Green City Clean Waters

Making local waterways cleaner and neighborhoods greener. Our projects drastically reduce pollution from stormwater and combined sewer overflows in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia’s combined sewer system serves about 60 percent of the city. During wet weather, this older section of our system often overflows. As a result, billions of gallons of stormwater and diluted sewage flow into local waterways each year.

State and federal regulations, including sections of the Clean Water Act, require Philadelphia to reduce at least 85 percent of this pollution—or face steep fines.

  • Philly families relax around a stormwater basin at Kemble Park in West Oak Lane, Philadelphia. 

<em>Photo: Steve Weink © The Nature Conservancy</em>
    Philly families relax around a stormwater basin at Kemble Park in West Oak Lane, Philadelphia. Photo: Steve Weink © The Nature Conservancy
  • Rain gardens and below ground stone trench along Parkside Avenue at Centennial Commons in West Philadelphia.

<em>Photo: JPG Photography © PWD</em>
    Rain gardens and below ground stone trench along Parkside Avenue at Centennial Commons in West Philadelphia. Photo: JPG Photography © PWD
  • West Philadelphia outreach specialist Dan Schupsky gives a stormwater tour and makes a stop at a combined sewer overflow on Cobbs Creek.

<em> Photo: © PWD</em>
    West Philadelphia outreach specialist Dan Schupsky gives a stormwater tour and makes a stop at a combined sewer overflow on Cobbs Creek. Photo: © PWD
  • A stormwater tree trench manages incoming runoff.

<em> Photo: © PWD</em>
    A stormwater tree trench manages incoming runoff. Photo: © PWD
  • Northwest/Northeast Philadelphia outreach specialist Hailey Stern shows students a rain garden at Cliveden Park in East Mt. Airy.

<em> Photo: © PWD</em>
    Northwest/Northeast Philadelphia outreach specialist Hailey Stern shows students a rain garden at Cliveden Park in East Mt. Airy. Photo: © PWD
  • A swale at 59th & Upland. Swales channel stormwater from the street or sidewalk.

<em> Photo: Louis Cook © PWD</em>
    A swale at 59th & Upland. Swales channel stormwater from the street or sidewalk. Photo: Louis Cook © PWD
  • PWD Public Engagement Manager Tiffany Ledesma (right) adding to the Green City, Clean Waters-themed mural, “Your Hands Shimmering on the Legs of Rain” by artists, Eurhi Jones and Mike Reali, during the Hestonville Community Paint Day.

<em>Photo: © PWD</em>
    PWD Public Engagement Manager Tiffany Ledesma (right) adding to the Green City, Clean Waters-themed mural, “Your Hands Shimmering on the Legs of Rain” by artists, Eurhi Jones and Mike Reali, during the Hestonville Community Paint Day. Photo: © PWD
  • During a depaving project community planting day, rain gardens were added to the parking lot of the NorthEast Treatment Center. 

<em> Photo: © PWD</em>
    During a depaving project community planting day, rain gardens were added to the parking lot of the NorthEast Treatment Center. Photo: © PWD

What is Green City, Clean Waters?

To meet state and federal regulations, we created Green City, Clean Waters: a 25-year plan to reduce the volume of stormwater entering combined sewers using green infrastructure and to expand stormwater treatment capacity with traditional infrastructure improvements.

The effort officially began in 2011 and Philadelphia is scheduled to meet pollution reduction goals by 2036, in accordance with our Long Term Control Plan.

Continue to push Green City, Clean Waters in the community. This is the best face of the Water Department.

Respondent, 2018 PWD Customer Survey

What are “green tools”?

Green stormwater infrastructure, also known as GSI or green tools, reduce overflows by decreasing how much runoff gets into sewers. Stormwater is soaked up by plants and soil and evaporates into the air, or is released into sewers more slowly. Trees, plants, and other natural elements provide benefits for people and the environment, while also managing stormwater.

looking down a street with rowhomes on both sides. On the right, mature trees shade parked cars. On the left side there is a row of younger trees between the street and sidewalk, each guarded by a little knee-high decorative fence, and the stomwater inlets are visible at the curb, letting runoff from the street into the tree trench.
A stormwater tree trench helps manage stormwater on a residential block of Osage Ave.

Why Green City, Clean Waters?

Cleaner waters, greener neighborhoods

Green City, Clean Waters is making our neighborhoods greener, more vibrant places to live and creating a healthier, more sustainable Philadelphia. Our plan is to reduce pollution and stormwater entering the sewer system under our feet in a way that also enhances the spaces where we live, work, and play.

Leading with green solutions benefits our city beyond cleaner waterways: 

Environmental

Using plants in green tools benefits our environment

Reducing carbon dioxide and filtering out pollutants like those created by cars creates improved air quality.

