green infrastructure

SMIP: It's How We Empower People to Invest in Philly's Neighborhoods and Rivers

What are people saying about our Stormwater Pioneer? Watch this:

Last Tuesday, November 17th, Deputy Commissioner Chris Crockett joined Mayor Michael Nutter, City Councilmen Kenyatta Johnson and Mark Squilla and local business and community leaders to celebrate Popi’s Italian Restaurant and co-owner Gina Rucci as Philadelphia’s 2015 Stormwater Pioneer.

Rucci successfully leveraged a $94,860 grant through Philadelphia Water’s Stormwater Management Incentives Program (SMIP) to create two rain gardens that reduced her stormwater bill by 60 percent while adding attractive landscaping to the restaurant parking lot.

Noting that the rain gardens have been a big hit with her customers and that they will help protect Philadelphia’s drinking water for future generations, Rucci urged other business to take advantage of the grant program.

"People complain about their water bill, but the Water Department actually takes its own revenue and gives back to us, which is why we could do this,"  Rucci told the crowd. "There aren't many places that give you your money back. They're taking the money...and giving it back to you so you can invest your business and neighborhood." 

"The Stormwater Pioneers program is a great example of how a city agency can be innovative while also helping to promote economic development," Mayor Nutter said. "This beautiful garden used to be an asphalt parking lot. Prior to this, when a heavy rainstorm hit, water would pour down and wash into the city sewers, bringing along spilled motor oil, gasoline and whatever other pollutants might have been sitting on the surface. Now, we have a natural filter to help control and clean that excess water."

As part of last week’s ceremony, Crockett presented Gina Rucci with a plaque honoring Popi’s as a Stormwater Pioneer. Councilman Johnson, in whose district Popi’s is located, presented Rucci with a citation from City Council recognizing Popi’s for its commitment to environmental safety and community enhancement.

Philadelphia Water also honored the members of the engineering and design team for the important role they played in the project—Lakash Constructors, Wilkinson Associates and Ruppert Landscape.

"We are very pleased to honor Gina Rucci and Popi’s for their commitment to improving the environment and their community," said Crockett. "It is our hope that more businesses all across the city will take a look at the Stormwater Management Incentives Program and follow Gina’s and Popi’s example, said Crockett. "To some, it may seem like a small step, but it’s a vital one. Stormwater runoff is the main source of pollution in our rivers and streams and, by creating these rain gardens, Gina and Popi’s are providing a natural filter that will keep our streams clean and our drinking water safe."

To learn more about how a business or commercial property of any size can benefit from SMIP click here.

Stormwater Pioneer: Business Makes Smart Move, Helps Our Rivers

Popi's co-owner Gina Ricci talks about why using a SMIP grant to build rain gardens in the restaurant parking lot was such a smart financial move. Credit: Philadelphia Water
Popi's co-owner Gina Rucci used a SMIP grant to build rain gardens in the restaurant parking lot, and says it was a smart financial move. Credit: Philadelphia Water

For the past 20 years, Popi’s Italian Restaurant has been a beloved fixture in its South Philadelphia community, building a stellar reputation for excellent cuisine in a family-friendly setting. Recently, co-owner Gina Rucci made a smart business move that we’re excited to celebrate. Rucci used over $94,000 from Philadelphia Water to improve her property and neighborhood, all while lowering her stormwater bill by 60 percent. That means the $5,000 investment she contributed will pay for itself in less than two years.

App Solution: Civic Hackers Create Mobile App for Green Infrastructure

Volunteers at Apps for Philly Sustainability use data provided by Philadelphia Water to work on the new Big Green App project. Credit: Matthew Fritch, Philadelphia Water.

By Matthew Fritch for the
Watersheds Blog

Last week, Philadelphia Water released a treasure trove of data in advance of Apps for Philly Sustainability, a three-day event that brought together sustainability professionals and technologists. Their mission? Conquer the city's problems with code. Armed with datasets and digital know-how, teams of students and tech professionals developed apps to help the homeless find resources, assist students with learning disabilities, and track individual energy consumption. (See more details on the various projects here.)

But the project we're most excited about is a Big Green App (hat tip to the Big Green Map).

Christmas in October: 'Apps for Philly Sustainability' Gets Lots of Water Data to Play With

This map, viewable on the City of Philadelphia's website, show green infrastructure locations and was made using similar data sets.
This map, viewable on the City of Philadelphia's website, shows green infrastructure locations and was made using similar data sets.

In anticipation of Code for Philly's Oct. 16-18 “Apps for Philly Sustainability” meet-up, Philadelphia Water and other City agencies released tons of data for the super-tech savvy crowd to tinker with.

Our hope is this creative community of app-building enthusiasts will come up with new tools that help Philadelphia understand and appreciate, among other things, the breadth of green infrastructure projects being designed and implemented through the Green City, Clean Waters program.

Using the data we’ve collected and shared, they can conceive fun and engaging ways for people explore things like green infrastructure locations, how much rain is falling in different parts of the city, and how the topic of customer phone calls varies from neighborhood to neighborhood.

