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Green City Clean Waters

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Green Tools: Six Ways They Can Make a Climate Changed-Future a Little Less Scary

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a cool new infographic out showing how the green stormwater infrastructure we use in Green City, Clean Waters helps to reduce the impact of climate change by making Philadelphia a more resilient city.

The EPA graphic focuses on urban areas and paints a grim picture of the future awaiting cities as the effects of climate change intensify in the coming decades. Considering the already staggering cost of flooding events stemming from super-storms like Hurricane Sandy, the projection of a 30 percent increase in annual flood costs is especially troubling. 

But there's good news, too: we already have the some of the tools we need to help fight the negative impacts highlighted. And, thanks to Green City, Clean Waters—a plan that the EPA approved back in 2011—Philadelphia is ahead of the curve when it comes to using green as a tool for making our neighborhoods safer, more livable places. 

We like to point out how our green approach makes our city a better place right now, but it's also about looking out for future generations. That's why Philadelphia Water is taking climate change seriously and designed Green City, Clean Waters to be flexible and adaptive in the face of environmental challenges that range from more intense storms to longer and more intense droughts.  

Check out the EPA infographic here:

GSI for Climate Resiliency: An EPA Infographic
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

When you look at numbers like those from the Burnsville study—a 93 percent reduction in damaging stormwater runoff—it's easy to see how having more rain gardens and other green tools will be a real asset in a future where we see more and more instense rain events. It's just part of larger long-term plans Philadelphia Water and the city have for addressing climate change, but Green City, Clean Waters will play a role in addressing those challenges over the next few decades. 

Want to keep up on Green City, Clean Waters news and events and learn more about sustainability initiatives at Philadelphia Water? Click here and sign up for our monthly newsletter now! 

Coming to a ‘Hood Near You: Get Schooled on Green Tools

A sign at the Big Green Block in East Kensignton explains how some of the local green tools work. Credit: Brian Rademaekers, Philadelphia Water
A sign at the Big Green Block in East Kensignton explains how some of the local green tools work. Credit: Brian Rademaekers, Philadelphia Water
Philly is about to soak up some serious green IQ.
Patches of green all over the city – we’re talking 36 locations in 18 neighborhoods – will soon be home to vibrant, colorful signs distilling the concepts behind Philadelphia Water’s green tools with attention-grabbing diagrams and simple descriptions. The signs, the first in the U.S. to explain a city’s green infrastructure system, give the inside scoop on seven types of green infrastructure we commonly use and will be in places ranging from high profile spots like the Philadelphia Zoo to stormwater tree trenches that seamlessly blend into city blocks.
These colorful new neighborhood features tell the curious some important things about Green City, Clean Waters, America’s biggest green stormwater initiative:
Why We Need Green Tools. Our sewer and stormwater system struggles to handle wastewater and rain during heavy storms, when we can have too much of both. An overwhelmed system can put polluted water into our rivers and streams. Green tools provide a smart, cost-effective solution to this problem.
How Green Tools Work. Green tools combat pollution by using plants, soil and stone to filter out bad stuff (up to 80 percent of pollutants!) and keep too much stormwater from overwhelming the sewer system. Just like they do in nature, these living landscapes capture excess water and use it to sustain plants before slowly filtering it into the ground.
What Am I Seeing? Terms like “bumpout,” “tree trench” and “porous pavement” aren’t exactly part of our everyday language (yet!) and many of the tools we use have important features hidden from view. These signs explain the type of green tool in front of you and use diagrams to visually cut below the earth. Now, you get a peek at the important things you normally can’t see below the surface.
You Can Help, Too. Each sign has important info and tips for those who care about our water, with suggestions about car care, planting street trees, and what types of products are better choices for the environment.
Learning More Is Easy. Signs have basic web addresses as well as special “QR Codes” using smartphone tech to let people snap a picture and access videos with in-depth explanations of the specific green tool in front of them.
The signs will be going up at the following locations in June, with more to follow next month: 
800 Block of Percy Street, Bella Vista
27th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Logan Square
Trenton Avenue and Norris Street, East Kensington
Julian Abele Park, 22nd St. at Montrose, SW Center City
Nebinger School, 601 Carpenter St., Bella Vista
Greenfield School, 2200 Chestnut St., Rittenhouse
Herron Playground, 250 Reed St., Pennsport
Queen Lane, between Fox Street and Henry Avenue, East Falls 
Shepard Rec Center, 5700 Haverford Ave., Haddington
Philadelphia Zoo, 3400 W. Girard Ave., East Parkside
Bodine High School, 1101 N. 4th St., Northern Liberties
Longstreth William School, 5700 Willows Ave., Kingsessing
6000-6134 Lancaster Ave., Overbrook
Daroff Samuel School, 5630 Vine St., Haddington
Venice Island, Lock and Main streets, Manayunk
If you’re out in the neighborhood or spending some time downtown, keep an eye out for these new signs. They’re hard to miss, and we guarantee you’ll walk away with a few extra points added to your green IQ!
Want a sneak peek? Check out photos from Northern Liberties and The Big Green Block here
Green City, Clean Waters Signage

