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Urban Stormwater Management in the United States 5 Stormwater Management Approaches A fundamental component of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Stormwater Program, for municipalities as well as industries and construction, is the creation of stormwater pollution prevention plans. These plans invariably document the stormwater control measures that will be used to prevent the permittee’s stormwater discharges from degrading local waterbodies. Thus, a consideration of these measures—their effectiveness in meeting different goals, their cost, and how they are coordinated with one another—is central to any evaluation of the Stormwater Program. This report uses the term stormwater control measure (SCM) instead of the term best management practice (BMP) because the latter is poorly defined and not specific to the field of stormwater. The committee’s statement of task asks for an evaluation of the relationship between different levels of stormwater pollution prevention plan implementation and in-stream water quality. As discussed in the last two chapters, the state of the science has yet to reveal the mechanistic links that would allow for a full assessment of that relationship. However, enough is known to design systems of SCMs, on a site scale or local watershed scale, to lessen many of the effects of urbanization. Also, for many regulated entities the current approach to stormwater management consists of choosing one or more SCMs from a preapproved list. Both of these facts argue for the more comprehensive discussion of SCMs found in this chapter, including information on their characteristics, applicability, goals, effectiveness, and cost. In addition, a multitude of case studies illustrate the use of SCMs in specific settings and demonstrate that a particular SCM can have a measurable positive effect on water quality or a biological metric. The discussion of SCMs is organized along the gradient from the rooftop to the stream. Thus, pollutant and runoff prevention are discussed first, followed by runoff reduction and finally pollutant reduction. HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE ON STORMWATER CONTROL MEASURES Over the centuries, SCMs have met different needs for cities around the world. Cities in the Mesopotamian Empire during the second millennium BC had practices for flood control, to convey waste, and to store rain water for household and irrigation uses (Manor, 1966) (see Figure 5-1). Today, SCMs are considered a vital part of managing flooding and drainage problems in a city. What is relatively new is an emphasis on using the practices to remove pollutants from stormwater and selecting practices capable of providing groundwater recharge. These recent expectations for SCMs are not readily accepted and re-
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Urban Stormwater Management in the United States quire an increased commitment to the proper design and maintenance of the practices. With the help of a method for estimating peak flows (the Rational Method, see Chapter 4), the modern urban drainage system came into being soon after World War II. This generally consisted of a system of catch basins and pipes to prevent flooding and drainage problems by efficiently delivering runoff water to the nearest waterbody. However, it was soon realized that delivering the water too quickly caused severe downstream flooding and bank erosion in the receiving water. To prevent bank erosion and provide more space for flood waters, some stream channels were enlarged and lined with concrete (see Figure 5-2). But while hardening and enlarging natural channels is a cost-effective solution to erosion and flooding, the modified channel increases downstream peak flows and it does not provide habitat to support a healthy aquatic ecosystem. FIGURE 5-1 Cistern tank, Kamiros, Rhodes (ancient Greece, 7th century BC). SOURCE: Robert Pitt, University of Alabama.
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Urban Stormwater Management in the United States FIGURE 5-2 Concrete channel in Lincoln Creek, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. SOURCE: Roger Bannerman, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Some way was needed to control the quantity of water reaching the end of pipes during a runoff event, and on-site detention (Figure 5-3) became the standard for accomplishing this. Ordinances started appearing in the early 1970s, requiring developers to reduce the peaks of different size storms, such as the 10-year, 24-hour storm. The ordinances were usually intended to prevent future problems with peak flows by requiring the installation of flow control structures, such as detention basins, in new developments. Detention basins can control peak flows directly below the point of discharge and at the property boundary. However, when designed on a site-by-site basis without taking other basins into account, they can lead to downstream flooding problems because volume is not reduced (McCuen, 1979; Ferguson, 1991; Traver and Chadderton, 1992; EPA, 2005d). In addition, out of concerns for clogging, openings in the outlet structure of most basins are generally too large to hold back flows from smaller, more frequent storms. Furthermore, low-flow channels have been constructed or the basins have been graded to move the runoff through the structure without delay to prevent wet areas and to make it easier to mow and maintain the detention basin. Because of the limitations of on-site detention, infiltration of urban runoff to control its volume has become a recent goal of stormwater management. Without stormwater infiltration, municipalities in wetter regions of the country can expect drops in local groundwater levels, declining stream base flows (Wang et al., 2003a), and flows diminished or stopped altogether from springs feeding wetlands and lakes (Leopold, 1968; Ferguson, 1994).
