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Stormwater Management Best Practices

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EPA facilities draw on the following best practices, also called Integrated Management Practices (IMPs), to design, implement, and evaluate their stormwater management efforts.

Best Practices

Photo of completed Constitution Avenue bioretention cells.Bioretention cells
A bioretention cell or rain garden is a depressed area with porous backfill (material used to refill an excavation) under a vegetated surface. These areas often have an underdrain to encourage filtration and infiltration, especially in clayey soils. Bioretention cells provide groundwater recharge, pollutant removal, and runoff detention. Bioretention cells are an effective solution in parking lots or urban areas where green space is limited.


Curb and gutter elimination
Curbs and gutters transport flow as quickly as possible to a stormwater drain without allowing for infiltration or pollutant removal. Eliminating curbs and gutters can increase sheet flow and reduce runoff volumes. Sheet flow, the form runoff takes when it is uniformly dispersed across a surface, can be established and maintained in an area that does not naturally concentrate flow, such as parking lots. Maintaining sheet flow by eliminating curbs and gutters and directing runoff into vegetated swales or bioretention basins helps to prevent erosion and more closely replicate predevelopment hydraulic conditions. A level spreader, which is an outlet designed to convert concentrated runoff to sheet flow and disperse it uniformly across a slope, may also be incorporated to prevent erosion.

A grassed swale at EPA's Gulf Breeze facility.Grassed swales
Grassed swales are shallow grass-covered hydraulic conveyance channels that help to slow runoff and facilitate infiltration. The suitability of grassed swales depends on land use, soil type, slope, imperviousness of the contributing watershed, and dimensions and slope of the grassed swale system. In general, grassed swales can be used to manage runoff from drainage areas that are less than 4 hectares (10 acres) in size, with slopes no greater than 5 percent. Use of natural, low-lying areas is encouraged and natural drainage courses should be preserved and utilized.


Photo of a green parking lot with permeable pavers and vegetated swale.Green parking design
Green parking refers to several techniques that, applied together, reduce the contribution of parking lots to total impervious cover. Green parking lot techniques include: setting maximums for the number of parking lots created; minimizing the dimensions of parking lot spaces; utilizing alternative pavers in overflow parking areas; using bioretention areas to treat stormwater; encouraging shared parking; and providing economic incentives for structured parking.


Infiltration trenches
Infiltration trenches are rock-filled ditches with no outlets. These trenches collect runoff during a storm event and release it into the soil by infiltration (the process through which stormwater runoff penetrates into soil from the ground surface). Infiltration trenches may be used in conjunction with another stormwater management device, such as a grassed swale, to provide both water quality control and peak flow attenuation. Runoff that contains high levels of sediments or hydrocarbons (for example, oil and grease) that may clog the trench are often pretreated with other techniques such as water quality inlets (series of chambers that promote sedimentation of coarse materials and separation of free oil from storm water), inlet protection devices, grassed swales, and vegetated filter strips.

Inlet protection devices
Inlet protection devices, also known as hydrodynamic separators, are flow-through structures with a settling or separation unit to remove sediments, oil and grease, trash, and other stormwater pollutants. This technology may be used as pre-treatment for other stormwater management devices. Inlet protection devices are commonly used in potential stormwater “hot spots”—areas where higher concentrations of pollutants are more likely to occur, such as gas stations.

Photo of permeable concrete path and cobblestone walkway.Permeable pavement
Permeable pavement is an alternative to asphalt or concrete surfaces that allows stormwater to drain through the porous surface to a stone reservoir underneath. The reservoir temporarily stores surface runoff before infiltrating it into the subsoil. The appearance of the alternative surface is often similar to asphalt or concrete, but it is manufactured without fine materials and instead incorporates void spaces that allow for storage and infiltration. Underdrains may also be used below the stone reservoir if soil conditions are not conducive to complete infiltration of runoff.


Photo of permeable pavers.Permeable pavers
Permeable pavers promote groundwater recharge. Permeable interlocking concrete pavements (PICP) are concrete block pavers that create voids on the corners of the pavers (pictured to the right). Concrete grid paver (CGP) systems are composed of concrete blocks made porous by eliminating finer particles in the concrete which creates voids inside the blocks; additionally, the blocks are arranged to create voids between blocks. Plastic turf reinforcing grids (PTRG) are plastic grids that add structural support to the topsoil and reduce compaction to maintain permeability. Grass is encouraged to grow in PTRG, so the roots will help improve permeability due to their root channels.


