NE2206: Green Stormwater Infrastructure and Agriculture

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Active

NE2206: Green Stormwater Infrastructure and Agriculture

Duration: 10/01/2022 to 09/30/2027

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification

The federal Clean Water Act (CWA) is 50 years old this year.  The two fundamental goals of the CWA were to: 1) eliminate the discharge of pollutants into the nation’s waters (zero discharge of pollutants by 1985) and 2) achieve water quality levels that are fishable and swimmable by mid-1983 (CWA, 1972).  When the Act was signed into law, 60% of the waterways in the United States were not “fishable or swimmable.”  Today, 50% of our nation’s waterways are fishable or swimmable (EIP, 2022).  While much has been accomplished with addressing point source discharges through the upgrading of municipal wastewater treatment plants and elimination of industrial discharges, nonpoint source pollution that is carried to our waterways with stormwater runoff still needs to be addressed.  In addition, agriculture is the leading source of impairments in the nation’s rivers and lakes.  About a half million tons of pesticides, 12 million tons of nitrogen, and 4 million tons of phosphorus fertilizer are applied annually to crops in the continental United States (USEPA, 2022).

Agriculture is very different from state to state.  In Iowa, the average corn farm is 725 acres (Saavoss, et. al., 2021), while the average size farm in New Jersey is just 76 acres (USDA, 2020).  The large farms employ agricultural management practices to reduce their environmental impacts and often take advantage of Farm Bill funding to implement these practices.  The smaller niche farms found in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast Region of the United States are different types of agriculture.  For example, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states are home to more than 428,000 horses, ponies, and mules living on about 65,000 farms (Delheimer, 2015).  These farms can have far-reaching environmental effects.  Poor horse pasture and trail management combined with heavy horse hoof traffic can lead to problematic soil erosion.  Runoff can carry eroded sediment and pollutants (like nitrogen, phosphorus, and bacteria from horse feed, manure, and bedding) off the farm and deposit them in nearby soils and bodies of water (Delheimer, 2015).  Not only can green infrastructure be used to treat stormwater runoff from the paddock areas, it also can be used to manage runoff from the impervious cover associated with the horse farms such as barns, stables, indoor riding rings, and silage storage areas.  Results from a stakeholder survey in Connecticut indicated that farmers are generally interested in practices that protect downstream water quality; however, the cost of implementation, impacts to profitability, and lack of education or knowledge of practices are large barriers to actually making such improvements (unpublished data, CT NRCS-RCPP project 68-1106-16-965).

The nursery industry is another agricultural land use that can benefit from green infrastructure. If nurseries are looked upon as point sources of agricultural pollution, then the harmful substances of importance to human health and the environment are nitrogen and phosphorus compounds as well as pesticides and their metabolites.  In 2019, the data showed that the nursery, greenhouse, floriculture, and sod industry continue to be New Jersey’s leading agricultural sector with sales at almost $500 million (NJDA, 2020).  Nursery, greenhouse, and floriculture tend to have large expanses of impervious cover that can be managed with green infrastructure.  Also, water is needed in higher amounts during propagation than during finished crop production so green infrastructure rainwater harvesting systems can be used to collect and store rainwater for propagation activities.

Finally, urban agriculture is an area where green infrastructure can be implemented to manage pollution from stormwater runoff.  Urban farms often have limited space for stormwater management practices which makes green infrastructure a viable option.  Diverse green infrastructure implementation practices, such as rainwater harvesting, can also be used to collect and store rainwater for irrigation prior to it becoming stormwater runoff.

There are also non-agricultural sources of nonpoint source pollution.  Urbanizing communities across the nation are dealing with stormwater management issues.  In urban centers, combined sewer overflows are discharging raw sewage into local waterways, city streets, and basements.  In suburban communities, stormwater is polluting local waterways and causing localized flooding that disrupts and endangers the lives of the residents.  Rural and agricultural communities also suffer from stormwater runoff problems.  Climate change is making many of these problems worse.  In a Water Environmental Federation National Survey of communities with municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s), there is an annual funding gap of $8.5 billion to maintain and upgrade these systems (WEF, 2021).  An economic analysis by the American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE) shows a water-related infrastructure funding gap of $434 billion over 10 years for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater combined (ASCE, 2021).  In New Jersey alone, it is estimated that $9 billion is needed to keep stormwater out of the combined sewer systems in our urban areas to prevent the overflow of raw sewage into our local waterways and into the streets of these communities (NJF, 2014).

