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Development of the North Carolina stormwater-treatment decision-support system by using the Stochastic Empirical Loading and Dilution Model (SELDM)

November 6, 2023

The Federal Highway Administration and State departments of transportation nationwide need an efficient method to assess potential adverse effects of highway stormwater runoff on receiving waters to optimize stormwater-treatment decisions. To this end, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration and the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), developed a decision-support software tool based on a statewide version of the Stochastic Empirical Loading and Dilution Model (SELDM). This decision-support tool is designed to identify potential adverse effects of highway runoff by using a criterion based on a measurable change in water quality from a surrogate pollutant. The NCDOT worked with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to select a 25-percent change in suspended sediment concentration as the decision-rule criterion for identifying measurable downstream water-quality change; this selection was based on available data and widely accepted stormwater monitoring uncertainties. Development of the statewide tool and its application to the Piedmont ecoregion are described in this report. Because SELDM can be applied to build a similar decision-support tool in any State, this report describes practice-ready methods that other State departments of transportation and municipal permittees can use to streamline environmental permitting and project delivery while protecting the environment.

Hydraulic design engineers can use this decision-support tool to establish stormwater-treatment goals for highway construction or improvement projects without having to learn SELDM or interpret its statistical output. The tool is a spreadsheet that determines if a selected highway segment can directly discharge highway runoff, if the highway segment can discharge runoff following treatment using a basic vegetated conveyance best management practice (BMP), or if treatment using an advanced BMP is needed to minimize effects of discharges on downstream water quality. To use the tool, hydraulic design engineers obtain upstream-basin characteristics from the U.S. Geological Survey StreamStats application and highway-site characteristics from preliminary design plans. They then enter these characteristics in the decision-support tool, which identifies the necessary stormwater-treatment goal.

The Piedmont ecoregion was used as a case study to demonstrate the type of information the decision-support tool can provide. In this ecoregion, 100 percent of direct discharges meet the water-quality criterion when the drainage-area ratio is less than about 0.007 acres of highway per square mile of upstream basin. Advanced BMPs are needed in 100 percent of basins with drainage-area ratios greater than about 50 acres per square mile. Between these drainage-area ratios, the selection of direct discharge, a basic vegetated conveyance BMP, or an advanced BMP is a function of highway-site and upstream-basin properties.

Publication Year 2023
Title Development of the North Carolina stormwater-treatment decision-support system by using the Stochastic Empirical Loading and Dilution Model (SELDM)
DOI 10.3133/sir20235113
Authors Gregory E. Granato, Charles C. Stillwell, J. Curtis Weaver, Andrew H. McDaniel, Brian S. Lipscomb, Susan C. Jones, Ryan M. Mullins
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2023-5113
Index ID sir20235113
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New England Water Science Center; South Atlantic Water Science Center