Howard Neukrug

New and Improved Ralph Brooks Park Manages Stormwater with Green Tools

Top: City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, Mayor Michael Nutter, Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug, Connor Barwin of the Philadelphia Eagles and others cut the ribbon to open Ralph Brooks Park in Point Breeze. Bottom: A new rain garden stretches along the basketball courts, which sit atop a storage trench that will hold stormwater. The rain garden will be filled with plants next month. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Top: City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, Mayor Michael Nutter, Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug, Connor Barwin of the Philadelphia Eagles and others cut the ribbon to open Ralph Brooks Park in Point Breeze. Bottom: A new rain garden stretches along the basketball courts, which sit atop a storage trench that holds stormwater. The rain garden will be filled with plants next month. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

After three years of fundraising, planning, design, and construction, the Point Breeze community officially welcomed a tremendously improved Ralph Brooks Park at a ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday.

The project was made possible through the collaboration of several city and state agencies, Pa. State Representative Jordan Harris, City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, the non-profit groups Urban Roots, Mural Arts, PHS, Philly Rising, 25th Century Foundation, Tasker Street Baptist Church and the Make the World Better Foundation (MTWB), founded by Philadelphia Eagles player Connor Barwin.

That broad coalition allowed for a complete renovation of this public space, with improvements covering everything from new playground equipment and basketball courts to a community garden and green stormwater features that add to Philadelphia Water’s Green City, Clean Waters infrastructure.

The stormwater features include a rain garden at the southern end of the park, and an underground storage trench beneath the basketball courts along the western edge of the park. Combined, those green tools can manage over 16,000 gallons of stormwater—it would take 320 homes with rain barrels to store that much stormwater runoff—and the trees, shrubs and other plants add to the beauty of Ralph Brooks Park. While the ribbon cutting featured plants donated by Bartram’s Garden, the actual vegetation for the site will be planted in October, which will give the plants a better chance to become established and thrive.

“This partnership demonstrates that green infrastructure projects can manage stormwater and enhance community efforts to improve and beautify public spaces,” Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug said of the project.

More: See Photos From the Ralph Brooks Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Other speakers at the event included Mayor Nutter and Barwin, who raised $170,000 for the project through a benefit concert. Philadelphia Water contributed approximately $152,000 to the project.

The Ralph Brooks renovations are part of Green City, Clean Waters’ Green Parks program, which works with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to leverage resources for park improvements and bring green stormwater tools to park sites.

Philadelphia Water is also working with partners from the Ralph Brooks project to bring similar improvements to Smith Playground in the West Passyunk neighborhood. Green infrastructure improvements at Smith are scheduled to begin construction next summer.

Spoiler Alert: Our Drinking Water Quality Is Really, Really Good

A section of the 2015 Drinking Water Quality Report showing how we treat tap water. Click for a larger image. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

A section of the 2015 Drinking Water Quality Report showing how we treat tap water. Click for a larger image. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

Apologies to anyone looking forward to reading our annual Drinking Water Quality Report down the shore this summer, but we just have to get this out there: All the data we collected for the 2015 report confirms our rigorous treatment and testing are resulting in top-quality tap water that meets or beats all quality standards set by the federal government.

Of course, we knew that going in, but we put out the Drinking Water Quality Report—now available online in English and Spanish—every year because we believe our customers are empowered by having all the information that’s out there about their drinking water and what we do to make it safe and available to 1.7 million people 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Our annual Drinking Water Quality Report tells the story of how we make this happen through our continuous treatment, testing, and monitoring,” Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug writes in the introduction. “This report, published in the spring of 2015, includes water quality information for the 2014 calendar year. We, along with our partners at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, hope you take the time to look this document over and, if you have any questions, my staff and I would be very pleased to discuss.”

Looking at this year’s report, we’re proud to say that our water consistently meets (and often exceeds) the quality criteria set by the EPA; we go above and beyond what is required, producing approximately 275 million gallons of drinking water every day that exceed national safety standards.

How do we do it?

It starts with fighting to protect our source waters—the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers—from pollution. We follow that up with cutting-edge treatment techniques at our three drinking water plants, and maintain thousands of miles of pipes to make sure the water gets to customers safely and efficiently.
But one of our most important tools in every step of the process is sophisticated testing.

“Philadelphia Water conducts laboratory tests on river water, water being treated, water being sent to our customers, and wastewater coming back from our customers,” says Gary Burlingame, director of our Bureau of Laboratory Services division. “The regulations do not require all of this testing, only a basic minimum. We go beyond the minimum to continually check on the quality of the water throughout the city.”