The ASCE Infrastructure Report Card indicates that “600,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 13 million acres of lakes, reservoirs, and ponds are considered impaired,” meaning they do not meet water quality standards (ASCE, 2021). The United States Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) provides funding for water infrastructure projects.  In 2012, more than $58 million was requested by municipalities across the nation for stormwater projects, but this amount has dramatically increased.  In 2019, the requested amount was $387 million.  In 2017, the funds requested from the CWSRF for green stormwater infrastructure projects (approximately $45 million) exceeded requests for traditional gray infrastructure stormwater projects.  Every year since, requests for funding for green stormwater infrastructure have been equal to or more than requested for gray infrastructure projects (USEPA, 2021).  The demand for green stormwater infrastructure is increasing.

Green stormwater infrastructure is effective at reducing bacteria, sediment, and nutrient loads to waterways (Dietz, 2007).  Another benefit of green stormwater infrastructure is that it can also be used to reduce localized flooding (Dietz and Arnold 2018).  In most cases, green stormwater infrastructure is being used in urban and suburban areas to retrofit existing developed areas with stormwater management.  Although constructed wetlands are being used in the Midwest to intercept discharges from tile drains on agriculture lands, other applications of green stormwater infrastructure to agricultural stormwater issues have been limited.  Much more research in adapting green stormwater infrastructure for agriculture lands is needed.

Due to limited space in developed areas, the efficiency of green stormwater infrastructure needs to be improved along with a stronger understanding of the maintenance required to keep the systems functioning at an optimum level.  Green stormwater infrastructure also needs to be adapted to address climate change.  There is also a need for research to better understand cost effectiveness and ecosystem services that these systems provide.  Finally, since many of these systems are being incorporated into developed areas, there is a social dimension that needs to be explored to determine the best methods to encourage adoption of green stormwater infrastructure by residents, corporations, businesses, developers, and municipal officials.


The Technical Feasibility of the Research

The Agricultural Experiment Stations and their Cooperative Extension Service are in a unique position to aid these communities to address these stormwater problems.  The land grant universities have been conducting research on green stormwater infrastructure practices for many years and can address the research needs identified above. Researchers are currently working on identifying how green stormwater infrastructure can reduce flooding and peak flows from sewer systems, reduce pollution, and improve our water quality.  Extension is playing a key role in disseminating knowledge from the universities to encourage communities to adopt green stormwater infrastructure and to help them with the planning and design of these systems.  Whether these practices are being built for the agricultural community or in developed areas, farmer engagement and community engagement are key components to encourage the installation of green stormwater infrastructure.

Many of the land grant universities across the county have the expertise to conduct the green infrastructure research.  The expertise needed for the research includes engineering, environmental sciences, landscape architecture, economics, and social/human dimension science.  Many of the local, state, and federal regulations use the science generated by the land grant university researchers.  The research generated at these universities are also used to model the environment’s reaction to future development conditions and climate change conditions.  The research has determined the effectiveness of standard green stormwater infrastructure systems and how various alterations in design can improve the effectiveness.  There has also been research on how to increase the adoption of green stormwater infrastructure and best practices to engage the public.  All these efforts illustrate the technical feasibility of the research and suggest that the land grant universities are in the best position to conduct the research.


Advantages of a Multistate Effort

Over last several years, there have been several regional green stormwater infrastructure meetings at the University of Connecticut.  The goals for these meetings included:

1.     Sharing of information about ongoing research and Extension at each university

2.     Development of objectives for a Multi-State Hatch Proposal around green stormwater infrastructure

3.     Development of a proposal for a regional or possibly a national green stormwater infrastructure initiative that can be submitted to private foundations, which have shown a great interest in this work

These meetings demonstrate a strong desire for researchers and Extension professionals to focus on green stormwater infrastructure and to work together.  Working together allows researchers to build upon each other’s efforts more quickly and can accelerate the production of results that can be disseminated to the public to solve their problems. 

