best management practices for sustainable urban stormwater management: a review salisu dan’azumi

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ABSTRACT Traditionally, urban stormwater runoff is considered a nuisance that needs to be ridded of immediately. Urbanization creates impervious surfaces leading to increased runoff from rainfall and cities have to grapple with flood as they develop with time. Additionally, urban activities generate numerous pollutants that are washed off during stormwater runoff leading to water quality degradation of the receiving water bodies. Stormwater best management practices (BMPs) are structural and non structural measures or controls that are used to manage the quantity and/or improve the quality of stormwater runoff in a cost-effective manner.


Posted By OLUSOLA MICHAEL ROTIMI { follow user } 1 year ago 3/4/2019 1:53:36 AM in Environmental { follow category }



Salisu Dan’azumi

Department of Civil Engineering, Bayero University Kano

Tel: 08038547730. E mail:


Traditionally, urban stormwater runoff is considered a nuisance that needs to be ridded of immediately. Urbanization creates impervious surfaces leading to increased runoff from rainfall and cities have to grapple with flood as they develop with time. Additionally, urban activities generate numerous pollutants that are washed off during stormwater runoff leading to water quality degradation of the receiving water bodies. Stormwater best management practices (BMPs) are structural and non structural measures or controls that are used to manage the quantity and/or improve the quality of stormwater runoff in a cost-effective manner. Structural measures include wetlands, swales, sand filters, porous pavements, dry wells, retention and detention basins. Non structural measures include: land use planning, flood plain management, street sweeping, household waste recycling, erosion control at construction sites and public awareness. This paper therefore advocates the use of these techniques to policy makers, in developing countries, due to their numerous advantages such as flood control, pollutants removal, soil conservation, etc. Engineers and technologists have to play a key role in the proper design, construction and maintenance of these systems in a sustainable manner.



Disruption of natural water cycle is caused when land is developed. Clearing of land surface reduces the evaporation and transpiration processes that intercept, slow and return rainfall to the air. Depression storage is filled-up; topsoil is removed while subsoil is compacted. The construction of impervious surfaces further reduces infiltration and increases runoff. Rainfall that used to infiltrate the ground now runs-off the surface (Steg, 2010). The total runoff volume increases dramatically depending on the magnitude of changes to the land surface. These changes cause an increase in the total volume of runoff and accelerate the rate at which runoff flows across land surface. This effect is further aggravated by artificial drainage systems that are designed to convey runoff to rivers as quickly as possible (McCuen, 2004; Guo, 2001). The volume of water infiltrating into the soil is reduced with the development of impervious surfaces, thus reducing the quantity of water available to recharge aquifers and feed-in the base-flow during dry weather period (GSMM, 2001).

In addition to affecting the runoff quantity, urbanization also affects the runoff quality by increasing the concentration of pollutants carried by the stormwater (Methods and Durrans, 2003). As runoff runs over rooftops, roads, parking lots, domestic, commercial and industrial areas, it picks up a variety of pollutants and transports them to downstream water bodies. The receiving water body is affected by the cumulative impact of urban activities from the entire watershed that drains a stream, and the resultant changes from both stormwater quantity and quality is felt in the downstream waters (Segarra-Garcia and Loganathan, 1992; Jeng et al., 2005). Urbanization within a watershed has a number of negative impacts on downstream waters. These impacts include: changes to stream flow and stream geometry, degradation of aquatic habitat caused by water quality impacts (GSMM, 2001; KCTSMM, 2008; Steg, 2010; etc).



