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Scientific Investigations Report 2008–5008

In cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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

By W. R. Selbig and R. T. Bannerman

This report available for download (5.86 Mb).


click to view SIR 2008-5008Environmental managers are often faced with the task of designing strategies to accommodate development while minimizing adverse environmental impacts. Low-impact development (LID) is one such strategy that attempts to mitigate environmental degradation commonly associated with impervious surfaces. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, studied two residential basins in Cross Plains, Wis., during water years 1999–2005. A paired-basin study design was used to compare runoff quantity and quality from the two basins, one of which was developed in a conventional way and the other was developed with LID. The conventional-developed basin (herein called “conventional basin”) consisted of curb and gutter, 40-foot street widths, and a fully connected stormwater-conveyance system. The LID basin consisted of grassed swales, reduced impervious area (32-foot street widths), street inlets draining to grass swales, a detention pond, and an infiltration basin. Data collected in the LID basin represented predevelopment through near-complete build-out conditions.

Smaller, more frequent precipitation events that produced stormwater discharge from the conventional basin were retained in the LID basin. Only six events with precipitation depths less than or equal to 0.4 inch produced measurable discharge from the LID basin. Of these six events, five occurred during winter months when underlying soils are commonly frozen, and one was likely a result of saturated soil from a preceding storm. In the conventional basin, the number of discharge events, using the same threshold of precipitation depth, was 180, with nearly one-half of those resulting from precipitation depths less than 0.2 inch. Precipitation events capable of producing appreciable discharge in the LID basin were typically those of high intensity or precipitation depth or those that occurred after soils were already saturated. Total annual discharge volume measured from the conventional basin ranged from 1.3 to 9.2 times that from the LID basin.

Development of the LID basin did not appreciably alter the hydrologic response to precipitation characterized during predevelopment conditions. Ninety-five percent or more of precipitation in the LID basin was retained during each year of construction from predevelopment through near-complete build-out, surpassing the 90-percent benchmark established for new development by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The amount of precipitation retained in the conventional basin did not exceed 94 percent and fell below the 90-percent standard 2 of the 6 years monitored.

Much of the runoff in the LID basin was retained by an infiltration basin, the largest control structure used to mitigate storm-runoff quantity and quality. The infiltration basin also was the last best-management practice (BMP) used to treat runoff before it left the LID basin as discharge. From May 25, 2002, to September 30, 2005, only 24 of 155 precipitation events exceeded the retention/ infiltrative capacity of the infiltration basin. The overall reduction in runoff volume from these few events was 51 percent. The effectiveness of the infiltration basin decreased as precipitation intensities exceeded 0.5 inch per hour.

Annual loads were estimated to characterize the overall effectiveness of low-impact design practices for mitigating delivery of total solids, total suspended solids, and total phosphorus. Annual loads of these three constituents were greater in the LID basin than in the conventional basin in 2000 and 2004. Seventy percent or more of all constituent annual loads were associated with two discharge events in 2000, and a single discharge event produced 50 percent or more of constituent annual loads in 2004. Each of these discharge events was associated with considerable precipitation depths and (or) intensities, ranging from 4.89 to 6.21 inches and from 1.13 to 1.2 inches per hour, respectively. These same storms did not contribute as much of the annual load in the conventional basin. With large storms and saturated soils, the ability of low-impact design techniques to reduce runoff, and thus constituent loads, can be greatly diminished.

For both the LID and conventional basins, the temperature of runoff was largely affected by ambient air temperatures. However, the temperature of discharge from the LID basin increased upon runoff cessation. This increase is likely due to solar heating of water that is temporarily stored in the detention pond and infiltration basin.


Methods of Data Collection
Comparison of Runoff Quantity from the Basins
Comparison of Runoff Water Quality from the Basins
Limitations of This Study and Suggestions for Future Work
Summary and Conclusions

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Send questions or comments about this report to the author, Bill Selbig, (608) 821-3823.

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