Biological Systems Engineering, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version



Transactions of the ASABE Vol. 61(2): 495-508


© 2018 American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers


Engineered bioretention cells with underdrains have shown water quality and hydrologic benefits for abating urban stormwater problems. Less is known about the hydrologic performance of residential rain gardens that rely on in situ soil infiltration as the primary mechanism of volume control. Eleven residential rain gardens in Lincoln, Nebraska, were evaluated using a variable-rate stormwater runoff simulator. A volume-based water quality volume (WQV) design storm of 3.0 cm was applied to each rain garden as an SCS Type II runoff hydrograph until the system began overflowing to test the rain gardens for surface and subsurface storage capacity, drawdown rate, ponding depth, and overflow characteristics. Every rain garden tested drained in 30 h or less, with six gardens draining in less than 1 h. Rain garden surface storage capacity was poor, retaining on average only 16% of the WQV. On average, the rain gardens studied could store and infiltrate only 40% of the WQV, with only two gardens able to store and infiltrate greater than 90% of the WQV. On average, 59% of the runoff was captured as subsurface storage. Results of this study indicate that these 2- to 4-year-old rain gardens are limited not by drain times and rates, which often met or exceeded common design recommendations, but rather by inadequate surface storage characteristics. Extrapolating measured surface storage volumes to hypothetical systems with evenly graded depths of 15.2 cm, a minimum local depth recommendation, resulted in only one garden with enough storage to contain the WQV. On average, the extrapolated storage held only 65% of the WQV. It was shown that subsurface storage can make up for a lack of surface storage; the systems studied herein had an average of 2.7 times more subsurface storage than surface storage as a percentage of inflow volume before overflow began.