Ecological Sustainability in Rapidly Urbanizing Watersheds: Evaluating Strategies Designed to Mitigate Impacts on Stream Ecosystems

EPA Grant Number: X3832206
Title: Ecological Sustainability in Rapidly Urbanizing Watersheds: Evaluating Strategies Designed to Mitigate Impacts on Stream Ecosystems
Investigators: Palmer, Margaret A. , Curtis, Meosotis , Hennessey, Amy , Kelly, Kevin , VanNess, Keith
Institution: University of Maryland
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: May 1, 2005 through April 30, 2008 (Extended to April 30, 2009)
Project Amount: $278,626
RFA: Collaborative Science & Technology Network for Sustainability (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Sustainability , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development


Urbanization has profound impacts on the hydrology and ecology of streams via alteration in water temperatures, peak and base flows, and nutrient, sediment, and contaminant inputs. Storm water management (SWM) is commonly used to reduce these impacts; however, comprehensive watershed-scale studies to determine the effectiveness of SEM designs in reducing ecological impacts are scarce. With the continuing trend of urbanization, there is an urgent need to more fully understand which SWM designs are most effective and why, so that policymakers are better equipped to address the sustainability of water resources.

In 2000, the state of Maryland adopted new SWM criteria to address the impacts of urbanization on stream ecosystems. Montgomery County (Maryland) Department of Environmental Protection initiated a project in 2002 to evaluate the effectiveness of new SWM practices. Here, we propose a new partnership to significantly expand the scientific scope of that project in order to determine the SWM-related environmental responses off channel (groundwater), in-channel (surface water & streambed) and below channel (hyporheic). We will investigate the effectiveness and underlying biophysical mechanisms of these new SWM strategies. Critical questions will be answered using an empirical research design that focuses on multiple stream reaches within:

  1. watersheds developed with the most advanced SWM technologies;
  2. watersheds with older SWM designs;
  3. and largely forested (control) watersheds.

We will evaluate the structural and functional responses of stream ecosystems to these differing SWM designs. Using replicate sampling, we will quantify and statistically compare watersheds with respect to: discharge, rainfall-to-runoff ratios, groundwater-surface water exchange, bed particle size and mobility, suspended sediment loads, groundwater and surface water quality, macroinvertebrate composition, and the ability of streams to process nutrients and excess carbon (nutrient uptake rates, whole stream metabolism, decomposition rates).

The project is unique because of the opportunity to strengthen and expand a county effort, because it is scientifically comprehensive (structural and functional responses evaluated at watershed-level scales both before and after urban development), replicated (multiple watersheds for each SWM design with multiple study reaches within each watershed), and controlled (a largely forested watershed included in the design). The research is a collaboration between academic researchers, local government, and a private environmental consulting firm; each entity brings unique abilities to the project and previous collaborations between these groups were extremely successful. The research will have implications for the development and maintenance of SWM well beyond our region since Marylands SWM program is used as a model for many states.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 15 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 1 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

RFA, Scientific Discipline, Water, Water & Watershed, Wastewater, Environmental Monitoring, Ecology and Ecosystems, Watersheds, coastal watershed, nutrient flux, hazardous waste, remediation, aquatic ecosystems, coastal ecosystems, water quality

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2005 Progress Report
  • 2006 Progress Report
  • 2007 Progress Report
  • Final