A Philadelphia Story: Using Green Infrastructure to Slow the Flow

By Tom Damm

Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner Howard Neukrug, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Region 3 EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin, U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, and Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler at the signing of the partnership agreement; photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Water Department.

Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner Howard Neukrug, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Region 3 EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin, U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, and Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler at the signing of the partnership agreement; photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Water Department.

The only good thing about sitting through a miserable, wind-blown drizzle watching the Phillies lose to the Dodgers Monday night was that the rain wasn’t heavy enough to bring out the tarp.  That would have meant a later night than expected for our EPA group and a groggier commute in the morning.

When it comes to downpours in Philadelphia, though, there are much greater concerns than some inconvenienced baseball fans… maybe even greater concerns than the Phils’ slow start to the 2012 season.

More than half of the city’s sewers carry both storm water and sewage, and when the system gets inundated during a rain event it can overflow, sending a stew of contaminants into streams and rivers.

What to do? In Philly’s case, the goal is to slow the flow.

Our EPA Administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, came to Philadelphia in April to sign an agreement with the city that represents a $2 billion investment in methods to intercept rainwater before it chugs into the sewer system with pollutants in tow.

Considered a national model, the 25-year Green City, Clean Waters plan will sprout green roofs, tree-lined streets, porous pavement, grassy swales and other features, transforming many of the city’s hard surfaces into absorbent green areas.

The city’s spongier footprint will not only mean fewer sewer overflows, it’ll also help spruce up the community and give a boost to the economy.

If eventually one of the biggest concerns from a storm is waiting out a rain delay at Citizens Bank Park, I can handle that.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, he held state government public affairs positions in New Jersey and worked as a daily newspaper reporter.  When not in the office, Tom enjoys cycling and volunteer work.  Tom and his family live in Hamilton Township, N.J., near Trenton.

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