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!

The Value of Water

Value of Water Coalition logo

Philadelphia Water Department is proud to be a founding member of The Value of Water Coalition, an alliance of public and private water agencies, business and community leaders, and national organizations united in communicating the importance of water to the economic, environmental, and social well-being of America. 

The Value of Water Coalition draws attention to our nation’s aging and underfunded water infrastructure, and educates on the fundamental importance of water. PWD plays a crucial role in the Coalition’s work with Commissioner Howard Neukrug serving on the Steering Committee and contributing content to the Coalition's website

The Coalition is growing and redoubling its efforts in 2015 as water-related issues are a rising concern for the nation. Issues like water main breaks in the Northeast during the cold winter months, which we recently discussed on this blog, and record drought affecting the West Coast

Despite the essential role that water plays in driving critical sectors of the economy and contributing to the high quality of life we enjoy in America, water is often overlooked in the national discussion of infrastructure investment, especially since water infrastructure is largely invisible. Few people (at least those who don’t regularly read this blog!) realize what it takes to treat and deliver drinking water every day or how wastewater is cleaned so that it can be safely reused or returned to the environment. The Value of Water is seeking to get that conversation going.

To learn more about The Value of Water’s work, visit: thevalueofwater.org and follow them on Twitter @TheValueofWater.

Webinar: Green Schoolyards and Citizen Science

The Philadelphia Water Department isn't just interested in managing stormwater at schools—we're leveraging opportunities to create outdoor classrooms that connect students to their environment. Join us on Monday, March 30 from 3:30-4:30 p.m. for Green City, Clean Waters: A Case Study for Greening Schoolyards in Philadelphia, a webinar presented by Toronto-based urban environmental organization Evergreen.

Lois Brink, chief strategist for the Big Sandbox, will share the successes of the Philadelphia Green Schools Alliance and discuss the creation of vibrant green spaces at our urban schools. Matthew Fritch, an environmental engineer with PWD, will detail the greenSTEM Network—an educational initiative to connect students to schoolyard rain gardens via low-cost, real-time sensor technology.

Registration for the webinar is free.

Join the Schuylkill Scrub!

Visit the Schuylkill River in the warmer months and you will find it teeming with life, both in the water and along its banks. It is hard to imagine that this scenic river, which provides drinking water to over 1.5 million people (that’s 12 out of every 100 Pennsylvanians!), was once considered the dirtiest river in the country.  The Schuylkill has come a long way and today boasts one quarter of the watershed designated as high quality or exceptional waters. But it still needs your help… and now is the time to do it—join the Schuylkill Scrub!

The Schuylkill Scrub, coordinated by the Schuylkill Action Network, is an annual clean-up initiative that happens every spring. This year’s Scrub started at the beginning of March and runs through May 31, so there’s still time to organize and register a clean-up event in you part of the watershed (or find one that already exists). You’ll be working alongside other partners and concerned citizens to clean as many miles of road, stream and parkland within the watershed. This coordinated effort will help keep our land and water litter-free (which is a good thing, remember, people drink that water).

The Schuylkill Scrub is now part of the Great American Cleanup of PA, so you’ll be part of a larger effort to clean and beautify our entire state and your cleanup can get free supplies like trash bags, gloves and vests, provided through Keep PA Beautiful and PennDOT. Additionally, during the Pick It Up PA Days, which is from April 11th to May 4th, registered events will have access to reduced or free trash disposal.

Last year, Keep America Beautiful logged over 52,000 volunteers who removed 1,300 tons of trash in over 1,200 neighborhoods in the five counties surrounding the Schuylkill River! Help make this year a success by signing up today and know that you‘re part of the effort to keep trash out of the Schuylkill, from the headwaters in Schuylkill County down to its confluence with the Delaware River in Philadelphia.

Click here for more information and to register your cleanup: http://www.schuylkillscrub.org/

If you don’t have time to organize your own cleanup, there may be one happening in your neighborhood already! Use this link to find existing cleanups http://www.schuylkillscrub.org/find-an-event.html.

Another Reason to Love Spring: Winter Will Loosen Its Grip on Our Water Mains

This Friday, March 20, is the Vernal equinox--the first day of spring (even though it's supposed to snow)! Here at PWD, we're taking one big collective sigh of relief, hoping that the harsh cold of winter is behind us. With warmer temperatures, the
natural forces that put so much strain on our hundreds of miles of cast iron
water mains will begin to relent and we should experience less water main breaks. 

Recently, Philadelphia Magazine published Philadelphia: We’re Not Alone in Water Main Breaks, which explores winter's effects on water mains and makes clear that Philadelphia is not unique when comes to this problem. In fact, it points out that Philadelphia grades better than the national average. 

The piece notes, when compared with other cities and the national averages for water main breaks per year, we're actually doing pretty well. Our average 240 breaks per 1000 miles of pipe per year beats the national average of 270 per 1000 miles. And our water system's life-cycle average (which is the average number of years it would take at our current rate of replacement to replace the entire system) is 125 years, which sounds like a long time until you compare it to the national average of 200 years. Starting in 2016, PWD will replace old pipes at an even faster rate to get that life-cycle average down to 100 years. A baby born in 2016 could live long enough to see every mile of pipe replaced in his or her lifetime! So that's something. 

As we replace the cast-iron pipe we're using newer ductile iron pipe. (Remember "ductile" from physical science class? Think flexible... not brittle.) This will help to cut down even further on the number of breaks per year. While we may never be able to completely avoid water main breaks, our hope is that we can reduce the number and continue to improve our response and resolution time so that when the inevitable break does happen, it causes as little disruption as possible.

In the meantime, we appreciate our customers and the people of Philadelphia helping us out by keeping an eye on the streets. And we appreciate our crews that work around the clock to fix water main breaks in less than desirable conditions. If you see a water main break or suspect one because you see water where you don't think water should be, please call our 24-hour hotline at 215-685-6300.

