Effects of Design and Climate on Bioretention Effectiveness for Watershed-Scale Hydrologic Benefits

Roderick W. Lammers, Laura Miller, Brian P. Bledsoe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bioretention areas are a common form of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI). There is significant research on the performance of individual bioretention cells, but the watershed-scale benefits of GSI are still unclear. Furthermore, differences in bioretention design and rainfall patterns make it difficult to compare results between studies. We used the Storm Water Management Model (SWMM) to assess the effects of bioretention size, soil infiltration rate, storm size, and climate on the watershed-scale performance of GSI. We first divided the contiguous US into 10 rainfall regions based on similarities in precipitation amount, intensity, and other storm characteristics. We then modeled the effects of bioretention areas in a single watershed under these different rainfall regimes. Bioretention areas did provide watershed-scale benefits, although performance declined as (1) bioretention areas became smaller, (2) soil infiltration rates decreased, and (3) precipitation depth increased. High-intensity rainfall was the primary cause of outflow from bioretention areas, although back-to-back storm events also caused outflow in some climates. There were some clear discrepancies between subbasin-scale and watershed-scale GSI performance. Generally, runoff volume reduction was greater when measured at the subbasin scale. Peak flow reduction, however, was greater at the watershed-scale, likely because bioretention areas changed the shape of subbasin runoff hydrographs, leading to watershed-scale peak flow reduction that was greater than the sum of the parts. We provide recommendations for design, management, and future research to help advance effective application of GSI for achieving watershed-scale hydrologic benefits.

Original languageEnglish
Article number04022011
JournalJournal of Sustainable Water in the Built Environment
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2022


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