Strategies for Urban Stormwater Wetlands: Los Angeles and Houston

Research Sponsor:

Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab at MIT

Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism at MIT (LCAU)

Co-Principal Investigators:

Alan M. Berger, Heidi Nepf (MIT)


Celina Balderas Guzman (lead)

Tyler Swingle

Samantha Cohen

Waishan Qiu

Manoel Xavier


Managing stormwater is a key problem in securing urban resiliency and meeting water quality standards in cities. Although detention ponds that incorporate constructed wetland systems have been previously introduced for stormwater treatment, their design has been largely driven by hydrologic performance. Bringing together fluid dynamics and landscape architecture this research project explores how storm water retention areas and constructed wetlands can be designed as multi-functional features to manage flooding, improve water quality, enhance biodiversity, and create amenities in cities. Design guidelines are being developed using two cities as example sites: Los Angeles (LA) as a drier city (13 in. of rain/ year) and Houston as a wetter city (53 in. of rain/ year). LA and Houston are two of the top US cities facing water shortages, and both are growing rapidly. The project will create a variety of design scenarios that illustrate the potential of wetlands to be multi-functional urban infrastructure. The hydraulic performance of the new designs is tested with scaled physical models and numerical simulation. Concurrently, the designs are also assessed for their ability to contribute to recreation, ecology, and productivity. The design guidelines will illustrate - through plans, diagrams, and renderings - a series of constructed wetland designs based on different scenarios. These scenarios will depend on land use (for example, residential), rainfall patterns, pollution reduction targets, urban design goals (for example, creating recreational areas or urban agriculture), and ecological goals (such as enabling water reuse or promoting biodiversity). Stakeholders can use these guidelines to push forward a wetland project in their own city, promote more sustainable ideas for stormwater, and create stormwater and constructed wetland policies.


White House Water Summit, “Commitments To Action On Building A Sustainable Water Future, The Executive Office of the President of the United States,” included in White House Report: Strategies for Urban Stormwater Wetlands, Los Angeles and Houston, LCAU, P-REX w/Nepf Fluid Dynamics Lab March 22, 2016

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