Greening Smith: What We're Doing with Eagles' Connor Barwin

Connor Barwin of the Philadelphia Eagels speaks at the 2nd annual MTWB Foundation concert.
Connor Barwin of the Philadelphia Eagles speaks at the 2nd annual MTWB Foundation concert.

Philadelphia Water selected West Passyunk’s Smith Playground for Green City, Clean Waters improvements way back in 2012. While we were busy doing community outreach and design for the popular 7.5-acre recreation area, located at 25th Street and Snyder Avenue, we also happened to develop a great relationship with Connor Barwin of the Philadelphia Eagles and his Make the World Better Foundation (MTWB).

That led to our working together to rebuild the Ralph Brooks Park in nearby Point Breeze, which is currently under construction. When finished, the park will have new basketball courts, new play equipment, sidewalk improvements, tree plantings and a rain garden to manage stormwater runoff from the site.

It’s been such a hit, MTWB decided to bring the synergy that made Ralph Brooks Park a success to Smith, where we were already laying the ground for green stormwater improvements. Barwin held his second MTWB fundraising concert at Union Transfer in June, and generous giving resulted in $300,000 for Smith improvements. Tickets for the sold-out show made up over $150,000 of that, and Barwin matched the sales for the rest.

From MTWB:

Revitalization of South Philadelphia’s Smith Playground will provide major improvements to the 7.5-acre park including the Recreation Center building and adjacent play spaces, new football and baseball fields and the installation of Green Stormwater Infrastructure by the Philadelphia Water Department. Key partners on the project include Urban Roots, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and Philly Rising.

So, what will our work bring to the Smith renovations? We’re contributing an estimated $500,000 to install four green stormwater tools at the site.
They include:

• A  basin beneath the soccer field at the southwest side of the park

• A basin beneath the sidewalk on the west side of the park

• A rain garden between the sidewalk and the basketball courts

• A rain garden on a paved area at the corner of 25th and Snyder

Besides enhancing the beauty of the site, these improvements will capture the equivalent of 2 SEPTA buses of water almost every time it rains—water that would otherwise be rushing into local sewers and waterways. The stormwater tools will mostly handle runoff coming from 25th Street, with a total of 1.66 acres of hard, impervious surface draining into the basins and rain gardens, where it will slowly filter into the earth and water table. That means less local flooding during rain events and healthier local waterways.

"I want to thank Union Transfer, the musicians and sponsors for another year of unwavering support," Barwin said after the concert. "Not only did we aim to put on an entertaining show for fans, but all proceeds will go towards transforming South Philly’s Smith Playground into a safe and enjoyable place for the community. I am humbled to live in a city that is filled with so many people who want to make their neighborhood, and the world, a better place to live, to grow and to learn."

We’re proud to be working with Barwin, MTWB, Urban Roots, Parks and Recreation and all the other partners, and we’re blown away at the generosity of everyone who contributed to make this public space better for all the West Passyunk residents who use the space and live near Smith.

Our green infrastructure construction at Smith is set to begin during summer 2016 and will take 4-6 months to complete, so stay tuned for more updates!

PowerCorpsPHL Gets a POTUS Shout-out

Juan Matos of the PowerCorpsPHL GSI Maintenance Program with President Obama on July 14.
Juan Matos of the PowerCorpsPHL GSI Maintenance Program with President Obama on July 14.

We’re always talking about what a great relationship we have with PowerCorpsPHL, and we love to point out when the young Philadelphians who help maintain Green City, Clean Waters infrastructure enrich their lives and even turn the experience into jobs in the green industry.

But here’s one benefit we never could have imagined: Meeting the President of the United States.

That’s exactly what happened to Assistant Crew Leader Juan Matos of the PowerCorpsPHL GSI (Green Stormwater Infrastructure) Maintenance Program when President Obama visited the city for this week’s NAACP convention.

Matos, a 23-year-old dad from North Philadelphia, is in his second term of service as an AmeriCorps member with PowerCorpsPHL and joined the program in September 2014.
He didn’t find out that he was going to meet with Obama, who wanted to learn more about successful re-entry programs for those who have been incarcerated, until Sunday night.

Apparently, the president was impressed with Matos' bio, which PowerCorps provided. For Matos, it all came as a pretty big shock.

“It was, like, out of the blue,” says Matos. “I had no clue what he was going to say or what I was going to ask him.”

During their Tuesday meeting at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Matos says Obama put him at ease with a relaxed conversation.

