DC Reminds Us: The 'Why' Behind Green City, Clean Waters

The Philadelphia skyline frames a stormwater-fighting green roof on the Free Library of Philadelphia. Our city is leading the way on green infrastructure. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
The Philadelphia skyline frames a stormwater-fighting green roof on the Free Library of Philadelphia. Our city is leading the way on green infrastructure. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

We couldn't help but notice all the buzz down in Washington this week as they made the case for green to residents and unveiled revised stormwater plans relying heavily on green infrastructure. We congratulate DC Water on a big step in the right the right direction! Their debut also reminded us of our Green City, Clean Waters rollout way back in 2011, and got us thinking about the "why" behind green infrastructure.

So, why Green City, Clean Waters?

After almost five years of putting green infrastructure into neighborhoods, the answer to that question is clearer than ever. In a nod to the DC Water plan, here are four reasons Green City, Clean Waters is better than just sticking with the old way of doing water infrastructure:

Now. Unlike a massive underground tunnel system that would tear up neighborhoods for years, our green infrastructure is already providing water quality benefits. Green City, Clean Waters improvements allow Philadelphia to enjoy better water quality and environmental and social benefits right now. 

Better. In place since 2011, Green City, Clean Waters is creating environmental, social, and economic benefits that our neighborhoods would otherwise miss out on. Green infrastructure projects are increasing property values, beautifying neighborhoods, fighting extreme summer heat, creating natural habitats, enhancing public space and schools and even making neighborhoods safer.

Fairer. While other cities scramble for funds and end up saddling ratepayers with the burden of financing massive and outdated gray infrastructure projects, our 25-year Green City, Clean Waters plan is a cost-saving program that lets Philadelphia Water minimize rate increases and keep water affordable for all.   

Jobs. Green City, Clean Waters is fueling a green jobs economy in Philadelphia, creating high-value new jobs for residents and attracting smart workers and firms to our city. An ambitious and forward-thinking green infrastructure plan needs an ambitious and forward-thinking workforce to succeed, and we’re making that happen here right now.

Tonight: Tapping Our Watershed at National Mechanics

A Green City, Clean Waters rain garden along Stenton Avenue. Credit: Philadelphia Water
A Green City, Clean Waters rain garden along Stenton Avenue. Credit: Philadelphia Water

It’d be a stretch to call Christopher Crockett the grandfather of source water protection in Philadelphia (that title goes to whoever had the bright idea to create Fairmount Park). However, he is the founder of Philadelphia Water’s Source Water Protection Program, a fact that makes him an especially interesting guest speaker for tonight’s Tapping Our Watershed event at National Mechanics in Old City.

Crockett, Philadelphia Water’s deputy commissioner of planning and environmental services, will present "Green Cities, Clean Waters: What’s Been Achieved and What’s to Come in the Future." It’s a great chance for those interested in our 25-year plan to make our rivers and streams healthy through green infrastructure to take stock of what we’ve accomplished as we approach the program’s fifth anniversary in 2016.

Hosted by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Tapping our Watershed is “a monthly science café in Philadelphia that brings lovers of water science together for conversations with top experts in the field,” according the ANS website. 


Formerly known as the Delaware River Watershed Initiative Seminar Series, these talks are sophisticated enough for the experienced scientist but formatted for the casual guest who is interested in tapping into watershed issues on a deeper level. You can expect to hear engaging talks ranging from water policy and management to indicator species and pollutants, with a stimulating Q&A to follow each presentation.

We’ll look at the Green Stormwater Infrastructure that can be found in our streets, schools, recreation centers, parks, public spaces, and at private establishments thanks to Green City, Clean Waters. The presentation will also consider the social, environmental, and financial impacts of the plan and how it relates to things like property value, crime, physical and mental health, and the heat island effect we all dread come August.

Tapping our Watershed takes place every third Monday at National Mechanics, 22 South 3rd Street, at 6 p.m. Because the event is held at a place that serves alcohol, the talks are intended for individuals 21 or older, but those under 21 can come with a chaperone who is at least 25. Tapping our Watershed is sponsored by the William Penn Foundation.