Want to keep up on Green City, Clean Waters news and events and learn more about sustainability at Philadelphia Water? Click here and sign up for our monthly newsletter now!   

Hey, Mr. Vice President: Why Not Have Both?

The Value of Water's Radhika Fox and Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug speak during Infrastructure Week. Credit: Brian Rademaekers
The Value of Water's Radhika Fox and Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug speak during Infrastructure Week. Credit: Brian Rademaekers 

The Value of Water Coalition just sent out a recap of highlights from Infrastructure Week (May 11-15), and they led off with a summary of comments made by Vice President Joe Biden:  

Vice President Biden kicked off Infrastructure Week with a fiery speech about how our infrastructure needs to be modernized. Biden highlighted the lack of visibility for water infrastructure: "No one sees it. You get a chance to invest in the stormwater drainage system, which causes enormous pollution, or you build a new park... it's not a hard choice for a politician to make." Biden also stated "We need to modernize our water infrastructure. Sewage, stormwater runoff, safe water supplies."

It's truly great to see the importance of water infrastructure getting talked about in such high places, and we owe the VP for the shout out. But we couldn't help but think that the "either/or" "pipes vs. parks" scenario he laid out - either you use public funds to improve water infrastructure or you build a new park - might be a bit too black and white.

The real beauty of our Green City, Clean Waters program and the green infrastructure it makes use of is that we get to add new green spaces to neighborhoods in the form of rain gardens, bumpouts, tree trenches and more, all while bulking up our water infrastructure and protecting our rivers. With Green City, Clean Waters, neighborhoods are expanding their green space, and Philadelphia is drastically reducing the toll stormwater runoff takes on our streams and rivers.

So, what do you say, Joe? Why not have that cake and eat it, too. After all, that's what the "triple bottom line" of Green City, Clean Waters is all about: It’s good for our city, good for our wallets, and good for our water. 

DC Reminds Us: The 'Why' Behind Green City, Clean Waters

The Philadelphia skyline frames a stormwater-fighting green roof on the Free Library of Philadelphia. Our city is leading the way on green infrastructure. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
The Philadelphia skyline frames a stormwater-fighting green roof on the Free Library of Philadelphia. Our city is leading the way on green infrastructure. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

We couldn't help but notice all the buzz down in Washington this week as they made the case for green to residents and unveiled revised stormwater plans relying heavily on green infrastructure. We congratulate DC Water on a big step in the right the right direction! Their debut also reminded us of our Green City, Clean Waters rollout way back in 2011, and got us thinking about the "why" behind green infrastructure.

So, why Green City, Clean Waters?

After almost five years of putting green infrastructure into neighborhoods, the answer to that question is clearer than ever. In a nod to the DC Water plan, here are four reasons Green City, Clean Waters is better than just sticking with the old way of doing water infrastructure:

Now. Our green infrastructure is already providing water quality benefits. Green City, Clean Waters improvements allow Philadelphia to enjoy better water quality and environmental and social benefits right now. 

