The Simple Method to Calculate Urban Stormwater Loads


Annual Runoff
Impervious Cover Data
Limitations of the Simple Method


The Simple Method estimates stormwater runoff pollutant loads for urban areas. The technique requires a modest amount of information, including the subwatershed drainage area and impervious cover, stormwater runoff pollutant concentrations, and annual precipitation. With the Simple Method, the investigator can either break up land use into specific areas, such as residential, commercial, industrial, and roadway and calculate annual pollutant loads for each type of land, or utilize more generalized pollutant values for land uses such as new suburban areas, older urban areas, central business districts, and highways.

Stormwater pollutant concentrations can be estimated from local or regional data, or from national data sources. Tables 1 through 3 summarize pollutant concentration data for Total Suspended Solids (Table 1), Total Phosphorous (Table 2), and Total Nitrogen (Table 3) for residential, commercial, industrial, and roadway land uses, and identify default values. Table 4 identifies pollutant concentration values for Phosphorus, Nitrogen, COD, BOD, and some metals for more generalized land use categories. In general, the selected data sources are nationwide in scope, or are summaries of several regional studies. Some studies included in these data did not characterize stormwater concentrations for specific land uses, and instead reported a concentration for "urban runoff." In these instances, the data are reported as the same concentration for each land use in Tables 1 through 3.

Fecal coliform is more difficult to characterize than other pollutants. Data are extremely variable, even during repeated sampling at a single location. Because of this variability, it is difficult to establish different concentrations for each land use. Although some source monitoring data exists (Steuer et al., 1997; Bannerman et al., 1993), the simple method assumes a median urban runoff default value, derived from NURP data (Pitt, 1998), of 20,000 MPN/100ml. For more information on sources and pathways of bacteria in urban runoff, consult Schueler (1999).

The Simple Method estimates pollutant loads for chemical constituents as a product of annual runoff volume and pollutant concentration, as:

L = 0.226 * R * C * A

Where: L = Annual load (lbs)
R = Annual runoff (inches)
C = Pollutant concentration (mg/l)
A = Area (acres)
0.226 = Unit conversion factor

For bacteria, the equation is slightly different, to account for the differences in units. The modified equation for bacteria is:

L = 1.03 *10-3 * R * C * A

Where: L = Annual load (Billion Colonies)
R = Annual runoff (inches)
C = Bacteria concentration (#/100 ml)
A = Area (acres)
1.03 * 10-3 = Unit conversion factor

Annual Runoff

The Simple Method calculates annual runoff as a product of annual runoff volume, and a runoff coefficient (Rv). Runoff volume is calculated as:

R = P * Pj * Rv

Where: R = Annual runoff (inches)
P = Annual rainfall (inches)
Pj = Fraction of annual rainfall events that produce runoff (usually 0.9)
Rv = Runoff coefficient

In the Simple Method, the runoff coefficient is calculated based on impervious cover in the subwatershed. This relationship is shown in Figure 1. Although there is some scatter in the data, watershed imperviousness does appear to be a reasonable predictor of Rv.

The following equation represents the best fit line for the dataset (N=47, R2=0.71).


Where: Ia = Impervious fraction

Impervious Cover Data

The model uses different impervious cover values for separate land uses within a subwatershed. Representative impervious cover data, along with Model default values, are presented in Table 5. A study is currently being conducted by the Center for Watershed Protection under a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to update impervious cover estimates for these and other land uses. The results of this study will be available by 2001. In addition, some jurisdictions may have detailed impervious cover information if they maintain a detailed land use/land cover GIS database.


Limitations of the Simple Method

The Simple Method should provide reasonable estimates of changes in pollutant export resulting from urban development activities. However, several caveats should be kept in mind when applying this method.

The Simple Method is most appropriate for assessing and comparing the relative stormflow pollutant load changes of different land use and stormwater management scenarios. The Simple Method provides estimates of storm pollutant export that are probably close to the "true" but unknown value for a development site, catchment, or subwatershed. However, it is very important not to over emphasis the precision of the results obtained. For example, it would be inappropriate to use the Simple Method to evaluate relatively similar development scenarios (e.g., 34.3% versus 36.9% Impervious cover). The simple method provides a general planning estimate of likely storm pollutant export from areas at the scale of a development site, catchment or subwatershed. More sophisticated modeling may be needed to analyze larger and more complex watersheds.

In addition, the Simple Method only estimates pollutant loads generated during storm events. It does not consider pollutants associated with baseflow volume. Typically, baseflow is negligible or non-existent at the scale of a single development site, and can be safely neglected. However, catchments and subwatersheds do generate baseflow volume. Pollutant loads in baseflow are generally low and can seldom be distinguished from natural background levels (NVPDC, 1979). Consequently, baseflow pollutant loads normally constitute only a small fraction of the total pollutant load delivered from an urban area. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that the load estimates refer only to storm event derived loads and should not be confused with the total pollutant load from an area. This is particularly important when the development density of an area is low. For example, in a large low density residential subwatershed (Imp. Cover < 5%), as much as 75% of the annual runoff volume may occur as baseflow. In such a case, the annual baseflow nutrient load may be equivalent to the annual stormflow nutrient load.



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