View Samples
View Samples

Best Practices for Stormwater & Impervious Surface Mapping

Experts from Raftelis & Ecopia explain why geospatial data is foundational to climate resilience, stormwater management, & impervious surface mapping.

Land cover map in Seattle
Seattle, Washington

Ecopia AI (Ecopia) recently hosted a webinar series featuring geospatial thought leaders from both the public and private sectors, where we were fortunate to be joined by members of the Raftelis stormwater management consulting practice during the session “Geospatial Data & AI for Natural Hazard Mitigation and Stormwater Management.” In this virtual panel hosted by former Minnesota State GIO and NSGIC President Dan Ross, Ecopia and Raftelis explore why high quality geospatial data is the foundation of climate resilience, as well as how the public and private sector are working together to scale climate initiatives related to stormwater and impervious surface mapping.

ICYMI - or if you want to rewatch the session - we’ve included the recording in this blog post. But first, we’ll break down some of the key points covered by the panelists and highlight best practices for stormwater management and impervious surface mapping projects across the federal, state, and local levels.

The urgent need for scalable climate resilience strategies

The panel discussion opens with an overview of the current climate situation by Brandon Palin, Senior Director of Public Sector and International Development at Ecopia. Drawing on experience working with government organizations of varying size, Brandon emphasizes how climate change is impacting communities worldwide, creating an urgent need for data-driven solutions to increasing economic and social challenges.

Climate disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity
Climate events are increasing in frequency and intensity, with potentially devastating social and economic impacts.

Brandon explains how urban sprawl, population growth, and land development are among the causes of this rapid climate change and its implications. These phenomena lead to increases in impervious surfaces (increasing flood vulnerability), urban heat islands, and higher frequency and intensity wildfires. 

The public sector is increasingly implementing funding programs, such as stormwater utility fees, to generate resources for more resilient climate infrastructure. However, many government organizations experience challenges finding the resources or data to keep these programs up-to-date with a rapidly changing world. To better predict, prevent, and mitigate the economic and social impacts of climate events on communities, government organizations require a comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date source of truth as the foundation of their decision-making - but that is hard to come by with traditional data creation methods.

Foundational geospatial data for stormwater management & impervious surface mapping

The session then explores why data creation is particularly challenging for public sector organizations seeking an authoritative source of climate information. Traditionally, GIS teams leverage geospatial imagery of their area of interest (AOI) to understand its land cover and climate risks. However, deriving actionable data from imagery requires resource-intensive manual digitization of features. This poses two challenges. First, many organizations cannot devote the time necessary to manually digitize all of the map features needed for analysis. Second, keeping that data up-to-date requires constant manual digitization and resource allocation. 

AI vector feature extraction for GIS mapping
AI is enabling the public sector to minimize challenges in data collection while maximizing the positive economic and social impact.

Brandon then goes on to explain how advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) have been enabling the public sector to extract the land cover features they need for stormwater management and impervious surface mapping at scale. Ecopia’s AI-based mapping systems ingest geospatial imagery from multiple sources and eliminate the need for manual digitization, instead providing up-to-date land cover data with the level of efficiency expected of a GIS professional.

To demonstrate how actual public sector organizations are currently leveraging AI for climate resilience initiatives, Brandon highlights how the City of Detroit works with Ecopia to monitor land use change and inform their stormwater utility fee (SUF) program. Prior to working with Ecopia, Detroit was using ~2 year old data to understand impervious surfaces in their AOI and assign SUFs. While this was better than many public sector organizations who rely on data that is 5-10 years old, The City of Detroit knew their data and SUF program were not properly reflecting real-world change. By working with Ecopia’s AI-based mapping systems, Detroit was able to detect an annual change in about 2% of its 100 square mile AOI, directly translating to $5.6M in SUF discrepancies that are now used to fund climate resilience strategies.

Impervious surface map of Detroit, Michigan for stormwater management
A sample of impervious surface mapping data provided to the City of Detroit by Ecopia AI

AI-based mapping not only helps uncover hidden revenue and funding opportunities for stormwater management and other climate initiatives, but also saves capital up front as it is less expensive than manual digitization. Brandon points out that the City of Jacksonville determined Ecopia’s AI-powered mapping cost 84% less than alternatives for generating up-to-date land cover data.

Implementing a stormwater strategy with geospatial data

The next part of the panel discussion further explains how the private sector is partnering with government organizations on climate resilience projects. Katie Cromwell and Jeff Duke from Raftelis’ stormwater management consulting practice provide an overview of how they work with public sector clients to not only implement innovative geospatial solutions, but also to source and leverage funding for climate-related projects.

Having implemented 60+ stormwater utility programs and consulted on dozens of fee restructuring projects across North America, the Raftelis team understands the importance of reliable geospatial data. Katie then breaks down the various steps involved in determining SUFs, including how land cover and impervious surface data helps ensure equity in fee structures. 

Raftelis is experienced in stormwater utility fee implementation projects
There is a lot involved in implementing stormwater utilities, but the Raftelis team are experts in identifying the right funding and geospatial data for public sector organizations.

Both Jeff and Katie emphasize that for geospatial data to be useful in stormwater project implementation and maintenance, it needs to be three things: scalable, understandable, and flexible. When it comes to climate resilience initiatives, land cover data is foundational to all other datasets involved. AI-based technology is critical to ensuring this key criteria, as it enables GIS teams to efficiently and accurately extract land cover data at scale, providing an up-to-date source of information for SUF and similar projects.

Developing a digital twin with geospatial data

As the webinar wraps up, the panelists agree that both public sector organizations and the private companies that work with them would benefit from a digital twin of their AOI. While many government teams are leveraging geospatial insights in some way, the future of climate resilience solutions lies in governments having a unified source of geospatial data across departments. Brandon, Katie, and Jeff all stress the importance of this data as the foundation of a digital twin, and the potential it has to make communities proactive and resilient as more stormwater events occur and the amount of impervious surfaces increases.

Perhaps most importantly, Katie points out that the public sector has a unique opportunity right now to secure federal funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law for climate-related projects. The team at Raftelis specializes in helping government organizations find funding for their projects, and Ecopia has created a cheat sheet of current funding opportunities to help get you started.

This session is filled with great perspective and thought leadership related to stormwater management, impervious surface mapping, and other climate resilience initiatives requiring geospatial data. Check out the full panel discussion below:

Feeling inspired by the panelists? Reach out to Ecopia’s public sector team to see how AI-based mapping can build the foundation of a digital twin for your community.

Learn more about Ecopia's climate resilience solutions

Ready to get started?

If you're ready to leverage groundbreaking advancements in artificial intelligence, let's chat.

Let's talk