To slow down and clean up runoff, install Green Stormwater Infrastructure

A bioretention area at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas, a bioretention area in Renaissance Park in Oak Cliff and a stormwater conveyance structure in South Lakes Park in Denton. (Photos by Fouad Jaber.)

How stormwater can rise into floodwaters has changed in Texas. Not only has population growth and aging infrastructure put a strain on existing stormwater drainage systems, but climate change impacts have also made extreme one-day rainfall events more common, all while rapid urbanization’s increased impervious surfaces have sped-up how fast that extreme rainfall runs off into rising waterways.

How should local governments deal with these compounding challenges?

Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) can be a major part of the solution, said researchers at the Texas Water Resources Institute, although U.S. cities have been slow to adopt it. In a new research review published in WIREs Water, they propose strategies for municipalities and decision makers to overcome barriers and use GSI for long-term benefits.

Bardia Heidari, Ph.D., TWRI research scientist, and Dean Minchillo, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialist with TWRI, analyzed 92 existing peer-reviewed studies to identify the barriers stopping cities from using GSI. Heidari and Minchillo are located at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Dallas, where GSI, sometimes also called Blue-Green Infrastructure (BGI), is a major pillar of the center’s research and outreach work.

Fouad H. Jaber, Ph.D., professor of biological and agricultural engineering and Extension specialist in the Urban Ecological Engineering Program at the Dallas center, and Sayd Randle, Ph.D., previously a TWRI research scientist and now faculty at Singapore Management University, also co-authored the research.

Why not green stormwater infrastructure?

“While there is significant acknowledgement in the scientific community on the impact of these practices, the reality is they are not widely used across the country,” said Heidari, lead author of the paper.

“These nature-based solutions work — so why are they not being implemented, when there’s so much research showing it works?” said Minchillo.

The team found the major reasons cities were not implementing GSI were socio-cultural, financial, institutional and governance, legislative and regulatory, technical and biophysical, and many of the factors were interrelated.

But, overcoming these barriers is feasible, they said. To increase GSI use, they recommend decision-makers:

  • Increase awareness and outreach programs.
  • Enhance knowledge and data co-production and dissemination.
  • Acknowledge interdependency and context-specificity of the challenges and solutions.
  • Prioritize integrated and participatory watershed planning.
  • Overcome institutional path-dependencies.
  • Prioritize innovative solutions.
  • Give specific consideration to maintenance protocols.
  • Consider the role of public entities.
  • Actively engage with communities.

What is green stormwater infrastructure?

GSI serves two main purposes for stormwater: it protects water quality by reducing and treating stormwater runoff of poor-quality water, and it manages water quantity by slowing and managing heavy rainfall, preventing or lessening flood damage.

Traditional stormwater infrastructure includes storm drains and gutters, concrete detention and retention ponds, culverts and piped drainage. Common examples of GSI are bioretention cells, rain gardens, green roofs, rainwater harvesting systems, permeable pavements and constructed wetlands.

“One advantage of GSI is that it’s more visually attractive than old-school concrete ponds,” Minchillo said. “And, GSI processes not only slow down stormwater but also beneficially use and diffuse it, to benefit the surrounding ecosystems and landscapes.”

Traditional stormwater management strategies are still necessary, they said, but adding GSI complements existing infrastructure and proves cost-effective.

“The idea of traditional stormwater was, ‘get the water out of my property as soon as possible, regardless of downstream impacts,’” Heidari said. “GSI can support a more wholistic, watershed-wide approach.”

Another advantage of GSI is that it can handle intense rainstorms better than traditional stormwater infrastructure, which can become overtaxed quickly, they said.

Helping cities move forward in managing stormwater

To help cities grow their stormwater management strategy portfolios, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and AgriLife Extension staff at the center are working on many stormwater-related projects, including the Urban WISH initiative, implementation projects for the Village Creek - Lake Arlington Watershed Protection Plan and workshops educating residents about growing regional use of such practices.

Jaber’s Urban Ecological Engineering Program is renowned for assessing various practices through field experimentation and modeling, and it also holds workshops for landscape architects, city planners and engineers that cover the design, construction and maintenance of green infrastructure.

Additionally, a National Science Foundation-funded effort led by Texas A&M AgriLife center staff at Dallas and centered on the city of Denton, the Community-Science Partnership to Enhance Stormwater Management and Equity project, is developing innovative community partnerships and technical tools to support adaptive stormwater infrastructure and management.

“These are forward-thinking, attractive solutions,” Heidari said. “We just have to get the word out and help municipalities and other decision-makers, overcome these hurdles.”


As communications manager, Leslie Lee leads TWRI's communications and marketing strategy and team, manages TWRI's publications, and coordinates effective communications support for TWRI's numerous projects serving the state of Texas.

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