Impacts of Stormwater Management Practices and Climate Change on Flow Regime and Channel Stability

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Virginia Tech


Urbanization increases runoff during storm events due to a reduction in vegetation and an increase in impervious surfaces, which limits the land's capacity to absorb and slow down water. This increase in runoff contributes to channel erosion. While extensive research exists on the hydrologic benefits of various types of stormwater control measures (SCMs), the relationship between urbanization, widespread SCM implementation, and channel stability in headwater streams remains less explored. Additionally, the impact of climate change (CC) on SCMs, with its growing focus due to improved global and regional CC models and data, is a critical area of study. However, most existing studies rely on simplified design storm analyses and unit-area runoff models, and there is a lack of comprehensive research evaluating the long-term, continuous hydrologic response of SCMs under future CC scenarios. This study presents an in-depth evaluation of the effectiveness of SCMs in maintaining channel stability in urbanized headwater streams, with a particular focus on the challenges posed by urbanization and CC. Conducted in a small catchment in Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, the study employs a sequential hierarchical modeling approach integrating the Storm Water Management Model (SWMM) with the Hydrologic Engineering Center's River Analysis System (HEC-RAS). First, the impact of a stormwater management system design following Maryland's Unified Stormwater Sizing Criteria (USSC) on channel stability was investigated. Simulation over 16 years (2004-2020) demonstrated that the majority of storm events were short in duration, with the greatest peak flows resulting from storm events with durations less than 24 hours. However, results indicated that despite the use of multiple SCMs, channel changes, including both degradation and aggradation up to 1.2 m, are likely over a period of 16 years. Study results indicate SCMs should be designed using continuous simulation models to simulate pre- and post-development sediment transport. Secondly, the impact of SCMs and CC on flow regime and channel stability was examined, challenging the previous simplified analyses. The findings highlight that future CC scenarios, characterized by decreased total rainfall but increased intensity, will likely shift watershed hydrology towards a flashier regime, exacerbating channel erosion. To address these shortcomings, a multicriteria design approach for SCMs is required, considering local sediment transport capacity and the complexities of urban catchments under changing climatic conditions. Lastly, evaluation of the impact of proposed stormwater regulations on channel stability using a novel three-step methodology revealed that SCM design goals focused on maintaining pre-development sediment transport or excess shear stress could reduce channel disturbance. Overall, this study illustrates the need for more nuanced and holistic approaches to stormwater management to ensure channel stability, especially in the face of the challenges posed by climatic changes.



stormwater control measures, low impact development, sediment transport, channel stability, SWMM, HEC-RAS, unified stormwater sizing criteria, Maryland