Site Design & Development

Stormwater Management


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Stormwater runoff occurs when precipitation from rain or snowmelt flows over the land surface. The addition of roads, driveways, parking lots, rooftops and other surfaces that prevent water from soaking into the ground to our landscape greatly increases the runoff volume created during storms. This runoff is swiftly carried to our local streams, lakes, wetlands and rivers and can cause flooding and erosion, and wash away important habitat for critters that live in the stream. Stormwater runoff also picks up and carries with it many different pollutants that are found on paved surfaces such as sediment, nitrogen, phosphorus, bacteria, oil and grease, trash, pesticides and metals. It comes as no surprise then that stormwater runoff is the number one cause of stream impairment in urban areas. To reduce the impacts of runoff on urban streams, EPA expanded the Clean Water Act in 1987 to require municipalities to obtain permits for discharges of stormwater runoff. As a result, many communities have adopted regulations requiring developers to install stormwater management practices that reduce the rate and/or volume and remove pollutants from runoff generated on their development sites. This site provides links to a number of resources to help communities develop or improve their stormwater management programs. It also introduces some terminology related to the various approaches to stormwater management, keeping in mind that these are not mutually exclusive categories.


Low-Impact Development (LID) is a stormwater management approach that seeks to manage runoff using distributed and decentralized micro-scale controls. LID's goal is to mimic a site's predevelopment hydrology by using design techniques that infiltrate, filter, store, evaporate, and detain runoff close to its source. Instead of conveying and treating stormwater solely in large end-of-pipe facilities located at the bottom of drainage areas, LID addresses stormwater through small-scale landscape practices and design approaches that preserve natural drainage features and patterns. Several elements of LID—such as preserving natural drainage and landscape features—fit right into the Green Infrastructure approach described below. Additional information on LID is available from the Low Impact Development Center. 

Green Infrastructure refers to natural systems that capture, cleanse and reduce stormwater runoff using plants, soils and microbes. On the regional scale, green infrastructure consists of the interconnected network of open spaces and natural areas (such as forested areas, floodplains and wetlands) that improve water quality while providing recreational opportunities, wildlife habitat, air quality and urban heat island benefits, and other community benefits. At the site scale, green infrastructure consists of site-specific management practices (such as interconnected natural areas) that are designed to maintain natural hydrologic functions by absorbing and infiltrating precipitation where it falls. Additional information on green infrastructure is available on EPA's Managing Wet Weather with Green Infrastructure website.

Environmental Site Design (ESD), also referred to as Better Site Design (BSD), is an effort to mimic natural systems along the whole stormwater flow path through combined application of a series of design principles throughout the development site. The objective is to replicate forest or natural hydrology and water quality. ESD practices are considered at the earliest stages of design, implemented during construction and sustained in the future as a low maintenance natural system. Each ESD practice incrementally reduces the volume of stormwater on its way to the stream, thereby reducing the amount of conventional stormwater infrastructure required. Example practices include preserving natural areas, minimizing and disconnecting impervious cover, minimizing land disturbance, conservation (or cluster) design, using vegetated channels and areas to treat stormwater, and incorporating transit, shared parking, and bicycle facilities to allow lower parking ratios.