Revolutionizing Urban Resilience with Up-to-Date Stormwater Management Data

Written by: Gary Conley, Chief Scientist


Stormwater management plays a pivotal role in preserving the health and sustainability of our urban environments. As climate change impacts intensify, the need for effective stormwater management has never been more critical. At the heart of successful stormwater management lies the need to use the best available data to inform decisions. This post explores why updating data to reflect current conditions is critical for stormwater managers and how it contributes to developing resilient and efficient stormwater management strategies.

Accurate Assessment of Risks

One of the primary benefits of regularly updating stormwater management data is the ability to accurately assess and understand the risks associated with changing weather patterns and aging infrastructure. Having the latest data on the condition of their stormwater network enables stormwater managers to identify vulnerable areas and potential flooding hotspots. This knowledge is indispensable for developing targeted mitigation strategies to protect communities’ health and safety.

Integrating Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data on stormwater infrastructure with data on day to day operations of a stormwater program can provide critical system insights. Current inspections and maintenance data can alert stormwater managers to potential stormwater conveyance and treatment network failure points. For example, knowing the locations of inlets and catch basins that tend to clog can prompt the dispatch of maintenance crews to those areas before storms occur. Likewise, having data that can characterize the likelihood of infrastructure failure based on age or field inspections can inform the need for pre-emptive actions to shore up weak points.

Adaptation to Climate Change

Stormwater managers must adapt their strategies to address changing climate conditions effectively. As climate change delivers more intense rainstorms to cities, these changes affect choices about which stormwater management practices will be effective. Updated climate data incorporating projected changes allows them to stay ahead of shifting rainfall patterns. This facilitates the development of adaptive stormwater management plans and mitigation strategies. It also provides vital inputs for designing resilient stormwater conveyance and treatment infrastructure to cope with future rainfall conditions.

Distributed infiltration-based practices have been shown to attenuate peak flows downstream and restore hydrologic functioning to urbanized drainages. This helps alleviate pressure on the storm drain network and reduces the transport of pollutants into waterways. Stormwater treatment designs should reflect the rainfall patterns expected in the future, not just those experienced in the past.

Additional adaptive benefits, such as CO2 uptake, habitat creation, urban cooling, and social well-being associated with green stormwater practices, can also be incorporated into stormwater planning. For example, Washington D.C. used GIS data on areas that lack access to green space as a factor in their stormwater planning process. This has allowed them to bring green spaces to neighborhoods that relied entirely upon aging ‘gray’ stormwater infrastructure. A data-driven approach allows Washington, D.C., to adapt to climate change impacts while promoting the health and resiliency of underserved neighborhoods.

Optimizing Infrastructure Investments

Investing in stormwater infrastructure is a substantial commitment for municipalities. Since city landscapes are ever-changing, the data used to make decisions must reflect those changes. Updated geographic data enables stormwater managers to make informed decisions about infrastructure investments, ensuring that resources are allocated where they are most needed and will have the most significant impact. The consequences of stormwater infrastructure failures are not equal everywhere in a city. Instead, impacts are more significant at some locations than others. A pipe failure during an intense rainstorm in a city center can damage storefronts and cause major traffic disruptions. A similar incident in a less densely populated area of a city may have a lower level of impact.

The City of Salinas in California provides an excellent example of using these types of data in practice. Salinas brought together data to quantify the consequences of infrastructure failure with recent maintenance activities into a single data system (the 2NFORM Stormwater GIS Platform) to help prioritize investment. Using these data, they avoid episodic flooding due to clogging of catch basins and have identified the most critical storm drain pipes for repair or replacement. Regularly updating their system with field inspection data allows Salinas to make the most of limited resources to optimize their level of stormwater service delivery.

