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Circular 1361

Prepared in cooperation with the
Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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

By Marc J. Zimmerman, Marcus C. Waldron, Jeffrey R. Barbaro, and Jason R. Sorenson


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Low-impact-development (LID) approaches are intended to create, retain, or restore natural hydrologic and water-quality conditions that may be affected by human alterations. Wide-scale implementation of LID techniques may offer the possibility of improving conditions in river basins, such as the Ipswich River Basin in Massachusetts, that have run dry during the summer because of groundwater withdrawals and drought. From 2005 to 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey, in a cooperative funding agreement with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, monitored small-scale installations of LID enhancements designed to diminish the effects of storm runoff on the quantity and quality of surface water and groundwater. Funding for the studies also was contributed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Targeted Watersheds Grant Program through a financial assistance agreement with Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. The monitoring studies examined the effects of

  • replacing an impervious parking-lot surface with a porous surface on groundwater quality,
  • installing rain gardens and porous pavement in a neighborhood of 3 acres on the quantity and quality of stormwater runoff, and
  • installing a 3,000-ft2 (square-foot) green roof on the quantity and quality of rainfall-generated roof runoff.

In addition to these small-scale installations, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Ipswich River Basin model was used to simulate the basin-wide effects on streamflow of several changes: broad-scale implementation of LID techniques, reduced water-supply withdrawals, and water-conservation measures. Water-supply and conservation scenarios for application in model simulations were developed with the assistance of two technical advisory committees that included representatives of State agencies responsible for water resources, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, water suppliers, and non-governmental organizations.

From June 2005 to June 2007, groundwater quality was monitored at the Silver Lake town beach parking lot in Wilmington, Massachusetts, prior to and following the replacement of the conventional, impervious-asphalt surface with a porous surface consisting primarily of porous asphalt and porous pavers designed to enhance rainfall infiltration into the groundwater and to minimize runoff to Silver Lake. Concentrations of phosphorus, nitrogen, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, zinc, and total petroleum hydrocarbons in groundwater were monitored. Enhancing infiltration of precipitation did not result in discernible increases in concentrations of these potential groundwater contaminants. Concentrations of dissolved oxygen increased slightly in groundwater profiles following the removal of the impervious asphalt parking-lot surface.

In Wilmington, Massachusetts, in a 3-acre neighborhood, stormwater runoff volume and quality were monitored to determine the ability of selected LID enhancements (rain gardens and porous paving stones) to reduce flows and loads of the selected constituents to Silver Lake. Water-quality samples were analyzed for nutrients, metals, total petroleum hydrocarbons, and total-coliform and E. coli bacteria. A decrease in runoff quantity was observed for storms of 0.25 inch or less of precipitation. Water-quality-monitoring results were inconclusive; there were no statistically significant differences in concentrations or loads when the pre- and post-installation-period samples were compared.

In a third field study, the characteristics of runoff from a vegetated "green" roof and a conventional, rubber-membrane roof were compared. The two primary factors affecting the green roof’s water-storage capacity were the amount of precipitation and antecedent dry period. Although concentrations of many of the chemicals in roof runoff were higher from the green roof than from the conventional roof, the ability of the green roof to retain water generally resulted in decreased differences between the total amounts (loads) of the chemicals that ran off the roofs.

Land-use and water-management changes associated with LID implementation were investigated at multiple spatial scales, using the U.S. Geological Survey’s Ipswich River Basin model, to evaluate the effects of

  • updated water-supply withdrawals for the towns of Reading and Wilmington (representing new baseline conditions for all simulations),
  • potential land-use changes at buildout (potential future development),
  • widespread implementation of retrofitting LID techniques,
  • basin-scale water withdrawal reductions based on water-conservation pilot programs conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, and
  • land-use change and LID applications at a local scale.

The new baseline simulation indicated that reduced water-supply withdrawals for the towns of Reading and Wilmington led to substantially higher medium and low flows in most of the reaches upstream from the South Middleton streamgage in the upper Ipswich River basin.

Overall, simulations pointed to the importance of spatial scale in determining the effects of land-use change and LID practices on streamflow. Potential land-use changes at buildout had modest effects on streamflow in most subbasins (percent differences of less than 20 percent) because relatively little land in the basin was available for development. Results of the simulations conducted to evaluate widespread effective-impervious-area reductions upstream from the South Middleton streamgage indicated that the percentages of urban land use and associated effective impervious area were too small for even a 50-percent reduction of effective impervious area to appreciably affect streamflow in most subbasins. In contrast, the results of the hypothetical local-scale simulations indicated that for smaller streams, with high percentages of urban land use and associated effective impervious area, land-use change, development patterns, and LID practices may have substantial effects on streamflow. Modeling studies concurred with the results of fieldwork in the assessment that LID enhancements would likely have the greatest effect on decreasing stormwater runoff when broadly applied to highly impervious urban areas.

First posted August 30, 2010

For additional information contact:
U.S. Geological Survey Massachusetts-Rhode Island Water Science Center
10 Bearfoot Road
Northborough, MA 01532

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Suggested citation:

Zimmerman, M.J., Waldron, M.C., Barbaro, J.R., and Sorenson, J.R., 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: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1361, 40 p. (Also available at




Field Studies of the Effects of LID Practices

Changes in Groundwater Quality Following the Retrofit of a Conventional Parking Lot with LID Features

Effects of LID Features on Stormwater Runoff Quantity and Quality from a Suburban Neighborhood

Ability of a Green Roof to Alter the Quantity and Quality of Stormwater Runoff

Simulation of the Effects of Land-Use and Water-Management Changes and Low-Impact Development on Streamflow

Effects of Land Development on Streamflow in the Ipswich River Basin

Simulation of Low-Impact-Development Retrofits in the Upper Ipswich River Basin

Simulation of Water Conservation Effects

Simulations of Land-Use Change at the Local Scale

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

Glossary of terms as commonly used in this circular

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