Philadelphia Water Makes ASCE's 'Game Changer' List

Game Changer: Our Biogas Cogeneration facility at the Northeast WPCP is changing the way people think about wastewater management. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Game Changer: Our Biogas Cogeneration facility at the Northeast WPCP in Port Richmond is changing the way people think about wastewater management. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

The American Society of Civil Engineers rolled out a cool new campaign last week to highlight infrastructure projects around the country that they see as “game changers”—investments that have the potential to change the way we live for the better.

Making their list of innovative infrastructure was our very own Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant, a high-tech facility that treats an average of 188.12 million gallons of wastewater per day.

Located in the city’s Port Richmond neighborhood, the 150-acre Northeast WPCP facility is our biggest and oldest wastewater treatment plant. So why is ASME calling it a “game changer”?

The Northeast WPCP is home to our Biogas Cogeneration facility, a modern marvel that essentially turns a harmful human waste byproduct—methane gas— into enough energy to power about 85 percent of the plant’s operations.

In cruder terms: it’s power from poop.

This infrastructure investment has a number of benefits, not least of which is a reduced operating cost, which helps to keep rates low for our customers. Considering energy consumption is by far one of the biggest expenses in water treatment, creating that much energy for our biggest wastewater plant is a big deal.

From a more altruistic perspective, the Biogas Cogeneration facility also acts as a double-edge sword in fighting climate change; we’re keeping a powerful greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere while simultaneously reducing the need for fossil fuel-sourced electricity.
That makes the facility a win-win-win scenario.

The ASCE also lauds our biosolids recycling program and efforts to replace aging pipes and water mains:

"… they have increased investment in water pipes by 25 percent in their latest capital improvement program. However the Department’s Strategic Energy Plan also looks to better manage future expenses – it includes a facility that will extract energy from material typically thought of as waste. … Their ultimate goal for all of the wastewater treatment plants in the City is to be net zero energy consumption."

You can check out the full story and other innovation success stories at ASCEGameChangers.org.

Learn more about our sustainability initiatives here and get an overview of how the Biogas facility works here.

Throwback Thursday: The Amazing 'Torresdale Conduit'

Inside the making of the Torresdale Conduit: A worker pumps water from the huge tunnel in 1903. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

In this week's throwback post, we look at a photo from the Philadelphia Water archives taken on October 24, 1903.

While a bit eerie—14 people died during the multiyear construction of the project pictured—this photo does give you a real sense of appreciation for the scale of water infrastructure beneath our feet and the herculean effort and sacrifice made by the generations before us to make sure their kids (and all of us) could have a future with clean, safe drinking water.

In this image, streams of groundwater entered the Torresdale Conduit as it was blasted out of bedrock, hampering construction. This worker used a hand-operated pump to remove the excess water. The conduit took two and a half years to complete, and had a capacity of 300 million gallons per day.

Still in use today, the Torresdale Conduit was built along the Delaware River waterfront in the first decade of the 20th century. It carries filtered water from the Torresdale Filters (now the Baxter Water Treatment Plant) to the Lardner’s Point Pumping Station, which pumps the water into the city’s system of distribution pipes. When they were completed, both the filter plant (covering about 75 acres) and the pumping station (with a capacity of 200 million gallons a day) were each the largest of their kind in the world.

In his 1987 book Typhoid and the Politics of Public Health in Nineteenth-century Philadelphia, Michael P. McCarthy wrote that the project was popular because the engineers saved about $2 million by using brick instead of cast iron. But there was also, apparently, some civic pride:  "... the conduit was quite popular because, in addition to the savings involved, it was a sophisticated project that gave the city a good deal of favorable publicity."

The conduit is about 2.5 miles long and about 10.5 feet in diameter. Constructed of bricks and mortar, it lies about 100 feet underground and is still an integral part of our water distribution system.

For more information on the history of the city’s water filtration system, check out the work of historian Adam Levine by clicking here.

End Your Summer with a Bang: Volunteer on the Delaware!

Event flyer
Click on the image above for larger, shareable version of the event flyer.

Looking for a fun way to do some volunteer work before the summer ends?
Philadelphia Water is joining the nonprofit Living Lands and Waters and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary in an upcoming Delaware River cleanup event, and we need your help!

Join us as we clean up the Delaware River August 20 through September 1. Cleanups will be held on designated work days from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

All events will be based out of Ridley Park Marina or Penn’s Landing. Exact Location details to be emailed to volunteers prior to event.
Supplies and free food will be provided, and large groups are encouraged to register now.

