Calling Changemakers: Follow This AmeriCorps VISTA's Lead

Clockwise from left to right, AmeriCorps VISTA Sam Boden: Speaking with a church elder at Bethesda Presbyterian Church about their green stormwater grant; answering questions about customer assistance programs at a Germantown recreation center; providing information to residents at a City Hall event; presenting to the Block Captain Rally about resources and how to access them.
Clockwise from left to right, AmeriCorps VISTA Sam Boden: Speaking with a church elder at Bethesda Presbyterian Church about their green stormwater grant; answering questions about customer assistance programs at a Germantown recreation center; providing information to residents at a City Hall event; presenting to the Block Captain Rally about resources and how to access them.

By Sam Boden, current VISTA

I jumped into my AmeriCorps VISTA service year with no idea what to expect.

Even though I was provided with a project description and ample training from the city and CNCS (Corporation for National and Community Service), I wondered how I would make an impact while working for a municipal water utility.

Little did I know how transformative this experience would be when I applied for the position, which is accepting applications now through April 5.

VISTA stands for “Volunteers in Service to America.” As a VISTA, you work to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through “capacity building”—helping your organization be the best it can be.

While the Philadelphia Water Department might seem like a strange fit for this type of work, it is just the right fit for a program like VISTA. That’s because PWD works to alleviate poverty through customer assistance programs and encourages civic engagement with various programs, including Green City, Clean Waters, the first large-scale U.S. effort to improve urban water quality with green investments at the neighborhood level.

As the only VISTA working for PWD during my service year, I have had the opportunity to work on many different projects, including outreach for Green City, Clean Waters. Informing Philadelphians about Green City, Clean Waters is fundamentally about encouraging civic engagement, as PWD is eager to support community involvement in the construction of these green spaces around the city. Empowering Philadelphians to get involved with their local government and make an impact in their neighborhoods has been a central element of my service year.

I have also worked to inform people about the Tiered Assistance Program, or TAP. This program is one of the first in the U.S. that offers income-based assistance, locking customers into a lower bill that stays the same each month. In a city where a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line, that can have a huge impact and help preserve homeownership in communities where many are struggling to stay afloat.

It is an incredible resource for people experiencing poverty and financial hardship, and being a VISTA meant I get to be a part connecting people with the program. In fact, since I began my work in Philadelphia in July of 2017—the very same month the program launched—I am currently working to collect customer feedback and evaluate the application process as PWD seeks to make getting TAP benefits easy as possible.

These projects are just a handful of the many things I have worked on this year.

PWD is an innovative, collegial, and exciting place to work, with opportunities everywhere you look. If you are passionate about poverty reduction and environmental issues, I would encourage you to submit an application by April 5th.

I’m looking forward to working with the next VISTA and continuing the meaningful service opportunities provided by the Philadelphia Water Department.

More info: The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service is now accepting applications from qualified candidates to join the Serve Philadelphia VISTA Corps. They have 24 VISTA positions for the 2018-2019 service year, which will start as a cohort in July 2018.

Learn more here.

We’re Wild About ‘Wonders of Water’: Come See PWD at the Flower Show!

Over here at the Philadelphia Water Department, there’s no shortage of people who proudly wear the “water geek” badge, and we’ve also got more than a few proponents of all things green and growing.

So, you can imagine our delight after learning that the theme of the 2018 Philadelphia Flower Show would be Wonders of Water.

After all, PWD has been a wonder of the water world from the beginning: our Fairmount Water Works drinking water plant—surrounded by famous gardens with fountains and sculpture—drew curious visitors like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain from around the globe in the 1800s.

Now that the show’s final weekend is upon us, we can say that Wonders of Water has more than lived up to our nerdiest H2O dreams and grandest go-green expectations.

Whether it’s the lush rainforest spilling over with waterfalls or the far-out landscape of giant cacti showcasing flowers that thrive with almost no water at all, each exhibit is an exquisite exploration of the liquid that makes all plant life on Earth possible.

We got so excited for this year’s water theme, we even created an exhibit for visitors to explore—Home Green Home.

It’s a slice of a Philadelphia block transplanted to the Convention Center floor to showcase all the ways in which a local home interacts with water, from a bright flower-filled stormwater bumpout on the curb to the hidden pipes bringing drinking water to the tap and taking used water away.

'Home Green Home' at The Philadelphia Flower Show

There’s lots of signage to provide inside info and each point of interest in the display has a tip to help you protect water, so be sure to stop by and say hello if you’re coming—as long as supplies last, we’ll have Coreopsis seed packets to encourage natural stormwater gardens at home.

PWD will also have iPads where you can share your thoughts about drinking water quality.

