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Water: Green Infrastructure


A wealth of research has examined the performance of green infrastructure in reducing the discharge of pollutants to receiving waters, removing air pollutants, and even reducing energy use.  Here we provide links to EPA’s research on green infrastructure performance, as well as to a sample of recent publications from the scientific literature.

EPA’s Office of Research and Development provides technical and engineering expertise to evaluate stormwater control measures for their effectiveness, and to develop new tools for decision making.

This page provides links to non-EPA web sites that provide additional information. You will leave the EPA.gov domain and enter another page with more information. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of information on that non-EPA page. Providing links to a non-EPA Web site is not an endorsement of the other site or the information it contains by EPA or any of its employees. Also, be aware that the privacy protection provided on the EPA.gov domain (see Privacy and Security Notice) may not be available at the external link. Exit EPA 


Databases and Summary Reports
As stormwater management objectives have shifted from controlling peak flows to mitigating water quality and ecosystem impacts, more and more research has addressed the performance of stormwater controls in reducing pollutant concentrations and loads.  This research has generated vast quantities of data. To assist decision-makers in interpreting this data, several research institutions have developed databases and summary reports.

International Stormwater Best Management Practices (BMP) Database – This database summarizes the findings of more than 400 BMP studies.  Users of the website can perform custom queries or download technical papers summarizing performance results.  Four green infrastructure controls are included in the database: constructed wetlands, bioretention, swales, and porous pavement.

National Pollutant Removal Performance Database (PDF) (10 pp, 1.2MB, About PDF) – This technical brief by the Center for Watershed Protection  summarizes the results of more than 150 pollutant removal studies.  The brief includes statistical and graphical representations of removal rates for four types of green infrastructure controls: constructed wetlands, bioretention, infiltration trenches, and swales.

Runoff Reduction Method Technical Memo - Appendix F: BMP Research Summary Tables  - This technical memo by the Center for Watershed Protection presents the results of more than 100 papers in tabular form.  Water quality and quantity results are presented for a range of green infrastructure and conventional controls, including constructed wetlands, bioretention, infiltration, swales, green roofs, and porous pavement.

Illinois Green Infrastructure Study (PDF) (126 pp, 1.9MB, About PDF) - This report prepared for the Illinois EPA summarizes the pollutant removal and volume reduction results of more than 50 peer-reviewed journal articles.  Reductions in total nitrogen, total suspended solids, runoff volume, and peak flow are presented for four types of green infrastructure controls: constructed wetlands, bioretention, porous pavement, and green roofs.

University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center (UNHSC): 2009 Biannual Report – UNHSC operates a field research facility including three classes of stormwater treatment systems: conventional systems, LID systems, and manufactured devices.  This report summarizes the results of four years of monitoring at the research facility.  Performance summaries are provided for 17 stormwater treatment practices, and detailed cost and performance data are provided for nine stormwater treatment practices.

Green Roof
Green Roofs
The ability of green roofs to reduce runoff volumes, regulate building temperatures, reduce urban heat island effects, and provide urban wildlife habitat is well established in the literature.  This section provides links to a small sample of articles on these functions.  Other areas of active research include the selection of plant species, propagation and establishment methods, plant succession, carbon sequestration potential, and water and nutrient requirements.
US EPA (2009). "Green Roofs for Stormwater Runoff Control." (PDF) (81 pp, 2.5MB, About PDF) Publication No. EPA/600/R-09/026 | Abstract

Oberndorfer ,E., Lundholm, J., et al (2007). "Green Roofs as Urban Ecosystems: Ecological Structures, Functions, and Services." BioScience 57(10): 823-833.

Rowe, B. (2011). “Green Roofs as a Means of Pollution Abatement.”  Environmental Pollution 159(8-9): 2100-2110. 

VanWoert N., Rowe B., Andresen J., et al (2005). “Green Roof Stormwater Retention: Effects of Roof Surface, Slope, and Media Depth.” Journal of Environmental Quality 34(3): 1036-1044.

