Evaluating Urban Stormwater Drainage to Create Flood-Resilient Neighborhoods

Hartford, Connecticut

Featured image for the project, Evaluating Urban Stormwater Drainage to Create Flood-Resilient Neighborhoods

Photo: billandkent Flickr account


The neighborhoods on the north side of Hartford, Connecticut sit just to the west of Interstate 91 and the Connecticut River. Neighborhoods in this area include Clay-Arsenal, Upper Albany, and the North End. Following World War II, these neighborhoods experienced a series of disruptions that led to their downturn. Between the construction of I-84 through the neighborhoods and the loss of manufacturing, much of the area was transformed to accommodate low-income housing. During the riots that followed Martin Luther King Junior’s assassination on April 4, 1968, a fire broke out that leveled the entire commercial strip on the north side of Hartford. Since the late 1960s, North Hartford has faced economic distress, crime, and blighted properties. Social and environmental injustices are rampant throughout these communities, deeply affecting its predominately African American and Latino residents.

Residents in North Hartford neighborhoods are continually facing flooding and sewer back up in their basements. During heavy rains, water floods roads, driveways, lawns and at times can reach a depth of 4 feet in some people’s basements. With the flood waters come a variety of health concerns related to mold outbreaks, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and pathogens. Many people experience asthma as a result of the chronic flood conditions. Check valve/overflow valves have been installed on some homes throughout North Hartford, but residents complain that support from the metropolitan water district has dried up, leaving them without this protection. Majority of residents do not have flood insurance. Additionally, residents are concerned about what impacts a major hurricane could have on their neighborhoods if storm surge were to make its way up the Connecticut River.

The Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice (CCEJ) serves to educate, inform, and empower all citizens of Connecticut affected by environmental injustices. CCEJ would like to better understand the causes of flooding in North Hartford neighborhoods. 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. CCEJ will use their enhanced understanding to have productive interactions with community members and decision-makers both locally and state-wide.

The goal of this Thriving Earth Exchange project is to bring scientific evidence and understanding to the questions and priorities of local residents, so that residents can use that science to make decisions and take actions.

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


Notes from the Field: April 2019

These project updates come straight from the communities and scientists we work with. Send your Thriving Earth liaison a quick update + photo and we’ll highlight your project in our next newsletter!

Mitchell Roffer met with Thriving Earth Project Manager Sarah Wilkins during a recent trip to speak with legislators

From Melbourne, Fla.: Science liaison Mitchell Roffer recently made a trip to Capitol Hill to discuss ways to improve the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). He writes: I visited Senator Rubio’s office and spoke with Wes Brooks (Legislative Assistant) on a few inter-related subjects including water quality, environmental monitoring and the NFIP. Brooks indicated that Senator Rubio is co-sponsoring a bill (S.1368) to improve the NFIP. I also visited Senator Scott’s office and spoke with Kyle Hill (Legislative Correspondent for the economy and environment), as well as Representative Posey along with his staffers George Cecala (Communications Director and Deputy Chief of Staff) and Valentina Valenta (Legislative Director). Rep. Posey said he would support bills that would improve the NFIP. Overall, I think my time was well spent. I presented a two-page summary to all in person and via email in my thank you letters after my meetings.

From Montego Bay, Jamaica: Here we are introducing our premium organic fertilizer at the recent Hague Agricultural Show. Made from the anaerobic digestion of food waste and cow manure,

The Montego Bay project team introduces their organic fertilizer at an agricultural show

our fertilizer is as an environmentally friendly alternative to synthetic fertilizer that will significantly improve soil fertility and help to build climate resilience in farming in Jamaica. A group of students from Troy High School visited our biodigester plant last week to learn about biogas technology and the natural process of recycling food waste into biogas and fertilizer.  Managers from Sandals Royal and Sandals Montego Bay visited our site recently to inspect our fertilizer drying beds. We are glad for their support, and we are so pleased for the past 2+ years to be recycling and diverting food waste from eight hotels in Montego Bay from landfills.

The community gathers to hear about the process for an Environmental Impact Assessment on March 9, 2019. Image Courtesy AGHAM and AKAP KA-Manila Bay.

