Extreme weather events continue to make headlines, and traditional methods for managing the flow of runoff water can’t always keep up. For example, since 1991, the Northeast, Midwest and Great Plains have seen a 30 percent increase in heavy precipitation events compared the 1901-1960 average. By placing a higher priority on water management, communities can better prepare for the changing weather environment.

For many years, stormwater regulations have put a focus on collecting runoff from rain and snow and moving it downstream. While techniques for conveyance systems have improved over the past few decades, this approach may lag behind as development, population and extreme weather events increase.

In order to plan for future stormwater challenges — including area flooding and basement backups — communities should gain a firm grasp of rain event trends in the area. Duration and intensity are key rain event characteristics to consider. By having a stronger understanding of these events in connection with the current water infrastructure and how it performs, strategic decisions can be made and a community-tailored integrated delivery solution can be put in place.

One integrated delivery solution to consider is green stormwater infrastructure (GSI). These GSI tactics help control and collect stormwater at or near the source. GSI mimics the natural hydrologic cycle, meaning more water sinks into the ground instead of seeping into basements or flowing into catch basins. In addition, because of the visually attractive features of GSI, it provides opportunities for integration with new development projects in the area, like parks.

Some common components of GSI include:

  • Landscaping (e.g., rain gardens or planter boxes)
  • Permeable pavement
  • Collection and discharge points
  • Soil and aggregate media
  • Above-grade barriers
  • Energy dissipation and pretreatment

Outside of mandated upgrades, it sometimes can be challenging for communities to develop financial backing opportunities and allocate money toward water contingency planning. But as the frequency and intensity of severe weather events surge, risk mitigation, including action items like homeowner water education, is ultimately becoming a worthwhile community investment, one that can be funded through integrated approaches.


Take a look at some of the ways communities are implementing GSI to address significant rain events while keeping streams clean.

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Patrick Clifford is a regional practice manager at Burns & McDonnell. In his role, he helps provide water industry clients with engineer-procure-construct (EPC) and other alternative project delivery solutions.