Infiltration Trenches

From the Massachusetts Stormwater Handbook

Image of an infiltration trench


Infiltration trenches are shallow excavations filled with stone. They can be designed to capture sheet flow or piped inflow. The stone provides underground storage for stormwater runoff. The stored runoff gradually exfiltrates through the bottom and/or sides of the trench into the subsoil and eventually into the water table.

Ability to Meet Massachusetts Stormwater Management Standards

2 - Peak FlowFull exfiltration trench systems may be designed for peak rate attenuation
3 - RechargeProvides groundwater recharge.
4 - TSS Removal80% TSS removal credit when combined with one or more pretreatment BMPs.
5 - Higher Pollutant LoadingMay be used if 44% of TSS is removed with a pretreatment BMP prior to infiltration. For some land uses with higher potential pollutant load an oil grit separator or equivalent must be used prior to discharge to the infiltration structure. Infiltration must be done in compliance with 314 CMR 5.00.
6 - Discharges near or to Critical AreasHighly recommended with pretreatment to remove at least 44% TSS removal prior to discharge.
7 - RedevelopmentSuitable with pretreatment.


  • Provides groundwater recharge.
  • Reduces downstream flooding and protects stream bank integrity for small storms.
  • Preserves the natural water balance of the site.
  • Provides a high degree of runoff pollution control when properly designed and maintained.
  • Reduces the size and cost of downstream stormwater control facilities and/or storm drain systems by infiltrating stormwater in upland areas.
  • Suitable where space is limited.


  • High failure rates due to improper siting, inadequate pollution prevention and pretreatment, poor design, construction and maintenance.
  • Use restricted to small drainage areas.
  • Depending on runoff quality, potential risk of groundwater contamination.
  • Requires frequent maintenance.
  • Susceptible to clogging with sediment.

Pollutant Removal Efficiencies

  • Total Suspended Solids (TSS) 80% with pretreatment
  • Total Nitrogen 40% to 70%
  • Total Phosphorus 40% to 70%
  • Metals (copper, lead, zinc, cadmium) 85% to 90%
  • Pathogens (coliform, e coli) Up to 90%


Inspect units and remove debrisEvery 6 months and after every major storm
Remove sediment from pretreatment BMPsEvery 6 months and after every major storm

Special Features

High failure rate without adequate pretreatment and regular maintenance

LID Alternative

Reduce impervious areas Bioretention areas

Infiltration trenches can be designed for complete exfiltration or partial exfiltration, where a portion of the runoff volume is directed to the trench and the remainder is conveyed to other BMPs.

Full Exfiltration Trench Systems

Infiltration trenches must be sized to provide storage and exfiltration of the required water quality volume. Full exfiltration systems also provide control of peak discharges and water quality treatment for all storm events equal to or less than the design storm selected. In selecting the design storm, the minimum peak rate attenuation storm event must include the 2- and 10-year 24-hour storm events and may include the 100-year 24-hour storm event, if the runoff from that storm will increase flooding up- or downstream of the site. An emergency overflow channel is required to discharge runoff volumes in excess of the design storm. Economic and physical constraints can restrict the use of full exfiltration systems. Generally, it is not practical to provide storage for large infrequent storms, such as the 100-year storm.

Partial or Water Quality Exfiltration Trench Systems

These systems exfiltrate a portion of the runoff, while the remainder is conveyed to other BMPs.

At a minimum, they must be sized to exfiltrate the recharge volume required by Stormwater Management Standard 3. There are two methods of partial infiltration. The first relies on off-line treatment where a portion of the runoff, or the “first- flush,” is routed from the main channel to the trench by means of a weir or other diversion structure. The second method is on-line, and uses a perforated pipe at the top of the trench. This underdrain must be placed near the top of the trench. Refer to the design section below. After the trench fills to capacity, excess runoff is discharged through the perforated pipe and directed to other BMPs.