The show runs through Sunday, March 11 and is at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 12th and Arch Streets. PWD’s Home Green Home is located just to the right of the PHS Shop beyond the Grand Exhibit.

If you come in through the Marriot gates above the Jefferson Station entrance at 11th and Market, look for a fun cut-out prop where you can pose as Water Woman, PWD’s trash and pollution fighting hydration superhero.

More Water-Geek Goodies
Of course, Home Green Home is not the only cool place to learn about local water issues at the Philadelphia Flower Show: look for more great stuff like Window on the Watershed, a big installation created through the William Penn Foundation’s Delaware River Watershed Initiative and the Alliance for Watershed Education.

At this exhibit, you’ll meet with members of local waterways groups like the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership and encounter “ecological lessons and stories of our own complex freshwater system—the Delaware River Watershed.”

There’s also Down the Drain, showcasing landscaping options—many of which you can get funding for through our Rain Check program—that you can use to manage stormwater and make your home more beautiful.

Be sure to check these out too:

The World’s Drinking Water by American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD)
This look at select countries that don’t have access to clean drinking water brings awareness to how precious clean drinking water is and how scarce access is for most people in the world. Countries are represented by intricate designs inspired by beautiful flowers.

Urbanization Meets Naturalization by Mercer County Community College Horticulture Program
In a world where our homes often encroach on nature, we need to find ways to make more sustainable choices. Whether we create more permeable surfaces, harvest and utilize rainwater, or make smarter plant choices, every action is a step towards building a more natural environment in an urban setting.

“…nary a drop to drink…” by U.S. EPA Region III
This exhibit has been designed to highlight the connection between watershed protection and our precious drinking water resources. In addition to instilling beauty, the conservation and enhancement of aquatic ecosystems in our own gardens promotes clean and healthy water, while serving as a sustainable landscaping practice.

sus·tain·a·bil·i·ty səˌstānəˈbilədē by W.B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences
sus·tain·a·bil·i·ty səˌstānəˈbilədē depicts an urban residence with a landscape that is beautiful as well as sustainable. Features of this landscape include the use of rainwater collected in downspouts and rain barrels for plant irrigation and fountain sculptures. Solar panels are incorporated into a green roof gazebo and many novel planters are made from recycled materials. Diverse plants are displayed in the many micro-environments of this landscape from its rain gardens and hydroponic planters to its exposed roof surface.

Would You Drink the Water? by Williamson College of the Trades in partnership with Stroud Water Research Center
The seniors in Williamson College of the Trades Horticulture Program and the scientists at the Stroud Water Research Center hope you are inspired by this exhibit and learn the importance of small streams in the environment.

In this exhibit, we display some of the best management practices for improving water and habitat quality in small streams, which is where pollutants typically enter the waterway.

Forest buffers on streambanks keep pollutants from entering streams and provide leaves as food and shade to keep streams cool. The exhibit shows how riparian buffers play a critical role in improving water quality, providing aquatic and wildlife habitats for many species.

Wanted: West Phila. Students for Watershed Stewardship Training

In a recent talk hosted by the TTF Watershed Partnership, acclaimed author Richard Louv urged Philadelphia parents to make sure their kids are getting enough “Vitamin N”—as in nature.

Making a connection to the wildlife and habitats around us is a life skill that can help our youth fend off stress and “nature deficit disorder,” says Louv.

Thanks to the new Philadelphia Watershed Stewardship program, West Philadelphia youth can get a healthy dose of nature along with valuable life and career skills. There’s even a stipend to sweeten the pot.

Last year, we partnered with the LandHealth Institute—a nonprofit providing environmental education to local teens—to create one of the first youth stewardship programs in the City committed to protecting our watersheds. That first season saw great things happen for the students and for our waterways, so we’re excited to bring in a new team of enthusiastic, passionate stewards to help us do it again this year.

The deadline to apply is Friday, April 6th. Access the application online here.

Those interested in applying should contact Dan Kobza from the LandHealth Institute at for more information. Kobza will get a hand in running the program from Dan Schupsky, PWD’s community contact for West Philadelphia Green City, Clean Waters projects.


How Stewards Serve

Beginning in late spring, 15 high school students age 15-18 from the West Philadelphia area will work alongside PWD, the LandHealth Institute and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR) for 11 weeks.

Students will start out learning how to protect the Darby-Cobbs watershed, which flows through many West and Southwest Philadelphia neighborhoods, with lessons covering topics like ecology, watershed management and stormwater runoff. After the training sessions, students will spend the summer applying the new skills in their communities.

The stewards will train with LandHealth and the Parks and Recreation staff at the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center— the perfect home base for the Watershed Stewards.