Learn About the Hidden Streams Beneath Our Feet on Monday, March 16

Watershed History Fact

If you're intersted in learning about our watershed or rivers (or history for that matter!), we highly recommend attending a talk by our very own historian, Adam Levine, this coming Monday, March 16 at National Mechanics (22 S. 3rd Street) at 6PM. The talk, titled "From Creek to Sewer: History of Topographical Change in Philadelphia,” is part of the Tapping Our Watershed science cafe series and will discuss the history of Philadelphia's lost streams and creeks. Many aspects of this topic, from considering what lies beneath the city to looking at the way man has manipulated the natural environment in favor of the built environment, are truly compelling.

Over the course of three centuries of development, most of the city's surface streams were covered over and became part of our 3,000 mile sewer system. Levine will use paintings, drawings, maps, plans, photographs and surveys to illustrate his talk and transport you back to a time when streets were streams. In fact, just a few blocks from National Mechanics, where the talk will take place, is a great of example of this—the former Dock Creek runs under what is now Dock Street. You'll come away knowing that at any given place inPhiladelphia, you may be walking over the descendant of one of the city's many former streams and creeks. If you can't make the event on Monday to see Levine deliver this presentation live, his website—Philly H2O—is a great repository of watershed history and material.

Mill Creek Sewer Construction at 47th and Haverford from Phillyh2o.org

According to the Academy of Natural Sciences' blog, the Tapping Our Watershed 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." Since it is at a local "watering" hole, guests must be 21 or older but those under 21 can attend with a chaperone at least 25 years old.

PowerCorpsPHL + PWD = A Win-Win Team

What has 18 legs, eradicates garbage and debris, spreads good will wherever it goes and spends 900 hours fighting to protect our rivers?

The PWD PowerCorpsPHLTeam!

Philadelphia Water is proud to be a service partner for PowerCorpsPHL. PowerCorpsPHL is an AmeriCorps program for Philadelphians ages 18 to 26 designed to address the City of Philadelphia’s environmental stewardship, workforce development and violence prevention priorities. PowerCorpsPHL members spend 6 months in full time-time service, followed by 3 months of job placement support. Corps members work with either Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, or with the Philadelphia Water Department.

The PowerCorpsPHL program has been hugely successful since the program launched in 2013. Not only are PWD PowerCorpsPHL members making a significant impact on the water quality in our region, they are also gaining invaluable job skills, launching many of them into successful careers in the green job sector. Members that work within PWD are paired with supervisors to learn electrical and HVAC trades, building maintenance, inlet cleaning, and Green Stormwater Infrastructure maintenance. 

PWD staff and PowerCorpsPHL members 

The program is a win-win for both the participants and the service partners. Out of the 43 PowerCorpsPHL members that have served with PWD during the three cycles so far:

  • Seven joined Philadelphia Water's Apprenticeship Program to further their skills and advance their professional network.
  • Seven signed up for another 6-month term of service with PWD through PowerCorpsPHL
  • At least eight have found employment, some with PWD, some with related businesses
  • Many others are returning to school to advance their education with the goal of pursuing careers in the water industry. 

The largest set of PowerCorpsPHL members working with PWD are in our Green Infrastructure Maintenance team. They help ensure that green stormwater infrastructure, like rain gardens, tree trenches and vegetated bump-outs, are functioning properly. The current team has:

  • Been a part of 1,108 maintenance events
  • Maintained 388 stormwater managemetn sites--some multiple times!
  • Collected 80,357 lbs of garbage and other debris out of our stormwater systems

 Learn more and find out how you can get involved powercorpsphl.org.

Study Shows Evidence of “Triple Bottom Line” Effects of Green Stormwater Infrastructure

Water Fact Infographic

When we started the 25-year, $2.4 billion Green City, Clean Waters plan in 2011, the idea was that we could better manage our stormwater and reduce combined sewer overflows by leading with green infrastructure, as opposed to only using gray infrastructure, and that it would also have additional social and economic benefits. We call it our “triple bottom line" approach. While the environmental benefits (good news—we’re on track to meet our environmental targets for year five of the plan!) and economic benefits are quantifiable, the social benefits are harder to measure. But a recent study, published this January in the American Journal of Public Health, indicates that the green stormwater infrastructure we’ve installed in Philadelphia does, indeed, have social benefits as well.

The study, led by Michelle Kondo, formerly a postdoctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics and now a scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service in Philadelphia, looked at 52 green stormwater projects in Philadelphia and found consistent and statistically significant reductions in narcotic possession and manufacture, as well as burglaries near those sites.  

These impressive results caught the eye of the Inquirer’s Sandy Bauers, who featured the study in her regular GreenSpace column

[Kondo] and her colleagues, including Penn epidemiologist Charles Branas, who had studied vacant lots, compared the 52 sites with 186 similar areas where projects were planned but not yet built. They factored in socioeconomic data from the census, crime statistics, and health data.

Their results, published in January in the American Journal of Public Health, were an eyebrow-raiser. Between 2000 and 2012, incidents of drug possession at the project sites dropped by as much as 27 percent compared with the control sites.

As far as a half-mile away, "we saw a significant reduction," Kondo said.

The study controlled for a number of other factors—gentrification, general improvements in quality of life, etc.—that had occurred over the 12 years of the study and yielded a strong positive correlation between the presence of a Green City, Clean Waters project and incidents of drug possession. 

Clearly, there’s still more studying to be done so we can determine links to other improvements in overall quality of life measures and reductions in crime, but these initial results are very promising! Studies like this help demonstrate the return on investment for each individual green infrastructure project and that the triple bottom line approach is truly paying off!