E Mt Airy – Germantown Flash Flooding & Rezoning

Northwest Philadelphia’s Wingohocking Sewershed (maps below) is in a serious catch-22 situation because the historic Wingohocking Creek was enclosed into the City’s combined sewers many years ago. Key points:

  • Numerous areas in the Wingohocking are prone to both surface flash flooding and sewer backups from stormwater.
  • There are no designated 50-100 year flood plains because the historic Wingohocking Creek was enclosed in a sewer and FEMA does not consider sewer overflows in flood plain designations.
  • Wingohocking Sewershed homeowners are not eligible for FEMA supported flood insurance even though they may live in flood prone areas.
  • The City has allowed impervious cover in the Wingohocking Sewershed greater than the City’s combined sewers can handle during some flash flooding conditions.
  • Downstream flooding in the City’s combined sewers is caused by upstream stormwater flows greater than the capacity of the downstream combined sewers.
  • Upstream Wingohocking impervious cover contributes to downstream flooding.

The City has a dual role in the E Mt Airy – Germantown flooding situation:

  1. Manage impervious cover to limit stormwater flows to available downstream capacity
  2. Provide adequate combined sewer capacity to protect life and property.

In the Wissahickon Watershed, the City has a Watershed Overlay District that restricts impervious cover to 10 – 45% based on land category. There is no comparable Wingohocking Sewershed Overlay district.  Properties along Germantown Ave between Cresheim Road and Allen Lane have an impervious cover limit while properties from Allen Lane to Washington Lane in the Wingohocking Sewershed have no impervious cover limit.

Wingohocking flooding in September, 2011 caused the drowning death of a young woman who was trapped in her car in 6-feet of flood water near Belfield and Haines( video here). After initial modeling efforts by Water Department and US Army Corp of Engineers, the Water Department issued a Request for Proposals in the fall in 2015, hired a highly regarded engineering firm and received their draft report in the fall of 2018. We are awaiting the release of this critical report.

The City Planning Commission reports that Germantown Avenue is experiencing “rapid redevelopment today”. This argues for immediate zoning controls of impervious cover in the Wingohocking Sewershed, including properties along Germantown Ave.

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission will be holding a Germantown Avenue Rezoning meeting on March 27th. Please contact EMAN, Mt Airy USA, Mt Airy BID and the Planning Commission to ask that the Philadelphia Water Department attend the March 27th meeting and provide information on the Germantown Storm Flood Relief Capital Improvement Plan and address the potential impacts of rezoning Germantown Ave., a new Wingohocking Sewershed Overlay District or other steps they recommend to reduce today’s Wingohocking flooding situation.

We must begin taking steps to protect life and property in the Wingohocking Sewershed.


Philadelphia’s Illegal Dumping

Street Trash = Illegal Dumping + Loose Litter + Trash Day Spillage

Philadelphia has a street trash problem that is often mislabeled as a litter problem. We all understand litter, newspapers, soda bottles or snack food wrappers that are tossed on the sidewalk. Unfortunately we tend to use litter for all “street trash”, both gross illegal dumping and the discarded snack food wrappers.

“Street trash” is a better label for the street-sidewalk-vacant lot-park space debris, including: tires, construction debris, TVs, mattresses, bulky items – furniture, residential trash bags as well as pedestrian – vehicular snack food wrappers.

Where do we stand today? Are things getting better or worse?

We can use Philly311 Illegal Dumping service request data to help us understand the trends, types and locations of street trash.

Philly311 Illegal Dumping Data Analysis

The chart below shows the monthly illegal dumping service requests from January, 2015 through December, 2018. There has been a marked increase in monthly illegal dumping requests, with 2016 levels nearly 35% greater than 2015 levels, 2017 was 15.8% greater than 2016 and 2018 was 22.4% greater than 2017.


Philly311 Illegal Dumping Service Request Trash Types

Since Philly311 does not record the quantity or type of trash found in an illegal dumping service request, I downloaded a sample of 500 illegal dumping service requests with photos and manually coded them by trash type.

The chart below shows the percent of the 500 illegal dumping photos that contained the 13 types of trash used for the manual classification.


Residential trash, more accurately bagged trash, was visible in 39% of the 2018 photos. Tires, construction debris, Mattresses, Furniture and Big Bellies rounded out the top 6 trash types.

Hot Spot Analysis of Illegal Dumping Service Requests

The Philly311 database includes the latitude and longitude as well as address and request type of each service request, making it relatively simple to map Philly311 service requests by type, date and location.

There were 22,869 illegal dumping service requests in 2018. The hot spot analysis map on the next page identifies the City illegal dumping hot spots based on the clustering of requests.

The hot spot analysis subdivides the City into 8,606 equal size grid cells, 18.9 acres each. 13.6% of these grid cells (1,170 out of 8,606) were rated as hot spot areas.

