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Success Stories: Rainwater Champions & Innovators

PHILADELPHIA’S GREEN CITY, CLEAN WATERS PROGRAM:”Howard Neukrug fundamentally changed Philadelphia’s relationship with nature, and other cities are watching with great interest,” wrote Pascal Mittermaier in an interview published by the Huffington Post in 2017


Philadelphia’s green programs really began as pushback to an expensive grey infrastructure mandate from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce sewer overflows that occur even during the most minor rainstorms. And to make this change, the water sector needed to expand its definition of “sustainable” from “a longer lasting concrete treatment structure” to a more universal understanding that sustainability is a bigger concept that involves more than just managing overflows.

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FLASHBACK TO 2015: “A Guide to Water-Wise Land Development in the Comox Valley” – Joint Staff Training Workshop organized by the Comox Valley Regional Team initiated an educational process for communicating ‘design with nature’ expectations in urban watersheds


“The Water-Wise Guide is in essence both a call to action (for the community, but also for us) as well as a road map for that action,” said Nancy Gothard. “So, our goal was to begin to brand the story and to make it visible in the various regulatory agencies in the Valley. To depict visually that we were developing a consistency in expectations in how development would address environmental concerns. Having it available on every front counter and every website is a first step.”

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FLASHBACK TO 2011: United States EPA and City of Philadelphia signed the landmark “Green City, Clean Waters” partnership agreement to establish a national model for water balance restoration in the urban environment


“The Green City Clean Waters Plan is our proposal to revitalize our rivers and streams by managing stormwater in a way that provides multiple benefits. It will result in clean and beautiful waterways, a healthier environment and increased community value,” said Mayor Michael Nutter.

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APPROACH TO LAND DEVELOPMENT IN NORTHEAST COMOX IS PRECEDENT-SETTING: “As we proceed with next steps, the most challenging will be educating staff, developers, consultants, and home owners of the new standards, procedures, policies and guidelines,” stated Shelley Ashfield, Municipal Engineer, Town of Comox


The time, effort and energy it takes to change the standard of engineering practice is substantial, as the Town’s journey clearly shows. Implementing effective water balance management requires a systems approach on all levels. Ripple effects are cascading. “Changing engineering standards is a journey in itself. To ensure success, the Town will need to adopt the design standards, update existing subdivision servicing specifications, establish a number of bylaws, and implement a cost recovery program,” stated Shelley Ashfield.

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CONVENING FOR ACTION IN THE NANAIMO REGION: “The stewardship groups comprising the Nanaimo Watershed Health Community of Practice have set out to build relationships with City Council and staff in a collegial and collaborative way. The relationships will grow as we build a culture of stewardship,” states Paul Chapman, NALT Executive Director


Galvanized by what they learned during the Nanaimo 2018 Symposium, a diverse group of stewardship groups took their first coordinated action before leaving the symposium when they formed a creekshed coalition. Eighteen months later, in October 2019, the group took the Mayor and members of Council on a creekshed walkabout so that they would see firsthand the nature of the issues of concern. “The saying from the hiking community is: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” stated Paul Chapman when he provided the context for collaboration.

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GREEN CITY, CLEAN WATERS: Commencing in 2011, Philadelphia’s 25-year program is creating a citywide mosaic of green infrastructure to capture the first inch of rainfall and restore the water balance, one “greened acre” at a time!


Benjamin Franklin, Philadelphia’s favorite son, described his city’s stormwater problem well: By “covering a ground plot with buildings and pavements, which carry off most of the rain and prevent its soaking into the Earth and renewing and purifying the Springs … the water of wells must gradually grow worse, and in time be unfit for use as I find has happened in all old cities.” But Ben Franklin’s town has decided to take the lead in undoing this ever-more costly and outdated system.

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FLASHBACK TO 2010: “Home Depot in the City of Courtenay established a BC precedent when it implemented a deep deep-well system for injecting rainwater runoff and recharging the underlying groundwater aquifer,” stated the City’s Kevin Lagan when he shared the story with a provincial audience at the ‘From Rain to Resource Workshop’ hosted by the Okanagan Basin Water Board


“In 2003, the Home Depot development application in the City of Courtenay was to build a store and parking lot covering 90% of a four hectare second growth coniferous forest property,” stated Kevin Lagan. “The City required that post-development rainwater and stormwater flows leaving the site were equal to or less than the pre-development flows. For this property that was effectively zero.” Kevin Lagan described how the developer met this requirement of replacing a forest with impervious areas, and that the solution was successful.

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FLASHBACK TO 2010: Philadelphia Urban Water Leadership Conference represents a “watershed moment” in the United States because it followed British Columbia’s lead in linking green infrastructure practices to water sustainability outcomes


“The Clean Water America Alliance brought together green infrastructure leaders from around the United States,” recalls Howard Neukrig. “They shared innovations, strategies, and best practices, for making green infrastructure the centerpiece of the urban water world. A number of themes emerged during the conference, including: Green infrastructure must work within the greater quilt of water management that includes traditional gray infrastructure.”

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New York City’s $US 1.9 Billion Program to Combat Flooding includes Hundreds of Rain Gardens in the Borough of Queens


“Southeast Queens has been plagued for generations with flooding. There are many factors that are the cause of this problem; but its residents have still suffered with their homes and streets being overrun with water whenever there is a storm,” Community Board 13 District Manager Mark McMillan said. “Rain gardens are an example of an environmentally friendly way that both beautifies communities while providing drainage in flood prone areas.”

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BUILDING RAIN GARDENS IN THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY ERA: “We hope that as the broader community learns about the North Shore Rain Garden Project, this awareness will encourage homeowners to take an active role and see the potential for rain gardens in their own backyards,” stated Dr. Joanna Ashworth, Project Director


“Community engagement and green infrastructure are powerful partners for building climate resiliency. Our vision is to scale up this work and encourage our partners to embrace this winning partnership as significant levers for change,” stated Dr. Joanna Ashworth. “Municipalities often miss the opportunity to involve their communities in the design, location selection, and construction of the rain gardens. This involvement also provides important opportunities to educate and engage the public in stewarding this remarkable green technology.”

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