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Aging City Pipes in Need of a Plumber’s Touch

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Drip, drip, drip… according to a recent op-ed in the New York Times, underground pipes in the U.S. leak about one in six gallons of clean, filtered water – wasting a precious resource and a lot of energy. What are cities across the country doing to address this and other water infrastructure problems?

Last week on Science Friday, Flora Lichtman spoke with water experts about the challenges of maintaining critical infrastructure in the country’s biggest cities. George Hawkins, General Manager of D.C. Water, and Martin Melosi, History Professor and author of “Precious Commodity: Providing Water for America’s Cities” joined Lichtman for a half hour conversation all about our favorite topic: water.

Free Movie Night!

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Mark your calenders for the upcoming Cobbs Creek free movie night featuring The Lorax. Come out and join the Friends of Cobbs Creek Park for an evening of family fun along the beautiful Cobbs Creek!

Tuesday, August 21st, 8pm @ The Cobbs Creek Rec Center (Spruce St. & Cobbs Creek Pkwy)

Literally, Breaking News

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Pipes, mains, lines – these water infrastructure words have been a hot topic in the Philadelphia news the past few weeks. On Sunday, July 22nd, a pipe measuring 4 feet in diameter ruptured at the intersection of 21st and Bainbridge, flooding the street and closing the intersection. Since then, water service has been restored to the neighborhood, the pipe replaced, and construction is underway to repair the intersection. Following this break, another 48 inch main cracked in Northeast Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Water Department tracks and repairs mains all year, but these unfortunate breaks have given people a rare glimpse of the massive infrastructure under our feet (and a chance to grab some great photos). Over 3,000 miles of water main crisscross the ground under Philadelphia streets, and the Water Department has several programs to help prevent pipe failures including leak detection tests and regular inspection of water and sewer lines.  In addition to regular repairs and replacements, PWD is working to upgrade the water supply and waste water removal systems, including a special focus on green infrastructure. Proper investment in critical infrastructure will lead to fewer breaks in the future. Several articles have been published about the recent water main breaks and these two from focus on the importance of infrastructure in our City’s history, and in its future:

Karen Heller, Sunday 8/5/12

Editorial, 8/2/12

For more information about the status of repairs for large water main breaks and long term projects, visit our Alerts page:

And for general information about the cause of water main breaks and what the Philadelphia Water Department is doing to repair and replace aging infrastructure, check out our Main Breaks page.

Soak It Up In Style: Enter the Green Infrastructure Design Exhibition

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Traditionally, most stormwater management features, like pipes and basins, lie underground and don’t rely much on design beyond the functional. As the city begins the implementation of aboveground and more visible green stormwater infrastructure, landscape architects, engineers and other designers must manage the interests and concerns of a broad range of people whose neighborhoods will feature new green infrastructure. This is the challenge at the heart of the Infill:Soak it Up Exhibition, a competitive exhibition to display innovative and well designed approaches to green stormwater management. The Philadelphia Water Department, the Community Design Collaborative and the Environmental Protection Agency Region 3 are hosting the exhibition as a warm up to a large scale competition to be announced this fall. The goal of the exhibition is to showcase projects that soak up stormwater while creating engaging, healthy, and visually appealing urban places. Selected entries will be on display at AIA Philadelphia’s Center for Architecture from September 17 through October 19, 2012. Check out the CDC’s call for entries for specifics.

Monday, July 9: PWD Rates Hearing

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The Philadelphia Water Department recently announced its proposal to seek rate changes, beginning October 1, 2012 to maintain the City’s top-quality drinking water distribution, alleviate flooding, meet regulatory requirements and improve the quality of local rivers and streams. Even with the proposed additional rates, PWD’s water and sewer charges will continue to be among the lowest in the region.

Five public hearings have been scheduled to provide customers with an overview of PWD’s programs and services and an opportunity to comment and ask questions. These are open to all members of the public. The Water Department will give a brief presentation about the rate increase process and will be available to answer questions. Food and refreshments will also be available! Here's the schedule:

When:   Monday, July 9, 2012, 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon
Where: Philadelphia Senior Center
              509 S. Broad Street
              Philadelphia, PA 19147
              *Spanish Language and Sign interpreter will be present
              *meeting will be streaming live at

When:    Tuesday, July 10, 2012, 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Where:   Roxborough Memorial Hospital, Wolcoff Auditorium
                5800 Ridge Avenue
                Philadelphia, PA 19128
When:   Thursday, July 12, 2012, 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Where:  Holy Family University, Campus Center Conference Room 115  
               9801 Frankford Avenue
               Philadelphia, PA 19114   
When:    Monday, July 16, 2012, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.
Where:   YMCA North Philadelphia  
                1400 N. Broad Street (Broad and Master Sts)
                Philadelphia, PA 19121
                *Spanish language interpreter will be present

When:     Tuesday, July 17, 2012, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.
Where:    White Rock Baptist Church  
                 5240 Chestnut Street
                 Philadelphia, PA 19139

More from RIO+20!

