Rainscaping Large-Scale Properties

Do you own a commercial property, multi-family housing units, or a public facility? Consider how you can reduce your impact on our watersheds!

Large-scale properties in an urban setting are some of the largest contributors to stormwater runoff. Acres of impervious surfaces like parking lots, building roofs, and vast, seldom-used turf areas all can be incorporated into new project plans or retrofitted on existing properties to better manage stormwater. These strategic applications designed to manage stormwater runoff are called Green Stormwater Infrastructure Best Management Practices (BMPs).

Whether you install one practice or multiple BMPs, you are making positive steps to improve the health of your watershed and of watersheds downstream.

Current aerial view of 1963 Bell Ave. in Des Moines and a concept drawing of all proposed improvements

The possibilities are numerous when deciding how to manage stormwater on your large property:

Consider rarely-used areas of turf that could be converted into native prairie

Plant more trees in open areas and around buildings

Incorporate native plants or rain gardens/bioretention cells into landscaping and redirect downspouts from your roof to these areas

Replace low-traffic paved areas like parking stalls with permeable pavers

Connect building downspouts to rain barrels or cisterns to re-use stormwater for watering landscaping

Go big- Install a stormwater wetland and create a new amenity for users of the property!

Key Considerations

Image: Planting plan proposal for an existing property to replace turf with native species.

Planning Process

Whether incorporating stormwater BMPs into a new development or retrofitting into an existing property, it is recommended to contact a design professional early in the planning process to ensure that your proposed plans are designed appropriately for your site’s soil conditions and the amount of precipitation your site sees throughout the year. Depending upon the size, complexity, and nature of the site, there will be at least several different disciplines involved, including landscape architect/designer, building(s) architect, civil engineer, ecologist/horticultural professional, soils expert, and contractor.


What are your end goals for your property? Are you trying to remedy past issues like standing water or drainage issues? Are you working to meet a city stormwater ordinance? Or are you simply looking for ways to beautify your property while also managing water quality? Having clear goals in mind will help you and your design team prioritize which stormwater BMPs will be the most effective. Break down the project into manageable parts that can be sequenced to prioritize the most urgent needs that have accessible resources or budgets to begin, while budgets (and potential partners/funding sources) are secured for other parts.


Each site has unique topography, rainfall soaking capabilities, and surface types. Stormwater BMPs are designed to meet these unique needs, but there is not a “one size fits all” practice. Many times, it is recommended to consider more than one solution to a problem that can work together in a “treatment train.” Property boundaries, easement location and purpose, adjacent uses and structures, topography, existing vegetation, soils, drainage/hydrology, solar exposure, and prevailing winds are all elements that need to be considered.


How do you expect users of your facility to interact with the stormwater BMPs? Many of these practices incorporate native plants, which can add aesthetic value and also provide opportunities to include picnic areas, walking paths, overlooks, fishing areas, and other features that go beyond treating stormwater.


Like all parts of your property, stormwater BMPs require regular maintenance in order to maintain their functionality and prevent them from becoming a nuisance to visitors and neighbors. Make sure that the BMPs you choose have a maintenance plan completed before installation, and ensure that a designated staff member or contractor is regularly inspecting them for any repairs. Failure to have a maintenance plan in place will ultimately cause the BMPs to cease function and create extra costs on your end to repair them.

Outreach and Education Opportunities

Are there opportunities to bring awareness of how your stormwater BMPs function to users of your facility? Installing interpretive signage in gathering areas or along walking paths is a simple and effective way to show the public that you are doing your part in making our watersheds healthier. Depending on the size of your facility, you may be able to host events or tours to bring even more awareness.

Image: Potential stormwater retro-fitting of an existing property with several BMPs.

Looking for more information? Click below to read a full master plan for future stormwater projects at a facility in Des Moines.



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