According to Burian et al. (1999), stormwater management could be traced back to history when ancient civilizations grappled with flood prevention and waste disposal in their cities of stones and bricks, long before engineering was a recognized profession. Around 3000 BC, Indus Civilization constructed combined sewers consisting of simple sanitary sewer system with drains to remove stormwater from streets. Other ancient sewer system were constructed by Mesopotamian Empire in Assyria and Babylonia (2500 BC) and the Minoans on the Island of Crete (3000-1000 BC), Jerusalem (Circa 1000 BC) and Etruscans around 600 BC. Partial underground systems were found around 200 AD in ruins of major cities in China.  Other examples of ancient sewerage systems include the Macedonians, Greeks under the rule of Alexander the Great and the Persians (Butler and Davies, 2004). After the Greeks, the cities and town were taken by Romans. The Romans were the first to build a carefully planned road network with drained surfaces in Europe and Western Asia from antiquity to the nineteenth century. Specific drainage facilities used by the Romans included occasional curbs and gutters to direct surface runoff into open channels along roadways. The channels collected not only stormwater runoff from roadway surfaces, but also sanitary and household wastes. 

Between 14th and 19th century, there was resurgence in the development of planned sewage systems from the disjointed ones of the middle ages.  The sewers constructed in Europe were simply open ditches and besides conveying stormwater, they became receptacles for trash and other household sanitary wastes which accumulate and cause overflows. To overcome this problem, the channels were covered to form combined sewers (Debo and Reese, 2003).  At the end of 1700s, the outlook was improving for wet weather flow management in Europe. Through 1800s, society held a belief in progress that is linked to technology.  Until the 1820s, European sewers were constructed of cut stones or brick that contributed to deposition problems.  These were substituted with milestone and cement mortar, thus improving the self cleansing properties and hydraulic efficiency of the sewers. A variety of new pipe shapes emerged and in the early 1800s, there was increased attention to sewer maintenance and the adoption of minimum slope and velocity criteria to provide for flushing during dry weather period (Burian et al., 1999).

The use of empirical models for the estimation of surface runoff started in the middle of 1800s, among the tools being used include the ill-founded Roes table, Talbot’s formula, among others.  The inclusion of meteorological variable in runoff estimation started with the appearance of rational formula during this era (Adams and Papa, 2000). In the second half of 19th century, hydraulics and hydrologic methods of stormwater conveyance estimation were enhanced through researches. From the middle to the latter part of the twentieth century, US Soil Conservation Service had developed simple but effective methods for runoff estimation for both rural and urban areas (Burian et al., 1999). The development of a digital computer brought rapid advancement in technical tools and methods for wet weather flow management. The decade of the 1960s witnessed the integration of models of different components of the hydrologic cycle and simulation of the entire watershed. The computational capabilities of computers enable engineers to not only design the systems but also to optimize the design through the use of advanced mathematical optimization techniques (Singh and Woolhiser, 2002).

The recognition of the impact of stormwater runoff on receiving water bodies has been the subject of interest in the past few decades. Methods for the control and treatment of urban stormwater have evolved. Among the methods are physical, chemical and biological treatment processes and storage and treatment combinations. Presently, attention is focused on best management practices (BMPs) to control urban stormwater runoff and pollution. The systems being used include swales, porous pavements, dry wells, wetlands, retention and detention basins (TEE, 2015; DID, 2000; Davis and Birch, 2009; Urbonas and Glidden, 1983). 



Stormwater best management practices (BMPs) are techniques, measures, or structural controls that are used for a given set of conditions to manage the quantity and/or improve the quality of stormwater runoff in a cost-effective manner (USEPA, 1999a). There are two basic types of stormwater BMPs: structural and non-structural. Structural stormwater BMPs are designed facilities or modified natural environments that help control the quantity as well as improve the quality of urban stormwater. These include various types of stormwater ponds, filtration practices, vegetated channel practices and wetlands (USEPA, 1999a). Non-structural BMPs consist of administrative, regulatory or management practices that have positive impacts on Non Point Source (NPS) runoff  (Sharma, 2006). They are techniques that include street sweeping, land use planning, flood plain management, advocating the proper use of fertilizers or pesticides and providing information to people enable them to reduce stormwater pollutants by changing their daily habits, household waste recycling etc. Non-structural stormwater BMPs are less expensive and quite useful in managing stormwater runoff pollution. However, their effectiveness is not guaranteed as their performance relies on the recommendations by the people (FHWA, 2006).