Representatives from Cornell, University of Maryland, Rutgers University, University of Connecticut, University of Vermont, University of New Hampshire, Penn State, and University of Rhode Island all participated in the meeting. Listed below are draft objectives that came from these meetings.


Potential Impacts

The short-term impacts would be to successfully complete research that can be used by Extension professionals to increase people’s knowledge and awareness of green stormwater infrastructure.  This will empower farmers and communities to more quickly adopt green stormwater infrastructure and install green stormwater infrastructure in appropriate locations.  A long-term result would be successful research that can increase the cost effectiveness of green stormwater infrastructure that can be used to retrofit farms and existing development, thereby reducing flooding, improving water quality, increasing climate resilience, and enhancing ecosystem service, ultimately improving the quality of life of our nation’s residents.

Related, Current and Previous Work

Research on green stormwater infrastructure has proven that practices such as bioretention are highly effective at reducing runoff volume and removing of nutrients, pathogens, and other contaminants such as metals (Dietz, 2007; UNH Stormwater Center, 2021).  Although some research has been done on green stormwater infrastructure in agricultural settings (Ergas et al., 2010; Dietz, 2016), the adaptation of green stormwater infrastructure to agricultural applications is still nascent.  Higher concentrations of nutrients, pathogens, and solids pose serious challenges to traditional green stormwater infrastructure designs.  This proposed work would seek to address this issue by utilizing the combined expertise of green stormwater infrastructure researchers in this region to develop creative adaptations to green stormwater infrastructure design.

Dr. James Houle is the Director of the UNH Stormwater Center (UNHSC), an experienced and recognized center of excellence for applied green stormwater infrastructure implementation and research on stormwater-related water quality and quantity issues.  What makes UNHSC unique is their decades of experience in designing and researching an extensive variety of different stormwater management systems and the specific properties that improve water quality, reduce runoff volumes and restore predevelopment hydrological conditions.  Dr. Houle manages a robust research program with the following primary components:  1) best management practice (BMP) technology testing and development; 2) targeted research; and 3) outreach and technical training.  Additionally, Dr. Houle has been on the project team of several USEPA funded green stormwater infrastructure implementation projects throughout New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and the southern New England region.

Dr. Michael Dietz is an Extension Educator at the University of Connecticut and the Director of the Connecticut Institute of Water Resources.  He has been performing outreach and research on green stormwater infrastructure applications for 25 years.  In his current collaborative work with other faculty from the Center for Land Use Education and Research, Dr. Dietz has been assisting Connecticut municipalities in complying with new municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) regulations.  In addition to researching urban stormwater issues, his recent work has focused on adapting bioretention to agricultural applications.  Dr. Dietz has been a PI or co-PI on numerous state and federal grants.

Dr. Christopher Obropta is an Extension Specialist in Water Resources for Rutgers Cooperative Extension; he teaches environmental engineering in the Rutgers Department of Environmental Sciences, and he is the Director of the New Jersey Water Resources Research Institute.  He runs a robust Extension program that conducts research on green infrastructure effectiveness and design enhancements.  He has been adapting some green infrastructure for use on horse farms and nurseries in New Jersey.  He also has been working to help urban communities harvest rainwater for urban farming.  Dr. Obropta also conducts workforce development training on green infrastructure construction and maintenance.


