Philadelphia Water, On the Water: Boats a Powerful Tool in Fight Against Litter

Left to Right: Lance Butler, Dimitri Forte, Declan Patterson, and Richard Anthes. Philadelphia Water’s Watersheds Field Services Group deploys a fleet of three small boats to reach trash in waterways that others can’t. Credit: Brian Rademaekers.
Left to Right: Lance Butler, Dimitri Forte, Declan Patterson, and Richard Anthes. Philadelphia Water’s Watersheds Field Services Group deploys a fleet of three small boats to reach trash in waterways that others can’t. Credit: Brian Rademaekers.   

During a typical litter-hunting trip in early June, Philadelphia Water’s Lance Butler was operating the department’s new 20-foot workboat along the banks of the Schuylkill River just below the Fairmount Water Works. Edging the bow of the craft just close enough to the rocky embankment, Butler made it possible for his three crew members to scoop up the otherwise unreachable trash that peppered the water and shoreline.

This was the workboat’s maiden voyage, and it was already proving to be an invaluable tool in the department’s fight against floating litter.

The activity attracted the attention of a young man sitting on a nearby bench. Within a few minutes, he approached the boat and asked Butler a question—could he have a trash bag?

“What for?” Butler asked.

“To pick up trash,” the man replied. “It’s such a beautiful park.”

An hour later, Butler and his crew—referred to within department as the “Watersheds Field Services Group,” and, less formally, as “the skimming guys”—were on the opposite side of the river, their boat growing ever-more crowded with bags containing the typical flotsam of plastic bottles and bags, Styrofoam cups and other debris that had washed into the breathtaking waters below Fairmount Dam.

On the other side of the river, the spontaneous volunteer was still at it, his bag of litter now bulging to the point of overflowing.

“That guy,” Butler said, “is amazing.”

Baxter's Best: A Beer About Protecting Philly's Water

From right to left, counterclockwise: Tim Patton pours Baxter's Best at the Green City, Clean Waters 5-year party; the beer's namesake at top left in in 1961; a placard describing the character of the beer. Credit: Brian Rademaekers and PhillyH2O.org
From right to left, counterclockwise: Tim Patton pours Baxter's Best at the Green City, Clean Waters 5-year party; the beer's namesake at top left in in 1961; a placard describing the character of the beer. Credit: Brian Rademaekers and PhillyH2O.org

In marking the five-year anniversary of Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters program, we’ve been busy talking about the importance of protecting the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers—the source of drinking water for over 1.5 million people in Philadelphia alone.

While we usually think about our drinking water as something residents consume in cold glasses from their kitchen tap, in a way, that water is also often served via a different sort of tap—those found at the hundreds of Philly bars proudly pouring beers brewed right here in our fair city.

Come Learn About Green Stormwater Investments in Lower Southwest Philadelphia


Click the image to invite your friends and neighbors on Facebook.

Philadelphia Water will be at the Philadelphia Police 12th District July 13 meeting to update residents of lower southwest Philadelphia about proposed green investments that will protect local waterways while adding new landscaped green spaces to streets, parks and breezeways.

The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. as a part of the 12th District Community Workshop and will feature food and a raffle provided by the Philadelphia Police Department. All residents are encouraged to attend this event to learn more and provide feedback!

What You Will Learn About

The local investments that we will talk about at the meeting are part of the Green City, Clean Waters program, which manages water from rain and snow storms using special green tools like rain gardens and stormwater trees that soak up water, keep pollution out of waterways like Cobbs Creek, and provide other benefits like cleaner air and cooler blocks.

Green stormwater tools, called Green Stormwater Infrastructure, also help to make sure local sewers don’t get flooded and spill sewage into our streams.

'5 Down' Video Recap: Green City, Clean Waters Praised as 'a model for America'

You might have heard: Philadelphia is celebrating five years of Green City, Clean Waters, a massive green investment in neighborhoods that is now keeping 1.5 billion gallons of polluted water out of our waterways over the course of a typical year of rainfall.

Philadelphia Water gathered with the wide range of partners who made beating our five-year targets for greening and pollution reduction possible to mark that achievement at the Fairmount Water Works last week. (See great photos of the event here.) The celebration included speeches from our commissioner, Debra McCarty, and representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection.

City of Philadelphia Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis—one of Philadelphia’s most dedicated advocates for improved recreation and green spaces—praised the program as a "model for America."

Philly STEM Students Hack Rain Barrel, Invent Ultimate Chill Spot

What do you get when you combine lawn furniture, green infrastructure and electronics?

This isn't a joke—this is B-Cubed a.k.a. Bench/Barrel/Boost, a multipurpose creation fusing a shaded bench, a rain barrel, and a solar-powered cell phone charging station.

Philadelphia Water teamed up with 9th grade students at Science Leadership Academy's Beeber campus and the design geniuses at Public Workshop to brainstorm and build this hard-to-miss, difficult-to-describe object, which is now installed at SLA Beeber's schoolyard.

Given the popularity of our Rain Check program, Philly already seems to know rain barrels are important—they act as small stormwater reservoirs, allowing homeowners to manage runoff from roofs and contribute to the overall goal of Green City, Clean Waters. (Read more about rain barrels and sign up to get your own free one here.) The SLA Beeber schoolyard could use a rain barrel to help with watering raised planter beds, but the school building has no exterior downspouts.

The solution? Make our own canopy to funnel stormwater into the barrel. We also imagined what other functions the funnel could perform—a hammock, a skate ramp, a planter?

Public Workshop's Nick Nawa came up with an excellent design that incorporated some key amenities students wanted for their schoolyard: a comfortable place to hang out and a phone charger. Some students developed carpentry skills such as measuring and cutting angles with the chop saw and table saw; others assembled a prototype and final version using hand drills and a nail gun; others learned to solder the circuit boards used to charge phones from solar panels.

Creating a multi-purpose object such as B-Cubed, it turns out, requires multiple skill sets.

Thanks to the SLA Beeber students and staff, to Public Workshop, and to all who helped to complete this unique project. Read more about B-Cubed here and check out some of the other STEM projects Philadelphia Water has brought to city schools and classrooms through their greenSTEM Network program.

This post was written by Philadelphia Water Environmental Engineer Matthew Fritch, who helped found the greenSTEM program through Code for Philly. Fritch has helped Philadelphia students connect STEM projects and watershed stewardship through a number of innovative projects, including B-Cubed.

Big News: Green City, Clean Waters Blows Past Year Five Targets

Philadelphia Water Commissioner Debra McCarty and City of Philadelphia Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis (right) announce that Philadelphia more than doubled five-year pollution reduction targets. Credit: Brian Rademaekers/Philadelphia Water
Philadelphia Water Commissioner Debra McCarty and City of Philadelphia Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis (right) announce that Philadelphia more than doubled five-year pollution reduction targets. Credit: Brian Rademaekers/Philadelphia Water

The City of Philadelphia announced a major achievement accomplished through the Green City, Clean Waters program at a June 16 celebration marking the five-year anniversary of the Green Stormwater Infrastructure plan’s adoption.

Joined by community and business partners, industry experts, U.S. EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garwin, Pa. DEP Regional Director Cosmo Servidio and City of Philadelphia Managing Director Michael DiBeradinis at the historic Fairmount Water Works, officials from Philadelphia Water unveiled figures showing that the City more than doubled five-year pollution reduction targets established at the start of the Green City, Clean Waters program in June 2011.

Have a Few Minutes to Help Us Serve You Better?


Click the image to take the survey. You could win one of many $100 gift cards. 

We work extremely hard to protect our rivers and provide our 1.5 million customers with top-quality drinking water, and we want to make sure that water also comes with top-quality customer service.

That’s why we want to hear from you. We’ve teamed up with Temple University’s Institute for Survey Research to offer a survey aimed at learning more about what we can do to improve the services we provide.

Residents who take the survey will have a chance to win a $100 gift card, and there are three easy ways to give your input:

1. Go to www.phlwatersurvey.com and complete online

2. Call 215.204.5858 and complete over the phone

3. Text @WATER to 73940

Want to know more? Here’s a quick FAQ:

Record-Setting ‘Sojourn’ Highlights the Schuylkill River’s Wild Beauty

Philadelphia Water's Paul Fugazzotto paddles to the finish of the 2016 Schuylkill Sojourn. A record 205 people joined the annual event this year. Photo credit: Brian Rademaekers
Philadelphia Water's Paul Fugazzotto paddles to the finish of the 2016 Schuylkill Sojourn. A record 205 people joined the annual event this year. Photo credit: Brian Rademaekers

If you happened to be in Philadelphia admiring the Schuylkill River’s picturesque beauty from afar last week, you might have been startled by what appeared to be an enormous flock of florescent birds, all of them rhythmically flapping their wings on the shimmering water:

Those “birds,” of course, were actually the 100-plus paddlers propelling the rainbow of brightly hued kayaks and canoes that made up the annual Schuylkill Sojourn. A seven day journey covering 112 miles of the Schuylkill River from its Schuylkill County headwaters all the way to Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row, the event has been held since 1998.