The most frequently cited maintenance concern for infiltration practices is surface clogging caused by organic matter, fine silts, hydrocarbons, and algal matter. Common operational problems include
Recommendations described below are aimed at preventing these common problems.
Implicit in the design guidance is the fact that many design elements of infiltration systems can minimize the maintenance burden and maintain pollutant removal efficiency. Key examples include
For more information on design information for individual infiltration practices, link here.
Proper construction methods and sequencing play a significant role in reducing problems with operation and maintenance (O&M). In particular, with construction of bioretention practices, the most important action for preventing operation and maintenance difficulties is to ensure that the contributing drainage area has been fully stabilized prior to bringing the practice on line.
Inspections during construction are needed to ensure that the bioretention practice is built in accordance with the approved design and standards and specifications. Detailed inspection checklists should be used that include sign-offs by qualified individuals at critical stages of construction, to ensure that the contractor’s interpretation of the plan is acceptable to the professional designer. An example construction phase inspection checklist is provided here.
|Construction Sequence||Satisfactory / Unsatisfactory||Comments|
|Runoff diverted (Note type of bypass)|
|Facility area cleared|
|Soil tested for permeability|
|Soil tested for phosphorus content (include test method)|
|Verify site was not overdug|
|Project benchmark near site|
|Facility location staked out|
|Temporary erosion and sediment protection properly installed|
|Lateral slopes completely level|
|Soils not compacted during excavation|
|Longitudinal slopes within design range|
|Stockpile location not adjacent to excavation area and stabilized with vegetation and/ or silt fence|
|Verify stockpile is not causing compaction and that it is not eroding|
|Was underlying soil ripped or loosened|
|3. Structural Components|
|Stone diaphragm installed per plans|
|Outlets installed pre plans|
|Underdrain installed to grade|
|Pretreatment devices installed per plans|
|Soil bed composition and texture conforms to specifications|
|Complies with planting specs|
|Topsoil complies with specs in composition and placement|
|Soil properly stabilized for permanent erosion control|
|5. Final Inspection|
|Dimensions per plans|
|Soil/ filter bed permeability verified|
|Effective stand of vegetation stabilized|
|Construction generated sediments removed|
|Contributing watershed stabilized before flow is diverted to the practice|
|Actions to be taken:|
A maintenance plan clarifying maintenance responsibilities is REQUIRED. Effective long-term operation of bioretention and infiltration practices necessitates a dedicated and routine maintenance schedule with clear guidelines and schedules. Proper maintenance will not only increase the expected lifespan of the facility but will improve aesthetics and property value.
Some important post-construction considerations are provided below along with RECOMMENDED maintenance standards:
The list below highlights the assumed maintenance regime for an infiltration or bioinfiltration basin, trench, tree trench, or dry swale with check dams.
needed unless rainfall is adequate until plants mature
All estimated hours listed below would be to perform maintenance on a commercially sized bioinfiltration or bioretention basin approximately 1,000 SF in size that has adequate pretreatment, has been planted with containerized plants, and mulched appropriately.
Regular inspection of not only the BMP but also the immediate surrounding catchment area is necessary to ensure a long lifespan of the water quality improvement feature. Erosion should be identified as soon as possible to avoid the contribution of significant sediment to the BMP.
Pretreatment devices need to be maintained for long-term functionality of the entire feature. Accumulated sediment in forebays, filter strips, water quality sump catch basins or any pretreatment features will need to be inspected yearly. Timing of cleaning of these features is dependent on their design and sediment storage capabilities. In watersheds with erosion or high sediment loadings, the frequency of clean out will likely be increased. A vacuum truck is typically used for sediment removal. It is possible that any sediment removed from pretreatment devices or from the bottom of a basin may contain high levels of pollutants. All sediments, similar to those retrieved from a stormwater pond during dredging, may be subjected to the MPCA’s guidance for reuse and disposal.
If a grassed filter strip or swale is used as pre-treatment, they should be mowed as frequently as a typical lawn. Depending on the contributing watershed, grassed BMP’s may also need to be swept before mowing. All grassed BMP’s should also be swept annually with a stiff bristle broom or equal to remove thatch and winter sand. The University of Minnesota’s Sustainable Urban Landscape Series website  provides guidance for turf maintenance, including mowing heights.
Sediment loading can potentially lead to a drop in infiltration or filtration rates. It is recommended that infiltration performance evaluations follow the four level assessment systems in Stormwater Treatment: Assessment and Maintenance (Gulliver et al., 2010; also see ). Seeding, Planting, and Landscaping Maintenance – Keeping it Looking Good Plant selection during the design process is essential to limit the amount of maintenance required. It is also critical to identify who will be maintaining the BMP in perpetuity and to design the plantings or seedings with their capabilities in mind. The decision to install containerized plants or to seed will dictate the appearance of the BMP for years to come. If the BMP is designed to be seeded with an appropriate native plant based seed mix, it is essential the owner have staff or have the ability to hire specialized management professionals. Seedings can provide plant diversity and dense coverage that helps maintain drawdown rates but landscape management professionals that have not been trained to identify and appropriately manage weeds within the seeding may inadvertently allow the BMP to become infested and the designed plant diversity be lost. The following are minimum requirements for seed establishment and plant coverage.
including REQUIRED cover crop
For proper nutrient control, bioretention BMP’s must not be fertilized unless a soil test from a certified lab indicates nutrient deficiency. The one exception is a one-time fertilizer application during planting of the cell, which will help with plant establishment. Irrigation is also typically needed during establishment.
