EPA Endorses Philly's $2B Plan to Go From Gray to Green

By Susan Jones | April 11, 2012 | 10:56am EDT

A rain garden is a garden designed to collect runoff from impervious surfaces such as roofs, walkways, and parking lots, allowing water to infiltrate the ground. (Photo from Philadelphia Water Department website)

(CNSNews.com) - Philadelphia's mean streets are becoming "green" streets, as part of a $2-billion, 25-year investment in "potentially harmful rainwater runoff pollution."

On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed an agreement that they say will lead to cleaner waters and a stronger economy for the City of Philadelphia. Jackson said the partnership will serve as a model for communities across the nation.

Instead of building more tunnels and pumping stations, the "Green City, Clean Waters" project is turning some of the city's hardened surfaces -- roofs, roads and other paved areas -- into "green areas" that absorb water or release it more slowly into storm drains.

The green technologies include planters along curbs and sidewalks; rain gardens and storm water "wetlands"; rain barrels under downspouts; green roofs; and porous paving materials. One project involves "greening" a city school's playground as part of the student's science curriculum.

Pervious pavement is a specially designed pavement system that allows water to infiltrate through the pavement and never become runoff. (Photo from Philadelphia Water Department website)

The EPA says the project will "transform streets, parking lots, schools, public spaces into urban landscapes that reduce sewer overflows to our waterways while enhancing our communities."

For its part, the EPA is offering the city encouragement and support. It has agreed to help the city identify superior green-infrastructure designs and provide technical expertise. It also will "help remove barriers to innovation" in the city's plan.

The project will result in clean and beautiful waterways, a healthier environment and increased community value, Mayor Nutter said. "Where other cities are challenged by very expensive commitments for tunnels, tanks and other gray infrastructure, we have worked with the state and the EPA to take this greener, more fiscally prudent approach that will realize multiple benefits.”

“The signing of this monumental agreement is a transformative step for urban environmental policy in the United States,” said U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.). “Philadelphia and the EPA's forward-looking collaboration on storm water runoff will help strengthen economic development, protect our drinking water and should serve as a model for cities around the country.”

The Philadelphia Water Department developed the "Green City, Clean Waters" plan in 2009 "to provide a clear pathway to a sustainable future while strengthening the utility, broadening its mission, and complying with environmental laws and regulations."

Water customers will bear much of the cost, by paying a storm water runoff fee that is based on how much "impervious surface" a property has.

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