Stormwater Infiltration

Landscape architects are a special breed.

Landscape architects need to have a working knowledge of soil types. Photo By Estes Design Inc.

All of us began our pre-career existence intrigued by our natural surroundings. As an infant, my first word was “Look.”

Most of us began the elementary-school years with an inherent attraction to art, spending many class periods doodling elaborate sketches in the margins of notebooks. But our interest in art was matched only by the desire to understand how things work. So we tended to fall between the categories of artist and scientist.

Personally, I am pulled more towards science, which may explain why my second word was “Why?”

It is important to understand how the basic concepts of our natural environment work in order to incorporate and mimic them into the planned and built environment.

Landscape architects are at the forefront of shaping and protecting natural resources through the art and science of natural and built environments. In the coming decades, population growth and development will tax natural resources at an unprecedented rate.

At the top of this list is water. By the year 2030, it is estimated 47 percent of the world’s population will face severe water shortages.

Forested watersheds sustain the highest-quality water sources throughout the world. In North America, the majority of municipalities rely on forested watersheds for adequate quantities of high-quality water for human use. This is especially true where populations are growing rapidly in the eastern and western United States.

A conservative estimate is that 50 to 75 percent of the U.S. population relies on undeveloped forested watersheds to produce adequate water supplies. Conversely, the growth of municipalities relies on an extensive pavement infrastructure, causing the loss of forest resources and the associated water-quality and -quantity functions.

Understanding the functions of forest hydrology–including evapo-transpiration, interception and infiltration–is critical in attempting to mitigate the detrimental effect of growth and development on water resources.

Capturing Stormwater Runoff

In mature forested watersheds, surface runoff is rarely observed. In North America, studies have estimated that on average approximately 30 percent of the incoming precipitation is intercepted by the forest canopy and never reaches the soil. This leaves the remaining precipitation to be infiltrated into the soil strata.

Stormwater infiltration is therefore the key process for water utilization by terrestrial ecosystems, of which we are a part.

Stormwater infiltration is not only the key to water storage (quantity), but also water quality. Years of studies have shown that the most effective pollutant-removal efficiencies are obtained through infiltration Best Management Practices (BMPs).

Planning for stormwater infiltration is vital to any landscape architecture project. Photo By Estes Design Inc.

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