  • Infiltration trenches always require a pretreatment BMP. For sheet flow, pretreatment BMP structures that may be used include vegetated filter strips and pea stone gravel diaphragms. For piped flow, a sediment forebay should be used.
  • Infiltration trenches are feasible at sites with gentle slopes, permeable soils, and where seasonal high groundwater levels are at least two feet below the bottom of the trench. MassDEP recommends providing greater depths from the bottom of the trench to seasonal high groundwater elevation to reduce the potential for failure. Depth to bedrock will need to be evaluated to determine if use of an infiltration trench is feasible.
  • Contributing drainage areas must be relatively small and not exceed 5 acres. Infiltration trenches are suitable for parking lots, rooftop areas, local roads, highways, and small residential developments.
  • Infiltration trenches are adaptable to many sites because of their thin profile. Table IT.1 lists the recommended site criteria. Infiltration trenches can be used in upland areas of larger sites to reduce the overall amount of runoff and improve water quality while reducing the size and costs of downgradient BMPs.
  • Infiltration trenches are effective at mimicking the natural, pre-development hydrological regime at a site. Full exfiltration systems that have been carefully designed may be capable of controlling peak discharges from the 2-year and 10-year 24-hour storm.

Planning Considerations

  • MassDEP highly recommends using infiltration trenches near Critical Areas. They may be used to treat stormwater discharges from areas of higher potential pollutant loads, provided 44% of TSS is removed prior to infiltration. For some land uses with higher potential pollutant load, an oil grit separator or equivalent device may be required prior to discharge to the infiltration trench. When an oil/grit separator is used, pipe the runoff to the infiltration trench. Discharges from land uses with higher potential pollutant loads require compliance with 314 CMR 5.00.
  • Before planning infiltration trenches, carefully evaluate the subsurface of the site including soils, depth to bedrock, and depth to the water table. Make sure soils have a minimum percolation rate of 0.17 inches per hour.
  • Make the slopes of the contributing drainage area less than 5%. Infiltration trenches have extremely high failure rates, usually due to clogging, so pretreatment is essential. Infiltration trenches are not intended to remove coarse particulate pollutants, and generally are difficult to rehabilitate once clogged. Typical pretreatment BMPs for infiltration trenches include oil grit separators, deep sump catch basins, vegetated filter strips, pea stone gravel diaphragms, or sediment forebays.
  • Clogging can be an issue even when infiltrating uncontaminated rooftop runoff as well, so it is important to implement some form of pretreatment to remove sediments, leaf litter, and debris to ensure the proper functioning of the trench and allow for longer periods between maintenance.
  • Consider the impacts of infiltrating stormwater on nearby resources. Infiltration trenches need to be set back outside Zone Is and Zone As for public drinking water supplies. Finally, avoid creating groundwater mounds near Chapter 21e sites that could alter subsurface flow patterns and spread groundwater pollution.

Site Criteria for Infiltration Trenches

  • The contributing drainage area to any individual infiltration trench should be restricted to 5 acres or less.
  • The minimum depth to the seasonal high water table, bedrock, and/or impermeable layer should be 2 ft. from the bottom of the trench.
  • The minimum acceptable soil infiltration rate is 0.17 inches per hour. Infiltration trenches must be sized in accordance with the procedures set forth in Volume 3.
  • A minimum of 2 soil borings should be taken for each infiltration trench. Infiltration trenches over 100 ft. in length should include at least one additional boring location for each 50 ft. increment. Borings should be taken at the actual location of the proposed infiltration trench so that any localized soil conditions are detected.
  • Infiltration trenches should not be used at sites where soils have 30% or greater clay content, or 40% or greater silt clay content. Infiltration trenches will not function adequately in areas with hydrologic soils in group D and infiltration will be limited for hydrologic soils in group C.
  • Infiltration trenches should not be placed over fill materials.
  • The following setback requirements apply to infiltration trench installations:
  • Distance from any slope greater than 5% to any surface exposed trench: minimum of 100 ft.
  • Distance from any slope greater than 20% to any underground trench: minimum of 100 ft.
  • Distance from septic system soil absorption system: minimum of 50 ft.
  • Distance from any private well: minimum of 100 feet, additional setback distance may be required depending on hydrogeological conditions.
  • Distance from any public groundwater drinking water supplies: Zone I radius, additional setback distance may be required depending on hydrogeological conditions.
  • Distance from any surface water supply and its tributaries: Zone A
  • Distance from any surface water of the Commonwealth (other than surface drinking water supplies and their tributaries): minimum of 150 ft downslope and 100 ft upslope.
  • Distance from any building foundations including slab foundations without basements: minimum of 20 ft.