  1. Conduct research on how to best adapt green stormwater infrastructure to address agricultural runoff
  2. Develop a better understanding of the relationship between green stormwater infrastructure design features and pollutant removal and volume reduction capabilities
  3. Develop new climate resilient design criteria for green stormwater infrastructure
  4. Develop a better understanding of the economics/cost effectiveness of green stormwater infrastructure and the ecosystem services that these systems provide
  5. Develop Extension programming for engaging communities to implement green stormwater infrastructure to address runoff from existing development
  6. Develop curriculum to educate undergraduate and graduate students and workforce development on the planning, design, and implementation of green stormwater infrastructure
  7. Develop a better understanding of the mechanisms needed to encourage adoption of green stormwater infrastructure by residents, corporations, businesses, developers, and municipal officials


This multi-state partnership will be a forum to collaborate and synthesize the extensive results and expertise of its membership.  As much of the expertise and science in green stormwater infrastructure already resides within the participating land grant universities, the partnership is well suited to achieve the stated objectives.  The current research products produced in the partnership provide an unparalleled foundation for adapting green stormwater infrastructure designs and developing new standards for including agriculture approaches and impacts from a changing climate.  Many training curricula and course work already exist and can be updated and improved through the collaboration increasing impact and the reach of land grant university science and outputs.

  1. Conduct research on how to best adapt green stormwater infrastructure to address agricultural runoff

To address research needs, the partnership will develop a list of research priorities to guide future investigations.  These priorities, which are expected to range from bench scale laboratory to field and farm scale research, will be adopted by those within the partnership best suited to implement them.  The partnership will draw from the members vast expertise to develop design standards to address variable loading conditions related agricultural stormwater runoff.  We will also partner with "niche ag industries" as well as National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

  1. Develop a better understanding of the relationship between green stormwater infrastructure design features and pollutant removal and volume reduction capabilities

As the partner membership includes much of the national research completed to date on green stormwater infrastructure, results will be consolidated and synthesized, and national guidance will be developed based on the latest science-based BMP performance results.

  1. Develop new climate resilient design criteria for green stormwater infrastructure

Climate change is a complex issue, and there is little consensus as to how it should be addressed in the realm of stormwater management.  The expertise of the partner network will be used to create a constructive dialog around the future design needs regarding stormwater BMPs and climate change.  This dialog will be developed into guidance for national standards and will inform a science-based approach for the states represented in the network.

  1. Develop a better understanding of the economics/cost effectiveness of green stormwater infrastructure and the ecosystem services that these systems provide

As the partner membership includes much of the national implementation approaches completed to date on green stormwater infrastructure, results of implementation efforts will be consolidated and synthesized, and national guidance will be developed to assess economics, life cycle costs, and ancillary benefits of green stormwater infrastructure.

  1. Develop Extension programming for engaging communities to implement green stormwater infrastructure to address runoff from existing development

The network will synthesize results of successful implementation efforts into guidance to identify and facilitate next-to-adopt communities.  Diffusion of innovation theory will be used to develop strategies on how to engage and identify adopters and encourage more implementation of green stormwater infrastructure.

  1. Develop curriculum to educate undergraduate and graduate students and workforce development on the planning, design, and implementation of green stormwater infrastructure

Many of the partners teach stormwater courses and have training modules for various curriculum related to green stormwater infrastructure.  This expertise will be consolidated and synthesized and used to update and develop national and statewide training and certification programs.

  1. Develop a better understanding of the mechanisms needed to encourage adoption of green stormwater infrastructure by residents, corporations, businesses, developers, and municipal officials

Extension faculty from across the nation have been doing educational programming to encourage the adoption of green stormwater infrastructure.  The social dimension of this objective will be evaluated using available metrics from existing programming, resulting in the establishment of best practices to optimize adoption.  The Extension faculty associated with this project will help disseminate the results so all land grant universities can benefit.

Measurement of Progress and Results


  • Data (e.g., monitoring results from lab to farm scale research, survey findings, and qualitative data)
  • Publications (e.g., peer-reviewed journal articles, Extension publications, web resources
  • Specific design criteria for various outcomes (e.g., designs can be modified/adapted to enhance nitrogen removal in areas where nitrogen is a pollutant of concern)
  • Best practices guidance on design, installation, and maintenance
  • Trained students
  • Professionals certified in agricultural green stormwater infrastructure design, installation, and maintenance

Outcomes or Projected Impacts

  • Farmers, students, and professionals will have increased levels of knowledge related to water quality impacts and green stormwater infrastructure solutions in agricultural applications.
  • New design criteria will further facilitate implementation of BMPs tailored to agricultural applications.
  • Increased numbers of BMPs will be installed in agricultural applications, resulting in improved water quality in local waters.


