Thursday, August 15, 2013

Rain Check

A pioneering outreach program empowers homeowner take on a city's stormwater troubles one house at a time.
Philadelphia, like most cities rests upon a vast network of underground pipes. In particular, our city has two types of sewer systems - combined and separate sewer systems - which, in total, measure 3,000 miles in length.

In areas with combined sewers, a single pipe carries both stormwater from streets, houses, and businesses as well as waste water from houses and businesses to a water treatment plant. In areas with separate sewers, one pipe carries stormwater to the city's streams while another carries wastewater to a water treatment plant.

When it rains and the amount of combined stormwater and wastewater exceeds the sewer system's capacity, the mixed stormwater and wastewater is discharged into the city's streams before it is treated - an unfortunate, but common scenario.

In the separate sewer system, stormwater is not routed to a treatment plant and is discharged directly to a stream. Pollutants picked with stormwater flow along the city's impervious surfaces and are discharged into the streams, an occurrence known as stormwater runoff.

Impervious surfaces like driveways, sidewalks, and streets prevent stormwater runoff from naturally soaking into the ground. Stormwater can pick up debris, chemicals, dirt, and other pollutants and flow into a storm sewer system or directly to a lake, stream, river, wetland, or coastal water. Anything that enters a storm sewer system is discharged untreated into the waterbodies we use for swimming, fishing and providing drinking water.

Green stormwater infrastructure includes a range of vegetation and soil systems that intercept stormwater, infiltrate a portion of it into the ground, evaporate a portion of it into the air, and in some cases release a portion of it slowly back into the sewer system.

Impervious surfaces, such as roadways and buildings, are characteristic of urbanized landscapes. As land development increases, it leads to replacement of pervious areas with impervious surfaces, causing an increase in stormwater runoff volume and combined sewer overflow episodes. In turn, this affects Philadelphia's watersheds by impairing water quality and degrading stream habitats. The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) has established goals to protect and enhance local watersheds by managing stormwater runoff with innovative green infrastructure, maximizing economic, social, and environmental benefits for the city.

Rain Check is a program from PWD that helps residents manage stormwater and beautify their homes. Participation in Rain Check is one way Philadelphia residents can help improve local water quality and beautify their homes at the same time. Rain Check provides stormwater tools at a reduced cost to Philadelphia residents who live in the combined sewer area. These tools are landscape improvements that can beautify your home and will improve the water quality of our rivers and streams.

More on the program from the Philly Watersheds webpage:

Integrating green stormwater infrastructure into a highly developed area such as Philadelphia requires a decentralized and creative approach to planning and design. Various tools can be implemented to accomplish this, including stormwater planters, rain gardens and green roofs. All of these tools help to reduce runoff volume and filter pollutants by intercepting stormwater runoff before it enters the City's combined sewer system.

We're continuously exploring innovative ways to implement green infrastructure tools. Through our eight Land-Based Green programs, we will achieve our goals of reducing localized flooding, reducing combined sewer overflows, and improving water quality while also improving the quality of life of residents.

Contaminated water bodies are only one of many interrelated problems affected by stormwater. Stormwater volumes that exceed the sewer system's capacity can cause backups and result in street and basement flooding. Waterways and wetlands are degraded by pollutants in stormwater as natural habitats are destroyed, and biodiversity suffers. Impaired streams do not support healthy aquatic communities, do not meet uses designated by the State, do not serve as amenities to the community, and occasionally cause property damage due to flooding. When our waterways are not as healthy as they can be, we lose out on water-related recreation opportunities.

Impervious cover exacerbates the problem of stormwater when runoff flows directly into the nearest storm drain without being mitigated. If untreated before entering our waterways (including the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, which we use as sources of drinking water), this contaminated water can have a detrimental effect on water quality.

The more impervious surfaces there are in the city, the more polluted stormwater enters the sewer system, increasing the total volume of water the city's infrastructure network must handle.The Philadelphia Water Department believes that every homeowner can make a difference in transforming Philadelphia into a green city with clean water. Rain Check gives homeowners an opportunity to reduce pollution that would otherwise end up in our creeks and rivers. For homeowners who participate in the Rain Check pilot program, PWD will help them choose a landscaping tool to manage stormwater runoff and help pay for the cost of installing the tool.

Rain Check is now in its second year as a pilot program. As part of the broader Green City, Clean Waters initiative, the services seek to help ease stormwater problems while also helping green the city. It has created awareness and shed light on such issues that were typically out of sight and mind from community stakeholders. It has also created a workforce of stormwater management specialists, which consists of a hybrid of landscape architects, environmentalists, and structural engineers in a leading-edge field for urban sustainabilty--D.A. DeMers

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