Trees shade humans and buildings, saving energy that would be used for air conditioning and reducing the heat island impact. GSI packages are being planned for the most heat-stressed regions of the city, including North and West Philadelphia.

Native plants and flowers support important wildlife, including pollinators, such as bees, and larger species, like birds.

Green Infrastructure helps our city prepare for climate change.

Economic

Investing in green tools boosts Philadelphia’s economy

Building and maintaining green stormwater tools creates local jobs, as evidenced by PHLPowerCorps.

Studies have shown that creating tree-lined streets and green spaces near residential streets can  increase property values.

Having clean rivers attracts and promotes recreation, infusing millions of tourism dollars into our local economy. Already, the Schuylkill alone generates $589.9 million in economic impact, supports 6,154 jobs, and creates $37.7 million in tax revenue for the region each year.

GCCW promotes investment in local businesses, including planning, design, construction, and maintenance firms.

Social

Adding green tools creates healthier communities

Restoring our waterways provides better spaces to hike, bike, boat, fish, and enjoy nature.

Living on blocks with greenery encourages spending time outside, which means more exercise and time with neighbors.

Collaborating with local residents to maintain and beautify neighborhoods through programs is good for communities. Check out Soak It Up Adoption.

Research indicates that greening Philadelphia’s neighborhoods fosters social equity, as well as reductions in local crime and stress.

a vacant lot converted into a rain garden includes a stone path cutting across diagonally as a shortcut to the SEPTA station on the other side

Leveraging Green City, Clean Waters

Every property served by the combined sewer system is an opportunity to manage stormwater and reduce overflows. As green stormwater tools are being installed at a recreation center, parking lot, or school, there are often opportunities for additional improvements.

Likewise, there are often opportunities to make green stormwater features part of other needed upgrades, like renovations to athletic fields. By looking for ways Green City, Clean Waters can make projects better, we find new opportunities to reduce pollution.

The stormwater management investments that also directly benefit neighborhoods are great.

Respondent, 2020 PWD Customer Survey
Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner Randy E. Hayman Esq., center, led a 2019 ribbon-cutting celebration for a new rain garden that also makes walking safer in Strawberry Mansion.

A decade of progress

Green City, Clean Waters continues to make tremendous progress since launching in 2011. We exceeded our 10-year pollution reduction goal, with new infrastructure investments now keeping nearly three billion gallons of stormwater runoff and sewer overflow out of local waterways.

We’ve installed more than 2,800 green tools…

…at nearly 800 sites throughout the city…

…keeping more than 2.7 billion gallons of polluted water out of our rivers.

For more details, see the city’s CSO Long Term Control Plan and Annual Reports →

preview of the linked web map shows hundreds of green infrastructure sites across Philadelphia
Click the map to see Green Infrastructure in your neighborhood or visit Projects & Construction to see what’s coming soon

Survey Says…

Nearly half of surveyed residents are willing to pay more on their water bills if the money is used directly for priority issues like clean water and climate change.

As Green City, Clean Waters continues to grow the city’s green infrastructure network, the initiative has strong support from Philadelphians who want to see their money invested in sustainability.

Our customers consistently rank cleaning up waterways and adapting for climate change right below safe drinking water when it comes to their most important issues, according to annual surveys.

As Green City, Clean Waters gets ready to celebrate its tenth anniversary this spring, take a look at 5 Down, 20 to Go or an illustrated overview of the first five years of the initiative.

The Green Initiatives are superb… keep them up.

Respondent, 2019 PWD Customer Survey

How you can contribute

We all benefit from cleaner local waterways and greener neighborhoods. To get our water as clean as we want it, we can all take steps to reduce water pollution in our city.

Individuals

Every Philadelphian can help protect our waterways.

East Falls homeowners CJ and Russell transform their front yard with Rain Check

Businesses

Help with regulations, stormwater grants, and fees.

Stormwater Pioneer winner Popi’s used a grant to build a rain garden and reduce their water bill

Community

Community groups, institutions, non-profits, and places of worship are valuable partners.

When community organizations partner with us to maintain neighborhood green tools, everybody wins.

Schools

Public and private schools use green stormwater tools in hands-on learning and make for beautiful neighbors.

Greenfield Elementary in Center City transformed its asphalt schoolyard into a vibrant multi‑purpose green space
  • Green Schools: Stormwater management systems reduce campus runoff and can serve as outdoor classrooms. Transforming Schoolyards Guide →
  • School Rain Barrels: Free rain barrels decorated with student artwork for schools with usable external downspouts. Learn More →
Want emails or text messages about upcoming Green City, Clean Waters events?

All photographs © PWD, unless otherwise noted.

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