Better. In place since 2011, Green City, Clean Waters is creating environmental, social, and economic benefits that our neighborhoods would otherwise miss out on. Green infrastructure projects are increasing property values, beautifying neighborhoods, fighting extreme summer heat, creating natural habitats, enhancing public space and schools and even making neighborhoods safer.

Fairer. While other cities scramble for funds and end up saddling ratepayers with the burden of financing massive and outdated gray infrastructure projects, our 25-year Green City, Clean Waters plan is a cost-saving program that lets Philadelphia Water minimize rate increases and keep water affordable for all.   

Jobs. Green City, Clean Waters is fueling a green jobs economy in Philadelphia, creating high-value new jobs for residents and attracting smart workers and firms to our city. An ambitious and forward-thinking green infrastructure plan needs an ambitious and forward-thinking workforce to succeed, and we’re making that happen here right now.

Tonight: Tapping Our Watershed at National Mechanics

A Green City, Clean Waters rain garden along Stenton Avenue. Credit: Philadelphia Water
A Green City, Clean Waters rain garden along Stenton Avenue. Credit: Philadelphia Water

It’d be a stretch to call Christopher Crockett the grandfather of source water protection in Philadelphia (that title goes to whoever had the bright idea to create Fairmount Park). However, he is the founder of Philadelphia Water’s Source Water Protection Program, a fact that makes him an especially interesting guest speaker for tonight’s Tapping Our Watershed event at National Mechanics in Old City.

Crockett, Philadelphia Water’s deputy commissioner of planning and environmental services, will present "Green Cities, Clean Waters: What’s Been Achieved and What’s to Come in the Future." It’s a great chance for those interested in our 25-year plan to make our rivers and streams healthy through green infrastructure to take stock of what we’ve accomplished as we approach the program’s fifth anniversary in 2016.

Hosted by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Tapping our Watershed is “a monthly science café in Philadelphia that brings lovers of water science together for conversations with top experts in the field,” according the ANS website. 


Formerly known as the Delaware River Watershed Initiative Seminar Series, these talks are sophisticated enough for the experienced scientist but formatted for the casual guest who is interested in tapping into watershed issues on a deeper level. You can expect to hear engaging talks ranging from water policy and management to indicator species and pollutants, with a stimulating Q&A to follow each presentation.

We’ll look at the Green Stormwater Infrastructure that can be found in our streets, schools, recreation centers, parks, public spaces, and at private establishments thanks to Green City, Clean Waters. The presentation will also consider the social, environmental, and financial impacts of the plan and how it relates to things like property value, crime, physical and mental health, and the heat island effect we all dread come August.

Tapping our Watershed takes place every third Monday at National Mechanics, 22 South 3rd Street, at 6 p.m. Because the event is held at a place that serves alcohol, the talks are intended for individuals 21 or older, but those under 21 can come with a chaperone who is at least 25. Tapping our Watershed is sponsored by the William Penn Foundation.

Please join us and learn more about Green City, Clean Waters! 

Commissioner Neukrug Touts Leadership at 'Value of Water' Forum

The panel at Value of Water Coalition's WHYY forum.
The panel at Value of Water Coalition's WHYY forum. Photo Credit: Brian Rademaekers

The tragic Amtrak crash that claimed eight lives and left hundreds injured in Port Richmond last week was an inescapable topic for panelists speaking at the May 14 Value of Water Coalition forum at WHYY's studios. Organized as a National Infrastructure Week event, What’s the Value of Water? The Pennsylvania Story featured five speakers, including Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug.

Like others at the forum, Neukrug noted how the "terrible" Amtrak tragedy sparked an intense and emotional debate about the importance of infrastructure investments.

"It’s fascinating to watch this discussion that’s happening with infrastructure now," Neukrug told the audience, noting the tone in Washington D.C. became "very partisan, very quickly."  But, Neukrug said, there are valuable observations to be made regarding how people think about infrastructure funding. 

