Trees and Structural Soil as a Stormwater Management System in Urban Settings

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Virginia Tech

Urban runoff continues to impair water quality and there is an increasing need for stormwater management within the limited confines of urban spaces. We propose a system of structural soil and trees that can be incorporated beneath pavement. Structural soil has a high load-bearing capacity yet is engineered to support tree root growth. Stormwater is directed into a structural soil reservoir below the pavement where tree roots can also thrive.

Two container experiments evaluated tree function in this system. We examined whether tree roots can grow into compacted subsoils and if root penetration increases soil infiltration rate. Quercus velutina, Acer rubrum, and a no-tree variant were planted in 26.5 L (7 gal) containers and the rootballs surrounded by compacted clay loam. Roots grew into all layers of the compacted soil. Infiltration rate increased by 63% (+/-2%) compared to no-tree containers. A second experiment evaluated water uptake and tree development in fluctuating water tables. Quercus bicolor and Fraxinus pennsylvanica were planted in 94.6 L (25 gal) containers with structural soils (either Stalite or CU® Structural Soil). Trees were subjected to fluctuating water tables simulating infiltration rates of 2, 1, and 0.1 cm/hr for two growing seasons.

Trees thrived in all infiltration regimes but roots were shallower in slowly drained treatments. Trees grew best and transpired the highest water volume with moderate infiltration. Even if trees uptake only small volumes of water, increased canopy size compared to conventional plantings (because of greater penetrable soil volume) allows greater rainfall interception thus decreasing runoff.

compacted soils, Acer rubrum, submerged soils, tree roots, water body pollution, infiltration rate, Quercus velutina, urban forestry, urban runoff, street trees, Fraxinus pennsylvanica, Quercus bicolor