Opportunities and challenges for managing nitrogen in urban stormwater: A review and synthesis

Kelly A. Collins, Timothy J. Lawrence, Emilie K. Stander, Robert J. Jontos, Sujay S. Kaushal, Tamara A. Newcomer, Nancy Grimm, Marci L. Cole Ekberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

253 Scopus citations


Although nitrogen (N) is prevalent in urban stormwater, regulation of this pollutant has occurred only more recently. This paper reviews the concerns over N in urban stormwater, mechanisms and design enhancements for N uptake and denitrification through various stormwater control measures (SCMs), and presents opportunities to integrate this current knowledge into the regulatory framework. A survey of personnel directly involved in various aspects of US state and territory NPDES programs revealed that the top three pollutants of concern were total suspended solids (TSS), pathogens and bacteria, and total phosphorus (TP). Surprisingly, nitrate (NO3-) was of little concern among the survey respondents, with 3.9% giving it the highest level of concern, 2.0% ranking it second, and 6.0% ranking it third. When asked which strategies were currently used in their geographic area for stormwater management, the most common results were wet ponds and dry ponds. At the same time, wet ponds and dry ponds were recognized as less effective practices to manage stormwater.A review of current literature reveals that several alternative SCMs, such as bioretention, filters, and wetlands, show greater promise in their ability to remove N from stormwater than more conventional practices such as dry ponds and wet ponds. Enhanced N removal via denitrification and plant uptake is often observed under the combination of aerobic followed by sustained anoxic conditions, the presence of a carbon source (organic material), and the presence of mature, dense vegetation.Given the lack of concern or awareness of local officials related to N loading from urban stormwater, and variation in the efficacy of various SCMs, it is not surprising that regulators remain focused on conventional dry pond and wet pond control measures. More needs to be done to quantify the impact of urban sources of N on water quality and aquatic ecosystems. In addition, greater focus needs to be placed on the development of design criteria for SCMs, such as bioretention, filters, and constructed wetlands, which show more promise for N removal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1507-1519
Number of pages13
JournalEcological Engineering
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2010


  • Denitrification
  • NPDES regulations
  • Nitrate
  • Nitrogen
  • Stormwater
  • Uptake

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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