September 23, 2015

Green City, Clean Water Goes Nationwide

I had the good fortune to spend much of the past week at the first-ever Green City, Clean Water Green Stormwater Infrastructure Practitioner’s Exchange in Philadelphia.

This event was a collaborative effort of the Philadelphia Water Department, the Urban Sustainability Directors’ Network, the U.S. Water Alliance, and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. Pisces Foundation, Surdna Foundation, the Philadelphia Water Department, and the William Penn Foundation partnered to fund this event and the information sharing that will follow it. Green Stormwater Infrastructure is the term that applies to the use of natural and engineered vegetation and other techniques (such as pervious pavement) that allows the built infrastructure to function hydrologically just like an undeveloped site.

It can do fantastic things for a city, not only by improving water quality and water supply, but also by beautifying neighborhoods, making it a healthier place to live, creating jobs, and making it more climate resilient. The Pisces Foundation’s Water Program is focused on using green stormwater infrastructure and other integrated water management approaches (such as water reuse) to protect freshwater resources in the U.S. for people and the environment.

I have been to many water conferences over the years, and while many of them are valuable, this event was unusual in the extent to which the participants were hungry (or should I say “thirsty”?) for practical information from their colleagues about how to make green stormwater infrastructure the norm in their communities. The discussion was not theoretical. It was a peer-to-peer exchange about the details of workforce development, financing, project management, stakeholder engagement, maintenance, and all the other aspects that make transforming an urban landscape from a hydrological perspective so challenging – and so rewarding – for communities that succeed in doing it. Moving beyond the 20th century approach to infrastructure and embracing the future — that revolutionary spirit that is alive and well in Philadelphia again.