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
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!   

Philadelphia Water and PowerCorpsPHL: ‘Perfect Pipeline’ for Green Jobs

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Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug and Philadelphia Water Environmental Scientist Alex Warwood with PowerCorpsPHL workers.
Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug and Philadelphia Water Environmental Scientist Alex Warwood with PowerCorpsPHL workers.

When we talk about Green City, Clean Waters, we like to point out that the 25-year plan has lots of benefits beyond improving our stormwater system. One of those benefits is green jobs. 

Because the estimated $2.4 billion plan is bringing so much green to so many parts of the city over the next two decades, it has the ability to be a major driver in creating jobs and attracting businesses tied to a 21st century green economy. 

We recently got news of a great example of that really happening when we learned that AKRF, one of the country’s largest environmental, planning and engineering consulting firms, hired five graduates of Philadelphia’s PowerCorpsPHL program, which provides job training opportunities for young adults ages 18-26. 

Philadelphia Water is proud to be a “service partner” with PowerCorpsPHL, and their recruits work with us on a daily basis to grow the reach of Green City, Clean Waters, maintain the city’s green stormwater infrastructure, and educate residents on the roles they can play in preserving our watersheds. The ultimate goal, of course, is to prepare them for careers in the world of green infrastructure, and AKRF’s hires are proof that something is working. 

Shandor Szalay, senior vice president and director of AKRF’s water resources practice, says Philadelphia Water’s PowerCorpsPHL partnership provided the firm with “the perfect pipeline” to fill a growing need created by Green City, Clean Waters. The firm manages contracts that help the city maintain the ever-growing stock of green infrastructure. 

“It’s been a great experience for us to be able to find people who live in the city and who have been involved with green infrastructure maintenance and know the system,” Szalay says. “We can give them a job with a living wage, and instead of being a job that’s week-to-week, it a career.” 

We want to congratulate all of the great people at PowerCorpsPHL for their hard work and dedication, and especially the grads who worked hard and landed jobs that are making Green City, Clean Waters even better.

Fresh Tools for a Greener City: Retrofit Guide, New App

A look at our new Credits Explorer tool, which lets anyone explore the benefits of GSI.
A look at our new Credits Explorer tool, which lets anyone explore the benefits of GSI.

In response to rapidly growing interest from non-residential customers, Philadelphia Water is proud to present the Stormwater Retrofit Guidance Manual. The 186-page manual is designed for those customers poised to benefit the most from adding cost-saving green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) to their buildings and grounds. Bringing this customer base into Philadelphia’s green movement is a key part of Green City, Clean Waters, Philadelphia Water’s 25-year plan to protect and enhance our watersheds by managing stormwater with innovative green infrastructure. 

The start-to-finish guide to GSI retrofits includes a detailed breakdown of credits and incentives offered through Philadelphia Water’s Green Acres Retrofit Program (GARP) and Stormwater Management Incentives Program (SMIP), instructions for picking the best GSI tools by property, ongoing GSI maintenance requirements, and much more.    

As a digital complement to the Stormwater Retrofit Guidance Manual, Philadelphia Water is also releasing Credits Explorer, a groundbreaking new app that allows anyone to virtually add GSI tools to non-residential properties and instantly see potential savings. A variety of stakeholders informed the 18-month effort behind Credits Explorer, resulting in a user-friendly web-based tool making it easier than ever to see the financial benefits of GSI features like green roofs and permeable pavement. The manual and Credits Explorer can be accessed here

These tools work in conjunction with Philadelphia Water’s innovative Stormwater Billing program, which bills non-residential customers based on the amount of impermeable surface on their property.  Implemented in 2010, Philadelphia’s stormwater charges more accurately reflect the true infrastructure and environmental costs associated with impermeable surfaces and provide Philadelphia Water with capital to fund improvements required by state and federal regulations.

Any property is eligible to pursue and install retrofits; however, only non-residential, condominium, and multi-family properties with more than four units are eligible to receive stormwater credits.

Oh, May: Should We Worry After Dry Spring?

The lack of rain in May led to wilted and stunted plants in this Chestnut Hill garden. Credit: Brian Rademaekers.
The lack of rain in May led to wilted and stunted plants in this Chestnut Hill garden. Credit: Brian Rademaekers.

