Reducing damage to streams in urbanizing areas

When an area is changing from rural to urban, city planners try to measure the impact of development on a whole host of "quality of life" factors. Researchers set out to develop a systematic approach that could evaluate the impacts of land use patterns and stormwater management strategies on the health of streams in developing areas. The research, funded and managed by WERF, resulted in a report entitled Protocols for Studying Wet Weather Impacts and Urbanization Patterns...

ALEXANDRIA, VA, June 23, 2008 -- When an area is changing from rural to urban, city planners try to measure the impact of development on a whole host of "quality of life" factors. What will happen to traffic patterns? Will the community need new schools? Who will provide water and sewer services, with how much capacity? These are tough questions, but they are measureable. On the other hand, the pressure of urbanization on ecological factors has historically been tougher to gauge, and so researchers are developing objective and reliable measurements that cities can use in planning.

Urbanization has a profound effect on fish and other aquatic life in our nation's rivers and streams. Stormwater runoff reacts differently when land use changes, and can make drastic changes to the aquatic environments of the newly urban streams. One solution is to find a system that city planners can use to measure -- in advance -- the impact of land changes on the health of the watershed. A reliable measurement could prevent or reduce harm to rivers caused by urban development.

A group of researchers set out to develop a systematic approach that could evaluate the impacts of land use patterns and stormwater management strategies on the health of streams in developing areas. The research, funded and managed by the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF), resulted in a report entitled Protocols for Studying Wet Weather Impacts and Urbanization Patterns.

The protocols, designed for urban stormwater management agencies, could prevent the severe ecological deterioration that threatens urban streams. The main protocol is an eight-step process that integrates data collection and analysis with mathematical modeling of runoff from existing and planned urban development. The results determine how biologic health responds to the urbanization.

"This procedure provides a scientific platform in establishing suitable rules and design standards for real estate development plans," said Jane Casteline, WERF program manager. "Using the protocol early in the process may lessen damage to river ecology before a problem develops."

In addition to the full protocol, the report also provides a simpler process that does not require extensive data collection.

The report is free to WERF subscribers, and is available for purchase by non-subscribers. To get the report, go to ""www.werf.org, and designate stock number 03WSM3 on the publications page.

The principal research investigators were Larry A. Roesner and Brian P. Bledsoe of Colorado State University, and Christine A. Pomeroy from the University of Utah.

The Water Environment Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization, manages independent scientific research on water quality concerns affecting the environment and human health.

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