Deleterious effects of urban stormwater are widely recognized. In several countries, regulations have been put into place to improve the conditions of receiving water bodies, but planning and engineering of stormwater control is typically carried out at smaller scales. Quantifying cumulative effectiveness of many stormwater control measures on a watershed scale is critical to understanding how small-scale practices translate to urban river health. We review 100 empirical and modelling studies of stormwater management effectiveness at the watershed scale in diverse physiographic settings. Effects of networks with stormwater control measures (SCMs) that promote infiltration and harvest have been more intensively studied than have detention-based SCM networks. Studies of peak flows and flow volumes are common, whereas baseflow, groundwater recharge, and evapotranspiration have received comparatively little attention. Export of nutrients and suspended sediments have been the primary water quality focus in the United States, whereas metals, particularly those associated with sediments, have received greater attention in Europe and Australia. Often, quantifying cumulative effects of stormwater management is complicated by needing to separate its signal from the signal of urbanization itself, innate watershed characteristics that lead to a range of hydrologic and water quality responses, and the varying functions of multiple types of SCMs. Biases in geographic distribution of study areas, and size and impervious surface cover of watersheds studied also limit our understanding of responses. We propose hysteretic trajectories for how watershed function responds to increasing imperviousness and stormwater management. Even where impervious area is treated with SCMs, watershed function may not be restored to its predevelopment condition because of the lack of treatment of all stormwater generated from impervious surfaces; non-additive effects of individual SCMs; and persistence of urban effects beyond impervious surfaces. In most cases, pollutant load decreases largely result from run-off reductions rather than lowered solute or particulate concentrations. Understanding interactions between natural and built landscapes, including stormwater management strategies, is critical for successfully managing detrimental impacts of stormwater at the watershed scale.
Read the full paper in Hydrological Processes.