Permeable Pavers
Permeable Pavements
Permeable pavements are among the most extensively studied and well-understood green infrastructure practices.  This sample of articles addresses the infiltration capacity and pollutant removal efficiency of permeable pavement systems, as well their long-term performance and impacts on groundwater quality.
Performance of Experimental Permeable Surface Parking Lot - In this research effort, EPA scientists and engineers are studying the performance of permeable pavements in cooling surface temperatures, reducing runoff volumes, and improving water quality. The results of this study will provide much needed design and performance information to the regulated community. The research site has already received awards including EPA's Sustainable Champion Award and the Portland Cement Association Sustainability Leadership Award.| Opening Ceremony Video

Rowe, A., Borst, M., and O'Connor, T. (2010). "Environmental Effects of Pervious Pavement as a Low Impact Development Installation in Urban Regions." Chapter 13 in The Effects of Urbanization on Groundwater: An Engineering Case-based Approach for Sustainable Development. Edited by Ni-Bin Chang. American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Reston, VA. LC call# D657.E5:395 p, 9780784410783.  

Adams, M. (2003). "Porous Asphalt Pavement With Recharge Beds 20 Years and Still Working.” Stormwater 2003 (May-June).

Bean, E., Hunt, W., and Bidelspach, D. (2007). “Evaluation of Four Permeable Pavement Sites in Eastern North Carolina for Runoff Reduction and Water Quality Impacts.”  Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering 133(6): 583.

Bean, E., Hunt, W., and Bidelspach, D. (2007). “Field Survey of Permeable Pavement Surface Infiltration Rates.” Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering 133(3): 249.

Boving, T., Stolt, M., et al. (2008). “Potential for localized groundwater contamination in a porous pavement parking lot setting in Rhode Island.” Environmental Geology 55(3): 571-582.

Brattebo, B. and Booth, D. (2003). “Long-term stormwater quantity and quality performance of permeable pavement systems.” Water Research 37(18):  4369-4376.

Dreelin, E., Fowler, L., and Carroll, C. (2006). “A test of porous pavement effectiveness on clay soils during natural storm events.” Water Research 40(4): 799-805.

Rainwater Cistern
Rainwater Harvesting
Recent droughts and the potential impacts of climate change have generated interest in rainwater harvesting as an approach to water conservation as well as stormwater management.  Research topics include sizing methodologies, public perceptions, and the water quality of harvested rainwater.

Craig, E., Coombes, P., et al. (2008). “Rainwater Tanks and Microbial Water Quality: Are the Indications Clear?”  Australian Journal of Water Resources 12(2).

Fletcher, T., Deletic, A., et al (2008). “Reuse of Urban Runoff in Australia: A Review of Recent Advances and Remaining Challenges." (PDF) (116 pp, 784K, About PDF) Journal of Environmental Quality 37(5 Suppl): S116-27.

Jones, M.P. and W.F. Hunt. (2010). “Performance of Rainwater Harvesting Systems in the Southeastern United States.” Resources, Conservation & Recycling 54:623-629.

Eroksuz., E., Rahman, A. (2010). “Rainwater tanks in multi-unit buildings: A case study for three Australian cities.” Resources, Conservation, & Recycling 54(12): 1449-1452.

Rain Gardens and Planter Boxes
Rain gardens and planter boxes are both forms of bioretention.  Research indicates that bioretention areas provide groundwater recharge, pollutant removal, and runoff detention, and offer an effective approach to stormwater management where open space is limited. EPA is conducting extensive research on the performance and benefits of bioretention.
Davis, A.P., Traver, R.G., Hunt, W.F., Brown, R.A., Lee, R. and Olszewski, J.M. (2011). "Hydrologic Performance of Bioretention Stormwater Control Measures." Journal of Hydrologic Engineering. American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Reston, VA.

Li, H. and Davis, A.P. (2009). "Water Quality Improvement through Reductions of Pollutant Loads using Bioretention." Journal of Environmental Engineering. American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Reston, VA 135(8): 567-576.