As a potent connector that's linked West Philadelphia residents to the natural world for decades, the center provides a familiar local meeting place where Stewards can host community events, a classroom, and place where students can do real work to improve an urban watershed.

Students can earn up to $850 over the course of the program. Those who complete all training sessions will earn $275. An additional $575 can be earned by participating in various events. Being a Watershed Steward will even give students a leg up when applying for jobs and programs like Philadelphia Youth Network and Power Corps PHL.

First Year Highlights

Here’s a sample of some Watershed Stewards activities from the first year:



In addition to the skills and knowledge they pick up, the program empowers students by connecting them to environmental and civic leaders, mentors, and new friends while immersing them in a side of the city they may not have experienced before.

Don’t just take our word for it—check out the blog posts penned by last year’s stewards!

Who Is a Watershed Steward?

The ideal Watershed Steward is eager to learn and passionate about protecting the environment, our local waterways, and their community—no prior experience is needed.

To apply, students must submit one letter of recommendation along with their application.

Please apply today and share with like-minded friends! If you have any questions, contact Dan Schupsky at or 215-683-3405.

EXTRA: Read about how we work with the Cobbs Creek Environmental Education Center in this Philadelphia Neighborhoods article -

Coming up: Join Us to Discuss Ideas for Growing Private Green Infrastructure

Have ideas for helping create more success stories like this one in Philadelphia? We want to hear from you.

We recently issued an official "Request for Information," or RFI, supporting the City's efforts to grow the footprint of green stormwater infrastructure on private and non-City property.

To help answer any questions and provide more details about why we issued this RFI, we're hosting an information session on January 10, 2018.

Starting at 9 a.m., the one-hour info session will take place at Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) headquarters, located at 1101 Market Street. Those interested should come to Conference Room 5A on 5th floor.

Responses to this RFI are due by February 9, 2018.

Stormwater Salvation: Could Your Faith-Based Group Get Help to Go Green + Save?

Bethesda's Grant-Funded Rain Gardens

As an early adopter of green infrastructure and Stormwater Management Incentives Program (SMIP) grant recipient, Bethesda Presbyterian's congregation blazed a trail for other faith-based organizations to follow and are committed to protecting Philadelphia’s water.

Bethesda Presbyterian Church sits on a large plot of land in Northeast Philadelphia’s Bustleton neighborhood. The church’s monthly stormwater fees—higher than they would like—reflected the property's large proportion of impervious surfaces, which put a considerable burden on the local sewers during storms. (More about how stormwater fees work here.)

Fortunately, Joan Wilson, a church elder, was determined to reduce that stormwater charge.

New ‘Quiz,’ Website to Jumpstart Your Discounted 2018 Green Home Upgrade

Click this image to visit the new Rain Check site and answer a few questions that will help you find the best discounted green stormwater improvement for your home.
The updated Rain Check website offers customized options for residents interested in free or discounted green improvements offered through the Philadelphia Water Department Rain Check program. Visit

Rain Check—our program best known for providing City residents with free rain barrels—is entering its sixth year with a new website designed to encourage more home landscaping projects that protect local waterways.

By visiting the new Rain Check site, residents can now get a jumpstart on sustainable projects in the new year by discovering the best green upgrade for their property, right from their phone or computer.

“More than 3,500 Philly homes now have rain barrels or other green stormwater tools thanks to Rain Check, so there’s clearly an appetite for sustainable home improvement projects in our city,” says program manager and PWD employee Jeanne Waldowski. “With this new website, we’re giving people who are thinking big about ‘greening’ their home in 2018 the tools they need to make it happen.”

While free rain barrels are the most popular tool installed through Rain Check, the program also provides deep discounts on a range of green upgrades that lessen a home’s stormwater pollution footprint.

Using fresh features on the new website, homeowners can explore whether a rain barrel, planter, or more involved green upgrade—such as a rain garden or rain-absorbing back patio—is a good fit for their property. After deciding what tool is the best option for shrinking their property’s stormwater pollution footprint, residents can sign up for an upcoming workshop.

The free educational workshops, held in neighborhoods across the city, are mandatory to receive a free rain barrel or participate in Rain Check cost-sharing.

Check it Out: Take a quick quiz that will help you pick a project now

Rain Check

“People don’t always have time to come to one of our free Rain Check workshops just to find out that their property doesn’t qualify for a rain barrel or other green tool, so we designed the new site in a way that will help residents find out in advance what will work best on their property,” says Waldowski. “By taking a short quiz about their property, people can quickly find out if Rain Check is a good fit and what options are available.”

Qualifying projects can receive up to $2,000 through Rain Check cost-sharing.

