Year in Review (Part One): 2016 a Big Year for Philly’s Water Stewards

Commissioner Debra A. McCarty helps a West Philly Student put on a new button at 2016 rain garden ribbon cutting event. She became the first woman to lead the department. Credit: Brian Rademaekers
Commissioner Debra A. McCarty helps a West Philly Student put on a new button at 2016 rain garden ribbon cutting event. She became the first woman to lead the department. Credit: Brian Rademaekers

Newly-elected Mayor Jim Kenney rang in 2016 in a big way by naming Debra A. McCarty Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner, making her the first woman to lead the organization in its nearly 200-year history.

That big announcement, it seems, set the tone for PWD in 2016.

It was a busy year, with lots of exciting news—big and small—for Philly’s water community, and we recently took some time to look back at all the great things happening here.

We made major investments in our infrastructure. We marked important milestones with partners and residents. We revived superheroes, and we collaborated with science-savvy brewers…

It was such a big year at PWD, we’re presenting our 2016 highlights in not one blog post, but three!

Without further ado, here is the first installment of our three-part series exploring highlights from the last year, presented in no particular order:

RSVP Now to Join 10,000 Friends in Honoring Green City, Clean Waters

The Philadelphia Water Department is thrilled to receive the 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania’s Excellence in Public Infrastructure Award in recognition of the success of the Green City, Clean Waters program.

Commissioner Debra A. McCarty will accept the honor at the 2016 Commonwealth Awards, an annual fundraiser held for the 10,000 Friends group. The ceremony will take place on Tuesday, January 24 from 5:30-8 p.m. at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. RSVP now. 

A “leading voice for smart growth,” 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania is a non-profit advocacy group representing a “statewide alliance of organizations and individuals dedicated to creating and protecting healthy, walkable, and thriving communities that are great places to live and work.”

Drexel University will also be the inaugural recipient of the Joanne Denworth Founders Award, the highest award given by the statewide nonprofit. Drexel President John A. Fry will accept the honor and deliver keynote remarks. SEPTA will be presented with the Excellence in Community Transportation Award.

To make a donation and save a spot at the awards, visit the 10,000 Friends page and RVSP by Jan. 17.

The 2016 Commonwealth Awards showcases “the transformational impact institutions can have through creative public-private partnerships and strategic investment in placemaking projects that exemplify land use excellence.”

In 2016, the City of Philadelphia celebrated the first five years of Green City, Clean Waters, a groundbreaking green infrastructure program that protects local waterways from pollution by greening neighborhoods and improving stormwater infrastructure.

While the program is set to expand more than tenfold in the coming years, hundreds of public and private green stormwater infrastructure projects are already reducing pollution from sewer overflows and runoff by 1.5 billion gallons during a typical year.

Read more about the success of Green City, Clean Watersfirst five years here.

Thank You, MLK Day of Service Volunteers, for Helping Philly Rivers

While MLK Day doesn't have the same environmental focus as say, Earth Day, the fact is, a lot of the work being done in King's honor during today's Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service—an event being touted as the biggest MLK Day volunteer effort in the nation—will help Philly's rivers and creeks.

Some events, like MLK Day cleanups planned for Bartram's Garden, the Schuylkill River Trail in Manayunk and along the Pennypack and Tacony creeks in Northeast Philly, are directly targeting our watersheds:

But even cleanup events in neighborhoods where you don't see a river or creek can help protect local aquatic wildlife. 

How?

PSA from Your Dog: Smart Deicing Tips to Protect the Environment and Pets

Did you know using too much salt and other ice-melting chemicals can hurt pet paws? Smart use of deicing products can also help minimize impacts on our watersheds.
Did you know using too much salt and other ice-melting chemicals can hurt pet paws? Smart use of deicing products can also help minimize impacts on our watersheds.

If you're the kind of person who thinks about the health of our urban watersheds, you've probably wondered if using too much salt on driveways and sidewalks can hurt Philly's rivers and creeks.

As snow piles up in the winter, we often turn to salt or other solutions to melt snow and ice as an important public safety measure that saves lives on our roadways every year.

Still, it's important to know that all deicers can be harmful to our water supply, the environment and even pets when overused. The best strategy is to read the labels and use as directed only when needed.

High concentrations of salt can damage and kill vegetation and harm freshwater ecosystems and fish. Excess salt can also seep into the ground and destroy soil structure, which can lead to erosion and further pollute waterways.