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Urban Stormwater Management in the United States FIGURE 5-3 On-site detention. SOURCE: Tom Schueler, Chesapeake Stormwater Network, Inc. The need to provide volume control marked the beginning of low-impact development (LID) and conservation design (Arendt, 1996; Prince George’s County, 2000), which were founded on the seminal work of landscape architect Ian McHarg and associates decades earlier (McHarg and Sutton, 1975; McHarg and Steiner, 1998). The goal of LID is to allow for development of a site while maintaining as much of its natural hydrology as possible, such as infiltration, frequency and volume of discharges, and groundwater recharge. This is accomplished with infiltration practices, functional grading, open channels, disconnection of impervious areas, and the use of fewer impervious surfaces. Much of the LID focus is to manage the stormwater as close as possible to its source—that is, on each individual lot rather than conveying the runoff to a larger regional SCM. Individual practices include rain gardens (see Figure 5-4), disconnected roof drains, porous pavement, narrower streets, and grass swales. In some cases, LID site plans still have to include a method for passing the larger storms safely, such as a regional infiltration or detention basin or by increasing the capacity of grass swales. Infiltration has been practiced in a few scattered locations for a long time. For example, on Long Island, New York, infiltration basins were built starting in 1930 to reduce the need for a storm sewer system and to recharge the aquifer, which was the only source of drinking water (Ferguson, 1998). The Cities of Fresno, California, and El Paso, Texas, which faced rapidly dropping groundwater tables, began comprehensive infiltration efforts in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s Maryland took the lead on the east coast by creating an ambitious
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Urban Stormwater Management in the United States FIGURE 5-4 Rain Garden in Madison, Wisconsin. SOURCE: Roger Bannerman, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. statewide infiltration program. The number of states embracing elements of LID, especially infiltration, has increased during the 1990s and into the new century and includes California, Florida, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. Evidence gathered in the 1970s and 1980s suggested that pollutants be added to the list of things needing control in stormwater (EPA, 1983). Damages caused by elevated flows, such as stream habitat destruction and floods, were relatively easy to document with something as simple as photographs. Documentation of elevated concentrations of conventional pollutants and potentially toxic pollutants, however, required intensive collection of water quality samples during runoff events. Samples collected from storm sewer pipes and urban streams in the Menomonee River watershed in the late 1970s clearly showed the concentrations of many pollutants, such as heavy metals and sediment, were elevated in urban runoff (Bannerman et al., 1979). Levels of heavy metals were especially high in industrial-site runoff, and construction-site erosion was calculated to be a large source of sediment in the watershed. This study was followed by the National Urban Runoff Program, which added more evidence about the high levels of some pollutants found in urban runoff (Athayde et al., 1983; Bannerman et al., 1983). ***
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Urban Stormwater Management in the United States With new development rapidly adding to the environmental impacts of existing urban areas, the need to develop good stormwater management programs is more urgent than ever. For a variety of reasons, the greatest potential for stormwater management to reduce the footprint of urbanization is in the suburbs. These areas are experiencing the fastest rates of growth, they are more amenable to stormwater management because buildings and infrastructure are not yet in place, and costs for stormwater management can be borne by the developer rather than by taxpayers. Indeed, most structural SCMs are applied to new development rather than existing urban areas. Many of the most innovative stormwater programs around the country are found in the suburbs of large cities such as Seattle, Austin, and Washington, D.C. When stormwater management in ultra-urban areas is required, it entails the retrofitting of detention basins and other flow control structures or the introduction of innovative below-ground structures characterized by greater technical constraints and higher costs, most of which are charged to local taxpayers. Current-day SCMs represent a radical departure from past practices, which focused on dealing with extreme flood events via large detention basins designed to reduce peak flows at the downstream property line. As defined in this chapter, SCMs now include practices intended to meet broad watershed goals of protecting the biology and geomorphology of receiving waters in addition to flood peak protection. The term encompasses such diverse actions as using more conventional practices like basins and wetland to installing stream