“We talked about what it was like for me after I got out and about my family, and how PowerCorps helped me out and gave me guidance and skills I didn’t have before,” says Matos.

Still, he was in for another surprise during Obama’s speech: Matos, PowerCorps, and green jobs got a special mention.

Watch a clip of his comments about the program and Matos here:

Obama’s words, Matos says, really stood out.

“I was impressed that he was really paying attention to what I said, because he brought up details of the things we talked about in his speech,” Matos reflected on Wednesday.

In particular, Obama mentioned that Matos’ biggest motivation to succeed—his daughters, Kyleigh, 3, and Jaylianis, 5—was something he could relate to as a dad of two girls.

Obama also talked about the value of the green jobs training that PowerCorps provides:

"[Juan] was given an opportunity to get trained on green jobs that are helping the environment, but also gave him a marketable skill," Obama told the audience.

Matos agreed with the president, noting that he’s learned much through the program that will help him when he begins a job search.

"Before, I didn’t know what GSI even was,” says Matos. “Now, I work with a crew that does maintenance all over the city on bumpouts, rain gardens, tree trenches, all of that, making sure they work properly. I’ve gained a lot of skills; I got brotherhood, I got a mentor. PowerCorps is a great program for helping people."

Today, Matos is confident that he can have a bright future. But before he learned how to work with green infrastructure, that future wasn't so clear.  

“If it wasn’t for PowerCorps, I could have been back out on the street. They helped with school, they kept me working. They gave me a real second chance.”

To learn more about PowerCorpsPHL and how they help us maintain Green City, Clean Waters, vist their Service Partners page.

Improvements to Address Northern Liberties Flooding

Northern Liberties flooding that occured after a July 9 downpour. Credit: Northern Liberties Neighbors Association.
Northern Liberties flooding that occurred after a July 9 downpour. Credit: Northern Liberties Neighbors Association.

After yet another heavy rainstorm last week, a section of Northern Liberties experienced localized flooding as result of an overwhelmed stormwater system.

This area contains the historic Cohocksink Creek and is the focus of a long-term infrastructure improvement project. Traditional sewer expansion and green stormwater tools will improve the capacity of the local system while reducing the amount of water entering sewers.

Philadelphia Water is aware of last week's flooding and on-going issues, and we're working with the community to address immediate concerns as we implement a plan to improve conditions in the long haul.
You can see a summary of plans to address flooding in the vicinity of Wildey and N. American streets here and here.

Impacted residents are also encouraged to attend a community meeting on the Northern Liberties Storm Flood Relief Program. Philadelphia Water representatives will discuss flood reduction efforts at the South Kensington Neighborhood Association,1301 N. 2nd St., on Tuesday, July 14 at 6:30 p.m.

Stress on the Sewers: Is June Philly's New Monsoon?

The July 9 storm dumped nearly an inch of rain in just under 10 minutes—the heaviest of the month so far—and came at a time when the Delaware River was at its highest tide level.

It’s been a rather wet summer so far, and that means additional stress for stormwater infrastructure. After a historically dry May, June made up for it with a vengeance. Only two years have seen a wetter June in the city, according to records dating to 1872.

The wettest June ever was in 2013, followed by 1938 and 2015 with 8.88 inches. The National Weather Service lists June’s rain average as 3.43 inches.

It’s all part of a trend that has seen six of the rainiest Junes EVER occur in the city in just the last dozen years:

June 2013: 10.36 (1st)

June 2015: 8.88 (3rd)

June 2003: 8.08 (4th)

June 2006: 7.95 (6th)

Investing in Our Brand: Investing in Our Customers

The second installation in a series of stories examining the foundations of our new brand

Our new look in action: Philadelphia Water's 2015 Drinking Water Quality Report, our revamped bill, and the new Stormwater Regulations website. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Our new look in action: Philadelphia Water's 2015 Drinking Water Quality Report, our revamped bill, and the new Stormwater Regulations website. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

Our new logo and brand, which hasn’t been updated since 1987, is a very visible piece of our efforts to communicate with the 2.2 million customers and other stakeholders we serve and work with every day.

We don’t just have a new logo. We have a new way of doing things that is redefining what a water utility can be and do.

We are a different department than we were 30 years ago. You can see the change through our innovative, trendsetting programs like Green City, Clean Waters or in our new Stormwater Plan Review and Regulations website, which makes complex information for developers and commercial customers more accessible and easier to understand than ever.

Because what we do and how we do it has changed so dramatically, we needed to change the very thing that says who we are: our brand.