The deadline for signups is August 14!
RSVP here.

Living Lands & Waters is an Illinois-based environmental organization established by Chad Pregracke in 1998. Read more about the fascinating story behind Living Lands and Waters on their website.

Community Gets Updates on North Phila. Green Improvements

This illustration shows how stormwater tree trenches, an important tool in the Green City, Clean Waters plan, work. Plans are under way to install these tools in the neighborhood around Fotterall Square and Vandergrift/Danny Boyle Park. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
This illustration shows how stormwater tree trenches, an important tool in the Green City, Clean Waters plan, work. Plans are under way to install these tools in the neighborhood around Fotterall Square and Vandergrift/Danny Boyle Park. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

The Hope Partnership for Education and other community members in North Philadelphia got an update on Green City, Clean Waters improvements planned for their area during the Hope Community Day celebration on Saturday, July 25.

The event, held with the help of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), the Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM), the Community Design Collaborative, Temple University, the 22nd Police District and Youthbuild Philadelphia Charter School, shed light on a number of initiatives to improve the community.

Philadelphia Water gave an update on the city-wide Green City, Clean Waters plan, which was introduced in 2011, and presented plans to install green stormwater tools around Fotterall Square, Vandergrift/Danny Boyle Park, and nearby streets. Because the improvements will impact the park, we’re working closely with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to make this plan a success.

Designs for the local improvements began to take shape in January, 2015 and are scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. As this was the very first Hope Community Day, we were very proud to be a part of the festivities and were excited to see so much interest in greening projects.

The plans discussed on July 25 currently call for creating stormwater tree trenches in the following locations:

• Cumberland Street from 12th to 11th

• 12th Street from York to Cumberland

• York Street from 12th to 11th

• 11th Street from York to Cumberland

• Cumberland Street from 11th to 10th

• York Street from 10th to 9th

• Cumberland Street from Germantown Avenue to 9th Street

• 9th Street from Germantown Avenue to Cumberland

• York Street from 9th to Germantown Avenue

• Susquehanna Avenue from Franklin to 7th Street

• York Street from 8th Street to 7th Street

As a part of the presentation, members of the community learned how the tree trenches will help reduce sewer overflows by taking in stormwater during rain or snow storms and slowly releasing into the ground.
The project will also include a rain garden or infiltration basin at Vandergrift/Danny Boyle Park, located at York Street and Germantown Avenue, which will further help to reduce stormwater that may overwhelm sewers.

Thanks again to Hope for hosting the event and to everyone who came out! Philadelphia Water will continue to update the community as the plan moves forward, and we’ll post information about progress here on the Philly Watersheds blog.

GSI Partners Offer Green Jobs Training Opportunity


A rain garden at the Philadelphia Zoo represents one of the hundreds of privately operated green stormwater management sites in the city. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

Creating a green economy—jobs and services rooted in environmental sustainability—isn’t just a nice side effect resulting from Green City, Clean Waters. Green jobs and their economic benefits were a driving force in Philadelphia Water’s decision to develop a green infrastructure solution to our stormwater management challenges.

Helping to meet the demand for green jobs created by our 25-year green infrastructure plan is the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia’s (SBN) Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) Partners group, an independent non-profit “network of industry professionals working to advance the local green stormwater infrastructure industry and innovation in the Greater Philadelphia region.”

GSI Partners is currently accepting applications for a three-day course designed to provide training for professionals interested in learning about how to take care of the ever-growing stock of green stormwater infrastructure in Philadelphia.

With over 1,100 green tools already in place to support Green City, Clean Waters, there’s a real demand for landscape contractors with the skills needed to perform crucial operations and maintenance tasks. That demand will grow considerably as our $2.4 billion plan expands over the next two decades.

This course will provide valuable training to help meet that demand. Here’s a description of the curriculum from GSI Partners:

This three-day course is for landscape professionals seeking to strengthen or develop their service portfolio in operations and maintenance of public and private green stormwater infrastructure projects. The course features two classroom days and one field day, and will provide landscape contractors with an understanding of the importance of operations and maintenance (O+M) of vegetated stormwater management practices, as well as of the tasks involved. The course will cover 16 sections in total, including: Regulatory context for O+M; Identification and understanding of the components of SMP’s; Diagnosis of and response to performance and safety issues; Adaptive and prescriptive management activities.

Space is limited, and the course will take place on three separate days (August 21, 28 and September 4) at the Navy Yard. The cost is $350 per person.

