New water department grant program targeting stormwater management on commercial sites may create new type of Philly business

A rain garden. Photo courtesy PWD.

As part of a continuing effort to convince commercial property owners to delay the rain that falls on their property from entering an overwhelmed sewer system, the Philadelphia Water Department has launched a new grant program. This one allows groups of property owners to seek money to pay for stormwater management improvements under a single grant application.

With this change, PWD also hopes to create a new class of business for Philadelphia: Project managing individuals or companies who convince commercial property owners to join their group of properties, and then handle the Greened Acre Retrofit Program Grant application process, and likely the construction of the water retention systems, for the entire group.

Stormwater bundlers, if you will.

PWD won’t pay the bundlers for their work, said Director of Strategic Partnerships Christine Knapp, the companies whose stormwater they work with will. While the details are up to the bundlers and their group to work out, the prediction is the set-up will work much like the tactics Energy Service Companies use; the bundlers, or aggregators as PWD is calling them, will get some percentage of the money they save their clients on the stormwater portion of their water bills.

The grants are open only to privately owned commercial properties that are singularly, or within their bundled group, at least 10 acres. The property also must be within a section of the city served by a Combined Sewer Outflow. Only existing developments seeking stormwater retrofits are eligible; new developments are required by law to retain the first inch of rain.

Here’s a map, but generally speaking, areas in the older neighborhoods close to Center City are served by CSOs, while more recently developed areas have separate sewer systems for run-off and waste water.

Aside from the fact the feds say Philadelphia must contend with this problem, here’s why managing stormwater runoff in the CSO area is important:

In areas where sanitary and run-off water is combined into one system, a heavy rain can overwhelm it. The mixture of run-off and wastewater then flows into the river – or sometimes, into basements.

In 2010, PWD began charging customers for the stormwater that runs off their properties. The basic commercial formula considers both the size of the property and the portion of that property that is covered in impervious surfaces – surfaces through which water can’t soak into the ground. Learn more here.

PWD encourages both residential and commercial property owners to hold onto water longer with things like special planters, rain gardens, green roofs and pervious pavement. Not only does GARP and the existing Stormwater Management Incentive Program help pay for improvements, but any company that makes improvements gets a discount off their stormwater bill. Under the exiting program, PWD has awarded three rounds of $5 million in grants, Knapp said.

Using such a grant, Cardone Industries implemented a stormwater management program that will save the company $250,000 per year, Knapp said.

But the majority of the city’s commercial properties do not have stormwater management systems, Knapp said, partly due to the newness of the city’s management charge, and for some, because they don’t have the time to apply for a grant. PWD hopes the GARP program, with its bundling ability, will address that issue. It will also save time, and therefore money, for PWD, Knapp said, since there will be fewer applications that cover more territory and have bigger impact.

(Through the Raincheck residential grant program, PWD pays for 80 percent of the cost of materials and installation. Knapp said they are also using that program to gather data that may lead to a reimbursement program in the future.)

GARP applications will be evaluated based on a variety of criteria including total area managed, cost to PWD, quality of the long-term maintenance plan and the availability of matching funds. Grant requests shouldn’t exceed $90,000 per impervious acre managed.

Grants will be awarded every quarter rather than once a year. The first application cycle is open, and the first grants will be awarded at the end of September.

Want to learn more about the program, or becoming a property bundler/aggregator? A seminar will be held July 21. For more information about GARP and other stormwater grants, go here. Tto let PWD know you’re coming to the seminar, go here.

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