Enhanced Modeling and Simulation

Stormwater managers often use the outputs of simulation models to predict and understand stormwater’s behavior under various scenarios. Such predictions inform watershed-scale planning, siting, and design of stormwater treatment features and regional coordination. For example, in partnership with 2NDNATURE, the Pacific Institute quantified the stormwater runoff capture potential in urbanized areas across the United States. The resulting estimates can be quickly updated over time to reflect the growth of cities and shifting rainfall patterns.

The accuracy of stormwater modeling strongly depends on the quality and recency of the data they use as inputs. New development that adds impervious coverage or green stormwater infrastructure projects that reduce runoff changes the hydrology of urban landscapes. Modern stormwater simulation tools, such as those developed by 2NDNATURE, allow the quantification of stormwater impacts, opportunities, and improvements over time within the context of projected climate changes and evolving urban landscapes. Regular updates to the data in such tools ensure that models reflect current conditions, leading to more accurate predictions and improved decision-making.

Efficient Regulatory Compliance Reporting

A readily updatable stormwater data system makes regulatory compliance more efficient. By continuously keeping a data system current on maintenance activities, post-construction requirements, and illicit discharge events, cities can ensure that they meet local water quality requirements. It also avoids repetitive tasks associated with collation, synthesis, and reporting of the same types of data each year. Having ready access to the most current data makes submitting regulatory reports much quicker, easier, and more accurate.

The City of Chattanooga stormwater program illustrates successful stormwater data system integration to support regulatory reporting. With the adoption of seven interconnected cloud-based stormwater data management modules, they now have a single data source to draw from. This system organizes reporting data associated with construction projects, post-construction requirements, industrial and commercial inspections, illicit discharge detection and elimination, municipal maintenance, structural BMP diagnostics, and public education and outreach. The related data management modules reflect updates to locations, attributes, or actions associated with each of these reporting elements.

How to get data-driven and future-ready

Transforming your stormwater program to rely on the latest and greatest data is a marathon, not a sprint. Every program starts at a different level of data preparedness. Like preparing for a marathon, your starting point matters much less than deciding to start training. At 2NDNATURE, we’ve helped many programs find their way to the finish line. Here are a few tips that we’ve learned along the way that can help get started:

  • Dive into your stormwater data. You may have data gaps that create barriers to progress. For example, structural BMPs cannot be mapped without first identifying their precise locations. Similarly, when maintenance activity tracking data are siloed off from stormwater program data, their utility for prioritizing stormwater actions is limited.
  • Evaluate your current technical capacity. There are bound to be more efficient and accurate ways to capture, store, and analyze your data. An honest assessment of current capabilities and where they fall short regarding data accessibility and providing insights is a good start. Identify which types of decisions can be improved with better data and go from there.
  • Learn from others. While every stormwater program is different, many lessons are transferable from one city to another. Attending conferences, workshops, and webinars on the use of technology in stormwater programs is a good place to learn from those further along on the data-driven journey.
  • Start simply. An information overhaul can be daunting. The most important thing is to recognize the current need and the path forward. Start by identifying a type of data that would improve a specific decision or task. Is the problem that the data are not captured? Or is there a technical barrier preventing access or interpretation?

Imagine having the right data at your fingertips to inform critical stormwater decisions at all times. As recognition grows that data-driven decisions are a crucial ingredient for building resilient, future-ready stormwater programs, cities nationwide are moving towards rapidly updatable stormwater GIS data systems.


Stormwater managers must leverage the best data available to develop resilient and adaptive strategies. This requires systems that allow data to be readily updated as climate, geography, and stormwater infrastructure change. The ability to accurately assess risks, adapt to changing climate conditions, optimize infrastructure investments, enhance modeling capabilities, and ensure regulatory compliance are all crucial aspects that rely on current and timely access to stormwater data. Stormwater managers can contribute significantly to creating sustainable, resilient urban environments by embracing data-driven decision-making. Initial steps can be small, and there are substantial resources to draw from to map out the path forward. Reach out to the 2NDNATURE team to learn more about how to get started.

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