The logo people see every day is part of the face we put on the immense amount of work Philadelphia Water does to make sure our customers know what we offer and how we are using their fees.

And, while the funds invested in our new look represent an extremely small slice of our budget, it’s a powerful and cost effective way to send a clear message about all the important new work we’re doing and to call attention to significant changes in the way we operate.

Our new brand does a number of important things, giving us a big bang for our buck:

• Being Philadelphia Water instead of “PWD” clears up widespread confusion about who we are. Experience and research revealed many customers mistakenly associated us with “PGW,” our sister agency, the Philadelphia Gas Works.

• Updating our look to express our massive modernization efforts sends a signal to businesses and people thinking about moving to or working with Philadelphia.

• Investing in a new brand is an easy and cost effective way to start a conversation about what Philadelphia Water is today.

• "Established 1801." The new look strives to foster civic pride in Philadelphia’s history as a leader in water technology, reinforcing our position as industry leaders—we have been at the forefront of protecting and delivering water for over two centuries. It also reminds people that much of our infrastructure is a gift we inherited from previous generations, and that now is our time to preserve and expand on that investment.

We take a big investment like this seriously, and we want to get this once-in-a-generation opportunity right. It’s why we devoted significant resources and time to becoming Philadelphia Water—a name and look that truly reflects the new department we’ve become as well as the department we’re working to be.

Beyond customer service and communications improvements, we're also reducing water main breaks, using smart meters, making big strides in river water quality improvements, and investing in renewable energy at our treatment plants — so stay tuned for more news.

We’ll miss “PWD,” but our new brand is your invitation to discover who we are in 2015. Philadelphia Water is a whole new department, one that’s serving you better and offering more to customers and the city than ever before.

Starting Today: New Stormwater Regulations Bring Healthier Rivers

Philadelphia's new website for Stormwater Regulations planning and review. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Philadelphia's new website for Stormwater Regulations planning and review. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

For two years, we’ve been working to update our Stormwater Regulations and Plan Review Program.

Now, the changes are finally here.

From July 1, 2015 forward, development in the city is required to follow updated Stormwater Regulations.

These updates represent the most substantial changes to the regulations in nearly a decade. They ensure new development works alongside Philadelphia Water’s Green City, Clean Waters plan by requiring new sites to handle more water, slow stormwater more effectively, and release cleaner water into our sewers.

In doing all of that, the new regulations also encourage more robust use of green infrastructure across the city.

While we were working to create modernized regulations, we also went to great lengths to make the Plan Review process easier from start to finish by listening to the business community and other stakeholders.

The result is an improved, faster process for submitting and reviewing stormwater plans and a new website that makes our Stormwater Regulations Guidance Manual more accessible. At PWDPlanreview.org, users will find a fully searchable, shareable guide and other helpful tools for making sure stormwater plans reflect the new regulations and align with Philadelphia’s vision for a modern stormwater system.

Together, Philadelphia Water and the development community are working to make sure we all have a future defined by smart growth and healthier rivers and streams.

Want to learn more? Public information sessions will be held July 9th and 23rd from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the Municipal Services Building, 1401 JFK Blvd. Click here to register.

Wanted: A Few Good Spokesdogs for Healthy Water

Above: Last year’s Juniata Spokesdog, Gracie, after winning the crown. Credit: PDE and Philadelphia Water.
Above: Last year’s Juniata Spokesdog, Gracie, after winning the crown. Credit: PDE and Philadelphia Water.

It’s that time of year again, and two new neighborhoods are about to crown Philadelphia Water Spokesdogs.

For 2015, Fishtown and Washington Square West were selected as competing locales for the contest, which has been selecting a special pooch to spread the word about poo-lution since 2011. We’ll be accepting nominations for dogs from those neighborhoods through July 15. Guidelines and submission forms are available here. The Spokesdog program is held annually with the help of our friends at the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.

As always, the goal is to raise awareness about keeping dog waste out of our waterways by getting it off sidewalks, streets and grass right away with proper disposal techniques. We all know it’s pretty gross (and rude!) when pet owners don’t clean up after their furry friends, but many people don’t think about the health consequences, especially as they relate to water.

When pet waste is left on the sidewalks, streets or other surfaces, it gets washed into street-level sewer intakes by rain and ends up in our creeks and rivers completely untreated. That can lead to the presence of dangerous germs and excess nutrients that make water unsafe for recreation and more expensive to treat.