This May was an extremely dry one for Philadelphia, with the city recording just .59 inches of rain before a sizeable downpour last week. The rain that fell May 27 was by far the heaviest of the month, more than doubling the total. Still, rain totals for the month were below normal by 2.51 inches. As Inquirer weather columnist Tony Wood pointed out, before that rain, we were on pace for the driest start to the year since 1986 and the 14th driest May since records dating to 1872.

Other local news reports have expressed concern from area farmers, like Bucks County’s Shang-Ri-La Sod Farm, which irrigated during May for the first time in 48 years.

Here at Philadelphia Water, we’ve been getting questions from residents concerned about the lack of rain. While the situation is far from ideal and river flows were noticeably low in May, there are some bright spots. For one thing, we are nowhere near the sort of lows seen during the record year of 1965, which came at the tail end of a period that has been called “Philadelphia’s Dustbowl.” Between 1963-65, we missed out on over 40 inches–that’s an entire year’s worth–of precipitation.

Chris Crockett, deputy commissioner of planning and environmental services with Philadelphia Water, says the department is keeping an eye on water levels and that a few strong rains, like the May 27 downpour and the heavy rain that marked the first few hours of June, could straighten out the imbalances we’re seeing from the dry start to 2015.

“I’d say we are looking more like 1999 and 2002 than 1965 at this point,” says Crockett.

The other good news, Crockett says, is that reservoir storage in New York City is around 97 percent, and lower basin reservoirs like Beltzville and Blue Marsh are at 100 percent storage. If our local flows get too low, those reservoirs are required to release more water and help boost our supply. 

Talking about drought concerns on a day when we’re getting flash flood warnings from the National Weather Service might seem counterintuitive, but the two worries aren’t entirely unrelated.

“The Schuylkill River and our local streams are what you call ‘stressed,’” says Crockett.  “They have too much runoff when it rains and not enough base flow (groundwater from non-wastewater sources) when it hasn’t rained. They will drop in flow very quickly without rain over relatively short periods of time, but if it rains they are back to normal or flood very quickly.”

Right now, the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection has no plans to issue drought warnings, in large part because they’re monitoring many factors beyond the low river flows and parched garden beds that sparked concern among residents in May.

“The real indicator of drought and drought risk are the groundwater levels, precipitation, stream flows, and reservoir storage, which would suggest a prolonged impact on the overall flow for a period of time that would extend beyond the next rain,” says Crockett. “It’s when many things get low that a few good rains won’t alleviate drought worries.”

The human body, he says, can provide a good metaphor.

“Think of it like your blood pressure. It goes down and up over the course of the day, and you can have it higher when you are in pain or sick for a period of time, or even drop when you stand up too quickly, but when something serious happens and you lose blood and it can’t come back up without help, then you have big problems,” says Crockett.  “The same goes for rivers.”

Weather forecasters are calling for a fairly wet week to kick off June*, and experts at Philadelphia Water are keeping a close eye on water levels and other indicators.  

“We’re continuing to watch the situation, and if anything changes we will share with everyone,” says Crockett.

*UPDATE: The 24-hour period marking June 1 smashed the precipitation record set in 1881, with more rain falling yesterday alone than was recorded at the Philadelphia International Airport weather station during the entire month of May. has more on the stunningly wet start to June here. Please be careful and heed any flood warnings. 

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Beer Geeks: How They're Improving Our Water

Philadelphia Water's BLS tasters prepare beakers of water for tasting. The warn water bath helps draw out delicate flavors that could otherwise go unnoticed. Credit: Bureau of Laboratory Services.
Philadelphia Water's BLS tasters prepare beakers of water for sampling. The warn water bath helps draw out delicate flavors that could otherwise go unnoticed. Credit: Bureau of Laboratory Services.

I came of drinking age during a time when now-extinct macrobrewers like Schmidt’s Brewery and Ortlieb Brewing in Northern Liberties ruled local taprooms. It was also a time when our tap water was derisively called “Chlorine Cocktail” or “Schuylkill Punch” (incidentally, now the name of a brew offered by Manayunk Brewing Co.).

Today, Philly Beer Week celebrates the rebirth of local breweries making a variety of good tasting beers, and a highly respected Philadelphia Water is turning out a better tasting tap water.

Believe it or not, those two trends—better tasting beer and better tasting water—are related. 

