Our green stormwater infrastructure innovation and lessons-learned are spilling beyond the streets of Philly.
Through a learning exchange program hosted by The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania, Deputy Commissioner of Planning & Environmental Services, Marc Cammarata, alongside Tiffany Ledesma, Public Engagement Team Manager, recently met with representatives from the Puerto Rico-based organization Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña (ENLACE).
The City of Philadelphia’s 25-year Green City, Clean Waters program was appealing to the representatives of Puerto Rico as green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) is considered a tool to help combat stormwater runoff in Caño Martín Peña—a nearly four-mile-long tidal channel in the San Juan Bay National Estuary.
Established by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, ENLACE is a public network partnering with local residents and organizations to improve water quality in the Caño Martín Peña and enhance the quality of life for eight neighboring communities.
Caño Martín Peña , which is located within the only tropical estuary in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program, has grown increasingly polluted and is clogged with "sediment, debris and solid waste." The buildup inevitably obstructs water from flowing between the San José Lagoon and the San Juan Bay.
Insufficient sewer and stormwater systems induce flooding, and more than 27,000 residents are exposed to the polluted water.
Catastrophic natural disasters, such as Hurricanes Maria and Irma that ravaged the island in 2017, have exacerbated this environmental crisis.
The visiting partners from ENLACE delivered a presentation explaining environmental challenges and objectives in Caño Martín Peña while also sharing thoughts and problems to brainstorm with The Nature Conservancy and our PWD experts.
"With the acquired knowledge, we feel in a better position to be able to implement these strategies within the context of the communities of Caño Martin Peña and reduce, in a sustainable way, the detrimental effects of flooding and water pollution," says Carlos Muñiz, ENLACE’S Urbanism & Infrastructure Program Manager. "In El Caño, we can design and build a new, more sustainable, resilient and modern infrastructure taking into account the challenges of El Caño’s urban context and the possible long-term impacts of climate change and sea level rise."
Much like the 2011 agreement Philadelphia made with the EPA to reduce combined sewer overflows impacting local waterways through our Green City, Clean Waters program, the Municipality of San Juan and the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority are charged with making infrastructure investments that will protect Caño Martín Peña.
Muñiz says Green City, Clean Waters serves as "a conceptual framework to drive public policy in the same direction." They hope disaster recovery grants and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) mitigation funding will help cover design and construction costs.
By teaming up with the eight local organizations that border the waterway and creating a "community land trust," the folks at ENLACE also are working to incorporate other elements that mirror Philly's green infrastructure program: genuine citizen participation and planning that considers the economic and social development benefits alongside environmental perks.
It's a model we've spent the last eight years fine-tuning, and we are thrilled to see other parts of the country taking an interest.
We look forward to continuing conversations with Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña and The Nature Conservancy about combined sewer overflow reductions, reduced flooding, refined water quality and the improved overall wellbeing of Puerto Rico and Philadelphia.