Please join us and learn more about Green City, Clean Waters! 

Commissioner Neukrug Touts Leadership at 'Value of Water' Forum

The panel at Value of Water Coalition's WHYY forum.
The panel at Value of Water Coalition's WHYY forum. Photo Credit: Brian Rademaekers

The tragic Amtrak crash that claimed eight lives and left hundreds injured in Port Richmond last week was an inescapable topic for panelists speaking at the May 14 Value of Water Coalition forum at WHYY's studios. Organized as a National Infrastructure Week event, What’s the Value of Water? The Pennsylvania Story featured five speakers, including Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug.

Like others at the forum, Neukrug noted how the "terrible" Amtrak tragedy sparked an intense and emotional debate about the importance of infrastructure investments.

"It’s fascinating to watch this discussion that’s happening with infrastructure now," Neukrug told the audience, noting the tone in Washington D.C. became "very partisan, very quickly."  But, Neukrug said, there are valuable observations to be made regarding how people think about infrastructure funding. 

“If you really want to create change in the city, or to create change in infrastructure in America, there are only two ways to do it … one is crisis, and the other one is leadership. What’s fascinating is that, if you watch this, crisis ain’t working,” said Neukrug. “Crisis happens. You can look at California today and realize that they’re just about out of water. And, yes, there are some policy shifts, and they are trying to figure out how to conserve water at the tap … but no big innovative change has come out of it. So, that takes the two ways of creating change and kind of shoves crisis to the side and leaves us with leadership.”

Pointing to the tagline in the new Philadelphia Water logo – “Est. 1801” – Neukrug detailed the city’s long history as a leader in innovative water management, starting with the creation of Fairmount Park as a means of protecting drinking water sources and the development of the Fairmount Water Works to deliver that drinking water.

As for more recent examples of leadership, Neukrug pointed to Philadelphia Water’s 25-year Green City, Clean Waters plan, a nationally recognized model that uses Green Stormwater Infrastructure to achieve federal stormwater requirements while saving taxpayer money and contributing to the larger goal of making Philadelphia the greenest city in the country.

He also pointed to the department’s Biogas Cogeneration Facility at the Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant, which turns human waste into energy needed to run treatment plants. Features like that and the sewage geothermal installation and solar photovoltaic system at the Southeast WPCP are important in part because they reduce air pollution, but also because every dollar not spent on energy is a dollar that Philadelphia Water can spend on improving infrastructure.

Neukrug said the ultimate goal isn’t just to get treatment plants to a “net zero” status where they are using no outside energy, but to create “net positive” facilities that can actually produce power for use elsewhere. That forward thinking recently saw the city awarded with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Leadership Award

“We have really changed the game in Philadelphia,” Neukrug told the panel.

For more on Commissioner Neukrug’s comments during the forum, check out the video clips below.

Commissioner Neukrug's Opening Remarks:

Commissioner Neukrug on Biogas and Net Zero Energy Goals: 

Other panelists at the forum were: Beverly Coleman, Assistant Vice President for Community Relations and Economic Development, Temple University; Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow, Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program; Aldie Warnock, Senior Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and Public Policy, American Water and Steven Wray, Executive Director, Economy League of Greater Philadelphia.

Want more? Read Value of Water Coalition’s latest report, The New Wave of Innovation.  

Do You Know What's Happening at Venice Island?

No? Come out to Main and Lock streets in Manayunk tonight at 6 p.m. and get the inside scoop along with a free scoop of ice cream. 

Cyclists in Manayunk stop to ask about the new Waterways artwork. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Cyclists stop to ask about the new Waterways artwork in Manayunk. Credit: Philadelphia Water. 

While we were working with Mural Arts to install artist Eurhi JonesWaterways, a 10-block string of colorful steppingstones in Manayunk, our public engagement team took the time to do an informal survey of people passing through the neighborhood.

During the first two weeks of May, we spoke with 113 people at Pretzel Park, on Main Street, and at Venice Island–all places now featuring the temporary street art of Waterways

What we found reinforces our motivation for creating Waterways in the first place, and shows a definitive gap between what people want for the Schuylkill River and what they know about the work being done to make that desire a reality.

