West Philadelphia: Stormwater plan provides opportunities

By Ben Griffiths
For PlanPhilly 

This article was created in partnership with Temple University’s capstone journalism course Philadelphia Neighborhoods.

The Philadelphia Water Department’s Green City Clean Waters program is simply good business.

There are multiple reasons that this statement rings true, starting with the positive impact that increased green infrastructure will have on waterways. It’s good business for the city because decreased sewer overflow means less maintenance required and it is good for local businessmen because the water department’s parcel-based billing reduces stormwater rates for implementation of green infrastructure on large impervious properties. The result is that Philadelphia has been nationally praised for its environmental enthusiasm.

But Howard Neukrug, the commissioner of the Philadelphia Water Department, said the current rate structure came way before the creation of the Green City Clean Waters program.


A Philadelphia Water Department employee arranged his tools in the back of the truck in University City.

 “It’s funny because the parcel-based billing system was not at all premised on the Green City Clean Waters program,” said Neukrug. “ It’s something that came out of an agreement for equitable distribution of storm water charges that came out in the early ’90s.”

However, the rate structure could not be implemented until 2008. Only then was the computer system advanced enough to handle the program. As Neukrug explained it, the new focus on stormwater management allowed PWD to give credits to non-residents for helping keep stormwater from flowing freely into the sewer system.

This individualized parcel-based billing system was found to be not feasible for the residents. “If we were to differentiate between those properties, the cost of the program to implement, review and manage that type of accounting system would greatly override the cost of the program,” said Neukrug.

Despite the perceived benefits for big businesses to cut stormwater expenses, the catch for big Philadelphian businesses like SEPTA was that there were now a new set of rules to play by.


An employee of the Philadelphia Water Department hauled his pickaxe back to the truck in Cobbs Creek.

fa1203planphillyindividualenterprisewater from Philadelphia Neighborhoods1 on Vimeo.

For SEPTA this meant creating its own sustainability program. With its funding situation rapidly deteriorating, SEPTA saw a unique opportunity to save money through the water department’s creation of a price point on stormwater runoff.  Although this parcel-based rate still leaves SEPTA footing a $75,000 increase on its water bill, it has left the transportation giant plenty of room to improve the stormwater containing capabilities of its biggest impervious problem within bus depots.

“We very much see this as a business initiative with environmental benefits, rather than a environmental initiative we use for planning and marketing purposes,” explained Erik Johanson, SEPTA strategy and sustainability planner.

Meanwhile, the Green City Clean Waters initiative continues to be good business for the city of Philadelphia. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who entered into a partnership with Philadelphia back in April, recently announced $3 million dedication to the continued research and development of the city’s green infrastructure.


Cars rushed by the SEPTA rain water cisterns at 46th and Market.

“We’re helping to advance the state of knowledge of how to apply these green techniques in ways that are most effective,” said Jon Capacasa, director of the Water Protection Division for the EPA’s mid-Atlantic region.

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