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! 

Thanks to Our Cold Weather Heroes!

If you’ve been listening to the radio or watching TV news any morning over the last couple months, you’ve undoubtedly heard several reports about broken water mains all over the region. Though we’ve been able to dodge the snowfall that has made life very difficult in other cities, the extreme swings in temperature have done a number on our pipes.

During a mild winter, when the temperature outside only occasionally dips below 32 degrees, the temperature of the ground below tends to remain at a constant, slightly warmer temperature. As a result, we tend to see fewer wintertime water main breaks. 

During a winter like this, with air temperatures dropping into the low single digits and staying there for days, the water in the mains gets colder and denser and the traces of water in the ground freeze and expand.  The cold, dense water flowing through the pipe causes the pipe material to contract at the same time the expanding ground around the pipes pushes and pulls them in all directions. It’s a recipe for broken joints, which we’ve seen plenty of!

Each broken main has the potential to make a real mess as water coming to the surface quickly freezes over and service to homes and business is disrupted. Into these breaches, go our cold weather warriors. These repair crews are tasked with identifying the leak, shutting off the water going to the broken section of pipe (made complicated by frozen valves), pinpointing the exact location of the break (often the hardest part!), digging up the frozen ground around the break to repair it, and quickly patching the street to return life to normal. And they do this in ideally less than eight hours, usually while working in sub-freezing temperatures… with water flowing all around… in the dark! 

So what can you do to help?

PWD monitors 3,200 miles of water mains and has crews all over the city inspecting and maintaining the water and sewer system to find and repair leaks before they become bigger problems. But we need you, citizen of Philadelphia, to help out by acting as another set of eyes and ears. When you see any water that looks like it’s in the wrong place, get in touch with us to report it.

The good news is we have a bunch of ways to do so. The way to reach us directly is by calling (215) 685-6300. Granted, when the water starts flowing down your street at 5am you’re not likely to have this blog post handy so you can also call 3-1-1 and ask to be transferred to report any water or sewer emergency. Finally, if the phone isn’t your bag, you can get in touch with us directly through Twitter (we read all of the Tweets directed toward us and respond as quickly as we can). Follow us at

Oh, and please… feel free to let that crew who is out there in the cold, getting wet and trying to fix that break as quickly as possible, know that you appreciate the tough job they’re doing. The rest of us here at PWD certainly do!

Get Funding for Projects to Protect the Schuylkill River Watershed

Schuylkill River and Philadelphia skyline
Image courtesy of Ed Yakovich. 

PWD is one of several public and private funders of The Schuylkill River Restoration Fund

The Fund provides grants to government agencies and non-profit organizations for projects that improve the quality of water in the Schuylkill’s watershed. Since 2006, the Fund has collected more than $2 million and funded over 60 projects! Applications are now being accepted for the 2015 Schuylkill River Restoration Fund.

Does your community group, school or non-profit business have a project in the works that might qualify for funding? View the Fund guidelines here. And download the application here

Your organization may also qualify for a $4,000 Land Transaction Assistance Grant, which is intended to assist with transaction costs for permanent land protection projects (conservation easements, full fee acquisitions, donations). Download the Land Transaction Assistance Grant guidelines here.

While the grants also focus on agricultural pollution and abandoned mine drainage, here in Philadelphia, past recipients have used funding from the grants to pay for projects that manage stormwater run-off. 

In 2014 Grants totaling $337,465 were awarded to seven projects. Among them was a $37,961 award for a meadow at SDP’s Cook-Wissahickon School that resulted in 3,300 sq. ft. of new meadow installed and maintained, as well as an education for the neighbors in the difference between a meadow and an unkempt lawn

Want more information? Contact Tim Fenchel at or call the Schuylkill River Heritage Area at 484-945-0200.

Put a Little Mussel Into It!

Westcott Phillip, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 

If you’ve never been to the Wagner Free Institute of Science  at 1700 West Montgomery Avenue (not far from Temple University), then this coming Thursday, February 26, is a great chance to visit this “unusual natural science and history museum in its original Victorian setting.” At 6pm, Dr. Danielle Kreeger, Science Director for the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE), will give a talk on Aquatic Underdogs: How Freshwater Mussels Can Help Save our Great Waters

The mission of the PDE (which the Philadelphia Water Department works closely with!) is “to lead science-based and collaborative efforts to improve the tidal Delaware River and Bay, which spans Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.” Among these efforts is Dr. Kreeger’s work on the ecology and restoration of bivalve shellfish and coastal wetlands, as well as climate adaptation, living shorelines, and ecosystem services. 

