Life cycle assessment of point source emissions and infrastructure impacts of four types of urban stormwater systems

Sarah Brudler*, Karsten Arnbjerg-Nielsen, Michael Zwicky Hauschild, Christian Ammitsøe, Justine Hénonin, Martin Rygaard

*Corresponding author for this work

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The implementation, operation and decommissioning of stormwater management systems causes environmental damage, while at the same time reducing pollutant loads in receiving waters by treating stormwater. The focus in research has been either on assessing impacts caused by stormwater infrastructure, or risks associated with stormwater discharges, but rarely have these two sources of environmental impacts been combined to allow a comprehensive environmental evaluation of stormwater management. We assess the environmental sustainability of four different generic stormwater management systems for a catchment of 260ha by a) modelling the flow of pollutants in stormwater, and resulting point source emissions to freshwater, and b) quantifying emissions and resources for all relevant processes associated with the life cycle of the infrastructure. Using life cycle impact assessment, we quantify the resulting environmental impacts and consequent damage to two areas of protection - ecosystems (expressed in time-integrated species loss) and natural resource availability (expressed in extra costs for future resource extraction). Our assessment shows that combined stormwater management causes the highest damage to both ecosystems (1.4E-03 species.yr/yr) and resource availability (8.8E+03 USD/yr). Separate systems using only green infrastructure were found to avoid damage to resource availability (-3.7 to -5.2 USD/yr) and cause lower ecosystem damage (1.1-1.3E-03 species.yr/yr). Stormwater discharges contribute significantly to the total ecosystem damage of the different systems (36-88%), and the sustainability of separate systems can be further improved by optimizing the removal efficiency of low-tech elements like surface basins and filter soil. The systems are designed according to engineering standards. Choosing different criteria, e.g. identical flood safety levels, would result in substantial changes of the relative performance of the systems. The findings highlight the importance of including point source emissions into the assessment to allow comparative conclusions and minimisation of environmental damage of stormwater management.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWater Research
Pages (from-to)383-394
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Ecosystem damage
  • Environmental impacts
  • Green infrastructure
  • Resource availability
  • Stormwater discharges
  • Urban water systems


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