green infrastructure

A Kickstart for Green Infrastructure

Photo Credit: PlanPhilly

Innovative green stormwater infrastructure will help breathe new life into the historic Cynwyd Train Station! The Lower Merion Historical Society is working to raise money over the next month for a new multipurpose stormwater harvesting system for the 125-year old train station. They’ve chosen Kickstarter as their fundraising tool—a website that allows individuals to make direct contributions to creative projects. 

Five years ago, the Historical Society began a program to refurbish Cynwyd Station, built in 1890 by the Pennsylvania Railroad. Although the station building is no longer used by Septa, once renovated, the site will be a trailhead with bathrooms and refreshments for the Cynwyd Heritage Trail, a walking and biking pathway. 

The biggest challenge in renovating the building is the waterlogged basement. The station’s current downspouts deposit rainwater too close to the building’s foundation, causing water to soak into the lower level.

North Street Design responded to the Historical Society’s dilemma with a pro-bono design for a combination stormwater tank, downspout planter and bench system for Cynwyd Station. The system will match the station’s aesthetics, manage rain water and serve as a seating area. 

While North Street is covering the design and installation costs of the stormwater system, the Historical Society needs your help covering supply costs. Through the Kickstarter website, the Society has about three weeks to raise about $2,000 in donations. They are already over half-way to their $5,000 goal! Help support this innovative project and learn more details about the plan by visiting the Kickstarter page. In exchange for a donation, the Historical Society is offering free memberships, guided tours and rain garden workshops. 

You're Invited…Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! Design Awards Ceremony

The Philadelphia Water Department and Community Design Collaborative invite you to the Design Awards Ceremony concluding the Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! design competition. This national, interdisciplinary design competition challenged designers, engineers, and other sustainability professionals to show how green stormwater infrastructure can transform our City.

The design competition is part of Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up!—an 18-month partnership between the Philadelphia Water Department, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Community Design Collaborative to revitalize urban neighborhoods through the adoption of green stormwater management in the Philadelphia region. These methods are outlined in Green City, Clean Waters, Philadelphia’s $2 billion, 25-year plan to protect and enhance the City’s waterways by managing stormwater primarily through innovative green stormwater infrastructure.

After a reception and an exhibition of competition entries in the Hall of Dinosaurs at the Academy of Natural Sciences, we’ll move to the auditorium for rapid-fire presentations by the nine finalists. Three winning teams will be chosen by a jury to receive $10,000 prizes. Proceeds from the Design Awards benefit the Collaborative’s Infill Philadelphia program. Reserve your spot!


Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! Design Competition Awards

Thursday, March 7, 2013

6 PM to 9 PM 

Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 

Cost Savings Week Begins With A Project That Will Save Billions!

Liberty Lands Rain Garden

A rain garden manages stormwater at Liberty Lands Park, Northern Liberties.


During our last blog series we talked about how the rising costs of “big ticket items” are a large part of what’s driving PWD's rate adjustments. We should also explain that we aren’t proposing these adjustments without first doing everything we can to balance increasing costs with cuts to our expenses. 

Some of the most significant savings come from the Green City, Clean Waters plan. This is the City of Philadelphia's plan to meet requirements for reducing the overflow of sewage into the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers during rain storms. While other cities have been faced with costs as high as $8 billion for creating entirely new tunnels to separate storm water from waste water, PWD will spend about a quarter of that over the next several years on green infrastructure meant to keep much of the storm water from ever entering the system. The end result: fewer streets torn up for months to install new tunnels and more trees and other greenery throughout the city, providing cleaner air and water while reducing the urban “heat island” effect that cooks us each summer.

These are investments that will pay off down the road in lower maintenance costs, less strain on the current infrastructure and fewer gallons of water that need to be treated at our sewage treatment plants. This doesn’t even begin to capture the lower costs that will come from an overall healthier, cleaner environment when you factor in lower healthcare expenses and less need for massive clean-ups of our rivers and streams.

It’s a win-win… a less expensive way of enacting these mandated measures to clean up our stormwater process and lower costs down the line as we realize the benefits of these investments.

For more information about Green City, Clean Waters, check out the Year in Review to see how far we’ve come already and learn more about where we’re going.  For a highly technical analysis of the cost-savings from Green City, Clean Waters, view Section 9 of the plan which compares alternatives to the green infrastructure approach. 

