Low Impact Development – Sustainable Storm Water Management

On January 20, 2005, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted sustainability as a core value for all California Water Boards’ activities and programs, and directed California Water Boards’ staff to consider sustainability in all future policies, guidelines, and regulatory actions.

Low Impact Development (LID) is a sustainable practice that benefits water supply and contributes to water quality protection. Unlike traditional storm water management, which collects and conveys storm water runoff through storm drains, pipes, or other conveyances to a centralized storm water facility, LID takes a different approach by using site design and storm water management to maintain the site’s pre-development runoff rates and volumes. The goal of LID is to mimic a site’s predevelopment hydrology by using design techniques that infiltrate, filter, store, evaporate, and detain runoff close to the source of rainfall. LID has been a proven approach in other parts of the country and is seen in California as an alternative to conventional storm water management. The Water Boards are advancing LID in California in various ways.

LID provides economical as well as environmental benefits. LID practices result in less disturbance of the development area, conservation of natural features, and less expensive than traditional storm water controls. The cost savings applies not only to construction costs, but also to long-term maintenance and life cycle cost. LID provides multiple opportunities to retrofit existing highly urbanized areas and can be applied to a range of lot sizes.

LID includes specific techniques, tools, and materials to control the amount of impervious surface, increase infiltration, improve water quality by reducing runoff from developed sites, and reduce costly infrastructure. LID practices include; bioretention facilities or rain gardens, grass swales and channels, vegetated rooftops, rain barrels, cisterns, vegetated filter strips, and permeable pavements.

Ten Lid Practices

  1. Bioretention & Rain Gardens
  2. Rooftop Gardens
  3. Sidewalk Storage
  4. Vegetated Swales, Buffers & Strips; Tree Preservation
  5. Roof Leader Disconnection
  6. Rain Barrels and Cisterns
  7. Permeable Pavers
  8. Soil Amendments
  9. Impervious Surface Reduction & Disconnection
  10. Pollution Prevention & good Housekeeping

Taking steps to be more sustainable, the Water Boards are advancing LID in California through various ways:

  • State Water Board Partnerships
    The State Water Board is partnering with other state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and Universities to protect natural resources by providing technical information and practical tools for informed land use decision-making at the local level.
  • Water Board Training Academy
    The Water Board Academy is providing advocacy and outreach to local governments through the Water Board Training Academy.
  • Storm Water Division
    The Storm Water Division is researching how to incorporate LID language into Standard Urban Storm Water Plan (SUSUMP) requirements. Regional Boards that have already incorporated such language:
    • Region 2 - San Francisco Bay
    • Region 4 - Los Angeles
    • Region 9 - San Diego

    The Storm Water Division is also talking to Caltrans about LID practices that can be included in their permit. Caltrans is the largest owner of roadsides in California and many LID practices could be incorporated as Best Management Practices throughout the state.
  • Division of Financial Assistance
    The Division of Financial Assistance is encouraging the funding and implementation of LID projects through various grant programs, including consolidated, 319(h), Clean Beaches, Small Community, Urban Storm Water, Areas of Special Biological Significance, etc.
  • Division of Water Quality
    The Division of Water Quality is developing a land use database that includes urban landscape design techniques, such as LID. They are also managing a Clean Water Act 319 grant that serves as a home base for the California Water and Land Use Partnership (CaWaLUP).
  • Division of Water Rights
  • Regional Water Quality Control Boards
    • Region 1 - North Coast Water Board
    • Region 2 - San Francisco Bay Water Board
    • Region 3 - Central Coast Water Board
    • Region 4 - Los Angeles Water Board
    • Region 5 - Central Valley Water Board
    • Region 6 - Lahontan Water Board
    • Region 7 - Colorado River Basin Water Board
    • Region 8 - Santa Ana Water Board
    • Region 9 - San Diego Water Board

The State Water Boards are key partners of the CaWaLUP, a collaborative effort made up of representative staff from government agencies, non profits, and academia, which aims to improve how water resource implications of land use are considered in California’s local government decisions.