Stormwater Management

Our research focuses on adaptation of stormwater infrastructure in highway systems, aka culverts. Culverts include a variety of infrastructure, ranging from bridges to small PVC or corrugated metal pipes used to convey water.  Culverts are typically built to the size of a specific storm, the “design storm”.  When a culvert’s design storm is exceeded the road can over top, water can back up with minimal damage, the substrate around the crossing or the culvert itself can be damaged, or the crossing can be completely destroyed. 

Climate change will likely change the frequency and intensity of storms and heavy precipitation events, which will require adaptation of new and current culvert design and replacement strategies. Adaptation for culverts is complicated by the diversity in structures, the number of crossings installed each year, and the diversity in agencies that are responsible for culverts.  Culverts are a ubiquitous element of road infrastructure both in the US and beyond. According to the Federal Highway Administration more than 770,000 meters of pipe are used on federally funded projects with budgets over $1 million, with the majority of it used for culverts.

We designed a testbed of representative culverts Colorado state roads, for which the Colorado Department of Transportation specifies standards for culvert or crossing designs to simulate both impacts and adaptation of culvert systems.  The “Culvert Model” simulates routine culvert replacement, replacement due to extreme event damage, as well as replacement in anticipation of future climate change.

Detailed technical results of this research are available in a manuscript in press, and a working paper:

McCurdy, A. D. and W. R. Travis (in press) Simulated climate adaptation in stormwater systems: Evaluating the efficiency of adaptation pathways. Environment Systems and Decisions.

McCurdy, A. D. and W. R. Travis (2016). Simulated climate adaptation in stormwater systems II: Evaluating the efficiency of within-system flexibility. Western Water Assessment and Department of Geography, University of Colorado Boulder.

The R code for the Culvert Model is also available for users to download and test:

The Culverts Model and Testbed: R code scripts and test-bed data for simulating culvert failure and replacement in a changing climate, data for a test-bed of Colorado culverts. Developed by A. McCurdy and W. Travis.

For further information on the Culverts Model, and adapting to extremes, contact: