EPA, Philadelphia Sign $2 Billion Agreement To Use Green Infrastructure to Manage Flows

Green Infrastructure Agreement Signed  


Key Development: EPA, Philadelphia sign $2 billion agreement with Philadelphia allowing the city to use green infrastructure to manage stormwater flows.

Impact: The agreement will allow Philadelphia to supplement traditional pipes and concrete infrastructure with green infrastructure such as porous pavements that mimic nature's water retention abilities.

By Amena H. Saiyid  

The Environmental Protection Agency and city of Philadelphia signed an agreement April 10 that represents a $2 billion investment in porous pavements, rain gardens, grassy swales, and other green infrastructure techniques to help the city manage stormwater overflows.

Under the agreement, EPA will partner with Philadelphia on the city's 25-year “Green City, Clean Waters” plan, which aims to protect and enhance urban watersheds by managing stormwater with green infrastructure techniques.

The pact will allow Philadelphia to supplement traditional pipes and concrete infrastructure with green infrastructure such as porous pavements that mimic nature's water retention abilities.

EPA will provide technical assistance to Philadelphia--including identifying and promoting higher-performing green infrastructure designs--and join forces in several demonstration projects, including greening a school's gardens and revitalizing a low-income neighborhood with green designs. It also will offer research and technical assistance, help monitor the effectiveness and evaluate the benefits of the program through cooperation on water quality monitoring and modeling work.

According to EPA, green infrastructure methods intercept rain water at the source, retaining and allowing it to flow into the ground and allowing soil and plants to recycle it back to the atmosphere, preventing it from becoming stormwater that runs off, triggering sewer overflows and polluting waterways.

Green infrastructure techniques include porous pavements, grassy swales, and rooftop rain gardens, among others.

The April 10 accord paves the way for an administrative consent order between Philadelphia and EPA that is to be issued later this year. The agreement did not specify when the consent order would be issued.

The pact comes less than a month after New York state and New York City reached a final agreement calling for the city to invest $187 million in the next three years in green infrastructure to control combined sewer overflows, with an estimated $2.4 billion investment over 18 years expected.

Builds on 2011 Agreement With Commonwealth.

Larry Levine, a Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney who was present at the signing in Philadelphia, told BNA the agreement between EPA and Philadelphia is significant because EPA is endorsing the approach Philadelphia is taking to use green infrastructure as a solution to manage sewer overflows on a large scale.

He said the partnership and ensuing administrative consent order would build upon the agreement that Philadelphia reached with the commonwealth of Pennsylvania in June 2011. That state administrative consent order allowed the use of green infrastructure in addition to the traditional gray infrastructure that consists of a 3,000 mile system of pipes, manholes, storm drains, and control chambers that are at least 100 years old.

Philadelphia's Green City, Clean Waters initiative was a result of that state agreement.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson touted the April 10 agreement as a “unique federal-city partnership” designed to ensure the success of the Green City, Clean Waters Plan and as a national model for cities embracing green stormwater infrastructure. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D) said the Green City, Clean Waters plan is the city's solution for revitalizing urban rivers and streams.

“Where other cities are challenged by very expensive commitments for tunnels, tanks, and other gray infrastructure, we have worked with the state and the EPA to take this greener, more fiscally prudent approach that will realize multiple benefits,” Nutter said at the signing.

EPA's water and enforcement offices signed a memo in 2011 that endorsed the use of green infrastructure for managing stormwater. EPA also has been encouraging the use of green infrastructure in its integrated planning approach for managing both stormwater and wastewater, and soliciting comment on how best to use this approach in assisting publicly owned wastewater plants and municipalities to manage stormwater.

By Amena H. Saiyid  

The EPA-Philadelphia green infrastructure agreement is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=phey-8t8red.