Philadelphia Water collects more than 2,500 water samples every month, says Burlingame, resulting in more than 10,000 monthly lab tests at various stages of the urban water cycle.

“Because we collect so many lab test results every month, we have a specialized data management system to store and organize the thousands of data points that are entered,” Burlingame says. “Then, just as important, we have scientists and engineers who review the data continually to make sure that the quality standards that we set are being met.”

In addition to important information about our testing results and treatment process, the report is packed with useful things like contact numbers and tips for getting involved in protecting your local streams, rivers and water supply.

You can download a copy of the full report from Phila.gov/water in English here and in Spanish here.

While we send out notices about the report to all customers, not everyone knows it’s available.
Please share this information with all the other people who drink our water, especially those who may not have received a notice directly (for example, people in apartments, nursing homes, schools and businesses). You can help by posting this blog on social media, by putting a copy of the report in a public place, or by distributing copies by hand or mail.

To receive a printed copy of this report, please email: waterquality@phila.gov.

Want to stay up to date on the latest Green City, Clean Waters news and get important Philadelphia Water updates? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter now by clicking here!

Venice Island Lands 'Environmental Project of the Year' Award

Renderings (at left) of the Performing Arts Center and Head House compared to the finished buildings, at right.
Renderings (at left) of the Performing Arts Center and Head House compared to the finished buildings, at right. Image credit: Hazen and Sawyer.

We’re extremely proud of the way Philadelphia Water’s construction team and engineers made what was once just a grand idea—the Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center—into a reality.

It’s hard not to admire their work when you see that sloping, living green roof from Main Street in Manayunk, and it gets even better when you explore the facility up close.

So, it’s no surprise that the work at Venice Island, which was completed at the end of 2014, was just named “Environmental Project of the Year” by the Construction Management Association of America’s Mid-Atlantic chapter. The award was presented for the “Manayunk Venice Island Sewer Basin Construction/Performing Arts and Recreation Center Reconstruction” on June 2 to Philadelphia Water and Hazen and Sawyer, the project’s designer of record.

“This award recognizes Philadelphia Water’s role in providing construction management services that promoted professionalism in the construction process and resulted in a successful project,” said Philadelphia Water Construction Manager Bob Rotermund. “Our team, led by Jim Giffear and Attasit Kaewvichen, kept the project within budget and on schedule.”

Giffear, a Division Engineer in Philadelphia Water’s Construction Branch, said the project was a special one because it brought so many positive changes to the area, which sits between the Manayunk Canal and the Schuylkill River.

“We were able to construct a facility which serves to protect the Schuylkill River from combined sewer overflows during large storm events, while at the same time providing an amazing recreation and entertainment space for the citizens of Philadelphia,” said Giffear. “[Philadelphia Water Commissioner] Howard Neukrug was instrumental in creating the partnerships between the various city agencies and community groups necessary for Venice Island to become a reality.”

Giffear said this award reflects Philadelphia Water’s commitment to quality management of its construction projects, community engagement, and partnerships with city agencies.

“What makes this project unique is the construction of a true multiple-use site. On one side of the island sits a wastewater pumping station, underground is a 4 million gallon basin, and up above houses basketball courts, an outdoor amphitheater, children’s spray park, and a 250-seat performing arts center, with public parking throughout,” said Giffear. “The CMAA award is in recognition of the technical and logistical challenges faced by such a multifaceted project, and the teamwork, professionalism, quality control, and communication necessary to make it a success.”

That CMAA highlighted the environmental aspects of the Venice Island work also speaks to Philadelphia Water’s commitment to green stormwater management initiatives and environmentally conscious building materials and methods, Giffear also noted.

Leo Dignam, deputy commissioner for programs at Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, said the Performing Arts Center has also been a huge hit.

“We are thrilled at how it turned out and have been booked almost from the day we took over,” said Dignam. “The outside space and environmental features are extraordinary and go above and beyond what we would ever have been able to do on our own. I think this project is a model of the way city departments can coordinate with the community.”

Some Green Highlights from Venice Island:

• Countless sustainable site and building features throughout Venice Island. The basin, in addition to being an environmentally focused infrastructure improvement, includes a pump station which is LEED eligible. The building is furnished with a high-tech window system that makes maximum use of natural light and reduces heat gain, promoting energy efficiency in the facility. Atop the pump house sits a green roof containing drought tolerant plant species which minimize the stormwater impact of the building.

