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Surface runoff (also known as overland flow) is the flow of water occurring on the ground surface when excess rainwater, stormwater, meltwater, or other sources, can no longer sufficiently rapidly infiltrate in the soil. This can occur when the soil is saturated by water to its full capacity, and that the rain arrives more quickly than the soil can absorb it. Surface runoff often occurs because impervious areas (such as roofs and pavement) do not allow water to soak into the ground. Surface runoff is a major component of the water cycle. It is the primary agent of soil erosion by water.[1][2] The land area producing runoff that drains to a common point is called a drainage basin.

Runoff that occurs on the ground surface before reaching a channel can be a nonpoint source of pollution, as it can carry man-made contaminants or natural forms of pollution (such as rotting leaves). Man-made contaminants in runoff include petroleum, pesticides, fertilizers and others.[3]

In addition to causing water erosion and pollution, surface runoff in urban areas is a primary cause of urban flooding, which can result in property damage, damp and mold in basements, and street flooding.

Erosion controls have appeared since medieval times when farmers realized the importance of contour farming to protect soil resources. Beginning in the 1950s these agricultural methods became increasingly more sophisticated. In the 1960s some state and local governm

Erosion controls have appeared since medieval times when farmers realized the importance of contour farming to protect soil resources. Beginning in the 1950s these agricultural methods became increasingly more sophisticated. In the 1960s some state and local governments began to focus their efforts on mitigation of construction runoff by requiring builders to implement erosion and sediment controls (ESCs). This included such techniques as: use of straw bales and barriers to slow runoff on slopes, installation of silt fences, programming construction for months that have less rainfall and minimizing extent and duration of exposed graded areas. Montgomery County, Maryland implemented the first local government sediment control program in 1965, and this was followed by a statewide program in Maryland in 1970.[15]

Flood control programs as early as the first half of the twentieth century became quantitative in predicting peak flows of riverine systems. Progressively strategies have been developed to minimize peak flows and also to reduce channel velocities. Some of the techniques commonly applied are: provision of holding ponds (also called Flood control programs as early as the first half of the twentieth century became quantitative in predicting peak flows of riverine systems. Progressively strategies have been developed to minimize peak flows and also to reduce channel velocities. Some of the techniques commonly applied are: provision of holding ponds (also called detention basins or balancing lakes) to buffer riverine peak flows, use of energy dissipators in channels to reduce stream velocity and land use controls to minimize runoff.[16]

Chemical use and handling. Following enactment of the U.S. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in 1976, and later the Water Quality Act of 1987, states and cities have become more vigilant in controlling the containment and storage of toxic chemicals, thus preventing releases and leakage. Methods commonly applied are: requirements for double containment of underground storage tanks, registration of hazardous materials usage, reduction in numbers of allowed pesticides and more stringent regulation of fertilizers and herbicides in landscape maintenance. In many industrial cases, pretreatment of wastes is required, to minimize escape of pollutants into sanitary or stormwater sewers.

The U.S. Clean Water Act (CWA) requires that local governments in urbanized areas (as defined by the Census Bureau) obtain stormwater discharge permits for their drainage systems.[17][18] Essentially this means that the locality must operate a stormwater management program for all surface runoff that enters the municipal separate storm sewer system ("MS4"). EPA and state regulations and related publications outline six basic components that each local program must contain:

Other property owners which operate storm drain systems similar to municipalities, such as state highway systems, universities, military bases and prisons, are also subject to the MS4 permit requirements.

Measurement and mathematical modeling

Runoff is analyzed by using mathematical models in combination with various water quality sampling methods. Measurements can be made using continuous automated water quality analysis instruments targeted on pollutants such as specific mathematical models in combination with various water quality sampling methods. Measurements can be made using continuous automated water quality analysis instruments targeted on pollutants such as specific organic or inorganic chemicals, pH, turbidity etc. or targeted on secondary indicators such as dissolved oxygen. Measurements can also be made in batch form by extracting a single water sample and conducting any number of chemical or physical tests on that sample.

In the 1950s or earlier hydrology transport models appeared to calculate quantities of runoff, primarily for flood forecasting. Beginning in the early 1970s computer models were developed to analyze the transport of runoff carrying water pollutants, which considered hydrology transport models appeared to calculate quantities of runoff, primarily for flood forecasting. Beginning in the early 1970s computer models were developed to analyze the transport of runoff carrying water pollutants, which considered dissolution rates of various chemicals, infiltration into soils and ultimate pollutant load delivered to receiving waters. One of the earliest models addressing chemical dissolution in runoff and resulting transport was developed in the early 1970s under contract to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).[19] This computer model formed the basis of much of the mitigation study that led to strategies for land use and chemical handling controls.

Increasingly, stormwater practitioners have recognized the need for Monte Carlo models to simulate stormwater processes because of natural variations in multiple variables that affect the quality and quantity of runofff. The benefit of the Monte Carlo analysis is not to decrease uncertainty in the input statistics, but to represent the different combinations of the variables that determine potential risks of water-quality excursions. One example of this type of stormwater model is the stochastic empirical loading and dilution model (SELDM)[20][21] is a stormwater quality model. SELDM is designed to transform complex scientific data into meaningful information about the risk of adverse effects of runoff on receiving waters, the potential need for mitigation measures, and the potential effectiveness of such management measures for reducing these risks. SELDM provides a method for rapid assessment of information that is otherwise difficult or impossible to obtain because it models the interactions among hydrologic variables (with different probability distributions) that result in a population of values that represent likely long-term outcomes from runoff processes and the potential effects of different mitigation measures. SELDM also provides the means for rapidly doing sensitivity analyses to determine the potential effects of different input assumptions on the risks for water-quality excursions.

Other computer models have been developed (such as the DSSAM Model) that allow surface runoff to be tracked through a river course as reactive water pollutants. In this case the surface runoff may be considered to be a line source of water pollution to the receiving waters.