Restoring the natural water cycle in cities: My research

As I mentioned in my About Me page, I am a doctoral student at Iowa State University. I study urban hydrology and geographical information systems, also known as GIS. In this post, I go into a bit more detail about what I actually study, and how I conduct my research. I will go into more detail on many of the topics I talk about here later in expanded topic posts, but for now, here’s a little about my research!


In short, I study the effects of urbanization on the environment, specifically on the natural hydrologic cycle. Now, that’s a very big topic. (Literally, the hydrologic cycle is global. Ha!) Narrowing that huge topic down, I specifically study stormwater in urban residential areas and the things that homeowners (or renters!) can do to help restore a more natural, and sustainable hydrologic cycle.

Water is everywhere. In the atmosphere and the ground, in plants and soil, as surface water (streams and lakes) and groundwater. And it’s all connected. Or at least, it’s supposed to be.

Along comes urbanization and that natural water connection gets disrupted, in large part due to impervious surfaces. An impervious surface is any surface that does not allow rain water to soak into the soil.

Impervious surfaces are everywhere in cities.

Impervious surfaces disconnect the water cycle.

This disconnection causes a lot of problems, from increasing the frequency and severity of flood events, to increasing water pollution, to decreasing groundwater recharge. I’ll have posts later that go into more details about each of these problems, but the short of it is that as humans build cities and transform the native landscape into concrete and asphalt, building and roofs, and compacted turf grass, many natural water connections get disrupted and problems ensue (for humans and for the environment).

My research focuses on small-scale stormwater best management practices, or BMPs, that homeowners can use on their own properties. Things like installing a rain garden or rain barrel. Doing a soil quality restoration on your lawn or using less (or no!) fertilizer. These practices help to trap non-point source pollutants (things like lawn fertilizer, pet wastes, brake dust and oil from our cars, etc.), and capture and infiltrate stormwater at the location is falls. This prevents downstream flooding and water pollution.

Check out more about BMPs at Rainscaping Iowa! 

And just because stormwater flows downstream, doesn’t mean it isn’t everyone’s problem. Everyone is downstream from someone else. And remember, your drinking water comes from someone else’s ‘downstream’! We all live on this planet together, and we all have a responsibility to protect our shared resources.

There are many small, and easy things that we all can do to reduce the amount of impervious surfaces on our properties, and in our cities. And every little change can have an impact on the environment, reducing flooding, restoring groundwater, and improving water quality (that’s another part of my research, monitoring and modeling the cumulative effects of these practices! But more on that later!).

“Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life” ∼John Updike

rainy rain raindrops window

Photo by Markus Spiske on


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