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United States

THE FIRST DECADE OF PHILADELPHIA’S GREEN CITY, CLEAN WATERS PROGRAM: “We had sold people on the concept, but we did not expect the level of complexity that was required, the level of partnership. We had no idea,” said Paula Conolly, director of the Green Infrastructure Leadership Exchange


Since entering into an innovative partnership with the United States EPA almost a decade ago, Philadelphia has become a testing ground for green technologies. Philadelphia’s program involves creating ‘greened acres’ — expanses of impervious land that are transformed either to absorb the first 1½ inches of rainfall or send it into rain gardens or other local green infrastructure systems. The City has created more than 1,500 of a projected 10,000 greened acres.

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GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE & A TALE OF TWO CITIES: “Philadelphia has set an example in storm water management the Chicago area should follow to reduce flooding, make waterways cleaner and give a welcome economic boost to struggling communities,” stated an editorial in the Chicago Sun Times (March 2018)


“Instead of expanding our infrastructure, we put together a plan to price, value, reuse, recycle, infiltrate, transpire or otherwise manage, every drop of rainwater we could. We started to invent the millions of ways to reduce the amount of rainwater that arrived at our sewer inlets. The goal was to consider rainwater as a commodity and a resource—if it enters a sewer drain it becomes a costly waste product,” explained Howard Neukrug, former Philadelphia Water Commissioner. “There is no single formula for success—and we still don’t know whether ultimately we will succeed.”

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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 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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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: 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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HARD WORK OF HOPE: “Our rivers are being reborn after a century of decline. This is a defining moment for all the communities that live in our Santa Cruz Watershed,” wrote Lisa Shipek, Executive Director, Watershed Management Group (Tuscon, Arizona)


“It’s not just the Santa Cruz that is being reborn. I have good news to share from other parts of our watershed. The nonprofit I direct, Watershed Management Group, has been monitoring creek flows across the Tucson basin since 2017,” stated Lisa Shipek. “Having flow in the Santa Cruz River downtown provides a daily visual of what a desert river looks like, which will help open the hearts and minds of the greater community to what is possible. We should rejoice alongside the Tohono O’Odham Nation and work with it to restore flow to our rivers and quicken our pace towards a more resilient future.”

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Stream daylighting would reconnect community to Mississippi River: Redevelopment of historic Ford car assembly site in Saint Paul, Minnesota offers potential for “A 21st Century Community”


There once was a creek running through the St. Paul land where Henry Ford built his Twin Cities Assembly Plant. The project will reintroduce area residents to the Mississippi River.“We know we have a new neighborhood and how do we allow the existing neighbors and new neighbors to physically connect with the river as a resource?” he asked. “This is so powerful, because it’s also a way to have people reconnect with the urban ecosystem and the downstream river.”

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VIDEO: “Maximum Extent Practicable, or MEP, has become the definitional driver for a lot of what we do,” said Andy Reese, engineer and writer who coined the term Voodoo Hydrology in 2006 to explain the pitfalls inherent in urban drainage practice


“Years ago I was privileged to travel around the US with EPA putting on seminars,” stated Andy Reese in 2011. “Three off-the-cuff words have probably have had the biggest impact in influencing land design of any sort of regulatory program that ever was, and perhaps that ever will be. Those three words were maximum, extent and practicable. Back then, none of those words were capitalized. They were just a made-up term. But MEP is now taking on green infrastructure overtones, sustainability overtones, LID overtones, and on and on.”

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