Performance of Experimental Rain Gardens – This EPA research project, attached to EPA's experimental parking lot, is evaluating rain gardens as part of a larger treatment train. Video

Muthukrishnan, S. and M. L. Oleske. "Effects of Lime Amendment on the pH of Engineered Soil Mix for the Purposes of Bioretention. Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering." American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Reston, VA  134(5): 675-679, (2008).

O'Connor, T., A. Rowe, E. Stander, and M. Borst. (2010)."Application of Time Domain Reflectometers in Urban Settings." Cities and the Environment. Urban Ecology Institute, Chestnut Hill, MA, 3(1):19.

Ray, A., A. Selvakumar, and A. N. Tafuri. (2006). "Removal of Selected Pollutants from Aqueous Media by Hardwood Mulch." Journal of Hazardous Materials. Elsevier Science Ltd. Reston, VA 132(2):89-96.

Shuster, W. D., R. Gehring, and J. Gerken. (2007).  "Prospects for Enhanced Groundwater Recharge via Infiltration of Urban Stormwater Runoff: A Case Study." Mark Anderson-Wilk (ed.), Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. Soil and Water Conservation Society, 62(3): 129-137.

Stander, E.K. and M. Borst. (2010). "Hydraulic Test of a Media Carbon Amendment." Journal of Hydrologic Engineering. American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Reston, VA, 15(6):531-536.

Stander, E., M. Borst, T. O'Connor, and A. Rowe. (2010). "The Effects of Rain Garden Size on Hydrologic Performance." In: Proceedings, World Environmental & Water Resources Congress 2010, Challenges of Change, Providence, RI, May 16 - 20, 2010. Environmental & Water Resources Institute (EWRI) of American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Reston, VA, 3018.

Stander, E., and Borst, M. (2008). "Promoting Nitrate Removal in Rain Gardens." New Jersey Flows. New Jersey Water Resources Research Institute, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, IX (II):5.

University of Maryland - UMD's bioretention lab researches the performance of rain gardens and swales in a variety of contexts.

Bioswales (or vegetated swales) are similar to bioretention practices but convey stormwater within a shallow channel.  Research suggests that bioswales can be effective in attenuating peak flows, reducing pollutant loads, and enhancing biodiversity, but also indicates that performance is very sensitive to bioswale design.
Davis, A., Stagge, J., et al. (2011). “Hydraulic performance of grass swales for managing highway runoff.” Water Research, In press.

Kazemi, F.,  Beecham, S., and Gibbs, J. (2011). “Streetscape biodiversity and the role of bioretention swales in an Australian urban environment.” Landscape and Urban Planning 101(2): 139-148.

Xiao, Q. and McPherson E.  (2011). “Performance of engineered soil and trees in a parking lot bioswales." (PDF) (14 pp, 3MB, About PDF) Urban Water Journal 8(4):  241–253.

Urban Tree Canopy
Urban Tree Canopy
Research assessing the benefits of trees in the urban environment indicate that trees in the urban environment can effectively mitigate air pollution, reduce runoff quantity, and reduce energy use while enhancing habitat and property values.  One area of active research is the interaction between urban soils and urban trees.
Bartens, J., Day, S., et al. (2008). “Can Urban Tree Roots Improve Infiltration through Compacted Subsoils for Stormwater Management?" (PDF) (10 pp, 972K, About PDF) Journal of Environmental Quality 37:2048–2057.

Bartens, J., Wiseman, P., and Smiley, E. (2010). “Stability of landscape trees in engineered and conventional urban soil mixes.” Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 9(4): 333-338.

McPherson, G., Simpson, J., et al. (2005). “Municipal Forest Benefits and Costs in Five US Cities." (PDF) (6 pp, 266K, About PDF) Journal of Forestry 103(8).  

Nowak, D., Crane, D., and Stevens, J. (2006). “Air pollution removal by urban trees and shrubs in the United States.” Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 4(3-4) 115-123.

Constructed Wetland
Constructed Wetlands
Because constructed wetlands are complex systems with many design parameters, the literature on stormwater wetlands spans a wide range of research topics.  Scientists have examined not only wetland performance and design, but wetland management and evaluation as well.  Here we provide access to EPA research on constructed wetlands, and to a sample of recent publications from the literature.
O’Connor, T. and J. Rossi. (2009). "Monitoring of a Best Management Practice Wetland Before and After Maintenance." Journal of Environmental Engineering. American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Reston, VA, 135(11):1145-1154.