buffers, reducing impervious surfaces, and educating the public. REVIEW OF STORMWATER CONTROL MEASURES Stormwater control measures refer to what is defined by EPA (1999) as “a technique, measure, or structural control that is used for a given set of conditions to manage the quantity and improve the quality of stormwater runoff in the most cost-effective manner.” SCMs are designed to mitigate the changes to both the quantity and quality of stormwater runoff that are caused by urbanization. Some SCMs are engineered or constructed facilities, such as a stormwater wetland or infiltration basin, that reduce pollutant loading and modify volumes and flow. Other SCMs are preventative, including such activities as education and better site design to limit the generation of stormwater runoff or pollutants. Stormwater Management Goals It is impossible to discuss SCMs without first considering the goals that they are expected to meet. A broadly stated goal for stormwater management is to reduce pollutant loads to waterbodies and maintain, as much as possible, the natural hydrology of a watershed. On a practical level, these goals must be made specific to the region of concern and embedded in the strategy for that
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Urban Stormwater Management in the United States region. Depending on the designated uses of the receiving waters, climate, geomorphology, and historical development, a given area may be more or less sensitive to both pollutants and hydrologic modifications. For example, goals for groundwater recharge might be higher in an area with sandy soils as compared to one with mostly clayey soils; watersheds in the coastal zone may not require hydrologic controls. Ideally, the goals of stormwater management should be linked to the water quality standards for a given state’s receiving waters. However, because of the substantial knowledge gap about the effect of a particular stormwater discharge on a particular receiving water (see Chapter 3 conclusions), surrogate goals are often used by state stormwater programs in lieu of water quality standards. Examples include credit systems, mandating the use of specific SCMs, or achieving stormwater volume reduction. Credit systems might be used for practices that are known to be productive but are difficult to quantify, such as planting trees. Specific SCMs might be assumed to remove a percent of pollutants, for example 85 percent removal of total suspended solids (TSS) within a stormwater wetland. Reducing the volume of runoff from impervious surfaces (e.g., using an infiltration device) might be assumed to capture the first flush of pollutants during a storm event. Before discussing specific state goals, it is worth understanding the broader context in which goals are set. Trade-offs Between Stormwater Control Goals and Costs The potentially substantial costs of implementing SCMs raise a number of fundamental social choices concerning land-use decisions, designated uses, and priority setting for urban waters. To illustrate some of these choices, consider a hypothetical urban watershed with three possible land-cover scenarios: 25, 50, and 75 percent impervious surface. A number of different beneficial uses could be selected for the streams in this watershed. At a minimum, the goal may be to establish low-level standards to protect public health and safety. To achieve this, sufficient and appropriate SCMs might be applied to protect residents from flooding and achieve water quality conditions consistent with secondary human contact. Alternatively, the designated use could be to achieve the physical, chemical, and/or biological conditions sufficient to provide exceptional aquatic habitat (e.g., a high-quality recreational fishery). The physical, biological, and chemical conditions supportive of this use might be similar to a reference stream located in a much less disturbed watershed. Achieving this particular designated use would require substantially greater resources and effort than achieving a secondary human contact use. Intermediate designated uses could also be imagined, including improving ambient water quality conditions that would make the water safe for full-body emersion (primary human contact) or habitat conditions for more tolerant aquatic species. Figure 5-5 sketches what the marginal (incremental) SCM costs (opportunity costs) might be to achieve different designated uses given different amounts of impervious surface in the watershed. The horizontal axis orders potential