            Martin et al (2007) conducted a survey to evaluate eight BMPs: detention basins, below ground storage tanks, retention basins, chambers, swales, roads or car parks with reservoir structures, infiltration trenches, roof storage and soakaways with regard to their performance. They reported that performance indices such as hydraulic efficiency, pollution retention, operation and maintenance, economic investment, environmental impact, social and sustainable urban living are among the factors influencing the choice of a given BMP. Moreover, stake-holders preferences vary according to different management strategies. Weiss et al (2007) used 20 years of historical data to assess and compare the cost and effectiveness of 6 stormwater BMPs in terms of their Total Suspended Solids (TSS) and phosphorus removal efficiencies. The BMPs compared were: wet basins, dry extended detention basins, constructed wetlands, sand filters, infiltration trenches and bio-retention filters. It was reported that, if land cost is ignored, constructed wetlands are the least expensive. However, land acquisition cost in urban areas could make constructed wetlands more expensive. Various types of stormwater BMPs being used all over the worlds are presented as follows:


3.1 Stormwater Wetlands

Wetlands can be natural or constructed. Stormwater wetlands consist of a combination of plants and water in a shallow pool designed to both treat and control urban stormwater runoff (Carter, 2005). Constructed wetlands have less biodiversity than natural wetlands (SMRC, 2003). Wetlands are a widely applied stormwater treatment practice but have limited applicability in highly urbanized areas due to space constraints (Weiss et al., 2007). They use biological and naturally occurring chemical processes in water and plants to remove pollutants and also help to control the peak flows of a storm event (FHWA, 2006; Wong et al., 1999). They also act as pollutant removal systems through vegetative filtering and gravitational settling in a slow moving marsh flow. Stormwater wetlands treatment processes also include chemical and biological decomposition, and volatilization (Matthews, 2002; Wong et al., 1999). Compared to wet detention ponds; wetlands are relatively shallow, with higher evaporation rates, making it more difficult to maintain the permanent pool of water. Mathews (2002) assessed the functions of a wetland on a forested floodplain of South Buffalo creek, US and reported 1092-1639 g/m2/yr TSS removal, 15 g/m2/yr nitrogen removal, and 1.5 g/m2/yr phosphorus removal.


3.2 Filtration Practices

Filtration practices are surface or underground practices that reduce the volume of surface runoff and allow it to infiltrate through the soil (NCHRP, 2003). They provide performance that is independent of local conditions and have designs available for roadside and congested urban applications. According to FHWA (2006), bio-retention cells and sand filters are filtration practices commonly used for small to medium catchments because their area usually occupies only 2 to 3% of the drainage area and hence suitable in dense urban settings. Sand and gravel filters are also commonly used filtration practices for the management of urban stormwater (Błażejewski and Murat-Błażejewska, 2003). Other infiltration practices include pervious pavements, etc.


3.3 Bio-Retention Cells

Bio-retentions cells are shallow landscaped depressions commonly located in parking lots or within residential land-uses designed to incorporate many of the pollutant removal mechanisms that operate in forested ecosystems. Stormwater treatment in a bio-retention cell is achieved through sedimentation, filtration, soil adsorption, micro-biological decay processes, and the uptake of pollutants by plants (Weiss et al., 2007). Components of bio-retention area include a grass buffer strip, planting soil, plant material, a ponding area with surface mulch, an underground sand bed, an organic layer, and infiltration chambers (VASM, 1999).

A bio-retention cell uses an organic media filter for treatment purposes. The coarse sediments are captured and removed first before the runoff enters the filter bed in order to reduce the maintenance burden of bio-retention and to reduce the likelihood of clogging. Bio-retention cells are designed with an under-drain system, a perforated pipe in a gravel layer placed along the bottom of the bio-retention cell, to collect filtered runoff and direct it to the storm drain system (FHWA, 2006). Runoff from large storms is conveyed from the cells through an overflow structure to the storm drain system. The drainage area of a bio-retention cell should ideally be 5 acres or less, as larger areas tend to clog cells and have problem with conveyance of flow. They are generally applied to areas which have gentle slopes, but sufficient slope is required to ensure that the runoff that enters a bio-retention area can be connected with the storm drain system (SMRC, 2003). Bio-retention cell, with its trees and shrubs, provide an aesthetic value to the community and reduce stormwater runoff. They can be designed to control both quality and quantity of runoff (USSBMP, 2001). 


