Camden, New Jersey Uses Green Infrastructure to Manage Stormwater

Camden, New Jersey Uses Green Infrastructure to Manage Stormwater

Equity & Justice

America’s water systems, and the communities that depend on them, are already feeling the strain that climate change has placed on existing water infrastructure. Low-income populations and communities of color have historically suffered from poor infrastructure and often live in areas with aging and outdated water systems that violate health-based standards established in the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, these populations experience higher rates of contaminated water, wastewater overflows, housing damage from floods, and increased risks of flooding. Green infrastructure solutions can address these disparities by providing low-cost mechanisms for mitigating flooding, reducing stormwater runoff, and wastewater filtration in vulnerable areas.  

In a 2018 report, the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council provided the US EPA with recommendations to assist communities with environmental justice concerns in developing technical, financial and managerial capacity within their water systems; and to address funding needs for infrastructure planning, design and construction.

Project Summary

Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority provides wastewater services (80 million gallons per day) to approximately 500,000 people in 37 municipalities in Camden County, New Jersey. Historically, the Utilities Authority has experienced combined sewer flooding during intense rain events due to the age of their system and the lack of available funding for infrastructure replacement. Realizing that climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of storms, the utility operators at the Utilities Authority decided to better understand the utility's current and future vulnerability.

Working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Utilities Authority used the Climate Ready Evaluation and Awareness Tool (CREAT) to gain greater appreciation of the magnitude of its combined sewer overflow and other vulnerabilities and identify potential adaptation strategies. The Utilities Authority's operators formed a partnership called the Camden SMART initiative, consisting of:

  • the local municipality
  • state environmental protection agency
  • local university
  • local non-profits

This partnership enabled the municipality to integrate water conservation and promote a comprehensive network of green infrastructure programs and projects that could help Camden adapt to future conditions. Building off of the success of Camden SMART, USEPA partnered with the City of Camden, the Utilities Authority, Cooper's Ferry Partnership and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to form the Camden Collaborative Initiative to use the collective impact model to address air quality, solid waste and neighborhood revitalization concerns, in addition to flooding.

While the site's operators did not explicitly use climate models to projected vulnerabilities, the actions taken increased resilience to current flooding threats and adapted the site to better manage risks associated with projected increases in the frequency and intensity of future storms, including flooding. Overall, the site has adapted to climate change by repairing and raising critical areas of the site to handle increased precipitation and flooding threats and reduce threat of contaminant release now and into the future.

Description of the video:

Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority services 500,000 people in Camden County, New Jersey. Camden County is right across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. We service 37 municipalities, and we operate an 80-million-gallon-per-day wastewater treatment plant. Camden City has a combined sewer system, and it's a very old system built in the late 19th century. As a result, and because of the city's economic distress that then they haven't been able to rebuild it. There's combined sewage flooding that occurs on almost every significant rainstorm. We had the opportunity to work on the CREAT program with EPA, we saw an opportunity to see, not only where we are, but what we have to worry about in the future. We found CREAT helped us in four ways. One, it helps us identify our vulnerabilities in a general way. Second, it helps us to quantify those things. Third, it helped connect us with best practices that are already being used elsewhere in the industry to help reduce vulnerability. And lastly, it has a great reporting tool, which enables you to summarize all that information into a concise way to present to policy makers and decision makers. We knew that combined sewage flooding was going to be our biggest problem. It was a complete surprise to us that the river level is expected to rise 18 inches by 2050. So we've been working diligently to try to improve our resiliency and reduce our vulnerability. In order to meet our green energy goals and reduce our carbon footprint, we reduced our energy usage by upgrading our sedimentation facilities and our production plant. Then we put in solar panels to provide about 10% of the plant's electricity. We're currently under construction for a sludge digestion facility and combined heat and power system that will take the biogas from our sludge and convert that into electricity. Our goal is be off the grid by 2020. We've taken a multipronged approach to try to reduce the combined sewage flooding problem in Camden. First thing we did was, adopt a water conservation ordinance to reduce the amount of sewage input into the system. The second thing we did was build rain gardens and parks throughout the city to reduce the amount of impervious surface. Our utility is always looking at the triple bottom line: environmental benefit, economic benefit and community benefit. In all cases, our programs have enabled us to improve the environment by either reducing storm water, reducing combined sewage flooding, or reducing our carbon footprint. We've been able to implement all these green energy and green infrastructure projects without raising rates. In fact, we held our rate for the last 17 years. The current climate situation is a real serious problem. The CREAT model is essential in helping us find out where we will expect to be in 2050, 2060, and beyond. It's essential to not only plan and design for today, but also for tomorrow.

How did they do it?
ActionApplicable Resources

Assessed climate vulnerability

  • Camden used the Climate Ready Evaluation and Awareness Tool to understand the magnitude of climate vulnerability, particularly for CSO vulnerability to projected precipitation changes.

Developed adaptation response recommendations to improve water quality and reduce CSO’s

  • Identified adaptation actions including: enacting a water conservation ordinance to reduce water inputs into the sewer system; reducing impervious surface and runoff through promoting rain gardens and parks; “daylighting” streams; converting buildings to parkland; and cleaning inlets and replacing netting systems.
  • One SMART project disconnected a library’s rooftop runoff from the combined sewer system by designing two rain gardens to capture, filter, and infiltrate the first one-inch of rainfall.

Formed local partnership to implement adaptation

  • Camden formed a partnership group, SMART, to help implement its network of green infrastructure adaptation measures.

Similar Case Studies

  • To see how another northeastern community analyzed the impact of sea level rise on a water utility, view the Manchester-by-the-Sea case.
  • For a community that recognized the prohibitive cost of protecting a highly vulnerable facility and decided to move to a safer facility, see the Iowa City case.
  • To see how Washington, D.C. is using green infrastructure to reduce stormwater impacts and combined sewer overflows view the D.C. Consent Decree case