Achieving Stream Health through the Watershed

Barbara Chongtoau
Project Manager | Stream Services
Urban Drainage and Flood Control District
Denver, CO

Urbanization alters the natural hydrologic cycle by decreasing evapotranspiration and infiltration of rainfall while increasing the volume and magnitude of stormwater flowing along the surface.  To reduce localized flooding for the protection of people and infrastructure, traditional stormwater management collects rainwater through gutter and pipe systems to move water away quickly to streams. This approach generates significant quantities of runoff that reduces stream health and creates high capital, operations, and maintenance costs for our communities. 

Could there be a larger scale, at the watershed scale, which is cheaper than traditional stormwater management, allows for the same development density, but is less impactful to our streams?

In 1996, the EPA used systems thinking to address hydro modification and developed the Watershed Approach as “….. a coordinating framework for environmental management that focuses public and private sector efforts to address the highest priority problems within hydrologically-defined geographic areas, taking into consideration both ground and surface water flow.”

Implementing at a watershed scale involves more than a simple change in technology; it represents a shift towards holistic management that integrates private and public sector initiatives to decentralize stormwater management practices and preserve and naturalize conveyance systems. 

Guidance that bridges the interest gap of the private sector profit motive with public sector tax dollar stewardship is critical to implementing a Watershed Approach.  As such, the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District is exploring ways on “how to” integrate the following practices at a watershed scale.  The expectation is the synchronization of these practices will reduce the impacts on streams while remaining cost effective for the private and public sectors.

  • Land Development

  • Stormwater Management

  • Stream Restoration