Alliance for Community Trees News

The Role Of Trees In Urban Stormwater Management

By Conni Kunzler | April 3, 2017

Source: By Adam Berland, Sheri A. Shiflett, William D. Shuster, Ahjond S. Garmestani, Haynes C. Goddard, Dustin L. Herrmann, Matthew E. Hopton, “The role of trees in urban stormwater management,” Landscape and Urban Planning

Muncie, IN (March 10, 2017) – Urban impervious surfaces convert precipitation to stormwater runoff, which causes water quality and quantity problems. As many cities explore green infrastructure to manage stormwater at its source, the reliable use of trees for stormwater control depends on improved understanding of how and to what extent trees interact with stormwater.

While traditional stormwater management has relied on gray infrastructure such as piped conveyances to collect and convey stormwater to wastewater treatment facilities or into surface waters, cities are exploring green infrastructure to manage stormwater at its source.

Decentralized green infrastructure leverages the capabilities of soil and vegetation to infiltrate, redistribute, and otherwise store stormwater volume, with the potential to realize ancillary environmental, social, and economic benefits.

To date, green infrastructure science and practice have largely focused on infiltration-based technologies that include rain gardens, bioswales, and permeable pavements. However, a narrow focus on infiltration overlooks other losses from the hydrologic cycle, and we propose that arboriculture – the cultivation of trees and other woody plants – deserves additional consideration as a stormwater control measure.

Trees interact with the urban hydrologic cycle by intercepting incoming precipitation, removing water from the soil via transpiration, enhancing infiltration, and bolstering the performance of other green infrastructure technologies. However, many of these interactions are inadequately understood, particularly at spatial and temporal scales relevant to stormwater management.

As such, the reliable use of trees for stormwater control depends on improved understanding of how and to what extent trees interact with stormwater, and the context-specific consideration of optimal arboricultural practices and institutional frameworks to maximize the stormwater benefits trees can provide.

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