First, we asked people if they knew about the Philadelphia Water improvements that debuted at Venice Island in October 2014. Those improvements include a massive stormwater basin that keeps as much as 4 million gallons of untreated water from entering the Schuylkill as well as Philadelphia Parks and Recreation’s Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center.

Of the 113 people we spoke to, just 11 said they knew about Philadelphia Water’s work at Venice Island. 

That lack of knowledge is precisely why we wanted to use art as a means of highlighting infrastructure. The work we do can be a little hard to wrap your head around if you aren’t an engineer or environmental scientist. Waterways uses compelling imagery to draw people toward the somewhat hidden grounds of Venice Island, where signs help to explain what the infrastructure–much of it shielded from view beneath the ground–is doing to make the Schuylkill a cleaner, healthier river.

And, if our informal little survey tells us anything, it’s that people really do care about making our rivers healthier places where both people and wildlife can thrive. When asked whether they support improving the health of our waterways, all 113 people said yes. People were also unanimously positive when asked if they think waterways can be incorporated into our city’s public spaces for recreation.

So, people want cleaner rivers and they want them to be a part of our recreational lives: places where we can fish, hike, go boating and more. Yet very few people seem to know what a huge public effort has been made in the pursuit of those goals.

Tonight, people will have a chance to learn about what Philadelphia Water is doing for the Schuylkill as we unveil  Waterways at a 6 p.m. ceremony and ice cream party (the treats are on us). Join us at Main and Lock streets, tour the artwork with Eurhi Jones, and educate yourself about how we’re working to make the Schuylkill the river we all want it to be.

If you can’t make it tonight, find us on Venice Island this Saturday during the PLAY Manayunk festival, and help spread the word about Philadelphia Water and Waterways to your neighbors. After all, it’s your informed support that makes fighting for the health of our rivers possible.

Follow along on social media: @PhillyH20 on Twitter  and Instagram and Facebook.com/PhillyH2O and use #phillywaterart to see what is being posted about Waterways!

Big Reveal: See 'Waterways' at Unveiling Party, PLAY Manayunk

'Waterways' will be introduced May 14, followed by PLAY Manayunk on May 16.
'Waterways' will be introduced May 14, followed by PLAY Manayunk on May 16. Credit: Tiffany Ledesma

Those walking the streets of Manayunk have probably noticed a little extra pop of color in the neighborhood, and not just from the spring foliage. Since the first week of May, the folks over at sign&design have been busy working to install over 50 pieces of temporary street art designed by local artist Eurhi Jones for our Waterways project. Created through a partnership with Mural Arts, Waterways wanders from Pretzel Park in central Manayunk down Main Street and to Venice Island, which sits between the Manayunk Canal and the Schuylkill River. 

It’s one of the biggest street art installations ever for Mural Arts, and the whole project will be unveiled on Thursday, May 14, with a public celebration at 6 p.m. that includes a tour with the artist and free ice cream. According to Mural Arts, the installation should survive weather and traffic conditions for 3 to 4 months, so Waterways will be a highly visible part of the Manayunk experience throughout the summer.  

So, why is a public utility like Philadelphia Water working with Mural Arts? Waterways is our way of highlighting the importance of a healthy Schuylkill River–health that is greatly enhanced by our recent stormwater management improvements at the Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center.

Officially introduced in the fall of 2014, our renovations at Venice Island include a storage basin that can keep about 180 SEPTA buses worth – four million gallons – of untreated water from rushing into the Schuylkill during heavy rains. Other features include tree planters and a green roof to slow rainwater and a pump house that sends excess water from the basin to a treatment plant. All of that is good news for the shad, herons and crayfish featured in Waterways. It’s also good news for the many, many people who rely on a clean Schuylkill as their source for quality drinking water.

Now, people who see the artwork, which makes unique use of vinyl as a medium, can follow the steppingstones of Waterways through the neighborhood and to Venice Island and learn more about why this kind of infrastructure is so important for the health of our city and our waters. We're also hoping they’ll learn more about the amazing recreational amenities we brought to Venice Island with the help of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.        