(2023):Establishment of objective focus groups

(2024):Establishment of research areas of focus

(2025):Assembly of design guidance for agriculture and climate change

(2026):Holding an annual conference to convene end users and present outputs and deliverables

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Outreach Plan

The participants on this project either have a partial Extension appointment or are closely linked to Cooperative Extension faculty and staff at their land grant university.  This will make dissemination of the research that is generated from this project to farmers, stakeholders, and other cliental relatively easy.  A combination of fact sheets, digital tools, workshops, and field days will be used to disseminate research results.  For professionals in the field, peer-reviewed publications will be generated, and research will be presented at conferences across the nation.  One target audience will be underrepresented communities, which might be new farmers, women farmers, minority farmers, and urban farmers.  Also, green infrastructure is widely used in urban centers to reduce combined sewer overflows, which are also in underrepresented communities.  Diversity, equity, and inclusion will be part of the foundation of this project, both in recruiting participants for the project and disseminating research generated by the project.


This project is organized by objective with each objective having one or more lead scientists.  The lead scientists will prepare annual summaries of research in their objective (or sub-objective) and lead the discussion at the annual meeting.  These scientists are tasked with keeping the objective moving forward, meeting the objectives in a timely manner, and tracking to ensure that each participant is keeping their part of the project going according to plan.  All other participants contribute updates on their work.

The annual meetings will have a chair and a secretary who typically rotates to chair the succeeding year.  The secretary for the next meeting is elected by the membership each year.

Literature Cited

American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE), 2021. American Society of Civil Engineers released the 2021 Infrastructure Report Card.

Clean Water Act (CWA), 1972. 33 U.S. Code § 1251. Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972.  Link:

Delheimer, S., 2015. Rutgers University, 2014. Environmental Impacts of Equine Operations – Multi-State Hatch Impact Statement. NE-1041, pp. 2.

Dietz, M.E. 2007.  Low Impact Development Practices: A Review of Current Research and Recommendations for Future Directions. Water, Air, & Soil Pollution, Vol. 186 (1-4), pp. 351-363.

Dietz, M.E., and Arnold, C.L. 2018. Can green infrastructure provide both water quality and flood reduction benefits? Journal of Sustainable Water in the Built Environment, 4(2), pp. 1-5.

Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), 2022. The Clean Water Act at 50: Promises Half Kept at the Half-Century Mark, pp. 73.

Ergas, S. J., Sengupta, S., Siegel, R., Pandit, A., Yao, Y., and Yuan, X. 2010. Performance of nitrogen-removing bioretention systems for control of agricultural runoff. Journal of Environmental Engineering.  10.1061/(ASCE)EE.1943-7870.0000243, 1105–1112.

Houle, J., Roseen, R., Ballestero, T., Puls, T., and Sherrard, J. 2013. Comparison of Maintenance Cost, Labor Demands, and System Performance for LID and Conventional Stormwater Management. Journal of Environmental Engineering, Vol. 139(7), pp. 932-938.

New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA), 2020. 2019 Annual Report & Agricultural Statistics, pp. 45.

New Jersey Future (NJF), 2014. Ripple Effects: The State of Water Infrastructure in New Jersey Cities and Why it Matters. pp. 54.

Saavoss, M., Capehart, T., McBride, W., and Effland, A. 2021. Trends in Production Practices and Costs of the U.S. Corn Sector. USDA Economic Research Service Report Number 294, pp. 41.

USDA National Agricultural Statistic Service, 2020.  Farms and Land in Farms 2019 Summary, pp. 17.

USEPA, 2021.  Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF).

USEPA, 2022.  Polluted Runoff: Nonpoint Source (NPS) Pollution Nonpoint Source: Agriculture.

Water Environment Federation (WEF) Stormwater Institute, 2021. 2020 National Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Needs Assessment Survey Results, pp. 34.


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

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