Preventing Stormwater Run-Off in Philly

The NRDC has launched an experimental project in Philadelphia that incentivizes residents for keeping the first inch of stormwater on their property, rather than allowing it to run off into stormwater drains.  Stormwater is a major pollutant of lakes, rivers and streams, and preventing the water from fouling those bodies of water can reap huge benefits.  In the report accompanying the experiment, they spell out a great deal of the problem, the opportunity and the hope for the Philly project. The conventional way to address this issue has been to install every more and bigger pipes, dig up streets and land to ensure sufficient “highway” through which the water can flow into natural bodies of water.  But there are significant alternative and sustainable ways to approach this challenge:

“[G]reen infrastructure manages stormwater onsite through installation of permeable pavement, green roofs, parks, roadside plantings, rain barrels, and other mechanisms that mimic natural hydrologic functions, such as infiltration into soil and evapo-transpiration into the air, or otherwise capture runoff onsite for productive use. These smarter water practices also yield many important co-benefits, such as beautifying neighborhoods, cooling and cleansing the air, reducing asthma and heat-related illnesses, lowering heating and cooling energy costs, and creating jobs.”  Although they work and contribute immensely to preserving the pristine state of naturally occurring water repositories, these all are expensive infrastructure improvements.  But they also allow for significant investment opportunities with real pay-back.  In Philadelphia, they have been quite ambitious, “establishing a parcel-based stormwater billing structure that provides a very significant credit (up to nearly 100 percent) for non-residential owners who can demonstrate onsite management of the first inch of rainfall over their entire parcel.”  Read the full NRDC report here.