This article provides a definition of “Integrated Stormwater Management” and discusses its multi-faceted approach. It discusses rate and volume control, ground water and surface water interaction, pollution prevention, and the definition of “BMP.”

What is integrated stormwater management

Integrated stormwater management is simply thinking about all of the factors that somehow affect precipitation as it moves from the land surface to an eventual receiving water. It is the process of accounting for all of these factors (e.g. rate, volume, quality, ground water impact) in a logical process so that inadvertent mistakes are not made that could eventually harm a resource. The treatment train approach to runoff management mimics the sequence as the stormwater manager looks at the runoff problem and determines how best to address it, starting with the most basic of questions and increasing in complexity only if needed, since simple methods of management are often the most practical. A regulator might view it as a check to see if a simple approach could replace something more complicated and expensive.

Information: Integrated Stormwater Design Principles (Source: Center for Watershed Protection)

Effective stormwater practices are integrated into the urban landscape to improve their function and performance. Twelve principles that help define the successful integration of a stormwater practice in the landscape include:

  1. Provides Reliable Pollutant Removal Performance. The practice should be sized so that it captures sufficient volume of runoff and employs a sequence of pollutant removal mechanisms via a treatment train approach to maximize the removal of key pollutants of concern.
  2. Mimics Pre-development Hydrology. The practice should operate in a manner so as to replicate pre-development hydrology for a range of storm events such that it safely recharges groundwater, protects downstream channels and reduces off-site flood damage.
  3. Integrates the Practice into Overall Site Design. The overall design of the site should support the function and performance of the practice, by minimizing or disconnecting impervious cover, implementing source controls, and utilizing better site design practices that reduce the quantity and adverse quality effects of runoff generated by the site.
  4. Has a Sustainable Maintenance Burden. Both routine and long–term maintenance tasks should be carefully considered throughout the design process to reduce life cycle maintenance costs and promote longevity of the practice.
  5. Is Accepted by the Public. The practice should be viewed as an attractive community amenity by adjacent residents or business owners, as measured by interviews, surveys, testimonials, increased property values and other yardsticks.
  6. Creates Attractive Landscape Features. The practice should be an integrated practice designed to be highly visible within the site and serve as an attractive and inviting landscape feature.
  7. Confers Multiple Community Benefits. An integrated practice should also contribute to other community benefits such as promoting neighborhood revitalization, expanding recreational opportunities, and educating residents about stormwater.
  8. Creatively Uses Vegetation. An integrated practice not only greens up the site, but also uses vegetation to effectively promote cooling, shading, screening, habitat and enhanced pollutant removal functions. The design should also explicitly consider how vegetation will be managed over time to maintain functions and minimize maintenance costs.
  9. Provides a Model for Future Improvement. An integrated practice is inspected, evaluated, or monitored so that lessons can be learned to improve the performance and integrate future designs.
  10. Realizes Additional Environmental Benefits. The design of an integrated practice maximizes other environmental benefits at the site, such as the creation of aquatic or terrestrial habitat, protection of existing natural areas, reduction of urban heat island effects and other urban amenities.
  11. Reduces Infrastructure Costs. An integrated practice reduces the amount of paving, curbs, storm drain pipes and other infrastructure that would have otherwise been employed in a traditional stormwater practice design within the community.
  12. Acceptable Life Cycle Costs. An integrated practice will not result in high life cycle costs over its useful life.

Project scope

map showing the location of Minnesota's Watershed Management Organizations
Map showing the location of Minnesota's Watershed Management Organizations. The map includes both Watershed Districts, which have tax-levying authority, and Watershed management Organizations. Information about these organizations can be found on BWSR'swebsite.
map showing the location of Minnesota's major river basins
Map showing the location of Minnesota's major watersheds (HUC-8).

The first step in integrated stormwater management is determining the scope of the project and the likely solutions that will be needed. If on-site, simple practices will solve the problem, then a non- or minimum-structural approach can be pursued. If problems extend off-site and impact a major regional water body, then a broader scale will need to be pursued and commensurate BMPs chosen.

The decisions will always be influenced by the regulatory requirements associated with the action. That is, a project that creates new impervious surfaces over one acre or is part of a common plan of development will need to comply with the requirements of the State’s Construction General Permit. Additional local or watershed requirements may also be required. Retrofits or actions not creating new impervious area can introduce creative or innovative solutions, such as supplemental sub-grade infiltration, proprietary filters or wetland polishing. Note that these can also be part of the regulated treatment train.