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Urban Stormwater Management in the United States FIGURE 5-5 Cost of achieving designated uses in a hypothetical urban watershed. MCC is the marginal control cost, which represents the incremental costs to achieve successive expansion of designated uses through SCMs. The curves are constructed on the assumption that the lowest cost combination of SCMs would be implemented at each point on the curve. designated uses in terms of least difficult to most difficult to achieve. The three conceptual curves represent the SCM costs under three different impervious surface scenarios. The relative positions of the cost curves indicate that achieving any specific designated use will be more costly in situations with a higher percentage of the watershed in impervious cover. All cost curves are upward sloping, reflecting the fact that incremental improvements in designated uses will be increasingly costly to achieve. The cost curves are purely conceptual, but nonetheless might reasonably reflect the relative costs and direction of change associated with achieving specific designated uses in different watershed conditions. The locations of the cost curves suggest that in certain circumstances not all designated uses can be achieved or can be achieved only at an extremely high cost. For example, the attainment of exceptional aquatic uses may be unachievable in areas with 50 percent impervious surface even with maximum application of SCMs. In this illustration, the cost of achieving even secondary human contact use is high for areas with 75 percent impervious surfaces. In such highly urbanized settings, achievement of only adequate levels of aquatic uses could be exceedingly high and strain the limits of what is technically achievable. Finally, the existing and likely expected future land-use conditions have significant im
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Urban Stormwater Management in the United States plications for what is achievable and at what cost. Clearly land-use decisions have an impact on the cost and whether a use can be achieved, and thus they need to be included in the decision process. The trade-off between costs and achieving specific designated uses can change substantially given different development patterns. The purpose of Figure 5-5 is not to identify the precise location of the cost curves or to identify thresholds for achieving specific designated uses. Rather, these concepts are used to illustrate some fundamental trade-offs that confront public and private investment and regulatory decisions concerning stormwater management. The general relationships shown in Figure 5-5 suggest the need for establishing priorities for investments in stormwater management and controls, and connecting land usage and watershed goals. Setting overly ambitious or costly goals for urban streams may result in the perverse consequence of causing more waters to fail to meet designated uses. For example, consider efforts to secure ambitious designated uses in highly developed areas or in an area slated for future high-density development. Regulatory requirements and investments to limit stormwater quantity and quality through open-space requirements, areas set aside for infiltration and water detention, and strict application of maximum extent practicable controls have the effect of both increasing development costs and diminishing land available for residential and commercial properties. Policies designed to achieve exceedingly costly or infeasible designated uses in urban or urbanizing areas could have the net consequence of shifting development (and associated impervious surface) out into neighboring areas and watersheds. The end result might be minimal improvements in “within-watershed” ambient conditions but a decrease in designated uses (more impairments) elsewhere. In such a case, it might be sound water quality policy to accept higher levels of impervious surface in targeted locations, more stormwater-related impacts, and less ambitious designated uses in urban watersheds in order to preserve and protect designated uses in other watersheds. Setting unrealistic or unachievable water quality objectives in urban areas can also pose political risks for stormwater management. The cost and difficulty of achieving ambitious water quality standards for urban stream goals may be understood by program managers but pursued nonetheless in efforts to demonstrate public commitment to achieving high-quality urban waters. Yet, promising what cannot be realistically achieved may act to undermine public support for urban stormwater programs. Increasing costs without significant observable improvements in ambient water conditions or achievement of water quality standards could ultimately reduce public commitment to the program. Thus, there are risks of “setting the bar” too high, or not coordinating land use and designated stream uses. The cost of setting the bar too low can also be significant. Stormwater requirements that result in ineffective stormwater management will not achieve or maintain the desired water uses and can result in impairments. Loss of property, degraded waters, and failed infrastructure are tangible costs to the public (Johnston et al., 2006). Streambank rehabilitation costs can be severe, and loss of con-
