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Low Impact Development


The Central Coast Water Board defines Low Impact Development (LID) as:

minimizing or eliminating pollutants in storm water through natural processes and maintaining pre-development hydrologic characteristics, such as flow patterns, surface retention, and recharge rates. 

Why LID is required

Traditional development and redevelopment techniques typically cause or threaten to cause pollution problems.  The volume and velocity of storm water discharged from impervious surfaces also cause increased bank erosion and downstream sedimentation, scouring, and channel widening, which significantly impact aquatic ecosystems and degrade water quality. 

How LID reduces negative impacts on water quality

LID practices reduce urban impacts to receiving waters.  This is achieved by:

  • Designing sites (starting with the site layout, and the grading and compaction phases of construction) that:
    • disturb only the smallest area necessary;
    • minimize soil compaction and imperviousness;
    • preserve natural drainages, vegetation, and buffer zones.
  •  Utilizing on-site, lot-sized storm water infiltration techniques that minimize pollutant transport and maximize on-site pollutant treatment. 

Retrofit projects that replace impervious surfaces with pervious ones, utilize landscaped areas for infiltration, and capture rain water for future use are effective at returning an existing developed site to a more natural state. 

How LID is currently required

The Central Coast Water Board requires municipalities, via the Municipal General Storm Water Permit, to minimize negative impacts on aquatic ecosystems and degradation of water quality to the maximum extent practicable. Permittees must implement Best Management Practices (BMPs) that reduce pollutants in storm water runoff to the technology-based standard of Maximum Extent Practicable (MEP) to protect water quality.”  (Effluent Limitations, General Permit Fact Sheet, pg. 6.)

Permittees must incorporate LID methodology into new and redevelopment ordinances and design standards unless permittees can demonstrate that conventional BMPs are equally effective, or that conventional BMPs would result in a substantial cost savings while still adequately protecting water quality and reducing discharge volume.   In order to justify using conventional BMPs based on cost, permittees must show that the cost of low impact development would be prohibitive because the “cost would exceed any benefit to be derived.” (State Water Resources Control Board Order No. WQ 2000-11.)  Conventional site layouts, construction methods, and storm water conveyance systems with “end of pipe” basins and treatment systems that do not address the changes in volume and rates of storm water runoff and urban pollutants (including thermal pollution) do not meet MEP standards. 

Resources Training

LID techniques have been employed by various municipalities nationwide, and worldwide, and have been shown to be effective and feasible methods of preventing urban development impacts to receiving waters.  In many cases the cost of low impact development is lower than traditional development, both in terms of construction costs and maintenance costs.  Because LID techniques are effective, feasible and economically practicable, they meet the MEP definition. 

Below are some useful LID resources:


A 4-page flyer published by a group of State agencies that describes LID, the benefits and challenges and economic issues (no permission needed for reproduction):

A 4-page flyer published by a group of State agencies that describes the impacts of urbanization on water quality and quantity (no permission needed for reproduction):

Informational resources:

Basic Introduction to LID:

LID Literature Review by the USEPA:

An LID Design manual which contains a description of LID, how to apply LID at all levels of project planning, LID schematics, design standards, pros and cons and maintenance techniques.


A rain garden is a shallow depression, planted with native plants, designed to slow, capture, and infiltrate rain. Rain gardens can be small, formal, home-owner style gardens, large complex bioretention gardens, or anywhere in between.

Rain Garden designs:

Rain Gardens of West Michigan

10,000 Rain Gardens web site

Rain Garden economics:

LID Projects

Florence Street LID Retrofit - This project converts a standard street-gutter-sidewalk into an LID bioswale-lined street. The project will improve bike and pedestrian safety, current parking constraints, and stormwater runoff and water quality. The project is located in Templeton, CA.

Workshop Materials:

Materials from the Central Coast Water Board’s Low Impact Development Workshop (November 18, 2005)

Municipal LID projects and documents

Salinas LID

San Luis Obispo County LID

The following is a list of some of the LID trainings occurring through out the state. Follow the links below for more information:

UC Davis Extension
There are several LID workshops between now and the end of February from San Diego to Mendocino - For more information  for more  information about these workshops please visit the Center for Water  and Land Use website.

In addition there will be a series of LID workshops that the CWLU is  co-sponsoring with the California Coastal Commission and others in  April. Their will be at least 4, perhaps 5, workshops in this series 
and will occur all along the California coast in a five day time  frame. Details will be posted on the CWLU website as soon as they  become available.

California StormwaterQuality Association (CASQA) 2008 Conference

September 2008