Have you noticed Green City, Clean Waters projects in your neighborhood? Share them with us on our Facebook page.

Private Pennies Financing GSI

Opportunity for GSI

Commercial sites like this one have many incentives to use GSI to help manage stormwater.

It looks like 2013 will be a big year for private financing of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI)! According to the Natural Resources Defense Council blog, the private sector will likely step up financing of GSI this year for three reasons: 1) increased interest in GSI by cities across the country, 2) recent severe weather patterns, and 3) the recommendations of the high-profile NY State 2100 Commission in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

In Philadelphia we have several opportunities to work with the private sector to leverage public investment in green stormwater infrastructure. The Philadelphia Water Department’s (PWD) parcel-based stormwater billing for commercial customers provides a financial incentive to manage stormwater on  properties through green infrastructure. In addition, non-residential property owners are eligible to apply for grants to help finance these improvements through PWD’s Stormwater Management Incentives Program. Finally, through the City’s stormwater regulations, new construction or renovations that disturb 15,000 square feet or more must manage the first inch of stormwater runoff on-site.

Visit the NRDC blog to read more about why the private sector has reasons to increase financial support for green stormwater infrastructure, and to get a sneak preview of their upcoming 2013 report on this topic.

Stormwater Voyeurs, Check out this Exhibition!

Shoemaker Green

Shoemaker Green, at the University of Pennsylvania, is one example of the projects featured in the Soak it Up! Exhibition. Photo Credit: PlanPhilly Flickr

Have you heard about the Infill Philadelphia: Soak it Up! initiative? Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up!  is a partnership between the Philadelphia Water DepartmentCommunity Design Collaborative (CDC),  and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) to explore how green stormwater infrastructure can revitalize urban neighborhoods. The kick-off party in October featured an exhibition of designs for managing stormwater in sustainable and innovative ways. The event was sold out, but the CDC has put together this online portfolio that documents the exhibition.Check out the document and see what progressive stormwater management can look like.

So far, the Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up!  initiative has hosted other events including two design charrettes; one focused on transforming urban schoolyards, the other on Transit Oriented Development. Still to come are the design competition presentations where finalists will present their solutions for three different urban stormwater challenges in the exciting PechaKucha style, a fast and dynamic lightning round presentation format that is sure to be entertaining and inspiring. This event will be held at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University on March 7, 2013. Find out how you can purchase tickets or get involved by visiting the CDC’s Infill: Soak it Up page

Keeping the Bargain - Investing in Infrastructure Part 4


Water Pollution Control Plant

Energy costs are on the rise at PWD facilities, just like they are for homeowners and individuals.

Let’s wrap up our blog posts about the big-ticket items that have made our rate changes necessary with a frank discussion about something that every household has been dealing with.

The cost of every input we use to clean the drinking water and treat the sewage and stormwater has increased significantly over the last several years. As energy costs continue to rise rapidly, so do the products and services we purchase.  The costs of chemicals and replacement equipment have risen faster than the rate of inflation. We at PWD understand that these are issues faced by all of our customers and that increasing rates in the context of all these other costs is not ideal. We are all ratepayers ourselves and feel the effects as well. Please know that we’re doing everything in our power to shield our customers from as many of PWD’s increased costs as possible.

Stay tuned for more information about the investments and expense-cutting measures we are doing to help us in this effort, and feel free to get in touch with us anytime on our Facebook page

Keeping the Bargain – Investing in Infrastructure Part 3


PWD Skimmer Vessel

A Water Department Vessel skims trash off the Schuylkill River. Trash can be picked off the river, but other pollutants require specialized detection and treatment.

As we spend the week talking about the big-ticket items that made this month’s rate changes necessary, we can't forget the work PWD does to maintain the health and safety of our ratepayers.

Today’s Water Department customers rely on us to protect them from pollutants that past generations didn’t have to worry about. We are already taking steps to keep our drinking water safe and improve the detection of Iodine 131, an element used to treat thyroid disease, and pollutants from Marcellus Shale gas drilling.

PWD takes its role as the protector of our region’s drinking water very seriously. For us, the rivers aren’t just the source of our product; they’re a major environmental, recreational and tourism asset. The revenue we receive from our ratepayers is used in large part to help us protect our drinking water supply both for our current customers and future generations of Philadelphians.