• The site features numerous green design components. There are several rain garden systems which collect street-level stormwater runoff and allow it to slowly infiltrate in place, before returning it to the sewer system. Boulders were reclaimed from earlier excavation activities and repurposed for landscape features. Additionally, the site lights are all low voltage LED fixtures, which are controlled by photocells and are only illuminated when necessary.

• The Performing Arts Center likewise contains numerous sustainable design features, such as a green roof. Stormwater that falls on the building is collected and stored in “graywater” holding tanks. That captured stormwater is then reused in the facility for non-potable applications.

Hazen and Sawyer’s Work at Venice Island

As “designers of record” at Venice Island, Hazen and Sawyer designed an innovative, LEED Silver-eligible structure to house the equipment associated with the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) detention facilities, comprised primarily of a concrete basin that receives flows by gravity when the adjacent interceptor becomes surcharged during storm events. The CSO detention basin was constructed underground, with public parking and facilities redesigned and restored atop the basin.
The Head House that sits atop the basin is a LEED Silver-eligible building with numerous energy-saving and sustainable design measures.

Hazen and Sawyer’s design includes a “living” roof system with drought-resistant plantings; rain gardens throughout the site to manage storm water runoff; a glass stair tower to allow light to enter all sides of the building and reduce the need for interior lighting; light and occupancy sensors for energy efficiency; shade and reflection devices for sun control that reduces the need for air conditioning; and water-conserving plumbing fixtures.

Award Acknowledgements: Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug, Robert Rotermund (Manager, Construction Branch), Mike Lavery (Manager, Design Branch), Attasit Kaewvichien (Division Engineer, Construction Branch), Tony Kopicki (Asst. Manager, Construction Branch), Jim Giffear (Division Engineer, Construction Branch) and Anant Rao (Electrical Engineer, Construction Branch)

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.  

PWD Commissioner Howard Neukrug Receives 2015 Arbor Day Award!

Green City, Clean Water Trees and Howard Neukrug
Green City, Clean Waters stormwater trees (left) and PWD Commissioner Howard Neukrug (right)

We are delighted to announce that PWD Commissioner Howard Neukrug is the recipient of a 2015 Arbor Day Award from the Arbor Day Foundation in honor of his outstanding contribution to tree planting, conservation and stewardship! 

Since 1972, the Arbor Day Foundation has recognized the inspiring work of leading environmental stewards and tree planters with their annual Arbor Day Awards. This year Commissioner Neukrug is one of 13 individuals, organizations and companies being recognized. He is the recipient of the Excellence in Urban Forestry Leadership Award for his role in helping to create, oversee and implement Green City, Clean Waters

Green City, Clean Waters uses trees and other plants in its green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) systems to help soak up and capture rainwater where it falls. By capturing the water where it falls, the volume of runoff is reduced in Philadelphia’s combined sewer system, which improves the health of the surrounding creeks and rivers. In the last fiscal year, 1,252 trees were planted through the Green City, Clean Waters program!

Green City, Clean Waters is the single largest green stormwater infrastructure program in the nation…. But the realization of the program – and its daily implementation – is achieved through the passion and dedication of Philadelphia Water's own Office of Watersheds, and the strong partnership and leadership provided by our sister agencies – Philadelphia's Parks & Recreation and Office of Sustainability. It is a pleasure and honor to have such steadfast support
--Howard Neukrug

The Green Streets component of Green City, Clean Waters is helping transform Philadelphia into a greener city with tree-lined streets. Trees planted through Green City, Clean Waters not only manage stormwater water but enhance the air quality, improve property values and beautify neighborhoods. Green City, Clean Waters also boosts the sustainability and greening goals of Philadelphia’s Greenworks Plan, which aims to make Philadelphia the greenest city in the nation. 

A ceremony for Arbor Day award recipients will be held at the Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska, on Saturday, April 25 and we can’t wait to attend! 

It’s a bird… It’s a plane… It’s Aquaman!

Our Water Commissioner, Howard Neukrug, is featured on the cover of the latest edition of Grid Magazine as one of several superheroes of sustainability in Philadelphia.

Commisioner Neukrug started off in drinking water treatment at the Philadelphia Water Department in 1978 and began PWD’s Office of Watersheds in 1999. As director of the Office of Watersheds, Commissioner Neukrug led the department in creating the vision and the plan for Green City, Clean Waters, Philadelphia’s long term plan to clean up our waterways. Appointed Water Commissioner in 2011 by Mayor Nutter, Howard Neukrug is focused on making PWD a sustainable 21st Century urban water utility – one that fully meets the complex responsibilities and opportunities of our time and our environment.

Check out the full article in Grid to learn more about our Aquaman and our Philadelphia’s other sustainability heroes.

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