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Philadelphia's Green Strategy for Water Quality Management

9/10/2011 by tday

With the consent of the EPA, Philadelphia on June 1, 2011, adopted a $1.2 billion plan for remediation of pollution from its sewers and stormwater drains that will rely to an unprecedented degree on “green” technologies: stormwater tree trenches, porous asphalt, rain gardens, sidewalk planters, green roofs, and changes in landscaping to capture rainwater where it falls ‑ the same types of measures that churches and households can adopt to reduce their stormwater effluent. The plan has received overwhelming support from Philadelphia’s citizens. 

Philadelphia’s shift to green technologies for water quality management began to take hold in 1999.  Until then, the city’s plans for water management were “all about pipes.”  Its new, more integrated approach aims to “revitalize the land” so that the rivers and streams running through the city are safe and accessible for fishing and swimming.  The key has been finding means to emulate natural systems in a dense urban setting.  In a typical urban setting, with 70 to 100 percent impervious surface area, any heavy rain overwhelms water management systems with the result that untreated overflows discharge directly into rivers and streams destroying riparian habitat even when relatively “clean.”

Under the plan, investments in green technologies will constitute $800 million of the capital improvement budget. Philadelphia will still make some continued investments in pipes and enhanced water treatment facilities, $275 million for pipes and treatment facilities, and another $125 million for contingencies and environmental restoration, including investments in open space. The alternative, however, an $8 billion investment in four massive detention tunnels would have cost more than 6 times as much, would have created only temporary jobs, and would not have produced any collateral benefit for air quality.

http://www.sustainablecitynetwork.com/topic_channels/water/article_b296460c-8caa-11e0-93e0-001a4bcf6878.html (video and additional background)

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Comments:

by Craig on 9/13/2011 at 9:57:34 AM
For most cities, the key is the cost comparison -- going the "green" thing actually cost less for the City of Philadelphia. A win-win situation! Fantastic.

by Craig on 10/5/2011 at 5:47:33 PM
One more question -- Who was the person (or group) behind making this a reality for Philly? Were there any unique circumstances that would make this NOT applicable to other municipalities?

by Tal on 10/20/2011 at 3:13:45 PM
Probably nothing unique. It may be noted that the University of Pennsylvania has been redeveloping some of its land to also process wastewater by emulating natural systems. What is notable in the Philadelphia case is that the plan required approval by EPA because the city was not in compliance with clean water regulations.


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