Green Infrastructure Will Save Millions and Clean Water: EPA Agrees With Philadelphia’s Plan

Green street model for PhiladelphiaU.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson was in Philadelphia to endorse the city’s long-term plan to address sewer overflows from the city’s water management system. The plan, “Green City, Clean Water,” proposes green infrastructure to complement the existing ‘gray’ infrastructure system of pipes and treatment facilities.

For Philadelphia this will mean wide spread use of green roofs, permeable pavement, natural vegetation and other green infrastructure practices to control the runoff of water during storm events so the city will benefit from minimized pollution, reduced flooding and multiple economic gains. 

The city presented the Philadelphia Water Department’s (PWD) plan to EPA for review in 2009 as required by the Clean Water Act and Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law. PWD’s approach to resolving sewer overflows with green infrastructure was both bold and novel—a departure from traditional approaches to build more and bigger gray infrastructure systems.

Before submitting the Green City, Clean Water plan, PWD studied the ability of green systems to meet the water quality management needs traditionally addressed by gray systems and conducted a cost-benefit analysis [PDF] of both approaches. The results supported PWD’s approach as cost effective and pointed to multiple benefits gained from greener approaches that increased the livability of the city.

EPA’s endorsement of Green City, Clean Water follows and supports the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s approval of the plan last June. While the plan will meet water quality requirements to address sewer overflows, it will also serve as a model for other municipalities to adopt green infrastructure practices and will demonstrates the economic advantages of green infrastructure for water management.

Economic benefits include less flood damages, improved community health and greater energy efficiency. These benefits are discussed in a report American Rivers just released. To improve the health of our nation’s waters and ensure the vitality of our communities, American Rivers encourages more cities to go green for clean water and for EPA to encourage more municipalities to plan water quality improvements with green infrastructure.