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Managing Stormwater Runoff: A Green Infrastructure Approach

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Increasingly, communities are looking for ways to maximize the opportunities and benefits associated with growth while minimizing and managing its negative environmental impacts, especially in terms of stormwater runoff. In many places, however, stormwater management is still primarily dealt with only at the site development level using “end-of-pipe” practices, such as detention ponds or conveyance systems, such as sewer systems or culverts. These practices, however, fail to address cumulative water quality impacts from the excessive amounts of impervious cover associated with land development.

Natural stormwater management in residential development in Lenexa, Kansas.
This residential development in Lenexa, Kansas makes use of native habitat to manage stormwater quality – part of the city’s “Rain to Recreation” stormwater management program.

While conventional stormwater approaches work to drain each site, the continued spread of development in many areas has resulted in too much water, carrying too much pollution, running into drains and receiving water bodies. This can reduce water quality, especially at drain outlets, and lead to a dramatic drop in the refill rate of aquifers and streams.

Today, the practice of stormwater management is evolving beyond engineered approaches applied at the site level to an approach that looks at managing stormwater through more natural approaches. These “green infrastructure” approaches can be better for the environment and cost-effective. Green infrastructure strategies reduce and locally manage stormwater through infiltration (water soaking into the ground), capture and reuse (water being stored in a rain barrel or cistern for later use in watering plants or flushing toilets), and evapotranspiration (water being used by trees and plants).

A comprehensive green infrastructure approach to stormwater management seeks to:

  • Preserve and enhance natural features, such as undisturbed forests, meadows, wetlands, regional and neighborhood greenways, trails, and other natural areas.
  • Recycle land by directing new development to already degraded land, such as parking lots, vacant buildings, and abandoned malls.
  • Reduce land consumption and development footprint by using land more efficiently.
  • Reuse stormwater by directing it back into the ground through infiltration, evapotranspiration, or through capture and reuse techniques.While traditional approaches to stormwater management have focused at site-level techniques, green infrastructure takes into account the wide range of development-related issues at the regional, neighborhood, and site-level that affect impervious cover and stormwater runoff.

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