Environmental Management

, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 344–359 | Cite as

Impediments and Solutions to Sustainable, Watershed-Scale Urban Stormwater Management: Lessons from Australia and the United States

  • Allison H. RoyEmail author
  • Seth J. Wenger
  • Tim D. Fletcher
  • Christopher J. Walsh
  • Anthony R. Ladson
  • William D. Shuster
  • Hale W. Thurston
  • Rebekah R. Brown


In urban and suburban areas, stormwater runoff is a primary stressor on surface waters. Conventional urban stormwater drainage systems often route runoff directly to streams and rivers, thus exacerbating pollutant inputs and hydrologic disturbance, and resulting in the degradation of ecosystem structure and function. Decentralized stormwater management tools, such as low impact development (LID) or water sensitive urban design (WSUD), may offer a more sustainable solution to stormwater management if implemented at a watershed scale. These tools are designed to pond, infiltrate, and harvest water at the source, encouraging evaporation, evapotranspiration, groundwater recharge, and re-use of stormwater. While there are numerous demonstrations of WSUD practices, there are few examples of widespread implementation at a watershed scale with the explicit objective of protecting or restoring a receiving stream. This article identifies seven major impediments to sustainable urban stormwater management: (1) uncertainties in performance and cost, (2) insufficient engineering standards and guidelines, (3) fragmented responsibilities, (4) lack of institutional capacity, (5) lack of legislative mandate, (6) lack of funding and effective market incentives, and (7) resistance to change. By comparing experiences from Australia and the United States, two developed countries with existing conventional stormwater infrastructure and escalating stream ecosystem degradation, we highlight challenges facing sustainable urban stormwater management and offer several examples of successful, regional WSUD implementation. We conclude by identifying solutions to each of the seven impediments that, when employed separately or in combination, should encourage widespread implementation of WSUD with watershed-based goals to protect human health and safety, and stream ecosystems.


Stormwater runoff Water resource management Watershed protection Policy Restoration Sustainability 



The analysis and opinions in this article were generated by the authors based on years of experience working with scientists, watershed groups, government officials, and other stakeholders. We greatly appreciate the insights and interactions of our colleagues, collaborators, and acquaintances, which have played an essential role in shaping this manuscript. Thoughtful reviews by Derek Booth and two anonymous reviewers greatly improved the manuscript. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent EPA policy.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Allison H. Roy
    • 1
    Email author
  • Seth J. Wenger
    • 2
  • Tim D. Fletcher
    • 3
  • Christopher J. Walsh
    • 4
    • 6
  • Anthony R. Ladson
    • 3
  • William D. Shuster
    • 1
  • Hale W. Thurston
    • 1
  • Rebekah R. Brown
    • 5
  1. 1.Office of Research and DevelopmentUS Environmental Protection AgencyCincinnatiUSA
  2. 2.River Basin Center, Odum School of EcologyThe University of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  3. 3.Department of Civil Engineering, Institute for Sustainable Water ResourcesMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  4. 4.Water Studies Centre and School of Biological SciencesMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  5. 5.School of Geography and Environmental Science, Institute for Sustainable Water ResourcesMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  6. 6.School of Social and Environmental EnquiryThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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