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Philadelphia is known as a leader when it comes to using rain gardens, tree trenches, and green roofs to reduce stormwater overflows that pollute local waterways. These practices and others, known as green stormwater infrastructure, allow water to naturally soak into soil or evaporate into the air without carrying pollutants into our streams and rivers. At the same time, they provide residents with cleaner air, more attractive parks and streets, and a healthier community.
Philadelphia committed itself to accomplishing significant stormwater overflow reductions through a 25-year plan focused on green practices, known as the Green City, Clean Waters. In the first five years of the program, Philadelphia surpassed the expectations set for the program, creating over 800 “greened acres” across the city. Some of these projects have taken place on public property, such as the Mill Creek Playground where basketball courts were retrofitted with porous asphalt over an infiltration bed or Liberty Lands Park where a rain garden detention pond was installed to collect runoff from the site and an adjacent street. But from its beginning, Green City, Clean Waters contemplated the necessity of private development and investment in the success of the program. The Philadelphia Water Department has encouraged private investment in green stormwater infrastructure through regulatory changes—for example all new and/or redevelopment sites disturbing more than 15,000 square feet of earth must to infiltrate, retain, or treat the first inch of stormwater—as well as through grant incentive programs like the Stormwater Management Incentive Program (SMIP) and Greened Acre Retrofit Program (GARP).
These grant programs provide funding to private land owners and developers for the construction of stormwater retrofit projects on private property. This allows the Philadelphia Water Department to take compliance credit for greened acres on private project sites that would otherwise be inaccessible to the agency and at a cheaper price than it would cost the Philadelphia Water Department to build equivalent projects on public property. These programs are so successful that the Philadelphia Water Department is asking the Philadelphia Water, Sewer, and Stormwater Rate Board to increase the Department’s budget for these programs.
PennFuture, along with the Natural Resource Defense Council, submitted comments to the Rate Board detailing the importance of Green City, Clean Waters, the grant incentive programs, and predictable funding to the Philadelphia Water Department to be able to achieve its goals. We look forward to continuing this work. Please follow our blogs for upcoming updates.