Here's what the Environmental Protection Agency has to say about the impact of waste left behind by careless pet owners:

Decaying pet waste consumes oxygen and sometimes releases ammonia. Low oxygen levels and ammonia can damage the health of fish and other aquatic life. Pet waste carries bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can threaten the health of humans and wildlife.  Pet waste also contains nutrients that promote weed and algae growth (eutrophication).  Cloudy and green, eutrophic water makes swimming and recreation unappealing or even unhealthy.

As you can see, the environmental and public health threat is serious, and that's why we need a top-notch doggie to help show others the importance of bagging waste and putting it in a proper receptacle.

Typically, 30-80 dogs register in each neighborhood every year, so the competition is no joke. Of those, about a dozen dogs get selected for the doggie pageant, and best in show (determined with online votes in August) becomes Spokesdog.
With the crown come some real responsibilities—and some cool goodies.

Winning spokesdogs and their caretakers will attend at least three community events in 2015, distributing information on living the eco-friendly dog life. Small bag dispensers that clip to leashes and educational tipcards will be provided to hand out at these events. The educational tipcard explains how dog waste left on the ground breaks down and washes into local stormdrains every time it rains.

So, how about those prizes?

The 1st Place Spokesdog—“Philly Water’s Best Friend”—gets the following:

• $200 prize from a local business

• Image used in promotional pieces

• Toy & cookie prize pack

For the Runner Up (picked in case the 1st Place Spokesdog is unable to fulfill their duties):

• $50 prize from a local business

• Toy & cookie prize pack

All finalists in attendance at the awards ceremony will also receive a toy and cookie prize.
If you know of a worthy pup from Washington Square West or Fishtown, send in your application now and vote for them to become Philly famous!

Pew Center Gives $300K to Shine Light on Secret River Heroes

Families check out how freshwater mussels filter water at temporary exhibit by the PDE. Soon, the Water Works will have a 530-square-foot mussel hatchery.
Families check out how freshwater mussels filter water at temporary exhibit by the PDE. Soon, the Water Works will have a 530-square-foot mussel hatchery. Photo Credit: PDE.

Some of the most intriguing animals in our rivers also happen to be some of the most inconspicuous creatures out there. In fact, these little guys can be nearly invisible if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

But the reality is that freshwater mussels live extraordinary lives burrowed into the beds of our local creeks and rivers.

Now, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage is bringing their secret lives to the surface with a $300,000 grant that will fund the creation of a mussel hatchery right at the Fairmount Water Works.

Celebrating their 10th year of grant making in Philadelphia, the Center announced its 2015 recipients on June 16. We at Philadelphia Water are thrilled to see the Water Works counted among our region’s exemplary artists and cultural institutions and  look forward to the expanded environmental education efforts made possible through this grant.

 The Rivers Restoration Project: A Freshwater Mussel Hatchery will be an interpretive, multi-media installation that will combine science, history, and design in the creation of a site-specific, 530-square-foot living freshwater mussel enclave that will inspire visitors to discover and connect with the Schuylkill River’s rich habitat while developing an appreciation for the importance of environmental protection.

 The two-year grant process is expected to allow the Water Works to open the hatchery in late 2016.

If you’re wondering why the Center and the Water Works are investing in a mussel hatchery, read on.

To the untrained eye, these little shellfish—ranked among the most imperiled animals in the United States—may look just like a leaf lying on the sandy bottom of the Schuylkill or Delaware. But tucked inside that shell is an organism that can live for a century, providing our waterways with decades of invaluable filtration and stream/riverbed stabilization that makes water healthier for both wildlife and humans.

The lifespan and habitat of our native mussels varies depending on the species, but they can live by the millions in vast colonies along riverbeds. With each one filtering up to 20 gallons of water every day, these organisms collectively form nature’s equivalent of water treatment plants, removing pollution and harmful pathogens.

Sadly, these amazing little workhorses have suffered in a big way due to a number of human factors, including unmitigated stormwater runoff and dams, which block their reproductive cycle. This widespread habitat degradation has left many stretches of local waterways without mussel beds, which can lead to destabilized banks and streambeds and water that takes much longer to clear up after disturbance from storms and other heavy sediment events.

In recent years, Philadelphia Water has partnered with the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE) to survey our local waters for mussel populations. With additional help from groups like the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, PDE even began “reseeding” some Philly creeks with mussels, bringing them back to those areas for the first time in decades.  

The Water Works hatchery is the first project of its kind in the region, and could help fuel interest in a much larger commercial hatchery that would work to filter our water (reducing the workload at treatment plants) while providing young mussels for future regional reseeding efforts, said PDE's Danielle Kreeger.  