Schuylkill River Trail Water Stations Closed for Winter

Four water stations along the Schuylkill River Trail between East Falls and the Fairmount Water Works were closed in November 2017 for winterization and will reopen spring 2018.
Water stations along Kelly Drive were closed following the Phila. Marathon for winterization and will reopen in spring 2018. Credit: Laura Copeland and Frank Gaffney, Philadelphia Water Department.

Following the 2017 Philadelphia Marathon, Philadelphia Water Department crews shut down and winterized all four Schuylkill River Trail water stations located between the Falls Bridge and Fairmount Water Works. The much-used features—offering fountains, bottle filling stations and ground-level bowls for dog walkers—are taken offline each winter to guard against freezing temperatures that can cause burst plumbing.

When spring temperatures allow, Water crews will perform maintenance, flushing and testing before restoring service to the stations.

First introduced in 2016, the stations provided trail users with more than 21,000 gallons of drinking water between late April and mid-November during the 2017 season. In terms of the volume of plastic, single-use bottles kept out of the waste stream, the stations distributed enough water to fill roughly 159,100 half-liter disposable bottles.

In addition to providing free access to top-quality drinking water for daily trail users, the water stations reduced waste and litter generated by marquee events held along Philadelphia’s scenic Schuylkill River waterfront.

The stations provided enough water to offset nearly 2,200 single-use plastic bottles during the 2017 Head of the Schuylkill Regatta alone. During the one-day Dragon Boat Festival, spectators and competitors drank enough Philly tap to fill nearly 1,700 16-ounce plastic bottles.

The Philadelphia Water Department is working with partners in the Office of Sustainability, Parks and Recreation, the School District, Public Health and other City departments to expand access to drinking water and promote Philadelphia’s top-quality water as an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.

Increased access to drinking water stations will also encourage refillable bottle use, furthering the City’s Clean PHL anti-litter and Zero Waste initiatives.

To get alerts about water station openings, subscribe to Philadelphia Water Department alerts with your email and mobile number here.

Your Pipes Can Freeze Too!
Note: Homeowners should be winterizing their plumbing, too. From shutting off outdoor hose connections to insulating basement windows near the water meter, there are number of things homeowners can do to prevent extreme cold from causing damage that a can lead to frozen pipes, flooded basements, and costly repairs. You can check out some cold-weather tips here and in the video below. 

Keeping out the Cold from Philadelphia Water Department on Vimeo.

1,000 Greened Acres (So Far): It Took a City

1,000 (Green) Thank Yous from Mayor Kenney + PWD

While the Philadelphia Water Department designed the Green City, Clean Waters program, its scope has grown far beyond PWD since being approved by state and federal environmental agencies in 2011.

As we've seen over the last six years, to really transform Philadelphia's landscape on a scale that's big enough to have a real impact on our rivers, it takes more than just Water Department crews and contractors building rain gardens.

In fact, it takes a whole city working together, not to mention supportive partners on the state and federal level.

That’s why PWD, Mayor Kenney and our partners across City government put the spotlight on community groups, nonprofits, businesses, organizations and residents when we celebrated the 1,000th Greened Acre created under Green City, Clean Waters.

The diverse group of people and organizations at the City Hall 1,000 (Green) Thank Yous celebration was a real tribute to the dedicated coalition that’s working to protect Philadelphia’s water.

Much more than a number, the 1,000 Greened Acres you helped us build represent a true transformation of our urban landscape, one that’s having a positive impact on our waterways.

Today, green tools can keep nearly 28 million gallons of polluted runoff out of our rivers during just one inch of rain—an amount that can add up to a billion gallons of stormwater and sewer overflows not going into our waterways annually.

Without residents attending community meetings about projects or civic groups caring for local green tools through the Soak It Up adoption program, we would not be where we are today.

The same goes for businesses, large and small, using our grant programs to invest in green stormwater improvements on their properties…

…And for the schools across the city making rain gardens, permeable pavement and other green tools a central part of revitalizing schoolyards…

…And for the developers embracing the shared imperative of protecting our waterways by incorporating smart stormwater design into new projects

…And for our partners in departments throughout the City of Philadelphia, like Parks and Recreation and Streets, who work alongside us to bring landscaped green features to recreation centers, sidewalks, transit stations and more…

It would take up your whole day to actually list all 1,000 of the “thank yous” we owe, but you get the idea—it takes a whole city working together to achieve the big vision that is Green City, Clean Waters.

We still have nearly two decades to go before we reach our final goal—9,564 Greened Acres by 2036—and PWD looks forward to growing and strengthening the partnerships it will take to achieve rivers and creeks that are cleaner than they’ve been in generations.

Extra: How do Green Tools Work?