From Stormwater to Rainwater: A Reorientation for LEED



Recognition that ‘rainwater’ is a resource and ‘stormwater’ is a management problem

In November 2010, the US Green Building Council launched the 1st Public Comment Period for the next version of the LEED Rating System. The 1st Public Comment Period was open through January 19th and generated over 5,000 comments from LEED stakeholders.

The LEED Rating System 2nd Public Comment Period is expected to begin in July 2011. At the end of this process, a final draft will go before USGBC’s membership for a vote.


From Stormwater to Rainwater

The LEED criteria cover many different areas. LEED 2012 increases the number of credit categories from seven to ten.

“The most obvious change for stormwater professionals in LEED 2012 is that the credits for Stormwater Management in previous versions – Janice kaspersen - editor, stormwater magazineseparate credits for stormwater quality and quantity – have been combined into a single Rainwater Management credit within the Sustainable Sites category,” writes Janice Kaspersen, Editor of Stormwater Magazine, in the January-February 2011 issue.

“In its summary of the changes, an Environmental Building News article notes “Describing the object of this credit as ‘rainwater’ – a resource – instead of ‘stormwater’ – a management problem—is a subtle but important reorientation.”

“Perhaps a less obvious but more fundamental change for stormwater management is the continued expansion of LEED from focusing mainly on a building or a site to its place in the larger community,” adds Kaspersen.


View from British Columbia

Kim stephens - 2009 (120p)“Choice of words is important; hence, changing the technical language is part of the process of advancing green infrastructure practices. We are weaning drainage practitioners away from a single-objective stormwater management way of thinking and designing…. to a way of doing business that is holistic, namely RAINwater management,” states Kim Stephens, Executive Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.


Legacy of Don Moore

“In 2004,  a question posed by the late Don Moore led us to look at the word stormwater differently in British Columbia. I remember it as though it was only yesterday when Don looked at me quizzically and asked: Why do we say stormwater management; shouldn’t it be RAINwater management? Don Moore was a commonsense practitioner; he was not captive to terminology.”

Don moore (120p) - 2008“Long story short, part of Don’s legacy is being the catalyst for a language-shift in British Columbia…. because that fresh perspective by Don resulted in a light-bulb moment for me and others. In March 2005, for example, Don was the driving force in organizing the Let it Rain Conference, hosted by the Institute of Urban Ecology at Douglas College. Paul Cipywynk of the Stream of Dreams Society summarized the day nicely in his blog when he wrote:

  • ‘Oh, one neat idea that popped up was no longer talking about ‘stormwater management’ but shifting to ‘rainwater management.’ Presenter Don Moore said that MS Word always flagged ‘stormwater’ as incorrect, while ‘rainwater’ was OK, and that led him to think about changing all uses of ‘stormwater’ to ‘rainwater.’ It is rain after all, not just storms, and ‘stormwater’ has developed negative connotations, such as flooding. So from now on, no more ‘stormwater management’, its ‘rainwater management’.”

“Use of the word ‘stormwater’ is dated because it is associated with a ‘pipe-and-convey’ engineering philosophy; and reflects a single function view of the rainwater resource. Furthermore, stormwater is created by human activities. All in all, the ‘stormwater’ way of thinking is the antithesis of RAINwater management – which is holistic, landscape-based, seeks to capture rain where it falls, and is guided by a ‘design with nature’ philosophy,” concludes Kim Stephens.


To Learn More:

To read the complete story, click on A Reorientation for LEED to download a copy of the Editor’s Comments by Janice Kaspersen.

To read a related story, click on Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) recommends changes to LEED-ND Stormwater Credit to protect watershed health The Rainwater-in-Context intiative urges modification because lot-level standards alone deliver lower overall performance than holistically-planned shared systems at the community or watershed scale.

To read about the paradigm-shift to rainwater management, click on “The way we see the world is shaped by our vocabulary,” observes Metro Vancouver’s Robert Hicks — Other languages like French and German often use more exact terms than English for ‘stormwater’ and ‘wastewater’, and this changes how relationships and worth are perceived.



Before STORMWATER, The Journal for Surface Water Quality Professionals, there was no single publication written specifically for  the professional involved with surface water quality issues, protection, projects, and programs.


Posted January 2011