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!

Wanted: A Few Good Spokesdogs for Healthy Water

Above: Last year’s Juniata Spokesdog, Gracie, after winning the crown. Credit: PDE and Philadelphia Water.
Above: Last year’s Juniata Spokesdog, Gracie, after winning the crown. Credit: PDE and Philadelphia Water.

It’s that time of year again, and two new neighborhoods are about to crown Philadelphia Water Spokesdogs.

For 2015, Fishtown and Washington Square West were selected as competing locales for the contest, which has been selecting a special pooch to spread the word about poo-lution since 2011. We’ll be accepting nominations for dogs from those neighborhoods through July 15. Guidelines and submission forms are available here. The Spokesdog program is held annually with the help of our friends at the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.

As always, the goal is to raise awareness about keeping dog waste out of our waterways by getting it off sidewalks, streets and grass right away with proper disposal techniques. We all know it’s pretty gross (and rude!) when pet owners don’t clean up after their furry friends, but many people don’t think about the health consequences, especially as they relate to water.

When pet waste is left on the sidewalks, streets or other surfaces, it gets washed into street-level sewer intakes by rain and ends up in our creeks and rivers completely untreated. That can lead to the presence of dangerous germs and excess nutrients that make water unsafe for recreation and more expensive to treat.

Here's what the Environmental Protection Agency has to say about the impact of waste left behind by careless pet owners:

Decaying pet waste consumes oxygen and sometimes releases ammonia. Low oxygen levels and ammonia can damage the health of fish and other aquatic life. Pet waste carries bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can threaten the health of humans and wildlife.  Pet waste also contains nutrients that promote weed and algae growth (eutrophication).  Cloudy and green, eutrophic water makes swimming and recreation unappealing or even unhealthy.

As you can see, the environmental and public health threat is serious, and that's why we need a top-notch doggie to help show others the importance of bagging waste and putting it in a proper receptacle.

Typically, 30-80 dogs register in each neighborhood every year, so the competition is no joke. Of those, about a dozen dogs get selected for the doggie pageant, and best in show (determined with online votes in August) becomes Spokesdog.
With the crown come some real responsibilities—and some cool goodies.

Winning spokesdogs and their caretakers will attend at least three community events in 2015, distributing information on living the eco-friendly dog life. Small bag dispensers that clip to leashes and educational tipcards will be provided to hand out at these events. The educational tipcard explains how dog waste left on the ground breaks down and washes into local stormdrains every time it rains.

So, how about those prizes?

The 1st Place Spokesdog—“Philly Water’s Best Friend”—gets the following:

• $200 prize from a local business

• Image used in promotional pieces

• Toy & cookie prize pack

For the Runner Up (picked in case the 1st Place Spokesdog is unable to fulfill their duties):

• $50 prize from a local business

• Toy & cookie prize pack

All finalists in attendance at the awards ceremony will also receive a toy and cookie prize.
If you know of a worthy pup from Washington Square West or Fishtown, send in your application now and vote for them to become Philly famous!

The Clean Water Rule: What Does It Mean for Philly?

Chris Anderson, Watershed Partnerships Cooridinator with Philadelphia Water, talks about what the Clean Water Rule means for our source water at a June 17 forum.
Chris Anderson, Watershed Partnerships Coordinator with Philadelphia Water, talks about what the Clean Water Rule means for our source water at a June 17 forum. Credit: TTF Watershed Partnership.

If you pay attention to news about environmental issues, you’ve likely heard buzz around something called the Clean Water Rule lately.

The Clean Water Rule, officially adopted at the end of May and formalized by President Obama, clarifies what waterways fall under the protection of the federal Clean Water Act and came as result of an extensive public input process organized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

On May 27, the EPA released a statement explaining why the Clean Water Rule is needed:

Protection for many of the nation’s streams and wetlands has been confusing, complex, and time-consuming as the result of Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. EPA and the Army [Corps] are taking this action today to provide clarity on protections under the Clean Water Act after receiving requests for over a decade from members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, scientists, and the public for a rulemaking.

So, what does all this mean for Philadelphia Water and the local rivers and creeks that provide our drinking water?

