The lowly raindrop. Not a big deal, right? How much trouble can a raindrop cause? Combine him with trillions of his friends falling on millions of square feet of concrete and blacktop all over the city and next thing you know, they're causing real trouble for our sewer inlets, wastewater treatment facilities and, eventually, our rivers (which, by the way, is where we get our drinking water).
The good news is that there's a way to lessen the impact of Mr. Raindrop and his friends that is both cost effective, environmentally friendly, non-disruptive and just plain pretty. But first lets look at the other options.
In most of Philadelphia we have what is known as a combined stormwater/wastewater system. One set of pipes circulates the water and "solids" (as the plumbers call them) from your household drains and toilets AND the rainwater that hits the streets and roofs around the city and sent to your downspouts and the corner sewer inlet. All of this gets sent to treatment plants that are able to remove the organic wastes, bacteria and other oils and tars from the blacktop before sending the cleaned water back to the river. With as little as 1/10th of an inch of rainfall, the system gets overwhelmed and untreated water can end up in the Schuylkill and Delaware. So one option is to build more and bigger treatment treatment facilities. Mucho dinero. And at a time when municipal budgets are under strain, this isn't much of an option.
Another option is to separate the pipes. In newly developed areas, the waste water and storm water travel through separate pipes so that during rainstorms, the waste water can still go to the treatment facilities and the relatively less harmful storm water can bypass directly to the rivers (note... not completely harmless... it still picks up oils, dirt, gravel and other trash). Not only is this option expensive, it would require tearing up almost every street in the city to lay down new pipe. Think parking in South Philly is tough now? And the estimates are that this would come at a price tag of over $8 billion.
But what if we could keep Mr. Raindrop from ever getting to pipes? That's where our option comes in and part of what the Garden Tour will be featuring at every stop on the tour. One of gardens was "formerly a sea of concrete and chain link" before being "transformed into an inviting garden retreat." Another "features bamboo and a rainwater retention system." And at a third you can find a "four seasons-themed mosaic, a wisteria-covered arbor, a rainbarrel watering system." These gardens and a dozen more with their own water retention or diversion features are all part of the Garden Tour. If you've been thinking about putting these kinds of features in place in your own outdoor space, the Tour is a great place to get ideas and talk to folks who have done the research and execution. (AND the weather is looking GREAT for Saturday.) Don't miss out. Buy your tickets online today or in person at Breezy’s Cafe, Ultimo Coffee Newbold, Urban Jungle, and The Wishing Well.
Every square inch of concrete that gets transformed into a porous surface or covered with a container helps to contribute to diverting storm water from the system. Every rain barrel tied into the downspouts of our neighbors houses can hold roughly 55 gallons (depending on the size of the barrel) out of the system to be released later after a rain event has passed or used to water non-edible plants. While this may not seem like much at the individual level, if you multiply it by a half-million or so private properties and add that to the great work being done by the Philadelphia Water Department to add storm water diversion tools on public lands through its Green City, Clean Waters effort and it does make a difference.
For more information about the various tools available for diverting and retaining stormwater - rain barrels, rain gardens, porous paving, downspout planters, tree trenches and more - check out the Philadelphia Water Department's website. You can also check out the Water Department's "Rain Check" program which is specifically designed for helping residential property owners put these tools to work on their own properties.