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Houston Low-Impact Design Empowers Future Urban Runoff Management Designs

July 20, 1999

HR Green’s team in Houston, Texas, is completing the first-of-its-kind design of Bridgeland Creek Parkway in Cypress, featuring low-impact design (LID) techniques. This is the first major low-impact design in the Houston area, paving the way for future developments to utilize this important engineering practice in building communities and improving the lives of residents.

Listen to HR Green’s Peter Huinker explain low-impact designs used at Bridgeland Creek Parkway:

What are low-impact designs?

Low-impact designs (LID) work with nature to mimic natural processes to preserve and restore the environment. In particular, LID is focused on the natural management of stormwater runoff through the creation of green spaces, the limitation of impervious surfaces, and the implementation of green water infrastructure.

5 Core Principles of LID:

  1. Conserve natural areas wherever possible (don’t pave the whole site if you don’t need to).
  2. Minimize the development’s impact on hydrology.
  3. Maintain runoff rate and duration from the site (keep water onsite).
  4. Scatter integrated management practices (IMPs) throughout your site. IMPs are decentralized, microscale controls that infiltrate, store, evaporate, and/or detain runoff close to the source.
  5. Implement pollution prevention, proper maintenance, and public education programs.
LID design plans example
Low-Impact Design Plan

Why do communities benefit from LID?

Low-impact designs offer many benefits to the community and the environment, both short- and long-term. Developing land directly impacts ecosystems. LID actually creates habitats for local plants, insects, and wildlife, creating aesthetically pleasing sites that increase property value and appeal to residents. Residents of low-impact designs also benefit from recreational outdoor spaces, improving public health and overall quality of life. In addition, low-impact designs reduce the threat of flooding while improving water quality.

In addition to the environmental and quality of life benefits, low-impact designs also offer several economic benefits.

  • The amount of site grading and preparation is decreased
  • Site of stormwater management ponds and storm sewers are decreased
  • Pipes, inlet structures, curbs, and gutters are reduced
  • The volume of concrete for roadway paving is decreased
  • Grants and incentives for LID development are available
  • Benefits for developers, homeowners, community, and environment

As an approach to land development that works with nature to mimic natural processes to preserve and restore the environment, low-impact designs can benefit projects of any size, located anywhere. Common LID practices include rain gardens, sidewalk planters, curb extensions, street trees, permeable pavements, and cisterns. Any of these practices can be implemented in small urban areas as well as larger new developments.

The Bridgeland Creek Parkway Project

bridgeland creek parkway LID plan
LID plan for Bridgeland Creek Parkway

Bridgeland is a Howard Hughes development located in Cypress, Texas. The development includes 11,500 acres of housing organized into four different ‘villages’ and  3,000 acres of lakes and trails. HR Green is finalizing the design and construction of one of the main entrances that incorporate low-impact design strategies for the Prairieland Village. This roadway is located within the Cypress Creek Watershed, an area with a long history of challenges related to stormwater management. The ultimate design includes the construction of 14 bioswales of various sizes along this four-lane roadway to alleviate these challenges. 

Bioswales are a green design aspect engineered to capture approximately the first inch of rainwater. For Prairieland Village, HR Green incorporated various low-impact design features to transform traditional roadway drainage into a system of false inlets that discharge water rather than immediately dropping that water into a storm sewer pipe. False inlets are design systems that discharge excess water rather than stormwater flowing into a runoff sewer system.

In this design, the curb-to-curb roadway is traditional, while outside the curb lies a runoff system that drains stormwater through a series of swales into a bioswale where that water is infiltrated into the ground. Once the soil reaches infiltration capacity, any excess water drains into a perforated pipe and enters the typical storm sewer system. These false inlets and bioswales improve water quality and mitigate flood damage as they act as a pretreatment of stormwater before it either infiltrates into the ground or drains into a storm sewer system. 

Bridgeland Prairieland Village
Courtesy: Bridgeland Creek Parkway Prairieland Village

For the Bridgeland development, the benefits of this low-impact design include the reduction of runoff, improvement of water quality, and the enhancement of the environment when it comes to providing areas that are more natural for local animals, plants, and insects.

“With this design, we recognize myriad benefits. At the same time, we recognize that there can be challenges with people’s perception of the environment. Bioswales are a bit more natural and wild looking rather than a manicured landscape that people may be accustomed to. So, we worked on providing a trail system that meandered through these natural areas and provided an educational experience so people understand the benefit. Residents have the ability to get close to nature and enjoy these features.”

Peter Huinker PE, LEED, AP – Regional Director of Texas Land Development

While this is the first major low-impact design in Houston, HR Green has completed several low-impact design projects across the U.S. Other projects include flood reduction and stream restoration in St. Charles, Illinois, and The Woodlands Neighborhood in Hinsdale, Illinois. Recently, the process has been transformed into a green engineering method as the benefits of this process become better understood.

Bridgeland Creek Parkway is just the start of applying low-impact urban runoff management systems in Houston. Low-impact designs can be accomplished in all types of developments, urban or rural.

It was really exciting to be able to work with a client that was willing to get outside of your traditional box and be able to collaborate with them and talk about some of these things they were very passionate in doing as much as we were.”

Peter Huinker PE, LEED, AP – Regional Director of Texas Land Development

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“It’s great to see that it wasn’t just something that we were doing one time. We’re replicating it over and over again and again. Certainly have seen the benefits from this initial project, but I actually live in the community as well. So it’s really been great for me to be able to enjoy it myself and be able to visit it already.”

Peter Huinker PE, LEED, AP – Regional Director of Texas Land Development

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