Weeding is especially important during the plant establishment period, when vegetation cover is not 100 percent yet, but some weeding will likely always be needed. It is also important to budget for some plant replacement (at least 5 to 10 percent of the original plantings or seedings) during the first few years in case some of the plants or seed that were originally installed don’t become vigorous. It is highly recommended that the install contractor be responsible for a plant warranty period. Typically, plant warranty periods can be 60 days or up to one year from preliminary acceptance through final inspections. If budget allows, installing larger plants (#1 Cont. vs 4” Pot) during construction can decrease replacement rates if properly cared for during the establishment period.
Weedings in years after initial establishment should be targeted and thorough. Total eradication of aggressive weeds at each maintenance visit will ultimately reduce the overall effort required to keep the BMP weed free. Mulch is highly effective at preventing weeds from establishing while helping retain moisture for plant health. Mulch renewal will be needed two or three times after establishment (first five years). After that, the plants are typically dense enough to require less mulching, and the breakdown of plant material will provide enough organic matter to the infiltration/filtration practice.
Rubbish and trash removal will likely be needed more frequently than in the adjacent landscape. Trash removal is important for prevention of mosquitoes and for the overall appearance of the BMP.
The service life of bioretention practices depends upon the pollutant of concern.
Infiltration rate appears to drop immediately after installation and then level off at a sustainable level (Jenkins et al., 2010; Barrett et al., 2013). Planted bioretention columns even showed a slight increase in infiltration rate after the initial drop (Barrett et al., 2013). Plant roots are essential in macropore formation, which help to maintain the infiltration rate. If proper pre-treatment is present, service life for infiltration should be unlimited. However, if construction site runoff is not kept from entering the bioretention cell, clogging will occur, limiting or eliminating the infiltration function of the system and restorative maintenance or repair will be needed (Brown and Hunt]], 2012).
An important mechanism of nitrogen removal in bioretention systems is plant uptake since nitrogen is essential for plant growth. Soluble nitrogen is also removed through denitrification in internal water storage zones, a microbially-mediated process that only occurs under anoxic conditions. Denitrification requires organic matter as a carbon source, which is supplied by decaying root matter and mulch. Particulate bound nitrogen in stormwater runoff will typically be removed through sedimentation. All of these processes are self-sustaining, and the service life of a bioretention system designed for nitrogen reduction should be very long. In bioretention systems where denitrification is not an important process, leaching of nitrate is likely, particularly if the bioretention soil has a high organic matter content (Liging and Davis, 2014).
With design optimized for phosphorus reduction, phosphorus reduction service life can be more than three decades (Lucas and Greenway, 2011c). Sediment bound phosphorus is removed through sedimentation, while removal of soluble phosphorus in bioretention depends on the type of media used. If the media is already saturated with P (i.e. its P binding sites are full), it will not be able to retain additional dissolved P and the P in stormwater will tend to leach from the media as it passes through the biofilter (Hunt et al. 2006). It is highly recommended that the P-index of the media at installation be below 30, which equates to less than 36 milligrams per kilogram P, to ensure P removal capacity. Laboratory research has suggested an oxalate extractable P concentration of 20 to 40 milligrams per liter will provide consistent removal of P (O’Neill and Davis, 2012). After an effective loading of the equivalent of more than three decades of P into bioretention mecocosms optimized for P reduction, researchers in Australia showed that excellent P retention was still occurring. Keys to maximize P reduction in these systems included P sorptive soils or soil amendments (e.g. aluminum water treatment residuals [WTR] or Krasnozem soils [K40], a highly aggregated clay), use of coir peat (a source of organic matter low in phosphorus), and healthy vegetation. The systems with aluminum water treatment residuals still retained up to 99 percent of applied PO4-P in storm water after the equivalent of 32 years of treatment. After 110 weeks of effluent loading at typical stormwater concentrations, the equivalent to 48 years of bioretention loads, PO4-P retention from storm water by the K40 soils treatment was 85 percent. “Comparison with the K40 treatments over the loading and dosing regimes suggest that the WTR treatments will perform at least as well as the K40 treatment under similar exposure of 48 years” (Lucas and Greenway, 2011).
Metals are typically retained in bioretention systems through sedimentation and adsorption processes. Since there are a finite amount of sorption sites for metals on a particular soil, there will be a finite service life for the removal of dissolved metals. Morgan et al. (2011) investigated cadmium, copper, and zinc removal and retention with batch and column experiments. Using synthetic stormwater at typical stormwater concentrations, they found that 6 inches of filter media composed of 30 percent compost and 70 percent sand will last 95 years until breakthrough (i.e. when the effluent concentration is 10 percent of the influent concentration). They also found that increasing compost from 0 percent to 10 percent more than doubles the expected lifespan for 10 percent breakthrough in 6 inches of filter media for retainage of cadmium and zinc. Using accelerated dosing laboratory experiments, Hatt et al. (2011) found that breakthrough of Zn was observed after 2000 pore volumes, but did not observe breakthrough for Cd, Cu, and Pb after 15 years of synthetic stormwater passed through the media. However, concentrations of Cd, Cu, and Pb on soil media particles exceeded human and/or ecological health levels, which could have an impact on disposal if the media needed replacement. Since the majority of metals retainage occurs in the upper 2 to 4 inches of the soil media (Li and Davis, 2008), long-term metals capture may only require rejuvenation of the upper portion of the media.
Accumulation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in sediments has been found to be so high in some stormwater retention ponds that disposal costs for the dredging spoils were prohibitively high. Research has shown that rain gardens, on the other hand, are “a viable solution for sustainable petroleum hydrocarbon removal from stormwater, and that vegetation can enhance overall performance and stimulate biodegradation.” (Lefevre, 2012b).