“If you really want to create change in the city, or to create change in infrastructure in America, there are only two ways to do it … one is crisis, and the other one is leadership. What’s fascinating is that, if you watch this, crisis ain’t working,” said Neukrug. “Crisis happens. You can look at California today and realize that they’re just about out of water. And, yes, there are some policy shifts, and they are trying to figure out how to conserve water at the tap … but no big innovative change has come out of it. So, that takes the two ways of creating change and kind of shoves crisis to the side and leaves us with leadership.”

Pointing to the tagline in the new Philadelphia Water logo – “Est. 1801” – Neukrug detailed the city’s long history as a leader in innovative water management, starting with the creation of Fairmount Park as a means of protecting drinking water sources and the development of the Fairmount Water Works to deliver that drinking water.

As for more recent examples of leadership, Neukrug pointed to Philadelphia Water’s 25-year Green City, Clean Waters plan, a nationally recognized model that uses Green Stormwater Infrastructure to achieve federal stormwater requirements while saving taxpayer money and contributing to the larger goal of making Philadelphia the greenest city in the country.

He also pointed to the department’s Biogas Cogeneration Facility at the Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant, which turns human waste into energy needed to run treatment plants. Features like that and the sewage geothermal installation and solar photovoltaic system at the Southeast WPCP are important in part because they reduce air pollution, but also because every dollar not spent on energy is a dollar that Philadelphia Water can spend on improving infrastructure.

Neukrug said the ultimate goal isn’t just to get treatment plants to a “net zero” status where they are using no outside energy, but to create “net positive” facilities that can actually produce power for use elsewhere. That forward thinking recently saw the city awarded with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Leadership Award

“We have really changed the game in Philadelphia,” Neukrug told the panel.

For more on Commissioner Neukrug’s comments during the forum, check out the video clips below.

Commissioner Neukrug's Opening Remarks:

Commissioner Neukrug on Biogas and Net Zero Energy Goals: 

Other panelists at the forum were: Beverly Coleman, Assistant Vice President for Community Relations and Economic Development, Temple University; Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow, Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program; Aldie Warnock, Senior Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and Public Policy, American Water and Steven Wray, Executive Director, Economy League of Greater Philadelphia.

Want more? Read Value of Water Coalition’s latest report, The New Wave of Innovation.  

We Won! Green City, Clean Waters Wins the National APA Planning Excellence Award

Back in October we announced that Green City, Clean Waters was awarded the American Planning Association (APA) Pennsylvania Chapter's Planning Excellence Award in Implementation. We are now thrilled to announce that we won the APA 2015 National Planning Excellence Award for ImplementationThis award recognizes a project that demonstrates positive changes as a result of planning efforts. The award emphasizes long-term, measurable results that have been in continuous effect for a minimum of three years.

Now in our fourth year of Green City, Clean Waters, we have worked to implement green stormwater infrastructure citywide:

  • Projects complete: 113 
  • Projects in design or under construction: 187 
  • Private property technical assistance requests: 450 
  • Grant funding for retrofitting existing properties with green infrastructure: $14 million. 

And some positive spin-off effects of these projects have already been documented, like the recent study linking our green stormwater projects to drops in certain kinds of crimes. Learn more about why we were granted the award by checking out the APA web page featuring Green City, Clean Waters

green infrastructure graphic

The APA Awards Jury Chair, W. Shedrick Coleman, lauded Green City, Clean Waters for setting “the benchmark for meeting state and federal water quality mandates through solely green interventions” and “changing the face of the city.” Pretty high praise!

Green City, Clean Waters and the other APA award recipients will be honored at the 2015 National Planning Awards luncheon on April 20, 2015, in Seattle. Our plan will also be featured in the April 2015 issue of Planning magazine (we will be happy to autograph your copy)!

Thanks to the American Planning Association for this great recognition. But as much as we love getting awards, there’s still plenty of work to be done. Green City, Clean Waters is a 25-year plan to improve water quality in Philadelphia and create a healthier, more sustainable city through green stormwater infrastructure. We’ll be changing the face of the city—in a good way—for another two decades! Plenty more good news to come!

