One of my favorite infrastructure improvements projects I like to see in urban areas are ones that deal with stormwater management. In greater Philadelphia alone, there has been increasing awareness about protecting and enhancing watersheds, mainly due to the more frequent flooding events which close roads, damage properties, and strain infrastructure. The Philadelphia Water Department manages a very informative website to help people understand how maintaining their infrastructure also involves a variety of adaptation and mitigation strategies. A watershed is an area of land where water from rain or snow drains into a body of water, such as a river, lake or ocean. Philadelphia is part of the Delaware River Watershed, and is comprised of seven main subwatersheds including: the Delaware Direct; Schuylkill; Pennypack; Tookany/Tacony-Frankford; Darby-Cobbs; Poquessing and Wissahickon.
It’s important to remember that Philadelphia has a rich legacy in ensuring its residents have a clean supply of drinking water dating back to the formation of the Fairmount Water Works around the turn of the 19th century. Although these facilities were quite industrial in nature, its setting on the Schuylkill River within Fairmount Park and enclosed with a Classical Revival exterior made it an aesthetically pleasing destination. Fast forward a few hundred years later, and I’ll argue that the city is once again making efforts to make water quality strategies pleasing to the eye and beautiful. The buzz word is “green stormwater infrastructure”, and the city has been partnering with various organizations and consultants over the past decade to replace impervious surfaces with pervious areas, lessening stormwater runoff volume and combined sewer overﬂow (CSO) episodes. It’s all part of the its Green City, Clean Waters 25-year plan to transform the health of the City’s creeks and rivers primarily through a land-based approach. Specific green stormwater infrastructure tools include stormwater planters, rain gardens and green roofs- all of which help to reduce runoff volume and filter pollutants by intercepting stormwater runoff before it enters the City’s combined sewer system. And these strategies also include the use of attractive vegetation that soften hardscapes and enhance the character of spaces.
Also, the cool thing about all this work is that it’s being tracked, monitored, and mapped through phillywatersheds.org. A tool/interactive map I’d like to point is the Green Stormwater Infrastructure Project Map, which tracks all of the projects going on in the city, from bumpouts, to basins and planters, to swales, trenches, and infiltration basins. Each project is mapped with a corresponding record that gives valuable details about the nature of the project. Check it out!
And now I’d like to share a few before and after shots from two Philadelphia green stormwater infrastructure projects that i’ve been monitoring over the past year. These records are very useful in seeing not only the functional value, but also the aesthetic value of stormwater management in some cases.
Case study 1: The Schuylkill river trail across from Paine’s Park. Pervious grass surfaces were regraded in early spring to create retention basins and further limit the volume of runoff going directly into the river. The basins were then planted with a variety of grassess and prarie species to further help with water filtration absorption. The vegetation offers great texture and flowers throughout the summer, not to mention added habitats for birds and insects.
Case study 2: The Gorgas Run stream restoration and Summit ave wingwall at the Wissahickon Creek. Steep banks were remedied with a partial stone retention wall and riparian buffer planting. Live stake dogwoods were installed to stabilize soils to slow down the rate of stormwater and sediment entering the Gorgas Run.