And, those heaps of caustic rock salt on sidewalks can also irritate sensitive pet paws, making a winter wonderland walk post-snowstorm much less fun for dogs like Shorty, seen at top.

Nominations Wanted: 2017 'Excellence in GSI Awards'

Students and parents cut the ribbon at Lea Elementary in 2016 to celebrate the completion of a schoolyard featuring three rain gardens, nearly two dozen new trees and porous paving and play surfaces. Funded largely through a $242,000 SMIP grant from PWD, the project won the Public Project Award at the 2016 Excellence in GSI Awards ceremony. Credit: PWD
Students and parents cut the ribbon at Lea Elementary in 2016 to celebrate the completion of a schoolyard featuring three rain gardens, nearly two dozen new trees and porous paving and play surfaces. Funded largely through a $242,000 SMIP grant from PWD, the project won the Public Project Award at the 2016 Excellence in GSI Awards ceremony. Credit: PWD 

What projects and people are making an impact on green stormwater infrastructure in our region?

Last year saw the first-ever Excellence in GSI Awards, an effort by the Sustainable Business Network’s Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) Partners to answer that question and highlight the best in local green stormwater projects and the people making them happen.

The Philadelphia Water Dept. was honored to have associations with to two of 2016’s five award winners: retired PWD Commissioner Howard Neukrug took home the inaugural Leadership in GSI Award for his role in guiding the creation of the City’s 25-year Green City, Clean Waters program, and West Philadelphia’s Lea Elementary received the Public Project Award for green schoolyard renovations made with the help of a PWD Stormwater Management Incentives Program (SMIP) grant.

A ‘Truly Engaging Civic Commons’: Makers Wanted for City Hall Courtyard Installation

A new grant is helping the City connect residents to historic and modern water infrastructure investments while making the Philadelphia City Hall Courtyard a “true civic commons.”
A new grant is helping the City connect residents to historic and modern water infrastructure investments while making the Philadelphia City Hall Courtyard a “true civic commons.”

As a work of spectacular architecture and artistry, a National Historic Landmark and holder of several world records, Philadelphia’s ornate and iconic City Hall is a place that dominates the center of our city—spiritually, culturally, and, yes, geographically.

And while the most astute students of Philly lore might be able to cite William Penn statue stats (37 feet tall, 27 tons of bronze, biggest atop any building in the world) far fewer know about the site’s remarkable geological status or its pre-City Hall history as it relates to science, infrastructure and water.

A new project seeks to honor that distinction by breathing fresh life into building’s expansive courtyard, and the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia is calling on “experienced local artisans, architects, designers, and makers” to design and build an outdoor feature that, among other things, will serve as a platform for programming and activities.

Green Infrastructure Tours Showcase Philadelphia Innovation

Visitors from China inspect Philadelphia green stormwater infrastructure sites during a Dec. 14 tour hosted by the Philadelphia Water Dept.
Visitors from China inspect Philadelphia green stormwater infrastructure sites during a Dec. 14 tour hosted by the Philadelphia Water Dept. 

Did you know Philadelphia has an international reputation as a city where green design and innovation are thriving?

Earlier this month, the Philadelphia Water Department led a group of business leaders and engineers from Beijing, China on a tour of green stormwater infrastructure sites across Philadelphia. The group of experts came to Philadelphia because our 25-year Green City, Clean Waters plan is recognized as one of the most ambitious and forward-thinking green infrastructure programs in the United States and internationally.

Cayuga Triangle Rain Garden Completes a Circle of Green in Juniata Park

Pastor David Scudder at right and, at left, members of the community with PWD, Councilwoman Sanchez and TTF Watershed Partnership. Credit: PWD
 Members of the community with PWD, Councilwoman Sanchez and TTF Watershed Partnership. Credit: PWD

When we build the green tools that make Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters program work, our engineers and planners are thinking about how much stormwater we can manage with a given rain garden, tree trench, planter or other green infrastructure system. Protecting local waterways and dealing with water from storms that can create pollution is a big part of what we do at the Philadelphia Water Department.

But we also like to highlight the way these green investments can benefit a community—raising neighborhood pride, adding beauty to our streets, providing little pockets of nature—in addition to managing stormwater.

At a ribbon cutting held in November for a rain garden along Castor Avenue in Juniata Park, we heard a story that reminded us what a little extra green can mean for the people living nearby.