them well, and they will treat you and your neighbors well.

*It's in every homeowner's best interest to maintain swales for proper drainage. In the event that a property is affected, insurance companies may deny potential claims if a swale is found to have been modified or changed by a property owner.*

 What is the difference between a Swale and a Ditch?

Most everyone has seen roadside ditches in the rural areas of West Lincoln, but swales are a different creature. Ditches and swales both convey storm water from roads, driveways, parking lots and other hard surfaces, but that is where their similarity ends. Ditches are deep with steep sides while swales are low with gently sloping sides.

Why are Swales important?

Swales are designed not only to carry water, but to treat it and reduce the amount of pollutants that enter our streams, rivers and oceans. They also help to infiltrate some of that rainwater back into the ground and into our aquifers.

Here’s how:

  • Swales are wider than they are deep and they spread rainwater over a broader area, which slows the runoff and allows it to temporarily pond.
  • The slower runoff rates allow vegetation to filter the rainwater and remove some sedimentation.
  • Ponding of the runoff allows some of the water to soak into the soil, reducing the volume of water downstream (which helps control flooding) and the contaminants.
  • The gradual slope of the swale is easier to vegetate and maintain, also reducing the amount of sedimentation downstream. In other words, swales provide cleaner water to our streams than muddy ditches do.

Why should you care if West Lincoln’s streams are clean or dirty?

One big reason is that water from our streams flows into bodies of water used to provide drinking water to thousands of homes throughout Niagara.

Other obvious benefits are to the wildlife that inhabit these streams and the leisure opportunities that these natural areas provide to us. West Lincoln Township’s natural areas are a draw to bikers, boaters, fishermen, hikers, birders, hunters and many other outdoor enthusiasts. Clearly, nothing ruins a day out in nature more than a dirty, trash-strewn waterway.

How can you help Save the Swales?

Maintenance is the key:

  • Keep your swale mowed if it’s in a lawn area.
  • Remove debris such as trash, leaves, branches and grass clippings.
  • It’s also a good idea to minimize the use of fertilizers. Over-fertilized lawns produce nutrient-rich runoff water which, in turn, causes an overgrowth of plant life in streambeds, clogging waterways, not allowing to them perform naturally.
  • Don’t park vehicles in swales; this compacts the soil thereby lowering its capacity to absorb rainwater.
  • Don’t construct items such as above-ground pools, patios and walkways or sheds in swales. These dam the swale and will cause ponding on your property and possibly your neighbor’s property.
  • Similarly, do not fill in swales with dirt or mulch. Remember, swales are supposed to not only convey storm water; they are also supposed to hold pockets of rainwater. It can typically take 24-36 hours for the water to fully soak into the soil. Since it takes a minimum of 72 hours for mosquitoes to breed, there is no reason to be concerned if you see puddles in your swale for a couple of days after a rainfall.

Thank you for doing your part to Save the Swales in West Lincoln!