Watershed approach

Minnesota has a long-standing tradition of approaching water management on a watershed system basis (see BWSR - Local Government Units and partner Agencies; MPCA. Landmark legislation) in the state has mandated watershed-based planning and management for over 50 years. Management and water resource studies often occur at the major watershed scale. However, local or watershed agencies should be contacted to obtain fine-scale watershed boundaries, even on a parcel-by-parcel basis.

For every project, the question that should always be asked is “Where does water come from that enters my site and where does it ultimately go when it leaves?” This single question becomes the basis for a future management approach. For example, if the water leaving the site discharges to a trout stream rather than a lake, a different set of BMPs that focuses on temperature control rather than phosphorus removal will be pursued. Proper operation of the watershed as a “system” should always be part of a stormwater manager’s thought process.

Use and restoration of natural resources

The occurrence of natural features, such as wetlands, forest, natural drainage features, original topography, undisturbed soils, and open space on a site should be viewed as a positive thing. These features can be preserved to minimize the impact of development, used as an integral part of the treatment train, or even enhanced to improve site hydrology or the quality of runoff leaving the site.

Green Infrastructure: Many of the basic tenets of “low impact development,” “better site design,” and “sustainable development” are rooted in the preservation, restoration and enhancement of the natural drainage system. Following this approach can lead to cost savings, as well as added environmental protection.

Water quantity and quality

Integrated stormwater management requires a complete look at both the movement and content of runoff water. Focusing exclusively on one or the other might meet a specific regulatory requirement, but will not result in effective overall stormwater management.

Rate and volume control

In its early stages, stormwater management was primarily concerned only with quantity control. Urban hydrology techniques focused mostly on peak flow rate control and addressed volume in terms of flood control. The standard approaches for rate control have been greatly refined over the years, with more attention on mimicking pre-development or natural conditions. Volume control, on the other hand, has been something more difficult to achieve.

Rate reduction techniques

In the past, rate control was primarily used to prevent downstream flooding. Relying solely on rate reduction for stormwater control led to many system failures as volume and quality factors were left uncontrolled. Although not universally true, advancement in the state of the art for rate control practices generally came about as urbanization increased and greater protection from water leaving these largely impervious places was needed.

Volume reduction techniques

The importance of volume reduction become apparent as more and more urban surfaces developed and more stormwater overwhelmed receiving waters. Clearly stormwater management needs to include volume control.

The term volume reduction can be easily confused with infiltration. One does not, however, necessarily equate to the other. There are many additional techniques and BMPs that can be applied to yield volume reductions.

Green Infrastructure: Any technique that soaks water into the ground, makes water available for evaporation and/or transpiration, stores water for re-use, or in any way diverts stormwater away from the drainage system can be considered a volume reduction practice. Infiltration is certainly one of these practices, but it is only one of many. In circumstances where soils are too tight or where infiltration would endanger ground water, alternatives are available to reduce volume.

Warning: Note the following table provides general information about volume reduction. It is not intended for determining Construction Stormwater permit compliance, although the table includes a column discussing the applicability of the practice to permit compliance.

Summary of volume reduction processes and BMPs associated with each process. Comments include qualifications and examples for the BMPs. Note that some BMPs occur in more than one process.
Link to this table

Process BMP Comments Used for CSW permit compliance?
Infiltration Low impact development/better site design/sustainable development Includes such things as reduced street and sidewalk width, less curb and gutter drainage, scattered bioretention, shared pavement. Yes if water is retained on site, typically through infiltration
Trench or basin Must be properly engineered in adequate soils; proper maintenance essential Yes [1]
Perforated sub-surface pipes, tanks and storage systems Expensive but effective and space-saving. If part of an infiltration stormwater practice
Disconnected imperviousness Includes primarily rooftop drains and roadway/parking surfaces By itself, disconnection does not meet CSW permit requirements. Runoff must be diverted to an infiltration stormwater practice
Pervious (porous pavement) Includes a number of paving and block methods, or simple parking on reinforced grassed surfaces. Yes [2]
Bioretention (if contains infiltration element) Some bioretention facilities are designed to infiltrate. Yes if bioinfiltration. Biofiltration practices may achieve some volume reduction that can be credited toward permit compliance. [3]
Evapotranspiration Bioretention (rain gardens) Exposes runoff water to plant roots for uptake;can be under-drained and still effective.
Vegetated swales Provides water a chance to soak into the ground and be filtered as it flows. Yes, though swales typically achieve limited volume reduction unless designed with check dams and/or occurring on permeable soils [4]
Wetland/pond storage Combination of standing water surface and vegetative root exposure yields volume reductions. No
Vegetated drainage corridor Connecting numerous features increases opportunities. No
Recessed road/parking drainage Routing paved surface runoff to vegetated sump areas keeps it out of receiving waters. No, unless part of an infiltration practice
Storage Rain barrel/cistern Small-scale runoff collectors keep water around for later re-use or slow release. Yes if captured water is infiltrated or otherwise used on site
Rooftop (green roof) Storage on a roof prevents water from leaving the site; combining with vegetation (engineered green roof) makes it even better. Yes if captured water is retained on site (typically through evapotranspiration)
Conveyance Vegetated swale Provides water a chance to soak into the ground and be filtered as it flows. Yes, though swales typically achieve limited volume reduction unless designed with check dams and/or occurring on permeable soils [5]
Filter strips/buffers Variation of vegetated swale with side slope protection. No
Landscaping Low Impact Development/Better Site Design Includes such things as scattered bioretention, shared pavement, native or prairie plantings. Yes if water is retained on site, typically through infiltration
Bioretention (rain gardens) Exposes runoff water to plant roots for uptake, can be under-drained and still effective. Yes if bioinfiltration. Biofiltration practices may achieve some volume reduction that can be credited toward permit compliance. [6]