3.4 Sand Filters

Sand filters are structures constructed in underground vaults, paved trenches at the perimeter of impervious surfaces, or in either earthen or concrete open basins. They are multi-chambered structures designed primarily for quality treatment through filtration (Weiss et al., 2007). They have a sand-bed as its primary filter media to remove the finer sediments which escape the sediment fore-bay. They also have an under-drain collection system to carry the runoff to the storm drain. Modifications of the basic sand filter design include surface sand filter, perimeter sand filter, and underground sand filter. Sand filters may be constructed in underground vaults, paved trenches at the perimeter of impervious surfaces, or in either earthen or concrete open basins (VASM, 1999; GSMM, 2001).

Surface sand filters can have a drainage area of up to 50 acres while perimeter and underground sand filters are best suited for small sites with a drainage area of about 2 acres (USEPA, 1999a). Flat terrain might be suitable for perimeter sand filters but other types require a significant drop in elevation to allow the runoff to flow through the filter. Pre-treatment, treatment, proper conveyance and landscaping are basic design features in all types of sand filters. Filtering practices, except the perimeter systems, are designed as off-line systems, having only a small amount of the stormwater runoff diverted to them using a flow splitter, which is a structure that bypasses larger flows to the storm drain system. Sand filters are generally applied to land uses containing a high percentage of impervious surfaces, as less than 50% imperviousness or high clay/silt sediment loads tend to clog the filter bed. The entire treatment system of the surface sand filter must temporarily hold at least 75% of the stormwater runoff prior to filtration (Błażejewski and Murat-Błażejewska, 2003). Sand filters may be surface or underground. Unlike bio-retention cells, the primary function of sand filters is to provide water-quality improvement (Błażejewski and Murat-Błażejewska, 2003).


3.5 Pervious Pavement

Pervious pavement consists of pavements made with porous blocks or a layer of porous asphalt that permits water to infiltrate through them (Butler and Davies, 2004). Pervious pavements may also be made from impervious blocks that are fit in such a way that water can pass between them. They can be used in surfaces with light traffic or at car parks. The infiltration rate through the pavement may be as high as 1000mm/hr in new development although this value may reduce to 10% of the original value over the life time of the pavement (Butler and Davies, 2004).


3.6 Vegetated Open Channel Practices

Vegetated open channel practices are systems explicitly designed to treat stormwater runoff in a swale or channel formed by check dams or other means  (GSMM, 2001). They usually do not provide quantity control and are combined with other stormwater BMPs to meet regulations. These practices directly receive runoff from an impervious surface and have a temporary ponding time of less than 48 hours and a 6 inch drop onto a protected shelf to minimize the clogging potential of the inlet (GSMM, 2001). Two different types of vegetated open channel practices include grass swales (dry/wet) and grass channels.


3.6.1 Grass swales

According to SMRC (2003), grass swales are broad, shallow earthen channels designed to treat stormwater runoff using erosion resistant and flood tolerant grasses. Filtering in these practices occurs through vegetation, a subsoil matrix, and infiltration into the underlying soils. Grass swales have small longitudinal slopes with check dams installed perpendicular to flow in order to force the flows to be slow and allow the particulates to settle. There are two types of grass swales, dry swales having a filter bed of prepared soil that overlay an under-drain system and wet swales designed to retain moisture conditions that support wetland vegetation. (USEPA, 1999a).

