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Water: Best Management Practices

Dry Detention Ponds

Minimum Measure: Post-Construction Stormwater Management in New Development and Redevelopment

Subcategory: Retention/Detention
Photo of a dry detention pond designed to temporarily detain runoff during storm events.


Dry detention ponds (a.k.a. dry ponds, extended detention basins, detention ponds, extended detention ponds) are basins whose outlets have been designed to detain stormwater runoff for some minimum time (e.g., 24 hours) to allow particles and associated pollutants to settle. Unlike wet ponds, these facilities do not have a large permanent pool of water. However, they are often designed with small pools at the inlet and outlet of the basin. They can also be used to provide flood control by including additional flood detention storage.


Dry detention ponds have traditionally been one of the most widely used stormwater best management practices. In some instances, these ponds may be the most appropriate best management practice. However, they should not be used as a one size fits all solution. If pollutant removal efficiency is an important consideration then dry detention ponds may not be the most appropriate choice. Dry detention ponds require a large amount of space to build them. In many instances, smaller-sized best management practices are more appropriate alternatives (see Grassed Swales, Infiltration Basin, Infiltration Trench, Porous Pavement, and Bioretention (Rain Gardens), Alternative Pavers, or Green Roofs.

Regional Applicability

Dry detention ponds can be applied in all regions of the United States. Some minor design modifications might be needed, however, in cold or arid climates or in regions with karst (i.e. limestone) topography.

Ultra-Urban Areas

Ultra-urban areas are densely developed urban areas in which little pervious surface is present. It is difficult to use dry detention ponds in the ultra-urban environment because of the land area each pond consumes.

Stormwater Hot Spots

Stormwater hot spots are areas where land use or activities generate highly contaminated runoff, with concentrations of pollutants in excess of those typically found in stormwater. Dry detention ponds can accept runoff from stormwater hot spots, but they need significant separation from ground water if they will be used for this purpose.

Stormwater Retrofit

A stormwater retrofit is a stormwater management practice (usually structural) put into place after development has occurred to improve water quality, protect downstream channels, reduce flooding, or meet other specific objectives. Dry detention ponds are useful stormwater retrofits, and they have two primary applications as a retrofit design. In many communities in the past, detention basins have been designed for flood control. It is possible to modify these facilities to incorporate features that encourage water quality control and/or channel protection. It is also possible to construct new dry ponds in open areas of a watershed to capture existing drainage.

Cold Water (Trout) Streams

A study in Prince George's County, Maryland, found that stormwater management practices can increase stream temperatures (Galli, 1990). Overall, dry detention ponds increased temperature by about 5°F. In cold water streams, dry ponds should be designed to detain stormwater for a relatively short time (i.e., less than 12 hours) to minimize the amount of warming that occurs in the practice. If the temperature of the water is a factor, then alternative best management practices may be more appropriate.

Siting and Design Considerations

Example profile view of a dry pond design.

Siting Considerations

Designers need to ensure that the dry detention pond is feasible at the site in question. This section provides basic guidelines for siting dry detention ponds.

Drainage Area

In general, dry detention ponds should be used on sites with a minimum area of 10 acres. On smaller sites, it can be challenging to provide channel or water quality control because the orifice diameter at the outlet needed to control relatively small storms becomes very small and thus prone to clogging. Low impact development techniques and on-lot treatment controls are recommended for smaller sites.


Dry detention ponds can be used on sites with slopes up to about 15 percent. The local slope needs to be relatively flat, however, to maintain reasonably flat side slopes in the practice. There is no minimum slope requirement, but there does need to be enough elevation drop from the pond inlet to the pond outlet to ensure that flow can move through the system.

Soils / Topography

Dry detention ponds can be used with almost all soils and geology, with minor design adjustments for regions of karst topography or in rapidly percolating soils such as sand. In these areas, extended detention ponds should be designed with an impermeable liner to prevent ground water contamination or sinkhole formation.