Philadelphia Water has an extensive environmental laboratory to ensure you’re getting water that’s safe and tasty. But, despite the expensive laboratory instruments, we still need human senses for tasting and smelling. While instruments detect individual chemicals and tell us their concentrations, they can’t tell us how they form flavor when they are all mixed together. It’s a little known fact, but pure water doesn’t taste very good. Good tasting water has a mixture of minerals and carbonates. Good tasting water has a recipe. But water isn’t supposed to smell; just a touch of chlorine, necessary for safety. Beer, on the other hand, has hundreds of chemicals that meld to create a nearly endless spectrum of desirable flavors. 

Many breweries employ expert tasters who are trained to sample their beer during different stages of fermentation and detect any off flavors. And here at Philadelphia Water, we took notice and followed their example.

Today we do what breweries do—we check for off flavors using both lab equipment and human tasters trained to look for off flavors. 

We learned from the experts who taste beer, wine and food. We trained chemists, biologists and technicians to taste and smell our water. We learned how to dissect a glass of water into its different tastes and smells. We identified the off flavors, and then worked to get rid of them. Philadelphia’s tap water is now more consistent and milder in flavor. 

That effort, combined with far superior protection of our source water from pollution, really has helped us come up with a better recipe for our water, and we are happy to say goodbye to that old Chlorine Cocktail. In fact, our water now tastes so good, we think it’s an essential part of enjoying good beer. Keep a chilled glass of tap water on the table during Philly Beer Week, and it’ll refresh your palate between brews as you sample Philly’s amazing fermented offerings.

So, if you’re celebrating Philly Beer Week, raise a glass of tap water along with your beer and say cheers to America’s best beer (and water) drinking city! 

More on Philadelphia, Water and Beer:

Our Beer History: It All Started with the Water 

Both water and beer were important in the settling of our city. William Penn chose to settle between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers because of the abundance of fresh water—perfect for drinking, fishing, traveling, and of course, brewing. He made sure he had his own brewhouse along the Delaware, and encouraged the establishment of brewhouses for the good citizens of Philadelphia. By the 1800s, brewhouses dotted the Schuylkill watershed, discharging their waste into the streams. Brewerytown, just east of the Schuylkill’s banks, got its name for a good reason, but neighborhoods like Kensington could have also easily stolen the moniker. At its peak, Philadelphia had over 100 breweries, and our beer was famous around the country. A big reason for that was the quality of our water and its mineral makeup, an essential ingredient for quality beer.   For more on that, read this article on our water's profile and how it impacts brewing and baking.

BEER TASTING FACT: It’s (Mostly) in the Nose

Did you know that you smell your water or beer when you drink it?

In order to do the job of providing great tasting water, Philadelphia Water’s tasters had to learn how their senses work. We all have what’s known as a “retronasal passage” connecting our noses to our palates, and it is smell that actually gives beer and water much of its flavor. When you consume beer or water you release aromas in your mouth, which then travel up the retronasal passageway to your nose. You smell the chlorine in the tap water. You smell the chocolate, caramel, malty aromas of your beer. So, if you want to avoid the flavor of your water or beer, keep it icy cold—aromas arise more from warmer liquids.

Our water tasters learned that some flavors that make water taste off actually make foods and other beverages tasty. A hot water heater can sometimes produce a rotten egg odor from hydrogen sulfide. Groundwater in some places, such as parts of Florida, smells like a burnt match because of the presence of sulfides. These are undesirable taints for tap water. But they belong in beer! The telltale smell of the seashore is in part due to sulfur chemicals. The same are important for beer’s flavor. But beer with too much of the sulfur smell creates that notorious “skunked beer” flavor.


Gary A. Burlingame, BCES, is a water quality expert and laboratory director for Philadelphia Water. He has a BS/MS in Environmental Science from Drexel University with more than 35 years of experience in the science of water. He was once offered a chance to become a brewmaster and beer executive. But he chose water instead. Nevertheless, he greatly enjoys a slightly chilled craft beer after a hard day’s work.

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 Green City, Clean Waters and the green infrastructure it makes use of is that we get to add virtual parks to neighborhoods in the form of rain gardens, bump outs, tree trenches and more and bulk up our water infrastructure. With Green City, Clean Waters, neighborhoods are expanding their green space, and Philadelphia is drastically reducing the toll of stormwater on our sewers, 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. Unlike a massive underground tunnel system that would tear up neighborhoods for years, 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!