Colleges Get $5 Million to Improve Philadelphia Water Quality

Four local colleges — and the University of New Hampshire — will get grants from the EPA.

Photograph by Jeff Fusco

Photograph by Jeff Fusco

Philadelphia has old sewers, which combine storm runoff and sanitary sewage in the same system. This doesn’t matter too much in dry weather; all the water is treated by waste treatment plants. But when the city has excess precipitation — say, several large snowfalls over a short period of time — the system can get overloaded. The plants or sewer system may have to dump excess water into local waterways.

This can be an issue, because untreated sewage makes it into our drinking water. But Philadelphia is an old city, and a full-scale overhaul of the system isn’t possible. Several years ago, the city committed to a natural wastewater management solutions in an attempt to reduce pollution and improve water quality.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced $5 million for research into how to best improve Philadelphia’s watershed. The money is going to five different universities, with different goals:

  • Penn: Enable Philadelphians to invest in green infrastructure
  • Villanova: Monitor the most effective types of green infrastructure
  • Temple: “A multi-objective Green Campus monitoring program”
  • Swarthmore: I dunno, probably something to do with math Developing “quantifiable benefit functions” to optimize green infrastructure (Hey, it is math!)
  • University of New Hampshire: Planning and implementing green infrastructure

The University of New Hampshire’s project is literally called “Taking it to the Streets” (of Durham?). The $5 million worth of studies — which are basically all about implementing green watershed infrastructure — are scheduled to run through 2017.

“This forward thinking plan will not only result in better water quality for the City, but it will also provide a multitude of benefits for Philadelphians like cleaner air, revitalized green spaces, and even new economic opportunity,” Mayor Michael Nutter said in a statement.