Stander, E. K. and J. G. Ehrenfeld. (2009). "Rapid Assessment of Urban Wetlands: Functional Assessment Model Development and Evaluation." Wetlands. The Society of Wetland Scientists, McLean, VA, 29(1):261-276.

Stander, E. K. and J. G. Ehrenfeld. (2009). "Rapid assessment of urban wetlands: Do hydrogeomorphic classification and reference criteria work?" Environmental Management. Springer-Verlag, New York, NY, 43(4):725-742.

Arihood, L. D., E. R. Bayless, and W. C. Sidle. (2006). "Hydrologic Characteristics of a Managed Wetland and a Natural Riverine Wetland along the Kankakee River in Northwestern Indiana." (PDF) (88 pp, 1.1MB, About PDF) Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5222. U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Corvallis, OR.

US EPA (2006). "Performance of Stormwater Retention Ponds and Constructed Wetlands in Reducing Microbial Concentrations." (PDF) (76 pp, 1.2MB, About PDF) Publication No. EPA/600/R-06/102 | Abstract.

Borst, M., A. L. Riscassi, L. Estime, and E. L. Fassman. (2002). "Free-Water Depth as a Management Tool for Constructed Wetlands." Sutton, D.L. (ed.), Journal of Aquatic Plant Management.  Aquatic Plant Management Society, Vicksburgh, MS, 40: 43-45. 

Hunt, W.F., C.S. Apperson, S.G. Kennedy, B.A. Harrison, W.G. Lord. (2006). “Occurrence and relative abundance of mosquitoes in stormwater retention facilities in North Carolina, USA.” Water Science & Technology 52 (6-7): 315-321.

Lenhart, H.A. and W.F. Hunt. (2011). “Evaluating Four Stormwater Performance Metrics with a North Carolina Coastal Plain Stormwater Wetland.” Journal of Environmental Engineering. 137(2): 155-62.

Jones, M.P. and W.F. Hunt. (2010). “Effect of Stormwater Wetlands and Wet Ponds on Runoff Temperature in Trout Sensitive Waters.” Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering. 136(9): 656-661.

Watershed Scale
To assess the effectiveness of green infrastructure in protecting our water resources, researchers must link the performance of green infrastructure practices to water quality and ecological outcomes in receiving waters.  The research published to date indicates that green infrastructure is an effective approach to improving water quality and maintaining stream form and function.
Nietch, C. T. (2008). "Linking Watershed Management with Stream Ecosystem Processes." EM: Air and Waste Management Associations Magazine for Environmental Managers. Air & Waste Management Association, Pittsburgh, PA, (January):37.

Walsh, C. J., A. Roy, J. W. Feminella, P. D. Cottingham, P. M. Groffman, and R. P. Morgan. (2005). "The Urban Stream Syndrome:  Current Knowledge and the Search for a Cure." Journal of the North American Benthological Society. North American Benthological Society, Lawrence, KS, 24(3):706-723.

USGS. (2010). “Effects of Low-Impact-Development (LID) Practices on Streamflow, Runoff Quantity, and Runoff Quality in the Ipswich River Basin, Massachusetts: A Summary of Field and Modeling Studies.” USGS Circular 1361.

USGS. (2008). “A Comparison of Runoff Quantity and Quality from Two Small Basins Undergoing Implementation of Conventional and Low-Impact-Development (LID) Strategies: Cross Plains, Wisconsin, Water Years 1999–2005.” USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2008-5008.

Dietz, M. and Clausen, J. (2008). “Stormwater runoff and export changes with development in a traditional and low impact subdivision.” Journal of Environmental Management 87(4): 560-566.  

Hood, M., Clausen, J., and Warner, G. (2007). “Comparison of Stormwater Lag Times for Low Impact and Traditional Residential Development.” Journal of the American Water Resources Association 43(4): 1036 – 1046.

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