Photo of completed cistern.Rain barrels and cisterns
Rain barrels and cisterns harvest rainwater for reuse. Rain barrels are placed outside a building at roof downspouts to store rooftop runoff for later reuse in lawn and garden watering. Cisterns store rainwater in significantly larger volumes in manufactured tanks or underground storage areas. Rainwater collected in cisterns may also be used in non-potable water applications such as toilet flushing. Both cisterns and rain barrels can be implemented without the use of pumping devices by relying on gravity flow instead. Rain barrels and cisterns are low-cost water conservation devices that reduce runoff volume and, for very small storm events, delay and reduce the peak runoff flow rates. Both rain barrels and cisterns can provide a source of chemically untreated “soft water” for gardens and compost, free of most sediment and dissolved salts.


Riparian buffers
A riparian, or forested, buffer is an area along a shoreline, wetland, or stream where development is restricted or prohibited. The primary function of aquatic buffers is to physically protect and separate a stream, lake, or wetland from future disturbance or encroachment. If properly designed, a buffer can provide stormwater management and can act as a right-of-way during floods, sustaining the integrity of stream ecosystems and habitats.

Sand and organic filters
Sand and organic filters direct stormwater runoff through a sand bed to remove floatables, particulate metals, and pollutants. Sand and organic filters provide water quality treatment, reducing sediment, biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), and fecal coliform bacteria, although dissolved metal and nutrient removal through sand filters is often low. Sand and organic filters are typically used as a component of a treatment train to remove pollution from stormwater before discharge to receiving waters, to groundwater, or for collection and reuse. Variations on the traditional surface sand filter (such as the underground sand filter, perimeter sand filter, organic media filter, and multi-chamber treatment train) can be made to fit sand filters into more challenging design sites or to improve pollutant removal.

Photo of trenches with amendments being added.Soil amendments
Soil amendments increase the soil’s infiltration capacity and help reduce runoff from the site. They have the added benefit of changing physical, chemical, and biological characteristics so that the soils become more effective at maintaining water quality. Soil amendments, which include both soil conditioners and fertilizers, make the soil more suitable for the growth of plants and increase water retention capabilities. The use of soil amendments is conditional on their compatibility with existing vegetation, particularly native plants.


Stormwater planters
Stormwater planters are small landscaped stormwater treatment devices that can be placed above or below ground and can be designed as infiltration or filtering practices. Stormwater planters use soil infiltration and biogeochemical processes to decrease stormwater quantity and improve water quality, similar to rain gardens and green roofs but smaller in size—stormwater planters are typically a few square feet of surface area compared to hundreds or thousands of square feet for rain gardens and green roofs. Types of stormwater planters include contained planters, infiltration planters, and flow-through planters.

Tree box filters
Tree box filters are in-ground containers used to control runoff water quality and provide some detention capacity. Often premanufactured, tree box filters contain street trees, vegetation, and soil that help filter runoff before it enters a catch basin or is released from the site. Tree box filters can help meet a variety of stormwater management goals, satisfy regulatory requirements for new development, protect and restore streams, control combined sewer overflows (CSOs), retrofit existing urban areas, and protect reservoir watersheds. The compact size of tree box filters allows volume and water quality control to be tailored to specific site characteristics. Tree box filters provide the added value of aesthetics while making efficient use of available land for stormwater management. Typical landscape plants (for example, shrubs, ornamental grasses, trees and flowers) are an integral part of the bioretention system. Ideally, plants should be selected that can withstand alternating inundation and drought conditions and that do not have invasive root systems, which may reduce the soil’s filtering capacity.

Vegetated filter strips
Filter strips are bands of dense vegetation planted downstream of a runoff source. The use of natural or engineered filter strips is limited to gently sloping areas where vegetative cover can be established and channelized flow is not likely to develop. Filter strips are well suited for treating runoff from roads and highways, roof downspouts, very small parking lots, and impervious surfaces. They are also ideal components for the fringe of a stream buffer, or as pretreatment for a structural practice.

Photo of EPA's Region 8 office in Denver's green roof.Vegetated roofs
Green roofs consist of an impermeable roof membrane overlaid with a lightweight planting mix with a high infiltration rate and vegetated with plants tolerant of heat, drought, and periodic inundations. In addition to reducing runoff volume and frequency and improving runoff water quality, a green roof can reduce the effects of atmospheric pollution, reduce energy costs, and create an attractive environment.  They have reduced replacement and maintenance costs and longer life cycles compared to traditional roofs.


Additional Techniques

Stormwater Management Techniques in use at EPA Headquarters
Learn about specific stormwater management techniques in use at EPA’s Headquarters in Washington, DC, with accompanying photos.

Office of Water Techniques and Approaches
EPA’s Office of Water maintains a page of Green Infrastructure Types, Applications, and Design Approaches to Manage Wet Weather that can be applied in neighborhood settings (for example, green streets) or on a larger regional scale.

National Menu of Stormwater Best Management Practices
The National Menu of Stormwater Best Management Practices, maintained by the Office of Wastewater Management, provides a searchable database of stormwater best management practices.


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