The short answer is that the Clean Water Rule doesn’t change anything about how we do things at Philadelphia Water or impact how waterways are regulated and protected in the city. However, it does strengthen protections for the sources of our drinking water by clearing up any confusion about how the Clean Water Act applies to the wetlands and tributaries that feed the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers.

That’s extremely important, says Kelly Anderson, a member of our Source Water Protection Program, because 98 percent of the watershed area that influences Philadelphia’s drinking water supply is outside of the city’s regulatory jurisdiction.

Because having clear protections for that source water means healthier rivers downstream in Philadelphia, we have publically endorsed the rule and expressed our support to local elected officials.

Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug advocated for the Clean Water Rule by expressing the department’s support to groups like Clean Water Action and by sending letters to elected officials at the state and federal level.

"This clarifying rulemaking restores protection for streams and wetlands previously protected under the Clean Water Act, safeguards water quality in the nation’s waters, protects jobs in businesses that depend on clean water and safeguards drinking water," Neukrug said. 

Just last week, Philadelphia Water took part in a forum on the Clean Water Rule with fellow watershed stewards like the Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership.

At that event, Philadelphia Water’s Chris Anderson explained how the rule gives clarity to the many partners in our Source Water Protection Program, which works to make sure our drinking water sources—which range from the Catskill Mountains of New York to the Delaware Estuary to the south—are protected from pollution.

Philadelphia Water also came out in support of the Clean Water Rule at a June 1 event at the Fairmount Water Works organized by PennEnvironment to educate the public about what the rule means for Pennsylvanians.

Christine Knapp, deputy chief of staff for Philadelphia Water, touted recent water quality improvements at the event, but said the Clean Water Rule is an important part of making sure we keep moving forward.

"Philadelphia Water can only control what happens in the city, not what happens upstream. In addition to stormwater runoff, additional threats such as agricultural runoff, pollution from wildlife, and forest clearing all take place upstream from Philadelphia, and yet have negative impacts on Philadelphia’s water supply," Knapp said at the event. "That’s why the Clean Water Rule is so critical. By providing protection for additional streams and wetlands, it will leverage investments being made by Philadelphia Water—and municipalities all around the country—to prevent pollution and to improve the quality of our drinking water. We applaud this rulemaking by the EPA and the Army Corps and look forward to working with them and other regional stakeholders in our mission to protect public health by providing the highest quality drinking water." 

The Clean Water Rule By The Numbers:

98 Percent: The watershed area that influences Philadelphia’s drinking water supply, but is outside of the city’s regulatory jurisdiction.

117 Million: The number of people getting drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection before the Clean Water Rule, according to EPA estimates. That’s one in three Americans.

1 Million: The number of public comments the EPA reviewed as a result of public input efforts leading up to the development of the rule.

 400: EPA and Army Corps meetings held with drinking water stakeholders across the country.

1,200: Peer-reviewed, published scientific studies showing that small streams and wetlands play an integral role in the health of larger downstream water bodies.

+2 Million: Number of customers who rely on clean drinking water from Philadelphia Water.

250 Million: Number of gallons of drinking water we supply to customers each day.

49,000: The number of miles of Pa. streams now protected under the Clean Water Act following the implementation of the Clean Water Rule. Source: PennEnvironment.

Watch a video from PennEnvironment advocating for support of the Clean Water Rule here.

Oh, May: Should We Worry After Dry Spring?

The lack of rain in May led to wilted and stunted plants in this Chestnut Hill garden. Credit: Brian Rademaekers.
The lack of rain in May led to wilted and stunted plants in this Chestnut Hill garden. Credit: Brian Rademaekers.

This May was an extremely dry one for Philadelphia, with the city recording just .59 inches of rain before a sizeable downpour last week. The rain that fell May 27 was by far the heaviest of the month, more than doubling the total. Still, rain totals for the month were below normal by 2.51 inches. As Inquirer weather columnist Tony Wood pointed out, before that rain, we were on pace for the driest start to the year since 1986 and the 14th driest May since records dating to 1872.

Other local news reports have expressed concern from area farmers, like Bucks County’s Shang-Ri-La Sod Farm, which irrigated during May for the first time in 48 years.

