Infiltrative rain gardens can add retention capacity to sewersheds, yet factors contributing to their capacity for detention and redistribution of stormwater runoff are dynamic and often unverified. Over a four-year period, we tracked whole-system water fluxes in a two-tier rain garden network and assessed near-surface hydrology and soil development across construction and operational phases. The monitoring data provided a quantitative basis for determining effectiveness of this stormwater control measure. Based on 233 monitored warm-season rainfall events, nearly half of total inflow volume was detained, with 90 percent of all events producing no flow to the combined sewer. For the events that did result in flow to the combined sewer system, the rain garden delayed flows for an average of 5.5 h. Multivariate analysis of hydrologic fluxes indicated that total event rainfall depth was a predominant hydrologic driver for network outflow during both phases, with average event intensity and daily evapotranspiration as additional, independent factors in regulating retention in the operational phase. Despite sediment loads that can clog the rooting zone, and overall lower-than-design infiltration rates, tradeoffs among soil profile development and hydrology apparently maintained relatively high overall retention effectiveness. Overall, our study identified factors relevant to regulation of retention capacity of a rain garden network. These factors may be generalizable, and guide improvement of new or existing rain garden designs.
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