PhillyInnovates, a blog by the City's Managing Director’s Office, just published this helpful list of the data sets Philadelphia Water released today:

New Bill Encourages Green Roofs, Density

Water industry representives from across North America check out the Paseo Verde green roof in North Phila. Credit: Brian Rademaekers/Philadelphia Water.
Water industry representatives from across North America check out the Paseo Verde green roof in North Phila. Credit: Brian Rademaekers/Philadelphia Water.

Green City, Clean Waters is the biggest plan in the U.S. designed to manage stormwater with green infrastructure, and that means Philadelphia Water will take all the help it can get from developers who want to add value to their properties while also lessening the negative environmental impacts with green stormwater tools.

On October 8th, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, Chair of the Council Committee on the Environment, introduced a bill that would give the development community a new incentive to include one of the most talked about green infrastructure tools out there – green roofs.

Brown’s bill would allow for density zoning bonuses for developers who incorporate approved green roofs into building designs.

"As a City, we have been steadily increasing incentives to build green roofs, and it is working. Philadelphia is now the number three City in North America when it comes to green roof square footage, trailing only Washington, D.C. and Toronto, Canada; that is huge," Councilwoman Reynolds Brown said in statement released by her office.

Green roofs would have to meet Philadelphia Water's design standards to qualify for the density bonus, and Commissioner Howard Neukrug offered support for the new bill.

"We thank Councilwoman Reynolds Brown for helping to provide this added incentive that will create more green roofs in Philadelphia," said Neukrug. "Green roofs help to manage stormwater, keeping it from overwhelming our sewer system and polluting our rivers. This legislation will also help make green roofs more affordable and help create more jobs for our local green business community."

Under the current code, a 10,000 square foot lot in a Residential Multi Family Zoning District (RM-1) would be zoned for twenty dwelling units. If the developer added an approved green roof to the design, the same lot would be zoned for 27 units.

In a Neighborhood Commercial Mixed Zoning District (CMX-2 and CMX-2.5) a 10,000 square foot building is currently zoned for 19 dwelling units and under the new law, would be zoned for 27 units, provided they install an approved green roof.

A green roof is defined by the ordinance as “a treatment to a rooftop that supports living vegetation and includes a synthetic, high quality waterproof membrane, drainage layer, root barrier, soil layer, and vegetation layer.”

Philadelphia would join a small but growing number of cities offering density bonuses for green roofs including San Diego, Portland, Ore., Chicago, and Austin. The bill will be referred to the Committee on the Rules, Chaired by Councilman Bill Greenlee, who expects a fall 2015 hearing.

To see a full copy of the bill, please click here.

Want a Greener School? PWD and Community Design Collaborative Can Help Guide You!

Save the Date: Join us on Monday, May 4 for a very special presentation and discussion.  

Mayor Nutter and Dr. Hite join George W. Nebinger students in a ribbon cutting for their green schoolyard on Earth Day 2015.
Mayor Nutter and Dr. Hite join George W. Nebinger students in a ribbon cutting for their green schoolyard on Earth Day 2015.

After years of bringing the benefits of green stormwater features to dozens of Philly schools through our Green City, Clean Waters plan, we’re ready to share what we’ve learned with communities here and around the country. The result? Transforming Philadelphia’s Schoolyards, a colorful, 44-page design guide to greening schoolyards made with the help of the Community Design Collaborative and their ace team of volunteers. 

The pioneering toolkit on schoolyard transformation will be presented on Monday, May 4, 2015 from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm at the Center for Architecture, 1216 Arch Street. The event will include a panel discussion featuring the leaders of three successful schoolyard makeovers, a green schoolyards resource fair, and opening remarks by Philadelphia School District Superintendent, William R. Hite. Jr. and PWD's Commissioner, Howard Neukrug. And, yes, you ARE invited!

We made this guide because there’s an ever-growing groundswell of communities seeking to reinvent Philadelphia’s mostly asphalt schoolyards as neighborhood spaces that foster learning, connection to nature and community. Transforming Philadelphia’s Schoolyards presents ideas, advice and stories drawn from PWD and the Collaborative’s work to design green schoolyards and manage stormwater—providing on-the-ground experience, case studies and guidance for motivated schools and communities across the city and country to do the same.

Through the Green City, Clean Waters plan, PWD is reimagining stormwater management citywide and sees schoolyards as ideal sites for green infrastructure. When PWD began working with the School District of Philadelphia, it recognized a need for a holistic approach to reinventing the schoolyard, and teamed up with the Collaborative, a non-profit providing preliminary architectural, landscape architectural, and engineering designs that incorporate the voices of schools, neighbors and communities. Having been with us since Green City, Clean Waters started nearly five years ago, the Collaborative's experience made them the perfect partner for this guide.  

Advocates for green schoolyards (including teachers, administrators, students, families, communities, designers, public agencies, and others) will gain inspiration and receive a complimentary copy of the design guide at the event.