Here at Philadelphia Water, we’ve been getting questions from residents concerned about the lack of rain. While the situation is far from ideal and river flows were noticeably low in May, there are some bright spots. For one thing, we are nowhere near the sort of lows seen during the record year of 1965, which came at the tail end of a period that has been called “Philadelphia’s Dustbowl.” Between 1963-65, we missed out on over 40 inches–that’s an entire year’s worth–of precipitation.

Chris Crockett, deputy commissioner of planning and environmental services with Philadelphia Water, says the department is keeping an eye on water levels and that a few strong rains, like the May 27 downpour and the heavy rain that marked the first few hours of June, could straighten out the imbalances we’re seeing from the dry start to 2015.

“I’d say we are looking more like 1999 and 2002 than 1965 at this point,” says Crockett.

The other good news, Crockett says, is that reservoir storage in New York City is around 97 percent, and lower basin reservoirs like Beltzville and Blue Marsh are at 100 percent storage. If our local flows get too low, those reservoirs are required to release more water and help boost our supply. 

Talking about drought concerns on a day when we’re getting flash flood warnings from the National Weather Service might seem counterintuitive, but the two worries aren’t entirely unrelated.

“The Schuylkill River and our local streams are what you call ‘stressed,’” says Crockett.  “They have too much runoff when it rains and not enough base flow (groundwater from non-wastewater sources) when it hasn’t rained. They will drop in flow very quickly without rain over relatively short periods of time, but if it rains they are back to normal or flood very quickly.”

Right now, the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection has no plans to issue drought warnings, in large part because they’re monitoring many factors beyond the low river flows and parched garden beds that sparked concern among residents in May.

“The real indicator of drought and drought risk are the groundwater levels, precipitation, stream flows, and reservoir storage, which would suggest a prolonged impact on the overall flow for a period of time that would extend beyond the next rain,” says Crockett. “It’s when many things get low that a few good rains won’t alleviate drought worries.”

The human body, he says, can provide a good metaphor.

“Think of it like your blood pressure. It goes down and up over the course of the day, and you can have it higher when you are in pain or sick for a period of time, or even drop when you stand up too quickly, but when something serious happens and you lose blood and it can’t come back up without help, then you have big problems,” says Crockett.  “The same goes for rivers.”

Weather forecasters are calling for a fairly wet week to kick off June*, and experts at Philadelphia Water are keeping a close eye on water levels and other indicators.  

“We’re continuing to watch the situation, and if anything changes we will share with everyone,” says Crockett.

*UPDATE: The 24-hour period marking June 1 smashed the precipitation record set in 1881, with more rain falling yesterday alone than was recorded at the Philadelphia International Airport weather station during the entire month of May. has more on the stunningly wet start to June here. Please be careful and heed any flood warnings. 

Want to get the latest Green City, Clean Waters news, upcoming event alerts, and notifications about other cool Philadelphia Water happenings? Subscribe to our newsletter here!

Beer Geeks: How They're Improving Our Water

Philadelphia Water's BLS tasters prepare beakers of water for tasting. The warn water bath helps draw out delicate flavors that could otherwise go unnoticed. Credit: Bureau of Laboratory Services.
Philadelphia Water's BLS tasters prepare beakers of water for sampling. The warn water bath helps draw out delicate flavors that could otherwise go unnoticed. Credit: Bureau of Laboratory Services.

I came of drinking age during a time when now-extinct macrobrewers like Schmidt’s Brewery and Ortlieb Brewing in Northern Liberties ruled local taprooms. It was also a time when our tap water was derisively called “Chlorine Cocktail” or “Schuylkill Punch” (incidentally, now the name of a brew offered by Manayunk Brewing Co.).

Today, Philly Beer Week celebrates the rebirth of local breweries making a variety of good tasting beers, and a highly respected Philadelphia Water is turning out a better tasting tap water.

Believe it or not, those two trends—better tasting beer and better tasting water—are related. 

Philadelphia Water has an extensive environmental laboratory to ensure you’re getting water that’s safe and tasty. But, despite the expensive laboratory instruments, we still need human senses for tasting and smelling. While instruments detect individual chemicals and tell us their concentrations, they can’t tell us how they form flavor when they are all mixed together. It’s a little known fact, but pure water doesn’t taste very good. Good tasting water has a mixture of minerals and carbonates. Good tasting water has a recipe. But water isn’t supposed to smell; just a touch of chlorine, necessary for safety. Beer, on the other hand, has hundreds of chemicals that meld to create a nearly endless spectrum of desirable flavors. 