Grass swales work best when used to treat small drainage areas of less than five acres with relatively flat slopes. They do not function well in low to moderate density single family residential developments with high volumes and velocities of stormwater because the velocity becomes too great to treat the runoff in the channel. Therefore, they have limited application in highly urbanized areas, unless used as pretreatment facilities for other BMPs (VASM, 1999). Other than flat slope and preferably parabolic or trapezoidal cross sections, a grass swale should have dense vegetation to help reduce flow velocities, protect the channel from erosion, and act as a filter to treat stormwater runoff. Swales are usually designed for a 2-year storm event, although they can have the capacity to pass larger storms (USSBMP, 2001; GSMM, 2001).


3.6.2 Grass channel

Grass channels are pretreatment practices that provide nominal treatment because they lack the filter media present in the grass swale.  They act by partially infiltrating runoff from small storm events in areas with pervious soils and are therefore best applicable to other structural stormwater BMPs (SMRC, 2003). They help in reducing the impervious cover and provide aesthetic benefits. Grass channels are designed on relatively flat slopes of less than 4% with infiltration rates greater than 0.27 inches per hour. The stormwater runoff takes 5 minutes, on average, to flow from the top to the bottom of the channel. For efficient usage, the channels should be used to treat small drainage areas of less than 5 acres and the grass of the channel should be maintained at a height of 3 to 4 inches for the effective removal of particles (GSMM, 2001).


3.7 Detention Ponds

Stormwater detention is the temporary storage of runoff in ponds, basins, or depressions and even underground containers meant to control the quantity as well as quality of urban runoff at the downstream of a catchment (Gayer, 2004; Paine and Akan, 2004). Stormwater detention is necessary in new developments because of the increased volume of runoff caused by the increased impervious area such as roads, roofs, sidewalks, etc (Comings et al., 2000). Increased surface runoff from the urban catchment typically increases the chances of flooding to downstream conveyance structures posing risk to downstream properties. Excess runoff collected in a detention facility can be released in a controlled manner such that downstream flooding and other adverse impacts are prevented or at least mitigated (Gribbin, 2002). Shokoohi (2007) indicted that the incorporation of a detention facility at the upstream of a catchment could reduce the cost of downstream conventional river engineering flood control measures by as much as 40%. In stormwater detention, runoff hydrograph from the catchment area is channeled to the detention pond and the runoff is then released from the pond through a properly sized outlet structure at a controlled rate. This results in the outflow hydrograph from the pond that is considerably flatter than the inflow hydrograph (Methods and Durrans, 2003).


3.10 Other Structural BMPs

Other types of stormwater BMPs include infiltration trenches, dry wells, green roofs, rain barrels, cisterns, artificial marshes, recharge basins, oil/greet seperators, catch basins, etc (Tsihrintzis and Hamid, 1997; Sayre et al., 2006; AWWA, 2000; Butler and Davies, 2004; Perez-Pedini et al., 2005).


3.8 Non Structural Practices

According to USEPA (1999b), non-structural stormwater BMPs are institutional and pollution prevention practices designed to prevent or minimize pollutants from entering stormwater runoff and/or reduce the volume of stormwater requiring management. These practices work by changing the behavior of people through government regulations and do not involve physical facilities. They include the following (Wong and Tailor, 2002; Butler and Davies, 2004; Bottcher et al., 1995):

i)                    Land use planning in new developments to promote decreasing imperviousness

ii)                  Flood plain management

iii)                Street sweeping to reduce the accumulation of pollutants in the catchment

iv)                Household waste recycling

v)               Erosion control at construction sites

vi)                Public awareness on effects of NPS pollution

vii)              Fertilizer and pesticide application control etc.



In this paper, various stormwater BMPs commonly used for the treatment and control of urban stormwater have been reviewed. The techniques are natural and thus offer a lot of benefits ranging from groundwater recharge, flood control, stormwater pollutants removal, soil and ecosystem conservation at the least cost. Adoption of these BMPs, in developing countries, will go a long way in addressing urban stormwater problems The systems are environmentally friendly and cheap. Therefore, policy makers need to be educated on their benefits so that they can be incorporated into town planning. Engineers and technologists can play a key role in their design, construction, operation and maintenance



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