Development of Techniques to Quantify Effective Impervious Cover

Principal Investigator(s):

John Gulliver, Professor Emeritus, Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering


  • Bruce Wilson, Professor, Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering

Project summary:

Practitioners responsible for the design and implementation of stormwater management practices rely heavily on estimates of impervious area in a watershed. However, the most important parameter in determining actual urban runoff is the "effective" impervious area (EIA), or the portion of total impervious area that is directly connected to the storm sewer system. EIA, which is often considerably less than total impervious area and can vary with rainfall depth and intensity, is likely not determined with sufficient accuracy in current practice. A more accurate determination of EIA in a watershed would benefit a wide range of organizations involved in the design of stormwater management, pollution prevention, and transportation structures.

This study investigated two existing methods of estimating EIA in a watershed: (1) analysis of large rainfall-runoff data sets, and (2) overlay analysis of spatial (GIS) data, including land cover, elevation, and stormwater infrastructure. The latter method provides an estimate of connected pavement, but requires the user to input the value of connected rooftop to determine the actual EIA value, which is the sum of these two quantities. The two methods were applied to two urban catchments within the Capitol Region Watershed in St. Paul, MN. The results were used to evaluate the potential of each method and make recommendations for future studies.

The data analysis technique has the advantage of being quick and relatively simple to implement, as it did not require familiarity with specialized software tools (e.g. ArcGIS) and could be completed with any spreadsheet program with graphing capabilities (e.g. Excel). The EIA estimates from the data analysis are the most accurate, but the technique is unable to determine where in the watershed the EIA is located, and cannot be used if runoff discharge and local precipitation data is unavailable. By contrast, the GIS method has the advantage of being applicable to un-gauged watersheds, and also provides the location of EIA in the watershed. This latter feature makes it particularly attractive for honing the development and placement of BMPs in a watershed. Unfortunately, the accuracy of the GIS method is completely dependent on the ability to faithfully represent the amount of roof connection in a watershed, a process that can add significant time and expense to the EIA estimate.

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