Ground Water

Except for the case of hot spot runoff, the only consideration regarding ground water is that the base of the extended detention facility should not intersect the ground water table. A permanently wet bottom may become a mosquito breeding ground. Research in Southwest Florida (Santana et al., 1994) demonstrated that intermittently flooded systems, such as dry extended detention ponds, produced more mosquitoes than other pond systems, particularly when the facilities remained wet for more than 3 days following heavy rainfall.

Design Considerations

Specific designs may vary considerably, depending on site constraints or preferences of the designer or community. Some features, however, should be incorporated into most dry extended detention pond designs. These design features can be divided into five basic categories: pretreatment, treatment, conveyance, maintenance reduction, and landscaping.


Pretreatment incorporates design features that help to settle out coarse sediment particles. By removing these particles from runoff before they reach the large permanent pool, the maintenance burden of the pond is reduced. In ponds, pretreatment is achieved with a sediment forebay, which is a small pool (typically about 10 percent of the volume of water to be treated for pollutant removal).


Treatment design features help enhance the ability of a stormwater management practice to remove pollutants. Designing dry ponds with a high length-to-width ratio (i.e., at least 1.5:1) and incorporating other design features to maximize the flow path effectively increases the detention time in the system by eliminating the potential of flow to short-circuit the pond. Designing ponds with relatively flat side slopes can also help to lengthen the effective flow path. Finally, the pond should be sized to detain the volume of runoff to be treated for between 12 and 48 hours.


Conveyance of stormwater runoff into and through the dry pond is a critical component. Stormwater should be conveyed to and from dry ponds safely in a manner that minimizes erosion potential. The outfall of pond systems should always be stabilized to prevent scour. To convey low flows through the system, designers should provide a pilot channel. A pilot channel is a surface channel that should be used to convey low flows through the pond. In addition, an emergency spillway should be provided to safely convey large flood events. To help mitigate the warming of water at the outlet channel, designers should provide shade around the channel at the pond outlet.

Maintenance Reduction

Regular maintenance activities are needed to maintain the function of stormwater practices. In addition, some design features can be incorporated to ease the maintenance burden of each practice. In dry detention ponds, a "micropool" at the outlet can prevent resuspension of sediment and outlet clogging. A good design includes maintenance access to the forebay and micropool.

Another design feature that can reduce maintenance needs is a non-clogging outlet. Typical examples include a reverse-slope pipe or a weir outlet with a trash rack. A reverse slope pipe draws from below the permanent pool extending in a reverse angle up to the riser and determines the water elevation of the micropool. Because these outlets draw water from below the level of the permanent pool, they are less likely to be clogged by floating debris.


Designers should maintain a vegetated buffer around the pond and should select plants within the extended detention zone (i.e., the portion of the pond up to the elevation where stormwater is detained) that can withstand both wet and dry periods. The side slopes of dry ponds should be relatively flat to reduce safety risks.

Design Variations

Tank Storage

Another variation of the dry detention pond design is the use of tank storage. In these designs, stormwater runoff is conveyed to large storage tanks or vaults underground. This practice is most often used in the ultra-urban environment on small sites where no other opportunity is available to provide flood control. Tank storage is provided on small areas because underground storage for a large drainage area would generally be costly. Because the drainage area contributing to tank storage is typically small, the outlet diameter needed to reduce the flow from very small storms would very small. A very small outlet diameter, along with the underground location of the tanks, creates the potential for debris being caught in the outlet and resulting maintenance problems. Since it is necessary to control small runoff events (such as the runoff from a 1-inch storm) to improve water quality, it is generally infeasible to use tank storage for water quality and generally impractical to use it to protect stream channels.

Regional Variations

Arid or Semi-Arid Climates

In arid and semi-arid regions, some modifications might be needed to conserve scarce water resources. Any landscaping plans should prescribe drought-tolerant vegetation wherever possible. In addition, the wet forebay can be replaced with an alternative dry pretreatment, such as a detention cell. In regions with a distinct wet and dry season, as in many arid regions, regional detention ponds can possibly be used as a recreation area such as a ball field during the dry season.

