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Street tree stormwater control measures can reduce runoff but may not benefit established trees

Szota, Christopher, Coutts, Andrew M., Thom, Jasmine K., Virahsawmy, Harry K., Fletcher, Tim D., Livesley, Stephen J.
Landscape and urban planning 2019 v.182 pp. 144-155
climate, control methods, home gardens, infrastructure, irrigation systems, phenology, rooting, sediments, soil types, soil water, stormwater, street trees, surface area, tree growth, water stress
Directing stormwater runoff to irrigate urban trees has the potential to simultaneously: (i) reduce the volume of runoff generated by impervious surfaces and (ii) reduce tree drought stress and increase growth. Many papers promote this concept, but few have quantified both potential benefits. In this study, we quantified both the runoff retention performance of infiltration trenches retrofitted alongside established street trees and tree drought stress and growth. We compared retention for different soil types, tree phenological types and inlet designs over a period of 18 months. Retention was low on average (18.3%) but was highly variable among infiltration trenches (5.2–43.7%), driven by variation in inlet capacity due to blockages, as well as the flow velocity of runoff leading to the inlet. With appropriately designed inlets, street tree stormwater control measures have significant potential to retain runoff. We observed no clear reduction in tree drought stress or increase in tree growth. This suggests that the established trees in our study already had access to adequate soil water within their rooting volumes, supplemented by nearby irrigated private gardens, or leaky water infrastructure. We suggest that i) mature trees surrounded by greater impervious surface area, ii) newly planted trees, or iii) trees growing in hotter, drier climates, may respond more positively to similar passive irrigation systems. The evolving practice of passive irrigation of street trees with stormwater requires innovative design to maximise runoff capture efficiency under typical sediment and debris loads.