Speaking of recreation, Philadelphia Water will also be at the PLAY Manayunk festival on Saturday (May 16) as the Manayunk Development Corporation and others celebrate all the amazing exercise and play opportunities in the neighborhood with activities like an attempt to break the world record for group sit-ups. We will have a booth where people can learn more about Waterways and our work at Venice Island while doing fun water-related art projects with Mural Arts. PLAY Manaunk kicks off with a race at 8 a.m. and wraps up with the simultaneous sit-up challenge from 1-2 p.m. 

Other activities include nature hikes, yoga classes, kayak and dragon boat rides, dance lessons, old-school kid's games, crafts, food trucks, music, performances, and more.

We hope you’ll come out to one or both of these events and learn more about the great work we are doing to improve the health of your local waterways. 

If you’re in the neighborhood and like the art, take a photo and share it on social media with the hashtag #phillywaterart to see who else is enjoying Waterways!

For more on Waterways visit phillywatersheds.org/phillywaterart

Follow along on social media: @PhillyH20 on Twitter  and Instagram and Facebook.com/PhillyH2O

Restoration Team to Be Toasted at 'Watershed Milestones'

A car rests in a stream in the city's Northeast. Credit: Waterways Restoration Team,
A car rests in a stream in the city's Northeast. Credit: Waterways Restoration Team,

Ever see some serious trash—we’re talking tires, shopping carts, and yes, even cars—in a stream and wonder who on earth will ever have the muscle to get it out? That would be Philadelphia Water’s Waterways Restoration Team (WRT), a hard working branch of the department that takes on the aforementioned litter and does things like restore creek banks that have been degraded by erosion. 

It’s important work that doesn’t just restore the beauty of our waterways, but helps to preserve the quality of the water we drink. The Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership (TTFWP), an important group in our watershed stewardship efforts, is honoring the Waterways Restoration Team with their “Municipal Leader Award” at an event marking their 10th anniversary tonight.

Dubbed “Watershed Milestones,” the celebration will feature Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug and pays tribute to the various groups and people who have worked to improve and preserve the quality of the watershed’s 30 square miles beginning in Montgomery County and ending at the base of the Betsy Ross Bridge on the Delaware. In addition to regular volunteer cleanups that complement WRT work, TTFWP has helped Philadelphia Water to conduct litter studies, done important work to document and seed freshwater mussels in the creek, and organizes Tacony Creek Park nature walks, to name just a few of their activities.

Those who wish to support the group can get tickets for the event, to be held at the Globe Dye Works building in the Frankford neighborhood starting at 5:30 p.m., by clicking here. Proceeds will go toward outreach, education, and restoration efforts. Those who get tickets online can save $10 off the door charge.

Congratulations to TTF Watershed for 10 years of amazing work! 

Changes Coming to Your Water Bill: What to Expect

If you got a water bill this week, chances are it looked different from what you're used to seeing. As a part of our overall effort to improve customer service and make working Philadelphia Water as smooth and easy as possible, we've made some changes. For those who just want to know what they owe, that's as clear as can be. But if you're the kind of person who likes to get those nitty-gritty details, we've got stuff for you, too. Here's a quick look at what's different:

The New Bill.
Click the image to download or take a closer look. 

What makes the new bill better?

Easy-to-read format

Updated usage graph

Clear statement of charges and account status

Updated message section for important communications

Please—just the bottom line. How much?

If you are a customer who pays the full balance on the account every month, you only need to look at the total in the PLEASE PAY NOW box, which is outlined in color.

What does the usage graph tell me?

The usage graph shows trends in your water consumption over a 13-month period. The vertical axis is water consumption. The horizontal axis displays the months. A light-purple bar indicates an estimated reading; actual readings are in dark purple. Use the graph to monitor your water consumption habits. A drastic change in the graph may alert you to a leak, or it may reflect a change in your household routines: More showers? More laundry? House guests? Watering of outdoor plants?