This illegal dumping hot spot analysis demonstrates that Philadelphia’s street trash problem varies by area. We need to tailor our street trash solutions to the problem areas rather than have a uniform solution across the City.



  • Philadelphia has a trash collection frequency problem in some neighborhoods that leads to residential trash dumping

Philadelphia’s weekly residential trash collection is not adequate in many of our densely populated neighborhoods. High density housing units do not have adequate trash storage for many families who do not have adequate outside space to properly and safely store trash until the next collection day.

  • Philadelphia does not have adequate street trash receptacles (Big Belly’s, Wire Baskets) because of residential trash dumping concerns.

City officials, businesses and others have recognized that trash receptacles can be a magnet for residential trash dumping and often eliminate the receptacles to prevent this dumping. The root cause of the receptacle dumping is inadequate trash collection services.

  1. Philadelphia needs additional Sanitation Convenience Center Services

Philadelphia’s 6 Sanitation Convenience Centers provide an excellent service, unfortunately they are not necessarily convenient for those residents who most need these services. Key issues include:

o Many residents do not know about the 6 Convenience Centers
o Many residents are not able to drive to the Convenience Centers
o Large, bulky items like TVs, tires, old furniture, mattresses require a pick-up truck

Only 1 of the 6 Convenience Centers is located within an Illegal Dumping Service Request Hot Spot area.

Philadelphia should assess the optimal number and locations of Sanitary Convenience Centers to minimize illegal dumping. In the past several years, the Streets Department has experimented with Saturday yard waste and Christmas collections by placing trucks at major intersections to simplify residents leaf or Christmas tree drop off.

These efforts should be reviewed and careful optimizations studies should be conducted to optimize the use of trash – recyclables drop-off sites to minimize illegal dumping.

  • Trash Control is spread across multiple City Agencies with no single responsible agency or manager

Streets, L&I, Parks & Recreation, CLIP, Philly311 and other agencies all have a role in Philadelphia street trash issue. The Mayor’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet is a major step in improving the coordination and cooperation among agencies which will lead to improvements.

Each agency has their own data management systems to support their operational needs. It will be critical for the Cabinet to facilitate development of a City-wide trash monitoring system that will provide integrated information on the street trash problem.

  • Enhanced Philly311 Would Improve City’s Street Trash Management Capabilities

Modest enhancements to the Philly311 system would make it even more effective as a Street Trash Management Reporting System.

a. Philly311 should develop an “umbrella code” to identify, track and report on all trash related field field service rquests.

b. Philly311 should obtain information on actual field trash service request actions, including either issuance of violation notice(s) or collection and removal of trash, including type and quantify of trash collected.

c. Philly311 should obtain information on frequent, chronic trash dumping spots so that corrective action plans can be developed for each site and dumping activity can be monitored at these trash hot spot locations.

d. The City should develop a consolidated Street Trash Monitoring Report to track trends, quantities and types of illegal dumping clean-ups on a monthly basis.

A pdf of this report is available here.

318 E Durham Street Zoning Variance Request – Trying to Shoe-Horn 8 Apartments Into Small 50 by 80 foot Single Family House Lot

E Durham Street is a quiet residential street in East Mt Airy that includes single family houses and apartments next to SEPTA’s Chestnut Hill East Rail Lines’ Sedgwick Station.

The 93 unit Sedgwick Station Apartments complex has been in the neighborhood since the 1950s and occupies most of the block bounded by E Mt Pleasant Ave, Ardleigh, Sprague and E Durham Streets, except for 2 residential properties: 318 E Durham and 7131 Sprague Streets.

318 E Durham Street Vicinity

Here’s a blow up of the 318 E Durham Street single family  house that the owners of Sedgwick Station Apartments, Galman Group, purchased in 2010 and started renting it out in 2013.

318 E Durham Street House – Purchased by Galman Group in 2010, started renting in 2013.

The 318 E Durham Street Lot is just 55 feet by 80 feet. Galman Group, in their 8/7/18 L&I Zoning/Use Registration Application (link) requested to:

  1. Demolish the existing single family house
  2. Construct an 8 unit apartment building with sales and management office space of  for Galman Group’s 6 Mt Airy apartment complexes.
  3. Install a stationary sign above on the North wall of the proposed building.

318 E Durham Street lot is zoned RSA-3, so L&I refused Galman Group’s request on 8/20/18 (link). L&I found 5 refusal items not in compliance with the Philadelphia zoning code:

L&I Refusal Notice for 318 E Durham Street – 8/20/18

Galman Group promptly submitted an appeal to the ZBA refusal (link) on 8/23/18. Near neighbors were notified of Galman’s ZBA appeal by letter addressed to Current Resident on 9/20/18 (link)

Fitting 8 Apartments and Office in 50 ft by 80 ft Lot

Galman Group is requesting to construct 8 apartment units in a 50 ft by 80 ft lot. They hope to apply RM-2 zoning to their RSA-3 zoned lot.