GSI Partners’ Continuing Education Grants will be available to eligible GSI Partners and SBN members interested in taking the course.
To sign up for the course and apply for a grant, please visit the GSI Partners site by clicking here.

Spoiler Alert: Our Drinking Water Quality Is Really, Really Good

A section of the 2015 Drinking Water Quality Report showing how we treat tap water. Click for a larger image. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

A section of the 2015 Drinking Water Quality Report showing how we treat tap water. Click for a larger image. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

Apologies to anyone looking forward to reading our annual Drinking Water Quality Report down the shore this summer, but we just have to get this out there: All the data we collected for the 2015 report confirms our rigorous treatment and testing are resulting in top-quality tap water that meets or beats all quality standards set by the federal government.

Of course, we knew that going in, but we put out the Drinking Water Quality Report—now available online in English and Spanish—every year because we believe our customers are empowered by having all the information that’s out there about their drinking water and what we do to make it safe and available to 1.7 million people 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Our annual Drinking Water Quality Report tells the story of how we make this happen through our continuous treatment, testing, and monitoring,” Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug writes in the introduction. “This report, published in the spring of 2015, includes water quality information for the 2014 calendar year. We, along with our partners at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, hope you take the time to look this document over and, if you have any questions, my staff and I would be very pleased to discuss.”

Looking at this year’s report, we’re proud to say that our water consistently meets (and often exceeds) the quality criteria set by the EPA; we go above and beyond what is required, producing approximately 275 million gallons of drinking water every day that exceed national safety standards.

How do we do it?

It starts with fighting to protect our source waters—the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers—from pollution. We follow that up with cutting-edge treatment techniques at our three drinking water plants, and maintain thousands of miles of pipes to make sure the water gets to customers safely and efficiently.
But one of our most important tools in every step of the process is sophisticated testing.

“Philadelphia Water conducts laboratory tests on river water, water being treated, water being sent to our customers, and wastewater coming back from our customers,” says Gary Burlingame, director of our Bureau of Laboratory Services division. “The regulations do not require all of this testing, only a basic minimum. We go beyond the minimum to continually check on the quality of the water throughout the city.”

Philadelphia Water collects more than 2,500 water samples every month, says Burlingame, resulting in more than 10,000 monthly lab tests at various stages of the urban water cycle.

“Because we collect so many lab test results every month, we have a specialized data management system to store and organize the thousands of data points that are entered,” Burlingame says. “Then, just as important, we have scientists and engineers who review the data continually to make sure that the quality standards that we set are being met.”

In addition to important information about our testing results and treatment process, the report is packed with useful things like contact numbers and tips for getting involved in protecting your local streams, rivers and water supply.

You can download a copy of the full report from Phila.gov/water in English here and in Spanish here.

While we send out notices about the report to all customers, not everyone knows it’s available.
Please share this information with all the other people who drink our water, especially those who may not have received a notice directly (for example, people in apartments, nursing homes, schools and businesses). You can help by posting this blog on social media, by putting a copy of the report in a public place, or by distributing copies by hand or mail.

To receive a printed copy of this report, please email: waterquality@phila.gov.

Want to stay up to date on the latest Green City, Clean Waters news and get important Philadelphia Water updates? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter now by clicking here!

Throwback Thursday: Cost of Water in 1898 vs. 2015

From the Philadelphia Water Archives: A bulletin board outside the archive room at 12th and Market.
From the Philadelphia Water Archives: A bulletin board outside the archive room at 12th and Market.

When you think about the truly priceless value of clean drinking water—something we all need to survive—compared to what it actually costs, tap water may well be the most undervalued commodity out there.

At 7/10ths of a cent per gallon, Philadelphia Water’s tap is an incredibly good deal, especially when you consider how much work we do to make sure 1.7 million customers have constant access to this resource.

And, since we distribute about 275 million gallons of drinking water every day, we think about the cost quite a bit.

We came across a photo in the archives that proves we’ve been thinking about the cost of drinking water (and how to communicate that to our customers) for a long time:

A Feb. 25, 1898 photograph from the Philadelphia Water archives showing the cost of drinking water.
A Feb. 25, 1898 photograph from the Philadelphia Water archives showing the cost of drinking water. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

In this 1898 photo, taken at the Fairmount Water Works, officials created what’s essentially a 117-year-old infographic by posing with various containers of water and providing the cost of each by volume.

