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Climate Change Adaptation Resource Center (ARC-X)

Adaptation Actions for Water Quality

The adaptation strategies provided below are intended to inform and assist communities in identifying potential alternatives. They are illustrative and are presented to help communities consider possible ways to address anticipated current and future climate threats to contaminated site management.

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Case study available = Case Study available

Adaptation Actions


Use Climate & Land Use Data

Apply Green Infrastructure Strategies


Apply Green Infrastructure

  • Use a retention pond to manage stormwaterCase study available

    A retention pond is one of the earliest prototypes of GI, and is now considered a more traditional type of stormwater infrastructure because it has been integrated into gray infrastructure design. It is an engineered stormwater basin designed to store runoff and release it at a controlled rate while maintaining a level of ponded water. Pollutants and sediment loads are reduced as the runoff is retained in the basin. Retention ponds are a very common stormwater management practice and may be designed with sustainable elements to increase water quality and decrease peak discharges. Vegetated forebays may be added to increase sediment removal as well as provide habitat. Another enhancement to traditional stormwater retention ponds is the addition of an iron enhanced sand filter bench that removes dissolved substances such as phosphorus from runoff.

  • Use a stormwater tree trench to store and filter stormwater runoff

    A stormwater tree trench is a row of trees that is connected by an underground infiltration structure. At the ground level, trees planted in a tree trench do not look different than any other planted tree. Underneath the sidewalk, the trees sit in a trench that is engineered with layers of gravel and soil that store and filter stormwater runoff. Stormwater tree trenches provide both water quality and runoff reduction benefits.

  • Use Bioretention to collect stormwater runoff

    Bioretention is an adapted landscape feature that provides onsite storage and infiltration of collected stormwater runoff. Stormwater runoff is directed from surfaces to a shallow depression that allows runoff to pond prior to infiltration in an area that is planted with water-tolerant vegetation. As runoff accumulates, it will pond and slowly travel through a filter bed (pictured on the right) where it either infiltrates into the ground or is discharged via an underdrain. Small-scale bioretention areas are often referred to as rain gardens.

  • Use Blue Roof to hold precipitation after a storm event and discharge it at a controlled rate

    A blue roof is designed to hold up to eight inches of precipitation on its surface or in engineered trays. It is comparable to a vegetated roof without soil or vegetation. After a storm event, precipitation is stored on the roof and discharged at a controlled rate. Blue roofs greatly decrease the peak discharge of runoff and also allow water to evaporate into the air prior to being discharged.20 Precipitation discharge is controlled on a blue roof through a flow restriction device around a roof drain. The water can either be slowly released to a storm sewer system or to another GI practice such as a cistern or bioretention area.

  • Use extended detention wetlands to reduce flood risk and provide water quality and ecological benefits

    Extended detention wetlands, such as the one shown in the figure on the right, may be designed as a flood mitigation strategy that also provides water quality and ecological benefits. Extended detention wetlands can require large land areas, but come with significant flood storage benefits. Extended detention wetlands can be created, restored (from previously filled wetlands), or enhanced existing wetlands. Wetlands typically store flood water during a storm and release it slowly, thereby reducing peak flows. An extended detention wetland allows water to remain in the wetland area for an extended period of time, which provides increased flood storage as well as water quality benefits.29 Extended detention wetlands are distinct from preservation of existing wetlands, but the two practices often are considered together as part of a watershed-based strategy.

  • Use Permeable pavement to allow runoff to flow through and be temporarily stored prior to discharge

    Permeable pavement includes both pavements and pavers with void space that allow runoff to flow through the pavement (pictured left). Once runoff flows through the pavement, it is temporarily stored in an underground stone base prior to infiltrating into the ground or discharging from an under drain. Permeable pavers are highly effective at removing heavy metals, oils, and grease in runoff. Permeable pavement also removes nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen. Soil and engineered media filter pollutants as the runoff infiltrates through the porous surface. The void spaces in permeable pavement surfaces and reservoir layers provide storage capacity for runoff. All permeable pavement systems reduce runoff peak volume.

  • Use Underground storage systems to detain runoff in underground receptacles

    Underground storage systems vary greatly in design. Underground storage systems detain runoff in underground receptacles that slowly release runoff. Often the underground receptacles are culverts, engineered stormwater detention vaults, or perforated pipes. One of the benefits of underground storage is that it does not take up additional surface area and can be implemented beneath roadways, parking lots, or athletic fields. Underground storage systems are typically designed to store large volumes of runoff and therefore can have a significant impact in reducing flooding and peak discharges.