From Bulacan Province, Philippines: Around 700 families in the artisanal fishing community of Taliptip in Bulacan, Philippines, are in danger of displacement and livelihood loss as a 2,500-hectare aerotropolis is set to be built as part of the Philippine government’s infrastructure development program, “Build, Build, Build”. Taliptip is part of the long coast of Manila Bay, an economically important and biodiversity-critical natural harbor in the Philippines’ capital region.
Difficulties in acquiring information about the proposed aerotropolis, which would reclaim vast waterfronts, prompted the community to ask AGHAM, an organization of volunteer scientists, to assess the livelihood and cultural loss and geohazards which they may face once the aerotropolis is built.

In the initial visits of the team, volunteer geologists, community workers, and archaeologists from AGHAM and local community organizers AKAP-KA Manila Bay determined the scientific assessment needs of the community of Taliptip. One highlight of the relationship formed between the scientists and the fisherfolk residents is the participatory scientific investigation we call “Counter-EIA”. The EIA or Environmental Impact Assessment is a process which requires project proponents to thoroughly assess all beneficial and adverse impacts of a project on the concerned area. The counter-EIA, therefore, is an EIA where fisherfolk themselves become active agents in the scientific investigation and the production of knowledge through their communal and historical experiences, together with the scientists’ expertise.
Capacitating the fisherfolk of Taliptip will include training them on field methods like handling GPS devices, and interpreting hazard maps and mapping ecological resources. Ultimately, with the of AGU Thriving Earth Exchange and local scientists, we hope to equip the fisherfolk with the scientific knowledge they need so they could maximize their participation in democratic processes and help them engage in negotiations with the project proponents for their rights to livelihood and rights of residence.

Ericka Naklicki examines a soil boring in Graniteville, Staten Island. Image: Courtesy Sarah Lipuma

From Staten Island, NY: On March 23, Ericka Naklicki, Professional Wetland Scientist, conducted a preliminary wetland assessment with Gabriella Velardi Ward and Sarah Lipuma in Graniteville, Staten Island. The preliminary investigation included a walkthrough of the site to assess habitat and to collect some soil borings to obtain a general idea of soil conditions. They also observed signs of hydrology and identified dominant tree species. Ericka intends to return to the site in May or June to survey herbaceous plants and examine the soils during drier conditions. The preliminary investigation has been written into a report and will be shared with community leaders, Gabriella and Sarah, soon.

All updates for this project

Project Team

Community Lead

Sharon Lewis is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice. In addition to working in Hartford on environmental justice issues, Sharon also engages with communities in Bridgeport and New Haven as well as the national group, Climate Justice Alliance. Sharon commits to engaging with the scientific partner by providing local knowledge and strategic direction over the duration of the project.

Science Liaisons

Dr. Soni M. Pradhanang is an assistant professor at the University of Rhode Island, Department of Geosciences. She has Ph.D. in  Watershed Hydrology and Water Quality Modeling from State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, NY and Masters of Environmental Sciences from Yale University, School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences, New Haven, CT. She is also a coordinates URI’s Minor Program in Global Water Resources. Her research focuses on developing hydrologic and water quality models to evaluate effectiveness of management practices through the combination of monitoring and modeling.  She conducts research on the development of decision support systems for management of water resources from the field to the watershed and regional scale

Dr. Pradhanang’s lab group is also involved in developing hydrodynamic models to evaluate reliability, predictability and vulnerabilities of the water infrastructure including reservoirs, dams and spillways in maintaining safe and clean water to the communities.  She currently serves as a member of the New York City Watershed Program Review Committee led by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.


Dr. Shimon Anisfeld is Senior Lecturer and Research Scientist at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.  He has two primary areas of interest:  coastal ecosystems and water management.  The former is reflected in his field research, which focuses on the impact of sea-level rise and other stressors on salt marshes; he is particularly interested in how sea-level rise and coastal storms drive the migration of marshes into adjoining uplands, such as woodlands or lawns, and how managers can facilitate and plan for future marsh migration.  Anisfeld’s interest in water management is expressed in his teaching and writing, including his book Water Resources (Island Press, 2010), which he is currently revising for a planned second edition.  Besides his water management courses, Anisfeld also teaches courses in coastal ecology and environmental chemistry, as well as an introductory course in physical sciences for environmental managers.  Anisfeld received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from MIT in 1993.


Collaborating Organization(s)

This project is part of one of Thriving Earth Exchange’s cohorts. Thriving Earth Exchange has partnered with Flood Forum USA which supports grassroots flood groups across the country by helping them develop strategies for a sustainable future. Thriving Earth is working with twenty 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.