The following categorical methods for volume reduction, while certainly not all-inclusive, can provide some ideas for how a stormwater manager could reduce the volume of runoff leaving a parcel of land.


The most commonly used method to reduce site volume is to soak it into the soil. The result of this action is a direct reduction in volume running off of the land surface. The biggest requirement for use of infiltration is the ability of the soil and the shallow ground water system to accept the water.

The distinction between infiltration and recharge is a narrow one that can usually be ignored. Commonly, infiltration is the process of soaking water into the ground, while recharge is the movement of water into the ground water system. Recharge occurs to both shallow and deep ground water systems.

Green Infrastructure: Low impact development (LID), better site design (BSD), sustainable development and other terms are all variations of an approach that mimics natural conditions by soaking water into the ground close to where it falls. Use of these methods along with reduction of impervious areas reduces overall runoff volume and may be a component in many, but certainly not all runoff management plans. Reduction of connected impervious area and retention of natural drainage patterns and surfaces are the heart of these methods.

The combined process of evaporating and/or transpiring (vegetative uptake and release of water) is called evapotranspiration or simply “ET.” This process typically results whenever water is held in storage (evaporation, or sublimation of snow in the winter) and allowed to be taken up by roots and released through leaves (transpiration). In areas with tight soils, holding water in wetlands, depressions, swales or any similar land feature that exposes water to the air will result in evaporation of that water. In addition, allowing it to come in contact with roots either in standing water (wetland) or by soaking into the root zone, will yield volume reduction through transpiration. In fact, this and reforestation can be used as stormwater management techniques.

Where soils provide a constraint, underdrains can provide a means through which water can be routed through the root zone for root uptake, but excess can be captured after filtration and drained to a collection system. This option results in some net reduction in volume and adds filtration as a supplemental treatment. Many bioretention treatment techniques take advantage of this method of volume reduction.

The combined infiltration plus ET rates for Minnesota can vary across the state from 11 inches in the northeast to 23 inches in the south. The complex relationship among precipitation, runoff, infiltration, and ET is discussed by Baker et al. (1979). They discuss the details and methods used to divide the water that falls as precipitation into several categories reflective of where it ends up. Obviously, routing water to areas where it can soak into the ground or to areas with vegetation that can take it up through root action are two very good ways to reduce overall stormwater volume if adequate space is available.


Retaining water somewhere along the path from where it falls to where it enters a drainage system is another way to limit volume. Simple contained storage directly connected to buildings or impervious areas are effective volume reducers and provide an opportunity for water re-use, such as irrigation. A rain barrel, cistern, sub-grade storage device, or even a yard ornamental pond can hold enough water to contain much of the volume coming from a home. A green roof can reduce annual runoff by up to 75 percent because it soaks and stores water that falls on it, then transpires it away.

Even a pond or a wetland can reduce overall volume because they provide a quiescent area where water can collect and evaporate. Pan evaporation in Minnesota can reach as high as 40 inches (Baker et al., 1979). This is possible even when rainfall is much less because water is routed to these holding areas from a much larger watershed.


Getting rid of water was the common way to deal with stormwater before the results of that action were realized. Rushing water to a drain pipe, then into a receiving water is now considered a last resort. Using pervious approaches such as vegetated drainage swales and native grass filter strips, in combination with check dams give water a chance to soak into the ground or be filtered before it reaches a location where damage takes place. As with the practices above, volume reduction is an outcome of exposing stormwater to a pervious surface even while it is moving.


Many of the previous practices could also be included in a general category that stresses the importance of stable landscapes with native vegetation. In many respects, this is LID/BSD with an added emphasis on structuring the land surface to handle moving water from impervious surfaces. Routing water to low-lying (sump) areas where it can soak in, placing planter boxes or grated inlets for watering trees, and contouring slopes to reduce runoff velocity are all variations on the landscaping theme.