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The spotlight is shining on Philadelphia at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A recent report from an Egyptian environmental correspondent urges national leaders to seriously address worldwide environmental challenges, listen to local communities, and encourages them to learn from Philadelphia!  

"The US, in a side event at their pavilion, suggested a city-level solution to adapt to climate change in terms of green infrastructure.  The city of Philadelphia is an example of such an initiative, with its drainage design that funnels the first inch from rainfall to green spaces. The initiative increases green spaces on all pavements, rooftops and large vacant areas to retrofit their infrastructure system to adapt to the effects of climate change. Such solutions on a city level are precisely the kinds of solutions we need to learn from."

Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug and Office of Transportation and Utilities Chief of Staff, Andrew Stober, presented at the conference as part of the Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability between Philadelphia and Rio. For more information about the conference, check out our earlier blog post, “UN Sustainability Conference in Brazil Puts the Spotlight on Philly.”

UN Sustainability Conference in Brazil Puts the Spotlight on Philly

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This week, world leaders are gathered at the UN Conference of Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. And what are they talking about? Philadelphia, for one—Mayor Nutter's Greenworks initiative and the Green City, Clean Waters plan to manage stormwater through green infrastructure was the hot topic on Tuesday. Next American City's Diana Lind sent a dispatch from Rio earlier this week:

[Office of Transportation and Utilities chief of staff Andrew] Stober and Water Department Commissioner Howard Neukrug are in Rio — paid for by a Brazilian foundation, not Philadelphia tax dollars — to celebrate the next phase of JIUS and an online guide that details policies, projects and financing mechanisms that can improve urban sustainability. Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters program is one of the highlighted projects in this guide. While most of the outcomes of JIUS have yet to be seen, Stober said the main benefit for Philadelphia has been “national and global recognition for a the city, which has done a lot of very good work quietly.”

Read the full report from Next American City here.

A Tale of Two Cities: Philadelphia and Rio de Janeiro Lead the Transition to Sustainability

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Hey, that doesn't look like the Schuylkill River. Pictured above is Rio de Janeiro, Philadelphia's sister city in the U.S.-Brazil Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability (JIUS). Visit this brand-new website for the full story on the JIUS—the short version is that President Obama and President Rousseff created the JIUS last year to help cities implement sustainable infrastructure through public-private partnerships. To explain it in terms of Philadelphia's Green City, Clean Waters plan:

For example, green stormwater infrastructure systems typically consist of hundreds of small projects, including street trees, green roofs, and repaved roads, among other investments. Even though these systems are often cheaper to build than standard pipes and treatment systems, they are also more difficult for cities to finance with traditional mechanisms. By bringing together federal, state, and local government officials with corporate, financial, academic, and community leaders from Rio de Janeiro and Philadelphia—two cities leading the transition to sustainable infrastructure—JIUS participants identified multiple opportunities for scaling-up investment in urban sustainability.

The JIUS site highlights Green City, Clean Waters (including projects at Nebinger Elementary School and the Big Green Block) as well as Brazil's National Solid Waste Policy. The website is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in how sustainable infrastructure is being funded and how policy is written in two cities nearly 5,000 miles apart.

That's Progress: Mayor Nutter Releases Greenworks Update for 2012

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We're at the halfway point of Greenworks—the plan that outlines how Philadelphia will become the greenest city in America by 2015—and giant steps have been taken toward sustainability. The Greenworks Philadelphia Update and 2012 Progress Report is now available (click here to download as a PDF) for your inspection. The report details how Philadelphia is conserving energy, reducing emissions, increasing tree coverage, providing access to recreation and healthy food and more. Certainly, Green City, Clean Waters is part of the equation, too—but since we spend about 364 days of the year touting our green stormwater management plan, here are some other highlights:

  • A reduction of municipal energy use by 5%
  • A more than tripled rate for curbside residential recycling
  • Increased access to healthy, affordable food for more than 200,000 Philadelphians
  • 428 miles of bike lanes completed

In all, of the 167 initiatives put forth in Greenworks, 38 initiatives are complete, and 110 are currently underway.

New Philly Greenway: Gray's Ferry Crescent

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Photo: Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

Philadelphia's newest greenway—Gray's Ferry Crescent, stretching from 34th Street to Wharton Street along the eastern bank of the Schulykill River—was dedicated earlier this week. Check it out this weekend: There is a 3,700-foot long bicycle and pedestrian trail, plus lawn areas for recreation and relaxing by the river. Situated on a former brownfield, the Gray's Ferry Crescent is part of a larger greenway plan to connect Center City with Bartram's Garden along the Schuylkill.

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