You can RSVP for the event here. If you’re interested in making your community’s school a greener, brighter place, we hope to see you there!

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! 

London Councillor Takes Note of Green City, Clean Waters

Thames River
Thames River, London. Photo by Matt Buck. 

In a letter to the editor of The Economist (third one from the top), Councillor Harry Phibbs of London's Hammersmith and Fulham Borough responds to their September article "London's Sewers, Smelling Sweet" about the Thames Tideway Tunnel. He makes a point about using green, natural stormwater infrastructure solutions by referencing Philadelphia’s “better, cheaper alternative of green infrastructure that soaks up the rainwater in various ways to stop it causing sewage overflows in the first place.” Of course he's referring to Green City, Clean Waters. (We guess this glowing praise means they’ve gotten over the role
Philadelphia played in that whole revolution thing.)

Here at PWD, we think any investment in infrastructure is worthy and applaud
London’s commitment to reduce sewage overflow into the Thames. In fact, we’re making similar investments in “hard infrastructure” with projects like the recently completed stormwater storage basin unit at Venice Island while also continuing our commitment to green infrastructure. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an “either or” choice. We can (and should) make investments in new pipes as well as new green stormwater infrastructure like tree trenches and rain gardens.

With that said, we are proud of the triple bottom line approach of Green City, Clean Waters. Investment in green infrastructure provides benefits that go beyond simply reducing combined sewer overflows--it also creates social benefits and is good for the economy. For every dollar we spend, we want to provide the biggest return and benefit to the public as well as the environment. Our hope is that green infrastructure, unlike "hard" or "gray" infrastructure, creates a system that will last as long as nature itself. Thanks to Councillor Phibbs for recognizing us for it!

Community Impact: Managing Water in Philadelphia

Penn State Public Media (PSPM), in collaboration with Fairmount Water Works   and The Penn State Center: Engaging Philadelphia is excited to announce a mini grant initiative, “Community Impact: Managing Water in Philadelphia.”
Request for Proposals
“Community Impact: Managing Water in Philadelphia”

Proposals Due by 5:00 p.m. EST, August 14, 2014

Grants made available with funding from the William Penn Foundation, will support projects within the Philadelphia region (Schuylkill and Delaware Watersheds) that combat water quality problems  using green infrastructure and which include an educational component.
Grants ranging from $500.00 to $2,000.00 will be awarded on a competitive basis to eligible applicants. Projects may  include, but are not limited to, local stream restoration projects, community rain garden or rain barrel installation projects, and green infrastructure projects that are implemented in a K-12 (and post high-school) environment . For more information about the grants or to apply, please visit:

“Community Impact: Managing Water in Philadelphia” mini grants are a component of Water Blues, Green Solutions, a public service media initiative. The centerpiece of Water Blues is a nationally distributed public television documentary produced by PSPM  that premiered in 2013. The mini grants initiative will help extend the impact of Water Blues. More information about this national initiative is available at:
**Please feel free to share this information with anyone that might be interested in applying for a grant via newsletters or  social media.

For more information, please contact:
Lindsey Faussette
Manager, Project Implementation
Penn State Public Media

5 ways PWD aims to be a model 21st Century urban water utility

To start off our series about points from the budget testimony PWD delivered this week, we wanted to share a couple of quick pieces for background—our mission and our short- and long-term goals.

PWD mission:
PWD aims to be America’s model 21st Century urban water utility- one that fully meets the complex responsibilities and opportunities of our time and environment. PWD’s mission is to:

  • Provide the Greater Philadelphia region with integrated water, wastewater and stormwater services
  • Protect public health by always delivering PWD’s customers the highest quality of drinking water at a competitive and affordable cost
  • Protect the environment by managing and treating the region’s wastewater and stormwater, protecting and advocating for rivers and streams and their watersheds, and protecting sources of drinking water
  • Support the sustainable growth of Philadelphia and its residents, communities, businesses and industry as well as the financial well-being of the utility
  • Continue to be America’s most innovative utility with a constant focus on quality, efficiency, customer service and affordability

We just LOVE that we’re getting to support sustainable growth as the city’s population continues to be on the rise! The key, as we say, is making sure that growth is smart and sustainable so it also allows us to protect the environment for the next several generations of Philadelphians.

How do we plan on fulfilling this mission? Check it out:

PWD’s short and long term goals:
PWD recently completed a new Strategic Plan, which was created with the input of PWD’s own staff, other city and government agencies, and external partners. The plan focuses on eight key areas:

  • Improve customer service, outreach and assistance
  • Increase workforce strength and diversity
  • Improve our financial health
  • Invest in capital planning
  • Protect our infrastructure
  • Uphold excellence in core services
  • Ensure sustainable utility operations
  • Support a strong and diverse Philadelphia business community

It’s no accident that improved customer service is at the top of the list. It is a top priority for PWD and a place where we’re always striving to get better. Friday we’ll share some more details about how we plan to do this.

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