Back in 2007 I helped develop our Urban Water Management supplement, in part because of the growing interest in stormwater management, low impact development and green infrastructure. While stormwater was the main driver, we felt the magazine should cover more than just stormwater issues and instead have a broad focus on all water in the urban environment and discuss treatment and management systems that go beyond traditional gray infrastructure.
Virtually every river, creek, pond or lake in an urban setting is under stress from environmental pollution. It's just part of life in our modern world. I don't know when or if things will change dramatically, but public awareness is key to turning things around.
Philadelphia's Green City, Clean Waters program is certainly a step in the right direction. It should help raise awareness and also serve as a useful test-bed for green infrastructure and its role in improving the urban water environment.
In early April, the U.S. EPA and Philadelphia signed an agreement that represents a $2 billion investment in green infrastructure. Over the next 25 years, the Green City, Clean Waters partnership agreement should transform many of Philadelphia's traditional hardened surfaces to green areas – and hopefully better manage polluted runoff.
EPA will provide assistance to the city in identifying and promoting higher performing green infrastructure designs, bring together technical experts from around the country to advance green designs and help remove barriers to innovation in the city's plan. EPA also has pledged to help with research and technical assistance. The agency will work with the city to monitor the effectiveness and evaluate the benefits of the program through water quality monitoring and modeling.
The city's watershed monitoring program already examines the health of three primary types of aquatic life: algae, aquatic invertebrates (bugs), and fish. Staff continuously evaluate water quality by using water quality probes and by taking frequent water samples during storm events. They also assess stream habitat and flow conditions and have performed detailed longitudinal and cross-sectional surveys of stream channels to better understand stream processes and guide stream restoration projects.
Integrating green stormwater infrastructure into a highly developed area such as Philadelphia will require a decentralized and creative approach to planning and design. The city plans to use various tools to accomplish its goals, including stormwater planters, rain gardens and green roofs. The end result is to reduce runoff volume and filter pollutants by intercepting stormwater runoff before it enters the city's 3,000 miles of combined sewers.
In the process the City of Philadelphia hopes to integrate water resource management into the socioeconomic fabric of the city by creating amenities for the people who live and work here. It's a lofty goal and a program that should pay dividends for years to come.
To view the agreement and learn more about the City of Philadelphia's Green City, Clean Waters program, visit: www.phillywatersheds.org.