Adapting Stormwater Design Standards to Meet Future Community Needs

By on July 16, 2019

by Andy Sauer, senior project manager, Burns & McDonnell

Today’s stormwater design standards are basic and simplistic, focusing solely on rerouting stormwater runoff away from built environments. But this strategy may be passing the risk of flooding downstream in addition to creating more significant and costly problems for downstream communities.

Adopting stormwater design standards that are adaptive and viewing stormwater as a resource rather than waste not only stops passing the problem downstream, but also offers more progressive and resilient solutions that provide greater community benefits.

Traditionally, stormwater design has focused on the lowest common denominator, where the goal is moving excess rainfall away from the built environment — buildings, roads, streets or parking lots — as quickly as possible. Stormwater systems are typically sized to handle large and more extreme rainfall events.

Conversely, these systems lack adaptability to slow down smaller, more common events, passing all of the excess rainfall downstream almost immediately. This causes problems downstream that may include undermined road crossings, property damage, flash flooding and eroding streams. Communities at the bottom of the watersheds then pay the price for our current practices, requiring solutions that are more expensive and complex.

We need to rethink stormwater design standards to create practices that stop passing the buck downstream, and that instead view stormwater as a resource, adding more adaptability to urban environments.

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