Academy Town Square: Philly’s Innovative Water Systems

Philadelphia has a long history of innovative water resource management starting in the 19th century with the Fairmount Water Works. Today, as U.S. cities grapple with the effects of climate change and aging sewer pipes, many are looking to Philadelphia’s ambitious plan to use natural systems to reduce the amount of polluted stormwater entering streams.

On Wednesday, May 23, the Academy will hold a free Academy Town Square featuring city leaders and moderated by StateImpact Pa reporter Susan Phillips entitled “Philly’s Innovative Water Systems: Yesterday and Tomorrow.”

Guest speakers are Debra McCarty, commissioner of the Philadelphia Water Department, and Glen Abrams, senior director of Planning and Sustainable Communities for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and Adam Levine, PWD historian.

McCarty will discuss current and future plans for the city’s Green City, Clean Waters infrastructure program to reduce stormwater overflows into streams and the challenges that lie ahead. She’ll also give tips about Rain Check, a program for city residents to save money on home projects that protect Philadelphia waterways.

Abrams, whose organization produces the annual Philadelphia Flower Show, will explain the benefits of planting home gardens and urban greening on a wider scale and discuss exciting plans for the future that will benefit the urban environment.

Levine will open the event with an illustrated historical overview of the many creeks that once flowed through southeastern Pennsylvania. He’ll give an inside tour of the massive infrastructure that provides Philly’s drinking water.

Award-winning energy and environment reporter Phillips will moderate the discussion with audience participation.

The event begins at 6:30 p.m. and is free. Registration is requested. To register, visit

Philadelphia has a history of being a leader in water resource management through large-scale civic endeavors, such as Fairmount Water Works which supplied drinking water to the city, and the construction of massive tunnels and sewers to keep the city and drinking water clean.

As the effects of global warming on weather patterns and sea level are becoming evident, cities are looking for ways to be more resilient to the effects of climate change.

The PWD has taken on an ambitious plan to use green infrastructure to reduce the amount of polluted water entering streams through its aging combined sewer system. Green stormwater infrastructure is any system that takes advantage of natural soil/plant/water relationships to reduce the amount of stormwater that enters a stream.

A partner in this initiative is PHS, which helps administer PWD’s Rain Check program that provides residents with affordable residential stormwater solutions, and uses horticulture to address social equity and environmental sustainability.

The Academy Town Square series is designed to engage and provide relevant educational content to the public on environmental issues.

StateImpact Pa is a joint collaborative project between WHYY, WITFWESA and the Allegheny Front. Phillips and other reporters cover the commonwealth’s energy economy and tell stories about the consequences of political decisions on people’s everyday lives. Visit and hear them on public radio stations across Pennsylvania.

For more information about the issues, visit the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s blog by clicking here.

By Carolyn Belardo

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