Challenges in urban stormwater management in Chinese cities: A hydrologic perspective

Moyuan Yang, Yan Fang Sang, Bellie Sivakumar, Faith Ka Shun Chan, Xingyao Pan

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


For managing the worsening urban water disasters in China, the Government of China proposed the concept of “Sponge City” in 2013 and initiated the strategy in 30 pilot cities from 2015. Despite the promise of the concept, there have been many challenges in implementing the “Sponge City” program (SCP). In this manuscript, we discuss the hydrology-related challenges in implementing the SCP. In particular, we consider two key challenges: (1) Determination of the “Volume Capture Ratio of Annual Rainfall” (VCRAR), as controlling urban stormwater runoff is one of the core targets of the SCP; and (2) Estimation of a proper rainfall threshold, which influences the layout of green-infrastructures in the SCP to achieve the core VCRAR target. To discuss these challenges, we consider the city of Beijing, the capital of China, as a case study. Our analysis shows that the trade-offs between the investment for the SCP and its potential economic benefits should be considered by undertaking a proper determination of VCRAR. The VCRAR estimated for Beijing from the present analysis is 0.73. This value is more reasonable than the empirical value of 0.80 that is presently used, as it can guarantee the positive rate of return on the investment. We also find that the nonstationary characteristics of rainfall data and their spatiotemporal differences are important for the estimation of the rainfall threshold in SCP. For instance, even using the daily rainfall data over a period of 30 years (1983–2012) in Beijing, as required by the National Assessment Standard, the estimated rainfall threshold of 27.3 mm underestimates the reasonable rainfall threshold that should at least be larger than 30.0 mm. Thus, the former cannot ensure the VCRAR target of 0.80. Based on these results, we offer proper approaches and key suggestions towards useful guidelines for delivering better SCP in the Chinese cities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number125314
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Low impact development
  • Nonstationary rainfall
  • Sponge city
  • Urban stormwater management
  • Volume capture ratio of annual rainfall

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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