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Assessing Flooding and Hydrodynamics for Community Revitalization

Cicero & Berwyn, Illinois

Featured image for the project, Assessing Flooding and Hydrodynamics for Community Revitalization


The cities of Cicero and Berwyn sit just to the west of Chicago in Cook County, Illinois along the Chicago Ship & Sanitary canal. Cicero is an environmental justice community of color overburdened by industries and urban flooding. Both cities have a higher population density than the city of Chicago, with large Latino communities. As cost of living continues to soar and gaps in income inequality persist, multiple families increasingly find themselves occupying single-family homes. During heavy rainfall events, combined sewer systems become overwhelmed and stormwater ends up backing into homes. The very flat slopes of Cook County do not allow for adequate drainage and stagnant stormwater ends up destroying first floors and basements. This causes major disruptions to families, often living in cramped quarters with other families.

A February 2018 rainstorm caused stormwater and sewage backups creating major damages to first floors and basements in sections of Cicero and Berwyn. Residents point to outdated infrastructure and lack of traction with local government to address and fix the ongoing flooding issues.

Ixchel is a grassroots organization that brings together and empowers Cicero and Berwyn residents to address and dismantle structural racism to ensure access to equitable education and environmental justice. In the past, Ixchel has fought to shed light and create change on environmental concerns affecting its communities. This includes an odor management plan which aims to mitigate hydrogen sulfide and ammonia odors generated by the nearby Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRDGC) Stickney Plant. Most recently, Ixchel commissioned an independent analysis from Virginia Teach examining lead in its drinking water. Despite the availability of numerous Cook County-wide flood studies, Ixchel does not have a good understanding of the causes of the localized flooding and how to combat it.

Ixchel would like to obtain a better understanding of the causes of flooding in their Cicero and Berwyn communities. The organization would like to work with a dedicated hydrologist to investigate the urban flooding, synthesize any available reports and develop next steps or proposed solutions. Ixchel will use their enhanced understanding to have productive interactions with community members and decision-makers.

This project has been conceived and designed in partnership with community leaders at Ixchel and with our national partner, Flood Forum USA.

Project Team

Community Lead

Delia Barajas is the Founding Director of Ixchel and the community lead on the project. Delia has spent a lifetime as a volunteer addressing racial equity issues related to education, immigration, disabilities, environment, school to prison pipeline, housing and health. Currently, as the
Founding Director of Ixchel she is addressing racial equity in education and environmental justice issues. Ixchel has partnered with Virginia Tech to analyze the lead in Cicero and Berwyn’s drinking water. Ixchel is working with Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRDGC) to create the first odor mitigation plan at the Stickney Plant.


Scientific Partner

Dr. Joseph Schulenberg is Clinical Assistant Professor in the Civil and Materials Engineering Department at University of Illinois-Chicago and serves as the science liaison on the project. Dr. Schulenberg has has worked in geotechnical and environmental consulting as well as with the federal government for the last 19 years. Additionally, has taught at the University of Illinois since 2009. His project work has included site assessment and design for contaminated sites, seepage and geotechnical assessments for a confined disposal facility, levee and flood wall analyses, and assessments of dams and levees for potential failure modes. Dr. Schulenberg teaches classes in foundation design, water resources engineering, fluid mechanics and senior design integrating professional experience in the classroom.

Collaborating Organization(s)

This project is part of one of TEXs’ new cohorts. TEX has partnered with Flood Forum USA which supports grassroots flood groups across the country by helping them develop strategies for a sustainable future. TEX is working with twelve of their grassroots groups to connect them with scientists who can help them better characterize neighborhood-level flood risks and work effectively with local decision makers to mitigate those risks.