And freshwater mussels are some amazing—if severely challenged—little bivalves in need of restoration. PDE has great info about freshwater mussels including how they, as filter feeders, “suck water in and trap solids such as dirt, algae and other pollutants then release the clean filtered water back into the environment.” 

Unfortunately, as the title of Dr. Kreeger’s lecture suggests, the freshwater mussels in this area have faced a steep decline, from over a dozen different species to just one now commonly found in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The freshwater mussel has been described as “the most imperiled of all organisms in North America.” Dr. Kreeger’s presentation “will describe the fascinating lifestyle and status of freshwater mussels and chronicle how local efforts to restore these animals will protect our waterways.”

The museum at the Wagner Free Institute of Science (often called a museum of a museum) will be open prior to the lecture, which begins at 6pm. There is no cost to attend but registration is required. Click here to register.

Freshwater Mussels from the Unionidae Collection at the Wagner Free Institute of Science

Show a little love to Water this Valentine’s Day

candy heart
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and love is in the air… trying its best not to freeze instantly!

One of our Fairmount Water Works educators passed along a love note to water written by a student as part of their educational programs. If only we could all love water as much as Elliot, whose letter below rivals the love poetry of Horace and Catullus:
Phew… that kind of passion can really warm somebody up on a day like today!

It’s too bad that Valentine’s Day falls right during the coldest time of the year because what could be more romantic than stroll along the waterfront? And while a walk on the Schuylkill Banks or Forbidden Drive or Penn’s Landing might not be in the cards for tomorrow night (save the brave, hearty souls), you certainly will have plenty of opportunities when the weather warms up to take the object of your affection for a rom-com-worthy evening of dinner and a river walk under the moonlight.

In the meantime, show some Valentine’s Day love to our rivers by following the tips we have on our website for caring for our watersheds. Most relevant for this time of year are our tips for environmentally safe winter ice removal. Salt used on the sidewalks and streets eventually runs off into our storm sewers and makes its way to the Delaware and Schuylkill, our drinking water sources and home to freshwater plants and animals that don’t deal well with the salt. Taking steps to minimize the amount of salt used by shoveling first and substituting other de-icing products in place of salt can help reduce the amount that ends up in our rivers.

Follow these links for more tips on how residents, businesses, schools, and community groups can take care of our rivers and streams!

And if you want to send us a love note of your own, please do!

The Philadelphia Water Department 

Good Water = Good Beer

Some years ago a baker who was setting up shop outside of the city asked me to provide a summary of everything that is in Philadelphia’s water. He said that Philadelphia’s water makes really good bread, and he wanted to replicate our chemistry down south. Philly does have good bread and soft pretzels. And good beer, too!  It turns out that one of the keys to Philadelphia’s tasty bread, pretzels and beer is keeping the yeast happy and enabling their enzymes to work their magic.

So how is that related to our water? The only thing I knew about the beer-making process was that brewers had to remove the chlorine residual from the water before using it, so in a quest to find out more, I bought a book titled Water – A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers (John Palmer and Colin Kaminski, 2013, Brewers Publications). 

The book confirmed that the natural ingredients in water are important to brewing. One way to get water that’s good for brewing is to remove everything from it and then add back the minerals and salts at just the right levels. The other way is to establish a brewery where the water is naturally good—lucky for us, Philadelphia’s breweries fall in this category. The most important characteristics of water, besides it not having any off flavors or contaminants, are the pH, hardness with calcium and magnesium, and alkalinity. The process of making a flavorful beer is affected by these characteristics and different beers, lighter or darker for example, have different needs. The water's composition affects the yeast, their enzymes, the beer’s clarity and flavor, and its stability. Sodium, chloride, sulfate and other ingredients in water at the right levels are also helpful.