Zoning in 318 E Durham Street Vicinity

Galman Group wants to demolish the existing single family and construct a new building that extends to the property lines on 3 sides. Here’s a comparison of the existing house and Galman Group’s planned new building:

Galman Groups wants to squeeze 8 apartments into a small 50-by 80 foot lot, ignoring the RSA3 zoning and the residential nature of E Durham Street.

E Durham Street Neighbors are concerned, upset and mobilized. We have:

  • Organized into a multi-block neighborhood group ready to take action
  • Gathered over 70 signatures to our petition
  • Attended EMAN’s RCO meeting on October 2nd in force. Since Galman Group could not answer neighbors zoning variance questions because they did not have an attorney attend the meeting, EMAN requested a continuance of the RCO meeting  until November 20th when Galman is expected to discuss the zoning issues with neighbors.
  • We will continue our fight to Say No To 318 E Durham Street Demolition


CleanPHL Litter Index Community Training

Here’s are PowerPoint files of my talk at the July 26, 2018 Litter Index Community Training.

  • Revised Slides to improve map readability (Link)
  • Original Talk Slides (Link)




Plastic Marine Debris – Wildlife Killer

EPA’s National Trash Free Waters Program  is described in this PDF (link)

Continue reading

Troubled Waters Videos



Stormwater Contribution to Microplastics – 2 California Studies

We intuitively know that much of the plastic litter on our city streets will be carried by stormwater runoff to our creeks and rivers. We also know that macro plastic breaks down into microplastics (< 5 mm) and that researchers have found elevated levels in freshwater and marine waters across the globe.

Unfortunately there is little peer reviewed research into the direct link between stormwater runoff and microplastic levels in river and coastal bays.

Two California microplastic studies conducted by Algalita Marine Research Foundation (link) conducted in 2000 – 2001 demonstrate the role that stormwater runoff plays in Southern California coastal water and shows why we need aquatic microplastic research   in the Schuylkill – Delaware Basin.

Continue reading

Logan Triangle Illegal Dumping Action Plan

Logan Triangle, like many areas in Philadelphia, suffers from excessive illegal dumping.

At the Logan Civic Association meeting on May 14th, local residents complained about this long term problem and asked for action.

Based on District 8 Trash Task Force meetings, personal investigations and Philadelphia’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet information, I have assembled the attached Logan Triangle Illegal Dumping Action Plan to help focus our efforts to tackling the Logan Triangle and wider dumping crisis.

Key points from this draft plan:

  1. Six Illegal Dumping Control Actions are available to communities and the City
    1. Encourage community Philly311 reporting
    2. Engage Area Block Captains (8 in Logan Triangle vicinity)
    3. Engage SWEEP officers to assess Logan Triangle situation & make recommendations
    4. Illegal Dumping, Truck Parking Signs
    5. Enhanced Barriers (specific recommendations for Logan Triangle provided)
    6. Surveillance Cameras ( 4 proposed for Logan Triangle)
  2. Logan Triangle has many specific dumping hot spots. 8 action areas have been identified to begin coordinated community – City efforts. Additional action areas will be added as we progress
  3. Specific action plans have been developed for each of the initial 8 action areas.
  4. There are 8 Block Captains in the Triangle vicinity. They could provide valuable insight and leadership to our efforts if the Streets Department can facilitate communication between these Block Captains and the District 8 Trash Task Force.
  5. SWEEP officers have extensive experience assessing trash sources and corrective actions which can help the community efforts. Can the Streets Department facilitate communication between SWEEP officers and the District 8 Trash Task Force?
  6. Streets placed dozens of concrete barriers around Logan Triangle to limit access to the open land. This report identifies several locations where dumpers are able to bypass the barriers to dump. Specific recommendations are included to move, realign and/or remove barriers by action area.
  7. Philly311 has accepted multi-block illegal dumping requests and currently is processing requests for 3 of the 8 action areas in Logan Triangle.
  8. 4 surveillance camera locations are recommended. Can Streets and Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority expedite camera deployment to these 4 Logan triangle locations?

Logan Triangle Photo Trash Survey

Logan Civic Association meeting on May 14, 2018 will discuss Illegal Dumping in Logan Triangle.

I conducted a photo trash survey of Logan Triangle on May 8th.  There are dozens of illegal dump sites in City streets and sidewalks as well as on Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) property. Here’s a summary of the survey:


Arctic Warming and Our Changing Weather Patterns

Vox has a great video that explains how loss of sea ice in the arctic is affecting our weather.