Assessing urban rainfall-runoff response to stormwater management extent

Andrew J. Miller, Claire Welty, Jonathan M. Duncan, Mary Lynn Baeck, James A. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


We report an empirical analysis of the hydrologic response of three small, highly impervious urban watersheds to pulse rainfall events, to assess how traditional stormwater management (SWM) alters urban hydrographs. The watersheds vary in SWM coverage from 3% to 61% and in impervious cover from 45% to 67%. By selecting a set of storm events that involved a single rainfall pulse with >96% of total precipitation delivered in 60 min, we reduced the effect of differences between storms on hydrograph response to isolate characteristic responses attributable to watershed properties. Watershed-average radar rainfall data were used to generate local storm hyetographs for each event in each watershed, thus compensating for the extreme spatial and temporal heterogeneity of short-duration, intense rainfall events. By normalizing discharge values to the discharge peak and centring each hydrograph on the time of peak we were able to visualize the envelope of hydrographs for each group and to generate representative composite hydrographs for comparison across the three watersheds. Despite dramatic differences in the fraction of watershed area draining to SWM features across these three headwater tributaries, we did not find strong evidence that SWM causes significant attenuation of the hydrograph peak. Hydrograph response for the three watersheds is remarkably uniform despite contrasts in SWM, impervious cover and spatial patterns of land cover type. The primary difference in hydrograph response is observed on the recession limb of the hydrograph, and that change appears to be associated with higher storm-total runoff in the watersheds with more area draining to SWM. Our findings contribute more evidence to the work of previous authors suggesting that SWM is less effective at attenuating urban hydrographs than is commonly assumed. Our findings also are consistent with previous work concluding that percent impervious cover may have greater influence on runoff volume than percent SWM coverage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere14287
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


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