It got us thinking: what would that same amount of water cost today? Naturally, we did the math, and here’s what we found:

Cost of drinking water in Philadelphia in 1898 vs. 2015. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Cost of drinking water in Philadelphia in 1898 vs. 2015. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

Adjusted to today's value using the Consumer Price Index (a dollar in 1898 would be worth a bit more than $28 in 2015), these numbers represent a more than 500 percent increase in the cost of drinking water.

What’s behind the spike? The answer to that question comes from another question: how on earth did they provide 1,000 gallons of water for just $00.04 ($1.15 in 2015 dollars)?

Well, let’s just say that what they called “drinking water” in 1898 was a far cry from what Philadelphians expect when they turn on a faucet today. There was no guarantee that the water wouldn’t make you sick, let alone look clean.

Our historian, Adam Levine, says water treatment at the time was pretty much non-existent: river water was pumped to reservoirs where, if demand happened to be low enough, it had time to clarify before going off to homes. High demand, however, often meant the water didn’t even have time to settle, and the results could be rather ugly.

"I have come across a number of cartoons from the period that talk about the water running out of pipes as black as ink, due to the coal dust (washed down from upstate coal mines) suspended in the river water after heavy rains," Levine says.

For a Throwback Thursday double-dip, let’s take a look at one of those cartoons:

A cartoon from August, 1898 addresses typhoid in Schuylkill River drinking water.
A cartoon from August, 1898 addresses typhoid in Schuylkill River drinking water. Credit: Philadelphia Water. 

Ouch.

Today, we still let the water settle—but that’s just one step in complex process that involves filtration, treatment for pathogens, and lot and lots of testing. We were one of the first cities to use filtration, and the advent of chlorination in the early 1900s helped to make widespread water-borne illnesses a thing of the past—a past that, as we see here, meant very cheap but dangerous drinking water.

“Our largest [budget] items are for chemicals and energy (electricity and natural gas),” says Debra McCarty, Director of Operations for Philadelphia Water. “The process of treating river water to become potable water has become more complicated over the years. The standards to which we treat drinking water are far higher than ever. Regulations continue to change, and we continue to meet them.”

All that work (check out this graphic for a look at how we treat tap water) adds costs to the price of drinking water, but at $00.07 for every 10 gallons, we think it’s a pretty good deal for something truly priceless—safe, tasty tap water 24/7.

The value seems like an even better deal when you consider the cost of drinking bottled water.
The American Water Works Association estimates bottled water costs Americans anywhere from 300 to 2000 percent MORE per gallon than the average gallon of tap water.

So make the smart choice: drink tap water, save money, and be glad you aren’t living in the 1890s!

Want to stay up to date on the latest Green City, Clean Waters news and get important Philadelphia Water updates? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter now by clicking here!

Be Safe When Beating the Heat: Save Swimming for Pools!

It looks cleanenough for a dip, but don't be decieved: the Delaware and our other waterways can be a dangerous place to swim.
It looks clean enough for a dip, but don't be deceived: the Delaware River and our other waterways can be dangerous places to swim. Photo credit: Philadelphia Water.

Thanks to ever-increasing efforts to improve water quality, our rivers and streams are cleaner than they've been in decades. So we don't blame you if you're tempted to take a plunge to beat the stifling heat gripping the city. But don't.

Currently, our waterways just aren't safe enough for swimming and wading due to the presence of pollutants and germs like Cryptosporidium and Giardia, which can cause serious health problems, especially for those with weakened immune systems.

Here's a helpful flyer that outlines some of the dangers associated with recreation in urban waterways:

Don't Swim in Philadelphia's Rivers and Streams 
Click for a larger image that can be printed and shared.

While swimming in our rivers is against the law, the city does provide great resources for those who want to cool down with a swim: neighborhood pools! You can click here to find a pool, sprayground or Cooling Center near you.

If you're involved with an organized event that includes recreation on the Schuylkill or Delaware, check out our CSOcast page, which tracks rain events and provides alerts about likely combined sewer overflows that can put untreated wastewater in our rivers. The RiverCast page tracks recreational water quality on the Schuylkill between Manayunk and Boathouse Row. 

Unsafe water caused by combined sewer overflows and stormwater pollution is a big part of why we're investing so much in Green City, Clean Waters—our plan to reduce stormwater pollution by 85 percent.

We're not there yet and we'll never be able to remove 100 percent of the potentially dangerous germs in our waterways, but with your help and a lot of green infrastructure, Philadelphia is looking at a future with much cleaner rivers and creeks.

Until then: stay safe, and save your swimming for our pools!

Want to stay up to date on the latest Green City, Clean Waters news and get important Philadelphia Water updates? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter now by clicking here!