Individual bioretention areas can serve highly impervious drainage areas less than two (2) acres in size. Surface runoff is directed into a shallow landscaped depression that incorporates many of the pollutant removal mechanisms that operate in forested ecosystems. The primary component of a bioretention practice is the filter bed, which has a mixture of sand, soil, and organic material as the filtering media with a surface mulch layer. During storms, runoff temporarily ponds 6 to 12 inches above the mulch layer and then rapidly filters through the bed. Normally, the filtered runoff is collected in an underdrain and returned to the storm drain system. The underdrain consists of a perforated pipe in a gravel layer installed along the bottom of the filter bed. A bioretention facility with an underdrain system is commonly referred to as a Bioretention Filter.
Bioretention can also be designed to infiltrate runoff into native soils. This can be done at sites with permeable soils, a low groundwater table, and a low risk of groundwater contamination. This design features the use of a “partial exfiltration” system that promotes greater groundwater recharge. Underdrains are only installed beneath a portion of the filter bed, above a stone “sump” layer, or eliminated altogether, thereby increasing stormwater infiltration. A bioretention facility without an underdrain system, or with a storage sump in the bottom is commonly referred to as a Bioretention Basin.