Consider Cost and Benefits of Green Infrastructure

Consider Stormwater Management Logistics

Use Natural Infrastructure

  • Urban Environment
    • Plant trees
      Water temperature benefits include shading the ground and keeping water temperature cooler. Other benefits can include controlling stormwater runoff and promoting infiltration.
    • Build swales and rain gardens
      Water temperature benefits include getting water underground and maintains aquifers. Other benefits can included keeping stormwater runoff out of waterways.
  • In-Stream Measures
    • Removing unneeded dams and impoundments
      Water temperature benefits include keeping impounded waters from heating up. Other benefits can include restoring natural hydrology, returning to natural sediment transport and geomorphology, and reestablishing natural disturbance.
    • Control stream bank erosion
      Water temperature benefits include keeping stream channels from getting wider and shallower and warming more easily. Other benefits can include maintaining natural sediment transport and geomorphology, and raising water quality.
    • Create deep pools or artificial logjams
      Water temperature benefits include providing shade or deep water that limits direct heating from sunlight. Other benefits can include constructing biotic refugia or habitat. and building biological communities.
  • Groundwater Measures
    • Control groundwater withdrawal
      Water temperature benefits include maintaining groundwater sources that supply base flow to streams. Other benefits can include creating habitat and hydrological connectivity, and restoring natural hydrology.
    • Promote stormwater infiltration
      Water temperature benefits include getting water into aquifers and away from exposure to sun, and recharging groundwater that supplies baseflow that regulates stream temperature. Other benefits can include restoring natural hydrology, returning to natural sediment transport and geomorphology, and reestablishing natural disturbance.
    • Remove unneeded channelization
      Water temperature benefits include restoring natural groundwater exchange and connection to floodplains which promotes floodwater infiltration into aquifers. Other benefits can include restoring natural hydrology, returning to natural sediment transport and geomorphology, and reestablishing natural disturbance.
  • Land Use Measures
    • Plant forest and floodplain habitat
      Water temperature benefits include: shading watershed lands, surface waters and streambeds; reducing runoff; and promoting groundwater infiltration. Other benefits can include: creating habitat and hydrologic connectivity; rebuilding native vegetation and corridor networks; and raising water quality.
    • Control soil erosion in the watershed
      Water temperature benefits include keeping sediment from clogging streambeds and interfering with groundwater exchange and keeping heat-trapping particles out of waterways. Other benefits can include returning to natural sediment transport and geomorphology, and raising water quality.
    • Control stormwater runoff
      Water temperature benefits include reducing high peak flows that contribute to erosion and channel changes. Other benefits can include restoring natural hydrology, returning to natural sediment transport and geomorphology, reestablishing natural disturbance, and raising water quality.

Build Staff Capacity

Provide Public Awareness and Coordination

  • Adopt more stringent policies

    Adopt more stringent policies such as stormwater fees and requirements for developers to manage water onsite to the maximum extent feasible. Similarly, require developers to make decisions informed by future climate, and local governments to incorporate climate change into decision-making processes.

  • Build awareness and knowledge via climate change and stormwater management curriculum

    On-the-job training and continuing education opportunities, which can help to increase the climate literacy of existing staff and ensure timely application of research designed to address decision-maker needs. Also, use educational projects in schools or at community centers as opportunities to disseminate climate change information to the public.

  • Collaborate with community groups

    Collaboration through activities such as tree planting or installing rain gardens can be an effective adaptation measure. In all work with individuals and community groups, be sensitive to hot button topics that may distract from the purpose of the conversation and the issues that the work intends to address. For example, if climate change is a highly political issue, it may be useful to steer the conversation towards observed and projected changes for specific endpoints of concern (e.g., changes in 25-year storm event or the intensity of brief downpours) or green infrastructure's cobenefits to a community's livability and economic vitality. Focusing on issues of vulnerability and future weather changes can help to move discussions forward and avoid some of the potential barriers that arise when using the term "climate change."

  • Create opportunities for staff to exchange experiences and ideas for programs

    (e.g., interdepartmental meetings, workshops, webinars, online forums). Ensure that senior management is on-board and that the administrative and fiscal mechanisms of the city enable interdepartmental collaboration.

  • Developers can demonstrate attractive, cost-effective, marketable solutions

    If the market offers innovative stormwater solutions or climate resilient developments that are attractive and effective, the public will more likely favor these best available options. A developer-driven solution may be most effective in an area that is rapidly changing. For instance, the recently developed Celebrate Senior Center in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is using 65 bioretention areas and 15 water quality swales to treat 43 acres of manicured landscape. Stafford County anticipates that this project will demonstrate that green infrastructure solutions can offer amenities that increase the value of the landscape while managing stormwater onsite.

  • Engage in existing peer-to-peer networks

    These networks connect communities at varying stages of implementation and include the GLAA-C, Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN), American Society of Adaptation Professionals (ASAP), and the Great Lakes Saint Lawrence Cities Initiative.

  • Showcase green infrastructure climate adaptation projectsCase study available

    Use redevelopment projects as onsite demonstrations of ways to adapt to climate change using LID, green streets, or environmental site design. Such demonstrations will make these approaches highly visible to the public, politicians, decision makers, and project partners.

  • Take advantage of existing resources that promote information sharing

    EPA, as well as NOAA and other federal agencies provide tools, guides, and case studies of green infrastructure projects conducted with a large number of communities across the country.

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Source Documents

These strategies are adapted from existing EPA, CDC and other federal resources. Please view these strategies in the context provided by the primary source document:

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The adaptation strategies provided are intended to inform and assist communities in identifying potential alternatives. They are illustrative and are presented to help communities consider possible ways to address anticipated current and future climate threats to contaminated site management. Read the full disclaimer.

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