See the following for complete design references:

Maryland Stormwater Design Manual, Volumes I and II. October 2000. Maryland Department of Environment. Baltimore, MD.
  • The volume and surface area of an infiltration trench relate to the quantity of runoff entering the trench from the contributing area, the void space, and the infiltration rate. Because the infiltration trench is filled with stone, only the space between the stone is available for runoff storage. Effective designs call for infiltration trenches to be filled with 1.5-inch to 3.0-inch diameter clean washed stone. Conduct a geotechnical study to determine the final soil infiltration rate below the trench. For sizing purposes, assume a void ratio of 0.4.
  • Take a minimum of two borings or observation pits for each infiltration trench. For trenches over 100 feet long, include at least one additional boring or pit for each 50-foot increment. Take borings or dig observation pits at the actual location of the proposed infiltration trench to determine localized soil conditions.
  • Base the design of the infiltration trench on the soil evaluation set forth in Volume 3. The minimum acceptable rate is 0.17 inches per hour. Never use the results of a Title 5 percolation test to estimate an infiltration rate, as these tend to greatly overestimate the rate that water will infiltrate into the subsurface.
  • Place the maximum depth of the trench at least two feet above the seasonal high water table or bedrock, and below the frost line.
  • Include vegetated buffers (20-foot minimum) around surface trenches. Place permeable filter fabric 6 to 12 inches below the surface of the trench, along the sides, and at the bottom of the trench. Use filter fabric, especially at the surface to prevent clogging; if failure does occur, it can be alleviated without reconstructing the infiltration trench. Another option is to place twelve inches of sand at the bottom of the trench.
  • Install an observation well at the center of the trench to monitor how quickly runoff is clearing the system. Use a well-anchored, vertical perforated PVC pipe with a lockable above-ground cap.
  • The visible surface of the trench may either be stone or grassed. Stone is easier to rake out when clogged. If it is vegetated with grasses, use fabric above the stone to keep the soil that serves as the planting medium from clogging the stone. When trenches are designed to accept sheet flow, take into account the grass surface when determining how much of the runoff will exfiltrate into the trench.
  • A perforated pipe underdrain is sometimes used as part of the design. The purpose of the underdrain is to facilitate exfiltration into the parent soil. Except for underdrains placed between different trench cells, MassDEP does not allow underdrains placed near the bottom of the trench. Placement of an underdrain near the bottom of the trench reduces the amount of treatment and exfiltration, because more water is conveyed through the underdrain to the outlet point when it rains than exfiltrates into the surrounding soils.


  • Table IT.2 presents the minimum construction criteria for infiltration trenches. Take precautions before and during construction to minimize the risk of premature failure of the infiltration trench. First, prevent heavy equipment from operating at the locations where infiltration trenches are planned. Heavy equipment will compact soil and adversely affect the performance of the trench. Isolate the areas where the trenches will be located by roping them off and flagging them.
  • Construct infiltration trenches only after the site has been stabilized. Never use trenches as temporary sediment traps during construction. Use diversion berms or staked and lined hay bales around the perimeter of the trenches during their construction. Excavate and build the trench manually or with light earth-moving equipment. Deposit all excavated material downgradient of the trench to prevent re- deposition during runoff events.
  • Line the sides and bottom of the trench with permeable geotextile fabric. Twelve inches of sand (clean, fine aggregate) may be substituted or used in addition on the bottom. Place one to three inches of clean, washed stone in the lined trench and lightly compact the stone with plate compactors, to within approximately one foot of the surface. Place fabric filter over the top, with at least a 12-inch overlap on both sides. An underground trench may be filled with topsoil and planted. A surface trench may be filled with additional aggregate stone.
  • Divert drainage away from the infiltration trench until the contributing drainage area is fully stabilized, including full establishment of any vegetation.

