Green Streets: A Road to Clean Water

by Tom Damm

As seen from my cubicle, the project is nearing completion.

As seen from my cubicle, the project is nearing completion.

The busy backhoe operating outside my cubicle window in Center City Philadelphia offers the latest and, for me, the loudest evidence of the work communities are doing to turn their main streets into more absorbent green streets.

In this case, the far sidewalk along the signature Benjamin Franklin Parkway from 16th to 19th streets near City Hall is getting churned up as the Philadelphia Water Department makes room for a greener walkway with a system to capture stormwater in a series of underground storage and infiltration trenches.

When completed, rain from a storm will flow into a “green inlet” that leads to the underground trenches and either infiltrate through the natural subsoil or be stored and then released back slowly into the sewer system.  The trenches will help prevent the combined sewage/stormwater system from getting inundated and spilling its contents into local waters.

Green streets are catching on in the mid-Atlantic region as a way to alleviate flooding, prevent sewer overflows and give an economic and aesthetic lift to downtown blocks.

EPA and its state and non-profit partners are helping to create green streets in big cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore and the District of Columbia, and smaller communities like the port towns along the Anacostia River.

The Borough of Etna, just outside Pittsburgh, last week earned a Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence for its Green Streetscape Initiative.  That project, supported with EPA funds, is transforming the borough’s flood-prone downtown with green techniques to intercept runoff from rooftops and paved surfaces.  The borough manager says she no longer introduces herself at meetings as Mary Ellen from “Wetna.”

Other communities are tapping into the novel Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns (G3) program – an EPA partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Trust, supported by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.  In its first five years, the G3 program has provided more than $6 million and leveraged an equal amount in matching funds for green street design, construction and research.

Check out this new EPA video highlighting a few of the existing green streets projects and the people behind them.


About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

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