Pennsylvania supports Philadelphia plan for green infrastructure

In my recent blog, I mentioned Philadelphia’s “Green City, Clean Water” plan “ to develop sustainable water management and minimize costs for water treatment caused in part by stormwater run-off from the city’s broad expanse of pavement, rooftops and sidewalks.”

On one hand it’s an innovative and ambitious plan. .. On the other hand, “Green City, Clean Water” is just a pretty name for the city water department’s required response to regulation.

Cities that manage systems of sewer pipes that receive stormwater have frequently had sewer system overflows when too much storm water enters the pipes and related treatment plants. These combined sewer overflows (CSOs) not only carry oils, metals and sediment from hard surfaced rooftops, parking lots, playgrounds and roadways but also industrial wastewater and sewage. The polluted water results in waterways unfit for drinking or recreation and require downstream users to do costly treatment.

Many years ago, it was determined that the burdens to clean were so great that EPA declared CSOs illegal. The approach adopted to eliminating CSOs—building pipes and treatment plants with greater capacity and/or laying miles of new pipe to separate storm water from sewer flow—has proven prohibitively expensive for many cities.

So, EPA has permitted cities to continue to have CSOs as long as overflows are monitored and reported, and a Long Term Control Plan (LTCP) is created that will allow the city to reduce over time, and eventually eliminate, the sewage and stormwater overflows. But, even with the latitude of LTCP provisions, many cities are unable to stay compliant.

Thus, to address regulation, the Philadelphia Water Department proposed a non-traditional, leading edge LTCP to EPA in September 2009: “Green City, Clean Water.” After considerable review by EPA and DEP, the city has just announced DEP’s approval of the plan. The plan will allow Philadelphia to greatly reduce its CSO problem by reducing stormwater instead of merely increasing capacity within its system of pipes and treatment plants.

Stormwater will be reduced cost effectively with green infrastructure such as the green street mentioned in my last blog, green roofs, and urban tree plantings. The city will transform rooftops, pavement, parks and abandoned lots to look and function as Mother Nature once intended.

The new landscape will greatly minimize the burden on the city’s existing water infrastructure, postponing, reducing or eliminating the need for expensive system upgrades. Of course, Philadelphia has not been sitting idly by waiting for approval of its LTCP, “Green City, Clean Water.”

Philadelphia introduced a fee structure [PDF] to reduce hard surfaces across the city, instituted an ordinance and tax credit [PDF] to expand green roof development and has secured millions of dollars for green infrastructure improvements that are beautifying Philadelphia and contributing toward the plan.

Philadelphia’s leadership, and the stamp of approval by EPA and DEP, sets the stage for cities across Pennsylvania and the nation. Cities, like New York, Washington, DC and Milwaukee that endorse investing in green infrastructure practices to address water management concerns.