Tying low impact drainage features together via corridors or designed natural treatment trains can further enhance overall site volume reduction by creating a string of reduction possibilities. Safety can always be assured by placing an overflow or even an underdrain to capture any excess flow and route it to the next BMP catchment area.

Cautions for volume control techniques

As with all stormwater management techniques, some caution is advised when applying volume control techniques under certain circumstances. Following are some advisory cautions that would apply:

  • Techniques using any infiltration should avoid such things as introduction of runoff from potential stormwater hotspots and use of infiltration practices that could influence drinking water wells.
  • A hydrologic analysis should be undertaken to determine the impact of excessive water (flooding) on the installation; that is, where excess water would go and any problems that would result. Similarly, an assessment should be done on whether additional groundwater volume is likely to cause any local problems, for example with flooded basements.
  • Evapotranspiration values go down dramatically in the cold weather. Consideration is needed on how this may impact operation assumptions for installation.
  • BMPs should be designed to minimize mosquito breeding habitat for any system in Minnesota that results in standing water.

The interaction between groundwater and surface water

Integrated stormwater management often takes advantage of the interaction that takes place between groundwater and surface water. For example, the slow infiltration and movement of surface water into the shallow groundwater system results in peak and volume reduction, filtration through cleansing soil and continuation of baseflow to streams. Although stormwater management is often interpreted as a surface water program, many of the BMPs identified in this Manual rely on the groundwater system to make them effective. Infiltration BMPs, for example, rely on the soil’s capacity to soak in water and transmit it downward to the groundwater system. Soil cleansing via filtration, adsorption and microbial uptake can be a very effective removal process for some of the more difficult to treat runoff pollutants.

For the above reason, there must be caution used when pollution is “removed” through a system that affects groundwater. For example, although soil adsorption is an effective scavenger of some soluble pollutants, one could argue that the introduction of chloride-laden water into any system that discharges to the ground is merely trading pollution in one water for another. The same could be said for groundwater pump-outs that discharge contaminated groundwater into any surface water or onto any land surface.

The Manual will note several instances when the interaction between groundwater and surface water could be problematic. Specific cautions are raised for active karst areas and other shallow or fractured bedrock, high ground water table, tight soils, source water (wellhead) protection areas, and potential stormwater hotspots (PSHs).

Pollution prevention

The old adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is never more appropriate than when used to describe integrated stormwater management. All of the previous elements have described the physical processes involved, but preventing pollution from coming into contact with runoff is a common sense element. Pollution prevention can be formalized in many ways, but keep in mind the simple separation of runoff and those materials that cause pollution, such as oil, fertilizer, salt and sediment, will go a long way toward controlling urban pollution problems at a very low cost.

Pollution prevention methods are far too numerous to cover in their entirety, but include such common-sense practices as keeping yard and animal waste off of impervious surfaces, preventing soil erosion at all construction sites, disposing of household products properly, repairing leaky automotive parts, and careful storage and use of any polluting chemicals. Following these simple precautions can make a dramatic difference in the type and amount of polluting material available for wash-off or aerial mobilization.

Non-structural vs. structural BMPs

The selection of a proper management approach is a key factor in the success of an integrated stormwater management approach. Knowing which BMP(s) to apply under certain conditions could make the difference between success and failure, or between a low-cost and high-cost project. The simpler the approach to an effective solution, the better.

The definition of BMP can vary significantly depending upon the individual or entity. While some only use BMP to define a practice that improves water quality, this Manual uses the term for both quantity and quality. There are many BMPs that reduce runoff rate or volume, but might have little direct effect on water quality. For example, dry ponds reduce runoff volume by allowing infiltration to occur as water flows and temporarily accumulates over a vegetated pervious layer. Some water quality improvement certainly occurs as the volume of water, and hence the load of any pollutant it carries, is decreased. However, dry ponds are not recognized by the MPCA as a water quality BMP because settled material is easily resuspended when the next big flow occurs.

BMPs, techniques for runoff management and selection criteria are all tools to assist with choosing structural or non-structural approaches. This Manual does not contain detailed information for non-structural practices that could be considered as institutional management approaches. For example, the Manual contains limited information on zoning, ordinances, plan and permit review, public education, and training. However, they have been referenced throughout with links often included if the user would like further information.

Link to Better Site Design

Better site design is used as an all-inclusive term that includes low impact development, sustainable development, design with nature or any other approach to consistent with the treatment train design philosophy.


This page was last edited on 14 February 2023, at 12:36.