With this extremely generous $300,000 Pew grant, the Water Works will begin working on the hatchery with PDE and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University next month, bringing visitors a unique exhibit that will enrich the already impressive mix of education opportunities.

“Our 2015 grantees exemplify the diverse and dynamic cultural life of our region,” said Paula Marincola, the Center’s executive director. “As we reflect on the past 10 years of grantmaking in this vibrant community, we also look forward to the extraordinary cultural experiences this talented and ambitious group of artists and organizations will bring to Greater Philadelphia’s audiences.”

For more on educational opportunities at the Fairmount Water Works, which is celebrating its 200th birthday this year, check out their website.
You can see the full list of the amazing projects awarded 2015 grants from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage here.

Change Your Life, Help Protect Our Water: Apply for PowerCorpsPHL Now

Above: Paul Johnson shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro during his PowerCorpsPHL program. Photo Credit: PowerCorpsPHL
Above: Paul Johnson shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro during his PowerCorpsPHL experience. Photo Credit: PowerCorpsPHL.

The social, environmental and economic benefits we get out of having and maintaining the green infrastructure that makes up Green City, Clean Waters are a big part of why Philadelphia is taking the green approach to solving stormwater challenges. It’s what we call our “triple bottom line.”

One way we connect people with those benefits is by working with PowerCorpsPHL to train young adults in things like green infrastructure maintenance. As we've seen, that training is translating to real jobs right here in Philadelphia.

And right now, PowerCorpsPHL is looking for young adults between the ages of 18 and 26 who are committed to transforming themselves and their communities. The application period for the next round of youth closes July 3, so now is the time to act.

To find out how you or someone you know could end up working with PowerCorpsPHL and Philadelphia Water, follow this link.

Need proof the program can have a real impact? Here’s fresh testimony from three guys who did the work and now have real jobs they’re proud of:

“PowerCorpsPHL taught me a lot about the [green stormwater infrastructure] field that I’m going to be working in and gave me all the experience I need. They also hooked me up with the right people. My reference list was crazy! All the way from the Commissioner of the Philadelphia Water Department [Howard Neukrug] down. PowerCorpsPHL prepared me to bring patience, motivation, time management, networking, and delegation to the job. I also learned how to create and maintain statistical databases, use power tools, and perform location and navigation. And my communication skills definitely improved.” Paul Johnson, Cohort 2 member and Cohort 3 Assistant Crew Leader on the GSI crew.

 Where He Is Now: Paul now works in Green Stormwater Infrastructure maintenance with the  green design firm AKRF and is studying to become a GSI engineer.

“PowerCorps was like gas for my car. They really give you the opportunity to show what you’re capable of. Whatever it is you’re good at, they pinpoint it and allow you to develop a career out of it. My original plan was to work for the Water Department, but I was allowed to be in certain situations where Mr. [Rich] Negrin [Managing Director, City of Philadelphia] was seeing my writing and speaking skills. If it wasn’t for PowerCorps, I wouldn’t be halfway to where I am now. I wasn’t even thinking about the type of work I’m doing now, let alone applying for it. PowerCorps was a life-changing opportunity.” Marcus Bullock, Cohort 2 GSI crew member, Cohort 3 PPR Assistant Crew Leader.

Where He Is Now: Marcus received a job as a speechwriter in the Managing Director’s Office during Cohort 3, and has since been promoted to Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff.

“When I first started in PowerCorps I was basically the same hard-working guy. I’m a team player regardless. I’m a basketball player—a point guard—and I want my team involved. If the team needs a leader, I can be that leader. I know my place in whatever team I’m on. Whatever I need to do to make the team strong, that’s what I do…It’s not easy to get into PowerCorps. You have to go through a third party, so a lot of the guys I know are in the predicament I was in. So first I recommend RISE and then from RISE you can get to PowerCorps. It’s a process, and a lot of people don’t want to do the process. I’ve been doing this since I’ve been home, for a year and a half. You get what you put into it.  A lot of people just want handouts, and that’s not what PowerCorps is.”Keith Williams, a Cohort 2 PPR crew member and Cohort 3 PWD crew member.

Where He Is Now: Keith has been working in the mechanics shop for PWD since early May. He’s just passed his civil service exam and hopes to one day become a crew chief.

Although the July 3 deadline is fast approaching, another round of applicants will be selected this winter and contacting a PowerCorpsPHL Recruitment Partner now can help pave the road for entry into the program. Read more about how it all works here.