Philly’s big green plan

If the Philadelphia Water Department gets its way, the city could embark on perhaps the most ambitious stormwater plan yet in the country.

If the Philadelphia Water Department gets its way, the city could embark on perhaps the most ambitious stormwater plan yet in the country.

In early September, the PWD submitted to EPA a comprehensive plan — over 3,000 pages — outlining its proposal for addressing its serious problem with sewer overflows. With about 60% of the city served by a combined sewer system, storm events, even small ones, result in overflow — to the tune of around 14 billion gallons per year.

The $1.6 billion plan calls for the extensive implementation of green infrastructure strategies — green roofs, porous pavement, thousands of additional trees, vegetated swales, and constructed wetlands — over the next 20 years to help slow down and treat stormwater before it can overwhelm the system.

PWD also expects these efforts to result in more jobs, better air quality, less energy use, and higher property values.

The most significant chunk of the spending — $1.01 billion — will go toward green stormwater infrastructure. About $290 million is allocated for stream corridor restoration. Upgrades for wet-weather treatment plants will get $320 million.

In addition, the city’s wastewater collection and water treatment and distribution services will receive about $3.6 billion over the next 20 years.

However, there appears to be some controversy about how the plan, if accepted by EPA, will be financed. Under the proposal, the cost to taxpayers would be at or above the upper limit of EPA’s affordability criteria. Residents could see their yearly wastewater bill increase 230% over the next 20 years.

But compared to the alternative — completely overhauling the treatment and conveyance systems, which carries a price tag of almost $20 billion — it seems like a good deal.

Either way, the city doesn’t really have a choice. It’s being required to reduce CSOs by 85% — or face hefty fines for non-compliance.

As for the “Green City, Clean Waters” plan, PWD has had some favorable feedback from neighborhood residents. Officials shopped the plan around, hoping to partner with a handful of test neighborhoods that would agree to have a few blocks rebuilt. Encouraged by the positive response, they now hope to partner with 14 neighborhoods.

The plan is currently under review by EPA. If you’d like to see the plan, you can find it online at phillywatersheds.org/ltcpu. In the meantime, if you’d like to comment on Philly’s proposal, email me at angelag@pennwell.com, or you can leave a comment on our website: www.waterworld.com.

Angela Godwin
Editor, Urban Water Management

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