Reaching Out for Clean Water in Philly

Today I want to give a shout out to the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD). It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that one of the many investments they have made in pursuit of “Green City Clean Water” is a bold outreach campaign. Recently, I’ve received invitations to support the PWD budget, attend forums on urban water sustainability and throw a water balloon!  Yea, who ever thought tackling one of the most troubling water management concerns for a large city could be so much fun?

Green City, Clean Water is Philadelphia’s 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. These common place hard city surfaces allow rain fall to run off excessively fast leading to flooding and erosion. Hard, urban surfaces also hold oils, metals and sediment that rain will wash to storm drains and streams necessitating difficult and expensive treatment.

Philadelphia’s ambitious plan proposes to reduce 4,000 acres of hard, “impervious” surfaces by creating new “natural” surfaces that will capture and retain stormwater and filter the pollutants carried in run-off. To create these natural surfaces the city will look for creative places to place vegetation—rain gardens, vegetated filter strips along sidewalks, roads and parking lots and green roofs. The city will use rain barrels to capture rooftop run-off and slow stormwater. And features that mimic natural surfaces such as porous pavement will also be used to allow run-off to be absorbed slowly into groundwater.


Converting the city’s impervious area will only address approximately half the 4,000 acres PWD has determined is necessary to sustainably manage stormwater in Philadelphia. The remainder of the impervious surfaces is on private land. And so, the city must engage Philadelphia’s businesses, industries and citizens.

Although a stormwater fee targeting landowners of large impervious areas is a hard pill to swallow, who can resist the opportunity to christen the city’s first porous “green” street with a water balloon? And who wouldn’t want to nominate their favorite Fido to be the city’s spokes dog to bark out against dog waste in the city’s storm drains or have their home receive an Extreme Green Makeover with green infrastructure features like rain barrels and rain gardens? Outreach campaigns like these will inspire everyone to participate in Green City, Clean Water, ultimately making it easy to ask everyone to contribute a ‘fair share.’