Innovative Initiatives Can Lead the Way

Anthony Perno
Cooper’s Ferry Partnership

It doesn’t take much to put stress on Camden, New Jersey’s aging and overtaxed combined sewer system. A one-inch rainstorm can leave major roads impassable, turn parking lots into stagnant lakes, and send sewage into parks, homes and waterways. Not only is this a nuisance, but also a public health crisis that degrades the quality of life of Camden’s residents and negatively impacts the city’s economic viability and environmental quality. The unseasonably wet summer of 2013 created several large street floods that shut down public transportation and cut off roads, stranding residents, workers and visitors. A fire company’s boat was needed to rescue passengers from train platforms surrounded by floodwaters. The significant flooding impacts from just typical rainfall further underscore the dire threat that severe weather events, like Hurricane Sandy in 2012, present to Camden.

The City of Camden is tackling its extreme urban water infrastructure challenges through an innovative and dynamic partnership called the Camden SMART (Stormwater Management And Resource Training) Initiative. Founded in 2011 by a coalition of six entities - Cooper’s Ferry Partnership (CFP), the City of Camden (City), Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA), Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program (RCE), New Jersey Tree Foundation (NJTF), and the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP)- the Camden SMART Initiative is a community-driven movement to protect human health, improve conditions for economic development, improve water quality and enhance the quality of life for Camden City, its residents and the Delaware River watershed through the broad use of green and grey infrastructure techniques for stormwater management.

Utilizing a unique “collective impact” approach to partnership, to date the Camden SMART Initiative has constructed a total of 27 green infrastructure projects throughout the city, which capture, treat and infiltrate 3.1 million gallons of stormwater each year that would otherwise contribute to overflows of the combined sewer system into Camden’s streets, parks, homes and waterways. SMART has also distributed 120 rain barrels to Camden residents, planted 992 trees, engaged 3,890 community members, hosted 33 sustainability events and workshops, and collaborated with 35 project partners in the development of green infrastructure projects and programs.

Through the completion of several transformative projects in the next year, the Camden SMART Initiative will increase its impact tenfold, capturing, treating and infiltrating 30 million gallons of stormwater annually. Additionally, the initiative will develop a long-term, city-wide stormwater management plan that will serve as a roadmap for future, sustainable stormwater management.

Due to its dynamic, flexible and multi-pronged approach, the SMART Initiative is increasingly serving as a model of best practices for other urban areas developing stormwater management programs. More than collaboration, the “collective impact” model will be key to tackling New Jersey’s urban water infrastructure crisis as it encourages cross-sector coordination, resource sharing, creative problem solving and participatory engagement.

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