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Identifying sources of contaminants in urban stormwater and evaluation of their removal efficacy across a continuum of urban best management practices

March 31, 2021

Precipitation events in urban areas often result in stormwater runoff containing a diverse array of chemical contaminants. Although many traditional contaminants, such as nutrients, heavy metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have been studied extensively, only recently has evidence emerged showing that trace organic compounds (TrOCs), including pharmaceuticals, personal care products and pesticides are frequently found in stormwater runoff. As there is little existing information about the sources of TrOCs in urban stormwater or their removal efficacy across a range of stormwater treatment options, we conducted a study to address these knowledge gaps and to characterize the potential contribution of TrOCs to groundwater resources from stormwater infiltration practices, based on several synoptic measurements. The current study allowed us to enhance an existing effort to assess TrOC presence and toxicity in stormwater runoff and treatment pond outflow by addressing questions related to TrOC sources to stormwater and TrOC transport to groundwaters.

Analysis of eDNA confirms multiple sources of TrOCs to stormwater including human sewage, dog waste, and feces from waterfowl. It is likely that the presence of some TrOCs detected in stormwater are the result of direct, untreated sewage inputs to stormwater from either human (i.e., leaking sewer infrastructure) or pet waste (washed from sidewalks into storm drains). The seasonal detection of avian eDNA is noteworthy as it highlights seasonality and patterns of migration patterns as contributing factors to stormwater contamination. In contrast to human and pet waste, which likely enters stormwater ponds via the stormwater conveyance system, avian feces may enter ponds either through stormwater runoff or through direct inputs by waterfowl stopping-over temporarily at stormwater ponds. Stormwater ponds had little effect in reducing TrOCs as determined by comparative inflow and outflow analysis. Our results also indicate that overall few TrOCs were present in receiving groundwater adjacent to underground infiltration basins, compared to inflow. However, some contaminants were present at relatively high concentrations compared to stormwater flowing into the basins. This is particularly true for pesticides and their degradants. Fewer TrOCs were detected in interstitial water collected near stormwater ponds compared to inflow and outflow. The presence and concentrations of TrOCs in outflow from ponds was generally similar to or higher than what was observed in inflow.

The data collected as part of this study can be used to guide future research or monitoring in an effort to better understand TrOC fate and transport in the environment via stormwater BMPs. Specifically, more work is needed to track parcels of water as they flow through BMPs to better quantify transport and degradation of TrOCs, monitor flow into and out of ponds for mass balance calculations, and conduct tracer tests to better quantify the amount of water that monitoring wells are intercepting from underground infiltration basins.

These results have been shared in multiple presentations and in meetings with high school teachers to develop age-appropriate curriculum to highlight the role of individuals in reducing and preventing stormwater contamination. The ongoing pandemic hindered some of these efforts (cancelled conferences; suspended MN Water Roundtable meetings; pre-occupation with teachers moving materials online), however, as dissemination activities become more common in the near future, we will continue to educate stakeholders and educators about the root causes and effects of urban stormwater contamination.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Identifying sources of contaminants in urban stormwater and evaluation of their removal efficacy across a continuum of urban best management practices
Authors Heiko L. Schoenfuss, Richard L. Kiesling, Sarah M. Elliott, Satomi Kohno
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype State or Local Government Series
Series Title Final Report
Index ID 70223112
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Upper Midwest Water Science Center