Performance assessment of rain gardens

Brooke C. Asleson, Rebecca S. Nestingen, John S. Gulliver, Raymond M. Hozalski, John L. Nieber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Scopus citations


The most widely used approach for evaluating the performance of stormwater best management practices (BMPs) such as rain gardens is monitoring, but this approach can involve a long time period to observe a sufficient number and variety of storm events, a high level of effort, and unavoidable uncertainty. In this paper, we describe the development and evaluation of three approaches for performance assessment of rain gardens: visual inspection, infiltration rate testing, and synthetic drawdown testing. Twelve rain gardens in Minnesota underwent visual inspection, with four determined to be nonfunctional based on one or more of the following criteria: (1) presence of ponded water, (2) presence of hydric soils, (3) presence of emergent (wetland) vegetation, and (4) failing vegetation. It is believed that these rain gardens failed due to a lack of maintenance. For the remaining eight rain gardens, an infiltrometer was used to determine the saturated hydraulic conductivity (K sat) of the soil surface at several locations throughout each basin in what is termed infiltration rate testing. The median K sat values for the rain gardens ranged from 3 to 72 cm-h. Synthetic drawdown testing was performed on three rain gardens by filling the basins with water to capacity where possible and recording water level over time. The observed drain times for two of those rain gardens were in good agreement with predictions based on the median of the infiltrometer measurements. The observed drain time for the third rain garden was much greater than predicted due to the presence of a restrictive soil layer beneath the topsoil. The assessment approaches developed in this research should prove useful for determining whether the construction of the rain garden was performed properly, a rain garden is functioning properly, and for developing maintenance tasks and schedules.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1019-1031
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2009


  • Best management practices
  • Bioretention practice
  • Infiltration
  • Rain garden
  • Runoff
  • Stormwater management


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