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Various structural and non-structural best management practices (BMPs) have been proposed to mitigate the cumulative effects of urbanization, but little is known regarding the effectiveness of these BMPs in maintaining ecosystem integrity. This paper evaluates the effectiveness of the principal structural and non-structural BMPs used in the United States, stormwater management (SWM) facilities and forested riparian buffers, respectively. Data are drawn from studies in the Piedmont (MD) and Puget Sound Lowland (WA) ecoregions.

The data indicate that traditional SWM facilities do little to offset the effects of urbanization on aquatic communities. Variability in age, design, landscape position, and maintenance of SWM facilities, however, make drawing firm conclusions difficult. Innovative SWM techniques, such as bioretention and Low Impact Development, have the potential of being more effective in maintaining stream integrity than traditional SWM techniques in that they more closely simulate the natural hydrograph, but little data are available yet from which to evaluate the effectiveness of these innovative systems.

The data indicate that maintaining natural riparian corridors along streams has a positive influence on ecological integrity. Natural riparian corridors appear particularly effective at low to moderate levels of urbanization. At higher levels of urbanization, the riparian corridors may be less effective, but this may be attributable to the piping of stormwater through the buffer and the fragmentation of the corridor by roads and utility crossings.

Overall, the data indicate that providing SWM or maintaining forested riparian buffers, or both, will not fully offset the effects of urbanization and will not maintain high ecological integrity. If the goal is to keep some lower, but still fair to good level of ecological integrity, or to prevent degradation to a poor condition, the findings suggest that forested riparian buffers, and to a lesser extent some types of SWM facilities, can help.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2002-01-01

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