The following list represents some common language and terminology used when discussing sustainable stormwater practices.

Best Management Practices (BMP): A practice or combination of practices that provide the most effective and practicable means of controlling point and nonpoint source pollutants at levels compatible with environmental quality goals. These include activities or structural improvements that help reduce nonpoint source pollution and limit the volume of stormwater runoff.

Non-structural BMPs limit the impact of development with effective planning and practice. Structural BMPs reduce volume and peak rates of stormwater flow, and some improve water quality. Most BMPs use vegetation to slow stormwater runoff, infiltrate the water into the soil, and absorb excess nutrients and other pollutants.

Better site design: A fundamentally different approach to residential and commercial development. It seeks to accomplish 3 goals at every development site: to reduce the amount of impervious cover, to increase natural lands set aside for conservation, and to use pervious areas for more effective stormwater treatment. To meet these goals, designers must scrutinize every aspect of a site plan: its streets, parking spaces, setbacks, lot sizes, driveways, and sidewalks. At the same time, creative grading and drainage techniques reduce stormwater runoff and encourage more infiltration.

Conservation Design: A method for developing land that conserves the green infrastructure elements of a site while providing for development at full density on the remainder of the site. Unlike conventional methods of stormwater management that prioritize peak rate control to mitigate post-development downstream flooding effects, Conservation Design first aims to prevent or minimize the creation of stormwater from the outset. Preventive Conservation Design methods are those that integrate stormwater management into the initial stages of project design, instead of waiting to consider them in the final steps of the site planning process. Mitigative Conservation Design techniques will be explored that use natural processes performed by vegetation and soil to mitigate unavoidable stormwater runoff impacts once prevention has been maximized to the greatest extent possible. Underlying these techniques-whether preventive or mitigative in nature-is a comprehensive perspective of water resources that views stormwater as an asset to be managed, not a waste for disposal.

Environmental Technology: An all-inclusive term used to describe pollution control devices and systems, waste treatment processes and storage facilities, and site remediation technologies and their components that may be utilized to remove pollutants or contaminants from or prevent them from entering the environment. Examples include wet scrubbers (air), soil washing (soil), granulated activated carbon unit (water), and filtration (air, water). Usually, this term applies to hardware-based systems; however, it also applies to methods or techniques used for pollution prevention, pollutant reduction, or containment of contamination to prevent further movement of the contaminants, such as capping, solidification or vitrification, and biological treatment.

Hydrologic: The cyclic phenomena of waters of the earth - precipitation, runoff, storage, evaporation, and evapotranspiration.

Infrastructure: The physical systems and that support community function (roads, sewers, water lines, etc.).

LEED Standards: The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™ is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings. LEED is a voluntary, consensus-based, national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. LEED provides a complete framework for assessing building performance and meeting sustainability goals.

Low impact development (LID): A comprehensive land planning and engineering design approach with a goal of maintaining and enhancing the pre-development hydrologic regime of urban and developing watersheds. This design approach incorporates strategic planning with micro-management techniques to achieve superior environmental protection, while allowing for development or infrastructure rehabilitation to occur.

Natural (green) Infrastructure: Physical systems provided by the earth that support life (water cycle, nitrogen cycle, water purification)

Nonpoint Source: A diffuse source of pollution that cannot be attributed to a clearly identifiable, specific physical location or a defined discharge channel. This includes the nutrients that runoff the ground from any land use - croplands, feedlots, lawns, parking lots, streets, forests, etc. - and enter waterways. It also includes nutrients that enter through air pollution, through the groundwater, or from septic systems.

Point Source: Water pollution sources that may be traced to a specific source, such as a sewer line or a discharge pipe of an industrial facility. Pollution coming from a single identifiable source such as discharge pipes from industry or sewer plants or other means of conveyance including ditches, channels, sewers, and containers.

Smart Growth: The efforts of communities to direct growth to minimize environmental impact (key terms: "urban sprawl," "livable" towns/cities)

Stormwater (or stormwater runoff): Legally, stormwater refers to runoff that gets collected or channelized in a pipe or ditch, and may come from urban areas, industrial sites, or agricultural activities. Stormwater runoff is precipitation or snowmelt that does not infiltrate into the ground or evaporate but flows over the land surface onto roadways, parking lots, and other impervious surfaces and is typically routed into drain or sewer system, which lead directly into lakes, rivers, and streams untreated. Stormwater can carry pollution directly into our natural water resources.

Sustainable Development: A 1970s term describing quest to maximize quality of life while limiting impact on the surrounding environment (considers long-term economic, ecological, and social prosperity)

Sustainable Stormwater Management: Systems that mimic nature by integrating stormwater into building and site development to reduce the damaging effects of urbanization on rivers and streams. The primary goal of sustainable stormwater management is to generate no additional runoff from the existing site as compared to undeveloped conditions. This approach limits runoff (and potential pollutants) from leaving the site. An integrated design approach can minimize the project's impacts on the natural environment through siting design, incorporating landforms and natural drainage pathways into the final building placement. Buildings and structures built to sustainable standards make a minimum demand on future operational resources.

Urban: The term "urban" has many meanings, from the ultra-urban of dense city centers to the growing areas with single family houses on large lots. When discussing stormwater, "urban" is generally use to distinguish it from industrial or agricultural stormwater (or runoff). This report will use the term in that sense, with most case studies, and most discussion, focusing on the more suburban and less dense urban areas, rather than ultra-urban city centers.

Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD): The basic aim of WSUD is to protect and enhance natural waterways in urban catchments by reducing pollution in stormwater runoff. Recycling the water within our properties is seen as ecologically responsible and hopefully a cost-effective use of a scarce resource. The creation of artificial lakes and wetlands in new urban developments is part of a new design concept referred to as 'water-sensitive urban design' (WSUD). For more information, visit

Watershed Management Approach: A comprehensive approach to protecting and restoring water resources with a focus on hydrological rather than policital boundaries. The watershed approach tells us that the water quality of a river will be affected by all of the activities that take place within that river's watershed and considers all activities within a landscape that impact the health of the watershed. Decisions are based on all the water resources, all the water uses and all the threats to water quality throughout a common geographical area. A watershed is defined as the area of land drained by a single network of streams. That is, it consists of a stream, all the tributaries of that stream, and the land that is drained by those streams.

Many stormwater glossaries are available online. The following list represents only a small sub-set of these, selected for their comprehensive coverage of stormwater terms and acronyms.

California Stormwater BMP Handbook: "New Development & Redevelopment Handbook"—Section 7 Glossary and list of acronyms (PDF, 35K)
The California Stormwater Quality Association created 4 stormwater BMP handbooks in 2003. The Handbooks reflect the current practices, standards, and knowledge gained since the early 90s about the effectiveness of BMPs. The glossary provides a comprehensive glossary and list of acronyms. (In pdf format)

North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) - Abbreviations and glossary of stormwater terms
NCTCOG works with local governments and other stakeholders to develop and implement a regional strategy to address stormwater quality issues. This site links to a comprehensive list of abbreviations and glossary of stormwater terms.

Visual Glossary of Stormwater Management Practices (PDF, 4.5MB)
Created by City of Baltimore Watershed 263 and Community Forum Parks & People Foundation. Terms are defined with photos or drawings.

Virginia Stormwater Management Handbook: Glossary of Stormwater Management (PDF, 174K)
Terms and Acronyms The Handbook is created by the Virginia Stormwater Management Program from the Soil and Water Conservation Division of the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation. The Glossary (in volume 2) provides a comprehensive glossary and a list of acronyms that can be used for all stormwater management purposes.

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