Stormwater management and landscape ecology plan

Stormwater management and landscape ecology plan


Approximately sixty-four percent of MIT’s 169-acre Cambridge campus is covered in impervious surfaces (roofs and pavement). Rain falling on these surfaces becomes stormwater runoff that flows into MIT’s and the City of Cambridge’s drainage systems, eventually discharging to the Charles River. Untreated stormwater carries pollutants and contributes to nutrient loading of the river, affecting ecological systems and public health. Potential changes in rainfall patterns and intensity, in combination with development in and around campus, will further affect the amount and quality of stormwater runoff, highlighting the need to plan for changing future conditions. 

Calling for a plan

In 2016, the Office of Sustainability teamed up with the Office of Campus Planning, Department of Facilities and Office of Environment, Health and Safety to develop a comprehensive campus-wide stormwater management and landscape ecology plan that will enhance the productivity of every inch of the campus’ built and ecological systems to capture, absorb, re-use and treat stormwater. The plan was called for in the recommendations developed by the Sustainability Working Groups in 2015.

Phase 1 of plan completed

MIT has completed the Phase 1 Draft Stormwater and Landscape Ecology Master Plan (2017) that provides an overview of stormwater management challenges at both a campus and city-scale context, recommends benchmarks for landscape performance and identifies potential strategies for enhancing campus management of stormwater and landscape ecology  This planning effort is also serving as a component of our campus climate vulnerability and resiliency plan. 

While the Phase 1 Draft Stormwater and Landscape Ecology Master Plan is completed and is being used to inform campus stormwater and landscape ecology planning, it is not yet available to the public. Nitsch Engineering led the technical development of the plan including Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates landscape architects, LEVEL resiliency experts and Haley & Aldrich geotechnical engineers.

Informing the MIT Campus Flood Risk Model & coordinating with partners

The Phase 1 Draft Stormwater and Landscape Ecology Master Plan has directly informed the baseline conditions of the MIT Campus Flood Risk Model, which provides flood depths for different 24 hour storm scenarios (2018 and 2070 climate change) using the dynamic hydrological modelling software ICM2D, which is the same software packaged utilized by the City of Cambridge Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment.

The MIT Campus Flood Risk Model is now undergoing additional model development to capture potential flood depths for 1-2 hour “flash flood” events (both 2018 and 2070 climate change). The flood risk analysis and model development is coordinated with the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, which is providing probabilistic estimates of events based on climate change projections.  The MIT Center for Global Change Science is also engaged in this applied research collaboration with MITOS and is evaluating a range of flood risk scenarios, including the joint probability of precipitation flooding and elevated Charles River levels due to upstream watershed precipitation events. A technical memo is available for describing the Phase 1 MIT Flood Vulnerability Study preliminary results that justified investment in the comprehensive and complex ICM2D dynamic flood risk modelling.

MIT is also coordinating with the City of Cambridge to integrate resiliency planning efforts across campus and city scales. Model integration among campus and city models is one next step that can enable future exploration of adaptation strategies across campus and city scales.

Integrating the plan into campus landscape projects

The Draft Stormwater and Landscape Ecology Plan also includes adaptation of the sustainable SITES v2 Rating System to create targeted project performance standards for MIT’s urban context that promote urban stormwater management, resilience and heat island reduction in campus new construction and major renovations. The North Corridor landscape project, completed in 2018, provides a visible demonstration of how the draft master plan’s guidance has influenced the campus landscape. This renovated corridor outside of the newly constructed MIT.Nano building includes best management practices for both stormwater and urban heat island reduction.  A description of specific outcomes from the North Corridor landscape is provided in MIT’s annual report to the City of Cambridge called the 2018 Town Gown Report (p.36-37).