Stormwater Management and Climate Change

By Michael Schramm, Stewardship Intern

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that it is likely that a current 1-in-20-year annual maximum daily precipitation amount will become a 1-in-5 to a 1-in-15-year event by the end of the 21st century. The Mid-Atlantic region is anticipated to face less frequent but more intense precipitation events as a result of increased air temperatures, which in turn increase the amount of moisture in the atmosphere. We can expect longer dry periods, with more intense and extreme rainfall between those dry periods by the end of this century.

The ability for communities to deal with these more extreme rainfall events is important to consider when planning with climate change in mind. The design of both, traditional "gray" and innovative new "green" infrastructure for managing stormwater, are based on the probability of extreme precipitation events and the ability to handle runoff generated by these precipitation events. Our current stormwater infrastructure has been designed around rainfall records from the past 100 or so years.  Montgomery County requires new development projects to manage the first 2.6 inches of rainfall, while Prince George’s County currently requires only the first half inch of rainfall be managed (this will increase to 1 inch by 2019).

Changes in peak runoff amounts could have implications for the ability of our current stormwater infrastructure to sufficiently handle future extreme precipitation events. Any increases in intensity of precipitation events could increase the likelihood of flooding, combined sewer overflows, erosion, and other events associated with extreme stormwater flows.

When planning for stormwater management with climate change in mind we must ask:

  • What changes in precipitation intensity and frequency are expected for the Anacostia watershed?
  • Are current stormwater and CSO management techniques and infrastructure sufficient to effectively handle potential future increases in peak stormwater flows?
  • What are the most economically and environmentally effective ways to deal with potential future increases in peak stormwater flows?

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