Cold Climates

In cold climates, some additional design features can help to treat the spring snowmelt. One such modification is to increase the volume available for detention to help treat this relatively large runoff event. In some cases, dry facilities may be an option as a snow storage facility to promote some treatment of plowed snow. If a pond is used to treat road runoff or is used for snow storage, landscaping should incorporate salt-tolerant species. Finally, sediment might need to be removed from the forebay more frequently than in warmer climates (see Maintenance Considerations for guidelines) to account for sediment deposited as a result of road sanding.


Although dry detention ponds are widely applicable, they have some limitations that might make other stormwater management options preferable:

  • Dry detention ponds have only moderate pollutant removal when compared to other structural stormwater practices, and they are ineffective at removing soluble pollutants (See Effectiveness).
  • Dry extended detention ponds may become a nuisance due to mosquito breeding if improperly maintained or if shallow pools of water form for more than 7 days.
  • Although wet ponds can increase property values, dry ponds can actually detract from the value of a home (see Cost Considerations).

Dry detention ponds on their own only provide peak flow reduction and do little to control overall runoff volume, which could result in adverse downstream impacts.

Maintenance Considerations

In addition to incorporating features into the pond design to minimize maintenance, some regular maintenance and inspection practices are needed. Table 1 outlines some of these practices.

Table 1. Typical maintenance activities for dry ponds (Source: Modified from WMI, 1997)



  • Note erosion of pond banks or bottom

Semiannual inspection

  • Inspect for damage to the embankment
  • Monitor for sediment accumulation in the facility and forebay
  • Examine to ensure that inlet and outlet devices are free of debris and operational


  • Repair undercut or eroded areas
  • Mow side slopes
  • Manage pesticide and nutrients
  • Remove litter and debris

Standard maintenance

  • Seed or sod to restore dead or damaged ground cover

Annual maintenance
(as needed)

  • Remove sediment from the forebay

5- to 7-year maintenance

  • Monitor sediment accumulations, and remove sediment when the pond volume has been reduced by 25 percent

25- to 50-year maintenance


Structural management practices can be used to achieve four broad resource protection goals:  flood control, channel protection, ground water recharge, and pollutant removal. Dry detention basins can provide flood control and channel protection, as well as some pollutant removal.

Flood Control

One objective of stormwater management practices can be to reduce the flood hazard associated with large storm events by reducing the peak flow associated with these storms. Dry extended detention basins can easily be designed for flood control, and this is actually the primary purpose of most detention ponds.

Channel Protection

One result of urbanization is the geomorphic changes that occur in response to modified hydrology. Traditionally, dry detention basins have provided control of the 2-year storm (i.e., the storm that occurs, on average, once every 2 years) for channel protection. It appears that this control has been relatively ineffective, and research suggests that control of a smaller storm might be more appropriate (MacRae, 1996). Slightly modifying the design of dry detention basins to reduce the flow of smaller storm events might make them effective tools in reducing downstream erosion.

Pollutant Removal

Dry detention basins provide moderate pollutant removal, provided that the design features described in the Siting and Design Considerations section are incorporated. Although they can be effective at removing some pollutants through settling, they are less effective at removing soluble pollutants because of the absence of a permanent pool. A few studies are available on the effectiveness of dry detention ponds. Typical removal rates, as reported by Schueler (1997), are as follows:

Total suspended solids: 61%

Total phosphorus: 19%

Total nitrogen: 31%

Nitrate nitrogen: 9%

Metals: 26%-54%

There is considerable variability in the effectiveness of ponds, and it is believed that properly designing and maintaining ponds may help to improve their performance. The siting and design criteria presented in this sheet reflect the best current information and experience to improve the performance of wet ponds. A joint project of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the USEPA Office of Water might help to isolate specific design features that can improve performance. The National Stormwater Best Management Practice (BMP) database is a compilation of stormwater practices that includes both design information and performance data for various practices. As the database expands, inferences about the extent to which specific design criteria influence pollutant removal may be made. For more information on this database, access the  BMP database Exit EPA Site.

