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Designing Stormwater Systems for the Future

Researchers from Kansas State University are looking into how climate change is affecting rainfall and weather patterns throughout Kansas in an attempt to better understand how stormwater systems will cope in the coming decades.

"We are looking at how the state can minimize risk by developing a better understanding of past weather variability while looking forward at the variability expected with future climate change — whether it is farm production systems or stormwater management," said Stacy Hutchinson, associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering, who is leading the research team that is updating rainfall distribution data to ensure current stormwater management systems can handle future weather changes.

"Our research involves understanding how climate change and land cover change — which is the conversion of natural prairie land and agricultural land to urban and suburban land uses — affect the potential for flooding," Hutchinson said. "It's where the variability of reality meets the built engineered world."

The problem over the past decades in terms of designing new stormwater systems is that the average rainfall data being used to design the systems is old data, sometimes 4 to 5 decades old, and definitely not relevant in this changing climate. So researchers are conducting the same sort of analyses that created the current datasets in an effort to bring the information up to date.

Naturally, based in Kansas, much of the report focused on weather and rainfall data collected from 24 weather stations in Kansas and another 15 outside the state.

"We're actually seeing more rain across the state, which is kind of surprising because we thought it would be getting drier in the western part of the state," Hutchinson said. "We are getting wetter across the state, but it is much more drastic in the southeast, where we are seeing more high-intensity storms."

"There is discussion among the engineering community about if we need to rethink the size of storm that we design for," Hutchinson said. "The bottom line is that now we have an idea of how weather trends have shifted across the state. This information will be useful to anybody who deals with stormwater runoff — from the Kansas Department of Transportation to agricultural producers."

Source: Kansas State University
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