New UNH Study Helps New Englanders
Weather The Storm
Contact: Dolores Jalbert
CICEET and CINEMAR
Oct. 13, 2005
DURHAM, N.H. -- Research from the University of New Hampshire Stormwater
Center is poised to help communities throughout the Northeast improve
water quality and reduce runoff through better stormwater management.
The center is the only one of its kind in the country.
“Our data is telling us that updated and improved standards
of practice for stormwater management would enhance water quality,
and do a better job of handling the volume of runoff,” said
center Co-director Robert Roseen.
Results from the new NOAA-funded center’s first year of operation
were reported at an event today attended by U.S. Senator Judd Gregg
(R-N.H.) and UNH President Ann Weaver Hart.
The UNH Stormwater Center evaluates the effectiveness of different
stormwater treatment systems in protecting water quality and reducing
runoff. It addresses nonpoint source pollution, which has become
the single biggest threat to water quality nationwide.
Called “nonpoint” because there is no one smokestack
or storm sewer outfall at fault, this type of pollution is a byproduct
of modern life. Stormwater runoff washes contaminants off impervious
surfaces like roads and parking lots, and into streams, rivers,
and coastal waters, where they degrade water quality and threaten
“Over the past week, areas of southwestern New Hampshire have
been devastated by torrential flooding. After the homes and buildings
are rebuilt, and the roads and bridges are repaired, the environmental
effects will still affect the region,” said Senator Gregg,
who secured funding for the center through the UNH/NOAA Cooperative
Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology (CICEET).
“The water from storms and flooding like New Hampshire experienced
this week has the potential to be contaminated with a variety of
pollutants. The Stormwater Center is working to solve that problem.
By testing different methods of cleaning polluted stormwater, reducing
runoff, and then making this information available, these researchers
will help communities affected by similar storms and floods in the
future. This will greatly improve our natural environment, and I
commend those from UNH, CICEET, and the Stormwater Center for their
significant work,” Gregg said.
What makes the UNH Stormwater Center unique is its capacity to evaluate
the performance of different stormwater treatments under the same
conditions and side by side.
“When you compare the storm loading of a treatment system
in California to one in New Hampshire, it’s apples to oranges,
El Niño to Nor’easter,” said Co-director Thomas
Ballestero, professor of civil engineering. “Testing these
systems side by side, where the loading is similar, gives us a much
better measure of their relative effect on water quality.”
Over the last year, center researchers have evaluated the performance
of three classes of stormwater treatment systems: manufactured devices
such as manhole retrofits; conventional structural designs such
as swales and ponds; and Low Impact Development (LID) such as biorentention
systems and treatment wetlands.
“We’ve found that LID systems are the top performers
in terms of protecting water quality and reducing the volume of
stormwater runoff,” said Roseen. “The manufactured devices
cover a wide range of types and effectiveness, some excellent, others
He is quick to caution that “there is no one size fits all
when it comes to stormwater management systems; one that performs
beautifully in handling water quality and quantity but demands a
lot of space will not be the answer for a densely developed urban
The impact on water quality varies with the kind of system; some,
in fact, actually create poor water quality, according to Ballestero.
“If a retention pond filled with standing water sits next
to an attractive environment for animal use, it becomes a reservoir
for bacterial growth. Some of these microbes can be dangerous to
Managing runoff in a way that protects water quality depends on
choosing the correct stormwater treatment system. Until now, reliable
information about how well (or poorly) these systems work in preserving
water quality has been in short supply. The data gathered by UNH
researchers is being packaged for stormwater managers throughout
the Northeast to use to improve water quality and runoff management.
Communities will be able to use this information to comply with
the Environmental Protection Agency’s Storm Water Phase II,
a program that requires cities and towns under 100,000 to reduce
the stormwater discharge of pollutants to the "maximum extent
possible” to protect water quality.
Along with the evaluation of existing stormwater treatments, researchers
at the UNH Stormwater Center are also developing innovative designs
of their own. One such project is a gravel wetland that has done
extremely well in terms of managing water quality and runoff volume.
Researchers have also constructed an all-porous pavement parking
lot that greatly reduces runoff, and may reduce the amount of salt
used to maintain roads in the winter.