Cost Considerations

The construction costs associated with dry detention ponds range considerably. One recent study evaluated the cost of all pond systems (Brown and Schueler, 1997). Adjusting for inflation, the cost of dry extended detention ponds can be estimated with the equation

C = 12.4V0.760


C = Construction, design, and permitting cost, and

V = Volume needed to control the 10-year storm (ft3).

Using this equation, typical construction costs are

$ 41,600 for a 1 acre-foot pond

$ 239,000 for a 10 acre-foot pond

$ 1,380,000 for a 100 acre-foot pond

Interestingly, these costs are generally slightly higher than the cost of wet ponds on a cost per total volume basis. Dry detention ponds are generally less expensive on a given site, because they are usually smaller than a wet pond design.

Ponds do not consume a large area compared to the total area treated (typically 2 to 3 percent of the contributing drainage area). It is important to note, however, that each pond is generally large. Other practices, such as filters or swales, may be "squeezed in" on relatively unusable land, but ponds need a relatively large continuous area.

For ponds, the annual cost of routine maintenance is typically estimated at about 3 to 5 percent of the construction cost. Alternatively, a community can estimate the cost of the maintenance activities outlined in the maintenance section. Finally, ponds are long-lived facilities (typically longer than 20 years). Thus, the initial investment into pond systems can be spread over a relatively long time period.

Another economic concern associated with dry ponds is that they might detract slightly from the value of adjacent properties. One study found that dry ponds can actually detract from the perceived value of homes adjacent to a dry pond by between 3 and 10 percent (Emmerling-Dinovo, 1995).


Design References:

Denver Urban Drainage and Flood Control District. 1992. Urban Storm Drainage Criteria Manual-Volume 3:  Best Management Practices. Denver, CO.

Watershed Management Institute (WMI). 1997. Operation, Maintenance, and Management of Stormwater Management Systems. Prepared for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water. Washington, DC.

Other References:

Brown, W., and T. Schueler. 1997. The Economics of Stormwater BMPs in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Prepared for Chesapeake Research Consortium. Edgewater, MD. Center for Watershed Protection. Ellicott City, MD.

Emmerling-Dinovo, C. 1995. Stormwater Detention Basins and Residential Locational Decisions. Water Resources Bulletin 31(3): 515-521

Galli, J. 1990. Thermal Impacts Associated with Urbanization and Stormwater Management Best Management Practices. Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Prepared for Maryland Department of the Environment, Baltimore, MD.

MacRae, C. 1996. Experience from Morphological Research on Canadian Streams: Is Control of the Two-Year Frequency Runoff Event the Best Basis for Stream Channel Protection? In Effects of Watershed Development and Management on Aquatic Ecosystems. American Society of Civil Engineers. Edited by L. Roesner. Snowbird, UT. pp. 144-162.

Santana, F., J. Wood, R. Parsons, and S. Chamberlain. 1994. Control of Mosquito Breeding in Permitted Stormwater Systems. Prepared for Southwest Florida Water Management District, Brooksville, FL.

Schueler, T. 1997. Influence of Ground Water on Performance of Stormwater Ponds in Florida. Watershed Protection Techniques 2(4):525-528.

Information Resources

Center for Watershed Protection (CWP), Environmental Quality Resources, and Loiederman Associates. 1997. Maryland Stormwater Design Manual. Draft. Prepared for Maryland Department of the Environment, Baltimore, MD.

Center for Watershed Protection (CWP). 1997. Stormwater BMP Design Supplement for Cold Climates. Prepared for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds. Washington, DC.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). 1993. Guidance Specifying Management Measures for Sources of Nonpoint Pollution in Coastal Waters. EPA-840-B-92-002. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water, Washington, DC.

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