Green City, Clean Waters Wins Planning Excellence Award

APA Award

Congratulations to our Green City, Clean Waters program for being awarded the American Planning Association (APA) Pennsylvania Chapter's Planning Excellence Award in Implementation! The annual award is given to those whose work exemplifies the best and brightest in Pennsylvania Planning. Jessica Noon and Liz Svekla, planners in the Office of Watersheds at PWD, accepted the award at the PA APA annual conference on October 14, 2014. Pennsylvania Chapter President Brian O’Leary presented the award during a luncheon ceremony in front of 500+ planning peers.

During the conference PWD staff led a tour of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) projects at the Big Green Block. Ten conference participants from communities across Pennsylvania attended the tour to see rain gardens, green roofs, tree trenches and more. Participants learned about GSI design and maintenance; successful partnerships with agencies and stakeholders; stormwater regulations; and the importance of community involvement.

Jessica Noon, Amy Liu, Nicole Hostettler and Liz Svekla from PWD attended the conference sessions and returned to the Water Department with new ideas and inspiration from other parts of Pennsylvania.

Special thanks to APA PA conference committee chairs Susan Shermer, Denny Puko and Keith McNally for coordinating our tour and award!

The Wealth of a Healthy Watershed

Humans rely on natural resources and benefit from healthy ecosystems in countless ways—these benefits are called ecosystem services. We have known about the intrinsic value of ecosystem services for a long time, but have been slow to put a dollar amount on that value, largely because it’s difficult to calculate—how do you calculate the financial benefit of clean air?—and because the free market economy developed when natural resources were seemingly endless.  In Jonathan Lerner’s Nature’s Salary, from the July issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine, he discusses the concept of payment for ecosystem services (PES), as the “next big thing in conservation,” and cites Philadelphia’s  Green City, Clean Waters plan as one of two case studies that use PES as an innovative, market-based approach to sustainable resource management.  

The 25 year Green City, Clean Waters plan aims to mitigate stormwater runoff and reduce Philadelphia’s Combined Sewer Overflow  by 85% using green stormwater infrastructure that mimics nature, soaking up stormwater with trees, plants and soil. To get private property owners on board with the plan, the PWD applies a payment for ecosystem services approach to stormwater billing, essentially turning water into a commodity. Customers are billed based on the ratio of the total area of the parcel to its impervious area; the more paved, hard surfaces a landowner has, the higher the bill. This PES approach creates a rebate for customers who install green stormwater infrastructure on private land.

Another PES approach cited in Lerner’s article is payment to customers who help mitigate stormwater runoff, instead of billing for the mitigation efforts provided by the municipality. The South Florida Management District’s Dispersed Water Management Plan pays cattle ranchers and other farmers to develop surface storage on their land, reducing the need for expensive measures like building dams or underground storage tanks.

These new PES approaches change the way people relate to their water system and have great promise to be successful role models across the nation.  Read more about the payment for ecosystem services concept and the different approaches being used around the country to change our economic and ecological paradigm.

A Shout-out to PowerCorpsPHL

Being the first city to introduce a program like Green City, Clean Waters, Philadelphia serves as a national model for many to follow. However, this dream of a sustainable green city could not be possible without the help of PowerCorpsPHL.

This exciting new program is a partnership between AmeriCorps, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia. PowerCorpsPHL builds on the initiatives of both Mayor Nutter and Governor Corbett by encouraging environmental stewardship, while building career opportunities for Philadelphia’s youth.

Active throughout the department, PWD is proud to host a number of PowerCorps members. Team “Blue Magic” supports the Green Stormwater Infrastructure Maintenance Team. This group of young men and women has done an outstanding job of maintaining the green in Philadelphia. In just over 10 weeks on the job, they have collected over 9,385 lbs. of trash and street litter (over 4 tons), 3,124 lbs. of leaves and organic debris and 2,138 lbs of construction materials from green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) across the city. These achievements are the result of over 430 hours hard work, completing over 326 work orders for PWD.

Thanks, PowerCorpsPHL!

To learn more about the PowerCorps, click here.

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