Why is the detachable payment voucher important?

The coded information ensures the accurate processing of your payment. Without the payment voucher, the coded information must be entered manually. Manual entry requires extra time, and data entry errors are always a possibility. With the payment voucher, the information is read and recorded electronically.

What if Philadelphia Water recently installed new metering equipment at my location?

If your meter and/or ERT were replaced since the last billing cycle, the meter information section of the bill will display the readings and total usage for both the old and new meters as well as the old and new ERTs.

What if I have a payment agreement?

A "Payment Agreement History" section showing the six most recent payments is now reflected on page two of the bill.

The figure in the PLEASE PAY NOW box includes your current charges plus your monthly payment agreement amount. This is the amount you should pay by the due date to avoid penalty charges.  

How does the new bill indicate a discount or credit?

If you or your organization receives a grant or discount such as Senior Citizen, Charity, PHA, Board of Education and University/Hospital discounts, it is listed with your monthly charges, above the total.

And remember: You can always pay your Philadelphia Water bill online! Just click here for online bill pay

SLA Beeber and greenSTEM Grab Award for Drinking Water Week

SLA Beeber students accept the Schuylkill Scholastic Drinking Water Award on May 4. Credit: Melissa Bittner, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.
SLA Beeber students accept the Schuylkill Scholastic Drinking Water Award on May 4. Credit: Melissa Bittner, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.

For most people, watering the garden is an inexact science at best. At worst, unnecessary watering is a double whammy of waste: throwing away good, clean water while increasing the risk of plant problems like mildew and root rot.

But what if you could pop onto your computer or phone and tap into a system that tells you just how much moisture is in your soil, how much sun and heat your plants are getting, and when watering is needed?

That’s exactly what the students at the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber (SLA Beeber) in the city’s Overbrook neighborhood can do when they want to know whether it’s time to turn on the hose at the campus rain garden, and it’s all thanks to a Philadelphia Water partnership called the greenSTEM (that’s short for Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) Network.

From the greenSTEM website:

The greenSTEM Network connects students to real-time information about their school gardens. Through a collaboration between developers, scientists, designers, and educators, we provide public access to information collected by a network of low-cost, DIY sensor kits spread throughout the city for educational purposes. Our mission is to promote Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters program through STEM education and support the development of the Fairmount Water Works Understanding the Urban Watershed curriculum.

The greenSTEM program’s high-tech network of garden sensors is getting attention during National Drinking Water Week (May 3-9) after the Schuylkill Action Network (SAN) honored SLA Beeber’s students with their annual Schuylkill Scholastic Drinking Water Award during a May 4 presentation. SLA Beeber was one of three award winners in 2015. SAN also honored Reading Area Community College in Berks County and Blue Mountain Middle School in Schuylkill County for projects they completed on their campuses.

SLA Beeber students worked with Philadelphia Water to build and install the environmental sensors, called “root kits,” in the rain garden and can now monitor soil moisture and temperature through a webpage that features an interactive tree where the colors of leaves indicate whether a garden needs watering.  Individual branches on the tree represent garden sensors at SLA Beeber, Greenfield Elementary in Center City, George W. Nebinger School in Queen Village and Cook-Wissahickon Elementary in Roxborough. 

“Projects like this one are very important for keeping the Schuylkill Watershed clean,” Tom Davidock, senior coordinator of the SAN at the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, wrote on the group’s website. “Schools provide that direct link to communities and can teach all of us simple things we can all do to keep our rivers and streams healthy. The students at the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber are involved in a small project that can have a big impact on the watershed.”

Congratulations to the students at SLA Beeber and all the people at Philadelphia Water who make the greenSTEM Network the incredible program that it is!

More About greenSTEM:
 The greenSTEM Network started as a collaboration between the Philadelphia Water and members of Code For Philly at the TechCamp hackathon in February 2013. This unique partnership between a city agency and civic hackers furthers the relationships between technology, education, and environmental stewardship. Grant funding for the greenSTEM Network is provided by NOAA’s Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program and administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. They have also received Seed Project funding from Drexel University’s ExCITe Center.