Assessing how to prioritize stormwater infrastructure projects under a changing climate

Takoma Park, Maryland

Featured image for the project, Assessing how to prioritize stormwater infrastructure projects under a changing climate

Photo courtesy of City of Takoma Park, Maryland


The City of Takoma Park, Maryland is a small, built out community bordering Washington, D.C.  With almost 18,000 residents and 2.4 square miles, the City was founded in 1883 as a commuter community.

The City has had a stormwater utility fee in place since the late 1980s and have used the funds to focus on treatment goals and permits.  The community is experiencing harder and heavier rains in recent years and are aware that their stormwater infrastructure may not have sufficient capacity to handle more intense precipitation events.  The Public Works Director is working with her team to better understand the capacity of their stormwater infrastructure system now and into the future. Given that climate change is altering the frequency and intensity of storm events, the community is most interested to learn where the weak spots exist in their current stormwater infrastructure and where they should prioritize updates/modernization efforts to direct the stormwater utility fee funds.


The Project

The project will entail a GIS, climate change, and hydrology modeling analysis to assess areas that are undersized and need to be updated in the stormwater infrastructure system. While some of these weak spots are known anecdotally, a systematic approach to prioritizing infrastructure improvements is needed. The City has digitized GIS data and maps available that can be coupled with information from climate and precipitation models to see its capacity to handle projected heavier rainfall events. Ideally multiple scenarios that consider topography will be run with a range of climate change/precipitation predictions. Areas within the stormwater infrastructure that are undersized would be categorized by low, medium and high priority (i.e. are they in areas that would cause property damage or traffic disruption).

The project outputs will include a final report and GIS analysis about the stormwater infrastructure weaknesses under different climate change scenarios.  The report will be presented to the City Council and made publicly available.

The impact of this project on the community will be the development of a systematic approach that allows them to effectively use their stormwater utility fee budget to be proactive in adapting to future climate change and precipitation impacts.

“The community would like help understanding and systematically assessing their stormwater infrastructure’s capacity for handling projected climate change impacts so that they can prioritize infrastructure improvement projects which will enable the community to be more resilient to future changes and minimize property damage.”



The project is expected to take about a year and would start as soon as feasible for the scientific partner.  The budget process for the City starts in January of each year and is finalized in May for a July start.  Assessment results about where stormwater infrastructure priorities should be located may inform budgetary decisions for the stormwater utility fee.  An ideal time to submit the final report to the City Council would be early next year.

Milestones include:

  • Agree on project scope and scenarios to run
  • Acquire necessary data
  • Develop/calibrate model (GIS, HydroCAD)
  • Conduct model runs under several precipitation scenarios
  • Finalize assessment and prepare final report
  • Present final report to City Council
  • Share report publicly

About the Community

Daryl Braithwaite, City of Takoma Park Public Works Director, will be the City of Takoma Park lead on the project, providing access to data and oversight of the project, as well as facilitate dissemination of the final report to City Council and the public.

Ali Kahlilian, City of Takoma Park City Engineer, will assist with providing necessary data and collaborating with scientists to provide relevant information for the assessment.

Scientist Wanted

The ideal scientific partner will have the tools and relevant skills necessary to conduct a GIS and hydrological modeling assessment of stormwater infrastructure under various climate change precipitation scenarios.  GIS data of the City’s stormwater infrastructure and other related datasets will be provided.  The scientific partner will use the City’s digital data to develop a hydrological model that can be run with different precipitation inputs.  The partner will help identify areas in the system that are high priority due to being undersized and at risk of causing property damage from flooding.  The partner will provide the modeling analysis results in a final report and help prepare and deliver a presentation to City Council on the findings.  The community partners will assist the scientific partner in acquiring necessary data inputs as well as determining a framework for prioritizing stormwater infrastructure updates.  Note that the project is open to considering graduate student participation.

Desired skills and qualifications:

  • Experience applying systems thinking and developing frameworks
  • Experience with GIS and HydroCAD stormwater modeling
  • Knowledge of climate science and climate change projections
  • Strong listening and collaboration skills
  • Experience and/or desire to participate in community education, outreach and engagement
  • Willingness to connect science to local concerns
  • Public speaking skills


Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact that they can contribute to as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.


Interested in volunteering? Apply now!

Collaborating Organization(s)