According to the book, Philadelphia’s water stacks up well when it comes the most important ingredients in water. These ingredients largely come from the rivers, naturally. Although considered moderately hard, Philly water is on the lower end for hardness, especially for calcium, but that can be added during the brewing process.

Our water may explain, in part, why there are so many fantastic breweries and bakeries in our city. And since we’re on the subject of Philly beer, it is worth noting that Yards Brewery recently won a Good Food Award for being eco- friendly and delicious. Yards is powered completely off the grid by 100% wind power, their packaging is certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, they send their used grain to local farms to be used as feed and the brewhouse collects and reuses 2 million gallons of water per year! So the next time you reach for a beer, drink responsibly and consider the environment and the flavor. 

Yorktown Green Streets Project Coming Soon

stormwater planter
Yorktown, a small residential neighborhood in North Philadelphia just south of Temple University (and once home to Gospel and Rock and Roll legend Sister Rosetta Tharpe!) will soon have one mile of bike lanes, two bus shelters, wider pedestrian islands, new ADA ramps and over 25 specially designed stormwater planters that will manage rainfall from the surrounding street. These upgrades are part of a project called Yorktown Green and Complete Streets, which emerged out of the planning process for Yorktown 2015, a five year action plan led by the Yorktown CDC.

PWD heard through this extensive planning process (over 260 residents participated!) that residents were particularly concerned with the maintenance of their unique, historic public spaces—a series of urban courtyard’s and cul-de-sac’s—and wanted to make them greener. Looking to invest in projects that not only manage stormwater but also improve the quality of life, PWD developed a project that would repair ADA ramps and install stormwater planters along 13th and 12th Streets. When the project proved too expensive to build, PWD began looking for grant opportunities to make the project more affordable.

In 2014, PWD expanded the project, committing to installing both bus shelters and extending bike lanes, and applied to both the Pennsylvania Departments of Transportation and of Community and Economic Development for funding from the Multimodal Trust Fund. Yorktown Green and Complete Streets was one of 86 winners awarded money from the $84 million dollar fund and received over $800,000 for the project.

With the additional funding, the Yorktown Green and Complete Streets project is slated to break ground sometime in summer/fall 2015. To learn more, check out Flying Kite’s recent article about the project.

And check out Sister Rosetta Tharpe! Sometimes called the “Godmother of Rock and Roll,” she sang gospel music accompanied by an electric guitar and influenced artists such as Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley. An historical marker notes her Yorktown residence at 11th and Master streets. 

We thought her song "Didn't It Rain" was most fitting for story!  

PWD Director of Laboratory Services to EPA: Update Drinking Water Standards!

Water at the Bureau of Laboratory Sercives - PWD

Here at PWD, we have some of the nation's foremost thinkers and practitioners on water safety and quality.

One of those is Gary Burlingame, our Director of the Bureau of Laboratory Services. Gary oversees a staff of 120 people and an annual budget exceeding $10 million focused on drinking water, source water, wastewater, sediment, sludge, and more. He is a thought leader in the industry, widely published on the topic of the sensory aspects of drinking water—what you see, taste and smell in your water—having written about the topic for more than 25 years. He recently co-authored a report in the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science and Technology, with Virginia Tech Professor Andrea Dietrich, calling for the EPA to improve its 50-year-old purity standards to catch up with what today’s technology allows us to detect and treat.

The report calls out the EPA for having outdated standards that don’t match advances in sensory science, changes in treatment practices, and modern attitudes and health expectations. It urges the EPA to review and rethink what are known as “secondary maximum contaminant levels” which provide guidance on the color, odor and other characteristics of drinking water not directly associated with health risk but still very important to the consumer. 

According to Burlingame and Dietrich, the EPA’s secondary contaminant standards are designed “to be a viable assessment of consumer acceptability and a means to instill confidence in tap water.” If consumers judge water that meets these standards as unacceptable, then it’s time for the standards to change.

PWD is proud to lead the way on drinking water quality. Burlingame’s work is one of many reasons why PWD has consistently been recognized with EPA Partnership for Safe Drinking Water awards for providing drinking water at purity standards higher than required by federal law. For us, the opinion of our customers about the quality of our water is a priority.

You can read more about Burlingame’s work with Professor Dietrich on Virginia Tech’s website or check out the report in its entirety