Water Department may transform vacant Northwest Philly lot into a rain garden

With each heavy rain, raw sewage runs into our local creeks and rivers, a gross problem that the Philadelphia Water Department has tried to tackle for years.

Its latest effort is a proposed rain garden on the city-owned vacant lot at East Washington Lane and Clearview St. on the cusps of East Germantown and East Mount Airy.

Neighbors gathered Tuesday night to discuss the proposal at the Chew and Belfield Neighbors Club meeting, held in the Joseph E. Coleman Northwest Regional Library in Germantown.

Public discussion

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There, about 10 members of the community organization met with officials from the water department and the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership.

“A rain garden is a small depression in the land that is planted with special plants that are designed to soak up water,” said Maggie Wood, a PWD spokeswoman. “And, the garden holds water, not for a long period of time … but it gives the treatment plants time to catch up.”

The reason that raw sewage enters our waterways during heavy rains is because many combined sewage overflow (CWO) pipes that flow underground throughout the city carry both stormwater runoff from streets and wastewater from homes.

When those pipes are filled, wastewater-treatment plants can’t keep up with the flow, so the pipes are forced to dump excess water into creeks and rivers.

Infrastructure concerns

One way Philadelphia has been trying to stem the flow of CSOs is to create “green” infrastructure that will hold more water. This catches the rain where it falls and allows water to filter through the ground naturally and let the roots of plants and trees soak it up.

Rain gardens can help lessen the burden of runoff from streets, officials said.

Seeking input

Neighbors voiced concerns about flooding in that section of Washington Lane with each heavy rain. Water Department representatives said that the garden may not completely resolve the flooding issue, but it will certainly help alleviate some of it.

“There will be some kind of channel that directs water to the garden,” said Wood, pointing out that the project was still in the planning stage and that she would take neighborhood concerns back to the planning team.

Wood also said that other long-term plans to manage water flow throughout Germantown are in the works.

The proposed rain garden will also have a footpath designed throughout the park so that people can walk through the garden on their way to and from the nearby train station.

Some neighbors also suggested placing benches in the park so people can sit and relax in the garden.

The Chew and Belfield Neighbors organization hopes to hold another meeting about the proposed rain garden for those elderly residents who were unable to attend this week’s meeting, but a date hasn’t been announced.

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