Construction Criteria for Infiltration Trenches

1. Infiltration trenches should never serve as temporary sediment traps for construction.

2. Before the development site is graded, the area of the infiltration trench should be roped off and flagged to prevent heavy equipment from compacting the underlying soils.

3. Infiltration trenches should not be constructed until the entire contributing drainage area has been stabilized. Diversion berms should be placed around the perimeter or the infiltration trench during all phases of construction. Sediment and erosion controls should be used to keep runoff and sediment away from the trench area.

4. During and after excavation, all excavated materials should be placed downstream, away from the infiltration trench, to prevent redeposition of these materials during runoff events. These materials should be properly handled and disposed of during and after construction.

Light earth-moving equipment should be used to excavate the infiltration trench. Use of heavy equipment causes compaction of the soils in the trench floor, resulting in reduced infiltration capacity.


  • Because infiltration trenches are prone to failure due to clogging, it is imperative that they be aggressively maintained on a regular schedule. Using pretreatment BMPs will significantly reduce the maintenance requirements for the trench itself.
  • Removing accumulated sediment from a deep sump catch basin or a vegetated filter strip is considerably less difficult and less costly than rehabilitating a trench. Eventually, the infiltration trench will have to be rehabilitated, but regular maintenance will prolong its operational life and delay the day when rehabilitation is needed. With appropriate design and aggressive maintenance, rehabilitation can be delayed for a decade or more. Perform preventive maintenance at least twice a year.
  • Inspect and clean pretreatment BMPs every six months and after every major storm event (2 year return frequency). Check inlet and outlet pipes to determine if they are clogged. Remove accumulated sediment, trash, debris, leaves and grass clippings from mowing. Remove tree seedlings, before they become firmly established.
  • Inspect the infiltration trench after the first several rainfall events, after all major storms, and on regularly scheduled dates every six months. If the top of the trench is grassed, it must be mowed on a seasonal basis. Grass height must be maintained to be no more than four inches. Routinely remove grass clippings leaves and accumulated sediment from the surface of the trench.
  • Inspect the trench 24 hours or several days after a rain event, to look for ponded water. If there is ponded water at the surface of the trench, it is likely that the trench surface is clogged. To address surface clogging, remove and replace the topsoil or first layer of stone aggregate and the filter fabric. If water is ponded inside the trench, it may indicate that the bottom of the trench has failed. To rehabilitate a failed trench, all accumulated sediment must be stripped from the bottom, the bottom of the trench must be scarified and tilled to induce infiltration, and all of the stone aggregate and filter fabric or media must be removed and replaced.


California Stormwater Quality Association, 2003, California Stormwater BMP Handbook 1 of 7, New Development and Redevelopment, Infiltration Trench, Practice TC-10,

Center for Watershed Protection, Stormwater Management Fact Sheet, Infiltration Trench,

Center for Watershed Protection, Stormwater Design Example, Infiltration Trench,

Duchene, M., McBean, E.A., Thomson, N.R., 1994, Modeling of Infiltration from Trenches for Storm-Water Control, Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, Vol. 120, No. 3, pp. 276-293

Dewberry Companies, 2002, Land Development Handbook, McGraw Hill, New York, pp. 521, 523.

Georgia Stormwater Management Manual, Section 3.2.5, Infiltration Trench, Pp. 3.2-75 to 3.2-88,

Guo, James C.Y., 2001, Design of Infiltration Basins for Stormwater, in Mays, Larry W. (ed.), 2001, Stormwater Collection Systems Design Handbook, McGraw-Hill, New York, pp. 9.1 to 9.35

Livingston, E.H. 2000. Lessons Learned about Successfully Using Infiltration Practices. Pp 81-96 in National Conference on Tools for Urban Water Resource Management and Protection Proceedings of Conference held February 7-10, 2000 in Chicago, IL. EPA/625/R-00/001

Metropolitan Council, 2001, Minnesota Urban Small Sites BMP Manual, Infiltration Trenches, Pp. 3-169 to 3-180

U.S. EPA, 1999, Stormwater Technology Fact Sheet, Infiltration Trench, EPA 832-F-99-019,