Do you have questions about any of these issues? Feel free to get in touch with us on our Facebook page. You can also go to our website to read more about Iodine 131 or Marcellus Shale drilling in the Delaware River basin. 

Keeping the Bargain - Investing in Infrastructure Part II

PWD Repairs a Water Main

PWD Repairs a Water Main 

If you’ve been reading the news over the past several months, you may have noticed a bit of a pattern with the weather we’ve been having. Whether it was Hurricane Irene in 2011 or Super Storm Sandy in 2012, some pretty intense weather events have been walloping us lately.

The flooding that comes as a result of these increasingly intense rainstorms adds to the strain on Philadelphia’s combined storm and wastewater system. These storms can overwhelm many of the older pipes and tunnels in the City and add significant costs to repair and replacement. While our Green City, Clean Waters program aims to relieve a great deal of that stress, we are still faced with the necessity of repairing and replacing pipes that have been around for a century. Given that one of the effects of global climate change is an overall increase in the frequency and intensity of these storms, we are trying to prepare the system by keeping our traditional infrastructure in good repair and building new green infrastructure.

We’d love to continue this discussion about global climate change and its effects on our local infrastructure. Chat us up at PWD's Facebook page, to share any relevant links or stories.

Keeping the Bargain - Investing in Infrastructure

Skyline, by Randy Calderone

We've mentioned in previous blogs that we've got better priced water than our suburban friends. Our infrastructure has to stay ahead of the curve to keep it that way.  Photo- Randy Calderone.

Now that we’re into the New Year, most of our customers have probably gotten their first water bills of the year. As we explained at the beginning of the month, rate changes that were approved as a part of our public hearing process this summer and fall went into effect starting January 1st. While rate increases are always difficult, we don’t take them lightly and turn to them only to cover the costs of “big-ticket” items that occur in the process of providing the same clean, safe, reliable drinking water our ratepayers have come to depend on.

For the next few days, we’re going to outline some of these big-ticket items so we can be as transparent as possible about what our recent rate changes are going toward.

To start off... for all of those who have seen the newly released theatrical version of Les Misérables and were curious about the sewers through which Jean Valjean carries a wounded Marius Pontmercy, let us explain a little about Philadelphia’s sewer system which bears some striking resemblance to those of mid-1800s Paris.

Our combined sewer system sends wastewater from the home into the same pipes as storm water from the rain. While the generations before us were doing the best they could with the information and resources they had at the time, it turns out that connecting the pipes that come from our drains and toilets to the same tunnels that carry the storm water can bring some problems. As little as a tenth of an inch of rain is enough to overwhelm our sewage treatment plants and cause overflows of storm water and raw sewage to spill into our waterways. So PWD is solving this with our state-of-the-art and yet fiscally conservative $2 billion Green City Clean Waters Plan. This is as little as a quarter of what other cities have planned on spending to fix the same kind of problem, but it will still add to our costs over the next several years.

Our goal is to use green infrastructure to keep storm water from ever reaching the sewer system, directing it instead where it naturally wants to go: back into the ground. “Green” infrastructure refers to street trees or planters, as opposed to “gray” infrastructure like pipes. By the time all of the Green City, Clean Waters infrastructure improvements are put in place, Philadelphia will have the nation’s greenest, most innovative and naturalistic solution for storm water management. It’s an investment that will pay off for our children, grandchildren and beyond.

Check out our Green City, Clean Waters Year in Review 
to see how far we’ve come already and learn more about where we’re going.

Have you noticed Green City, Clean Waters projects in your neighborhood?
Share with us at our Facebook page!

Giving Thanks


In the spirit of the season, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) would like to extend its warmest thanks to its staff and multitude of partners that have officially launched Green City, Clean Waters this past year.  It has been a year full of excitement and major successes for the City of Philadelphia.  To commemorate our achievements, PWD is proud to share with you the2012 Green City, Clean Waters Year in Review .  We hope you enjoy the photojournalistic glimpse into the highlights of the past year, which have only been realized as a result of the countless hours of hard work and dedication of staff and our wonderful partners! We are grateful and thankful to you! Happy Turkey Day

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