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Urban Stormwater Management in the United States fidence in the ability to meet stormwater goals can result. The above should not be construed as an argument for or against devoting resources to SCMs; rather, such decisions should be made with an open and transparent acknowledgment and understanding of the costs and consequences involved in those decisions. Common State Stormwater Goals Most states do not and have never had an overriding water quality objective in their stormwater program, but rather have used engineering criteria for SCM performance to guide stormwater management. These criteria can be loosely categorized as: Erosion and sedimentation control, Recharge/base flow, Water quality, Channel protection, and Flooding events. The SCMs used to address these goals work by minimizing or eliminating increases in stormwater runoff volume, peak flows, and/or the pollutant load carried by stormwater. The criteria chosen by any given state usually integrate state, federal, and regional laws and regulations. Areas of differing climates may emphasize one goal over another, and the levels of control may vary drastically. Contrast a desert region where rainwater harvesting is extremely important versus a coastal region subject to hurricanes. Some areas like Seattle have frequent smaller volume rainfalls—the direct opposite of Austin, Texas—such that small volume controls would be much more effective in Seattle than Austin. Regional geology (karst) or the presence of Brownfields may affect the chosen criteria as well. The committee’s survey of State Stormwater Programs (Appendix C) reflects a wide variation in program goals as reflected in the criteria found in their SCM manuals. Some states have no specific criteria because they do not produce SCM manuals, while others have manuals that address every category of criteria from flooding events to groundwater recharge. Some states rely upon EPA or other states’ or transportation agencies’ manuals. In general, soil and erosion control criteria are the most common and often exist in the absence of any other state criteria. This wide variation reflects the difficulties that states face in keeping up with rapidly changing information about SCM design and performance. The criteria are ordered below (after the section on erosion and sediment control) according to the size of the storm they address, from smallest to most extreme. The criteria can be expressed in a variety of ways, from a simple requirement to control a certain volume of rainfall or runoff (expressed as a depth)
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Urban Stormwater Management in the United States to the size of a design storm to more esoteric requirements, such as limiting the time that flow can be above a certain threshold. The volumes of rainfall or runoff are based on statistics of a region’s daily rainfall, and they approximate one another as the percentage of impervious cover increases. Design storms for larger events that address channel protection and flooding are usually based on extreme event statistics and tend to represent a temporal pattern of rainfall over a set period, usually a day. Finally, it should be noted that the categories are not mutually exclusive; for example, recharge of groundwater may enhance water quality via pollutant removal during the infiltration process. Erosion and Sedimentation Control. This criterion refers to the prevention of erosion and sedimentation of sites during construction and is focused at the site level. Criteria usually include a barrier plan to prevent sedimentation from leaving the site (e.g., silt fences), practices to minimize the potential erosion (phased construction), and facilities to capture and remove sediment from the runoff (detention). Because these measures are considered temporary, smaller extreme events are designated as the design storm than what typically would be used if flood control were the goal. Recharge/Base Flow. This criterion is focused on sustaining the preconstruction hydrology of a site as it relates to base flow and recharge of groundwater supplies. It may also include consideration of water usage of the property owners and return through septic tanks and tile fields. The criterion, expressed as a volume requirement, is usually to capture around 0.5 to 1.0 inch of runoff from impervious surfaces depending on the climate and soil type of the region. (For this range of rainfall, very little runoff occurs from grass or forested areas, which is why runoff from impervious surfaces is used as the criterion.) Water Quality. Criteria for water quality are the most widespread, and are usually crafted as specific percent removal for pollutants in stormwater discharge. Generally, a water quality criterion is based on a set volume of stormwater being treated by the SCM. The size of the storm can run from the first inch of rainfall off impervious surfaces to the runoff from the one-year, 24-hour extreme storm event. It should be noted that the term “water quality” covers a wide range of groundwater and surface water pollutants, including water temperature and emerging contaminants. Many of the water quality criteria are surrogates for more meaningful parameters that are difficult to quantify or cannot be quantified, or they reflect situations where the science is not developed enough to set more explicit goals. For example, the Wisconsin state requirement of an 80 percent reduction in TSS in stormwater discharge does not apply to receiving waters themselves. However, it presumes that there will be some water quality benefits in receiving waters; that is, phosphorus and fecal coliform might be captured by the TSS requirement. Similarly water quality criteria may be expressed as credits for good practices, such as using LID, street sweeping, or stream buffers.
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