Northern Liberties: Residents Receive Free Rain Barrels to Reduce Stormwater Runoff

Aaron Slater, the assistant to the community development manager of the Energy Coordinating Agency, discussed rain barrel usage with a resident of Northern Liberties.

Aaron Slater, the assistant to the community development manager of the Energy Coordinating Agency, discussed rain barrel usage with a resident of Northern Liberties.

The City of Philadelphia is taking strides to address stormwater runoff that has been polluting and eroding creeks and rivers, including the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers.

The Energy Coordinating Agency and Philadelphia Water Department have provided free rain barrels to the residents of Northern Liberties in order to promote reducing storm water flows to the sewers and nearby creeks.

More than 100 residents signed up for the Rain Barrel Workshop held at St. Andrew’s Russian Orthodox Church, located at 707 N. Fifth St. The Philadelphia Water Department required every resident who wanted a free rain barrel to attend the workshop, which educated them on the installation process and use of the barrel.

“I can’t tell you why people love rain barrels so much, but they really do. I think it’s something about collecting water that comes out of the sky. People just enjoy the concept that this water is everywhere, free, and we can use it,” said Aaron Slater, assistant to the community development manager at the Energy Coordinating Agency. “Then you add that to the beneficial aspect of the environment. Residents are preventing water that would be going into the sewer, causing overflows and raw sewage dumping into our waterways.”

A 55-gallon barrel can be connected to the downspout of a home to prevent storm water from entering into the sewer. The saved water can then be used for activities outside the home, such as planting, gardening or simply washing down patio furniture.

Aaron Slater noted the efficiency of using rain barrels to reduce storm water runoff into sewers and rivers.

Slater said there are dual incentives for residents to use rain barrels. Not only are they eco-friendly, they are also practical, money-saving tools. Instead of paying for tap water, the collected rainwater can be used for outside home improvement.

“I’m putting together a garden with vegetables,” said Jon Miller, a local resident who attended the workshop. “I’m trying to conserve water and help the city out while making my stuff look nice.”

This is all part of the Federal Clean Water Act, which was signed on June 1, 2011, by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Philadelphia Water Department. It allowed the Philadelphia Water Department to officially launch the implementation of its innovation strategy. Green City, Clean Waters is Philadelphia’s 25-year plan to manage Combined Sewage Overflows by using green storm water infrastructure.

The combined sewer system currently in Philadelphia mixes household sewage with the storm water when it rains. If it is raining heavy, there is not enough capacity in the system. The untreated storm water combined with the sewage pollutes the water and overflows into the nearby river.

Residents watched a video provided by the Philadelphia Water Department on storm water runoff.

These storm water solutions do more than just solve the issue. They also help to promote green practices, such as gardening and planting trees, and beautify the city.

Studies show that a community’s social offerings, including the availability of arts and cultural opportunities, availability of social community events, and whether residents in the community care about each other are the most important factors to residents, according to a 2010 Gallup poll.

However, promoting eco-friendly and green practices is not a new trend for residents of Northern Liberties. The Northern Liberties Neighbors Association’s Clean and Green Committee has been taking environmental matters into its own hands for more than four years. The committee has been engaged in environmentally sustainable and green practices such as minimizing trash, planting trees, recycling Christmas trees and composting.

“When we have an e-waste event, neighbors will come to help us unload the trucks and weigh the different items,” said Erika Goldberg, the co-chair of the Clean and Green Committee. “If we are recycling Christmas trees, people bring them to us. They’re really interested in being sustainable and wasting less.”

The committee currently meets every Saturday morning to pick up trash around Liberty Lands and the surrounding streets.

“Because we are one of the neighborhoods located closest to the river, we’ve had a lot of flooding issues and overflow on the streets,” Goldberg said. “We have such a strong civic association, so the Water Department and other agencies have come to us and asked for our support in promoting new projects. We are looking forward to work with them on a new project called Rain Check.”

Rain Check is a pilot program in which the Philadelphia Water Department will help with the cost of residential landscape improvements that help manage storm water runoff in selected neighborhoods.

Goldberg said that although the program has not started yet, many participants have already signed up. If the pilot program is successful, the Philadelphia Water Department said on its website that it will launch a citywide program “in the near future.”

“We hope to reach our ultimate goal of zero waste in the future,” Goldberg said.

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