Many breweries employ expert tasters who are trained to sample their beer during different stages of fermentation and detect any off flavors. And here at Philadelphia Water, we took notice and followed their example.

Today we do what breweries do—we check for off flavors using both lab equipment and human tasters trained to look for off flavors. 

We learned from the experts who taste beer, wine and food. We trained chemists, biologists and technicians to taste and smell our water. We learned how to dissect a glass of water into its different tastes and smells. We identified the off flavors, and then worked to get rid of them. Philadelphia’s tap water is now more consistent and milder in flavor. 

That effort, combined with far superior protection of our source water from pollution, really has helped us come up with a better recipe for our water, and we are happy to say goodbye to that old Chlorine Cocktail. In fact, our water now tastes so good, we think it’s an essential part of enjoying good beer. Keep a chilled glass of tap water on the table during Philly Beer Week, and it’ll refresh your palate between brews as you sample Philly’s amazing fermented offerings.

So, if you’re celebrating Philly Beer Week, raise a glass of tap water along with your beer and say cheers to America’s best beer (and water) drinking city! 

More on Philadelphia, Water and Beer:

Our Beer History: It All Started with the Water 

Both water and beer were important in the settling of our city. William Penn chose to settle between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers because of the abundance of fresh water—perfect for drinking, fishing, traveling, and of course, brewing. He made sure he had his own brewhouse along the Delaware, and encouraged the establishment of brewhouses for the good citizens of Philadelphia. By the 1800s, brewhouses dotted the Schuylkill watershed, discharging their waste into the streams. Brewerytown, just east of the Schuylkill’s banks, got its name for a good reason, but neighborhoods like Kensington could have also easily stolen the moniker. At its peak, Philadelphia had over 100 breweries, and our beer was famous around the country. A big reason for that was the quality of our water and its mineral makeup, an essential ingredient for quality beer.   For more on that, read this article on our water's profile and how it impacts brewing and baking.

BEER TASTING FACT: It’s (Mostly) in the Nose

Did you know that you smell your water or beer when you drink it?

In order to do the job of providing great tasting water, Philadelphia Water’s tasters had to learn how their senses work. We all have what’s known as a “retronasal passage” connecting our noses to our palates, and it is smell that actually gives beer and water much of its flavor. When you consume beer or water you release aromas in your mouth, which then travel up the retronasal passageway to your nose. You smell the chlorine in the tap water. You smell the chocolate, caramel, malty aromas of your beer. So, if you want to avoid the flavor of your water or beer, keep it icy cold—aromas arise more from warmer liquids.

Our water tasters learned that some flavors that make water taste off actually make foods and other beverages tasty. A hot water heater can sometimes produce a rotten egg odor from hydrogen sulfide. Groundwater in some places, such as parts of Florida, smells like a burnt match because of the presence of sulfides. These are undesirable taints for tap water. But they belong in beer! The telltale smell of the seashore is in part due to sulfur chemicals. The same are important for beer’s flavor. But beer with too much of the sulfur smell creates that notorious “skunked beer” flavor.


Gary A. Burlingame, BCES, is a water quality expert and laboratory director for Philadelphia Water. He has a BS/MS in Environmental Science from Drexel University with more than 35 years of experience in the science of water. He was once offered a chance to become a brewmaster and beer executive. But he chose water instead. Nevertheless, he greatly enjoys a slightly chilled craft beer after a hard day’s work.

Source Water Protection Catches Industry Spotlight

The April cover of the Journal - American Water Works Association. Credit: AWWA
The April cover of the Journal - American Water Works Association. Credit: AWWA

Our Source Water Protection Program is getting more recognition, this time from a leading industry publication, the Journal - American Water Works Association (JAWWA).  

Their April 2015 edition featured an in-depth look at Philadelphia Water’s source water protection efforts in an article titled “Philadelphia’s One-Water Approach Starts With Source Water Protection.”

The piece explores the far-reaching efforts of the Source Water Protection Program (SWPP), which works with a number of partners to maintain the health of the Delaware and Schuylkill watersheds, from the Catskill Mountains in New York to the furthest reaches of the rivers and their tributaries.

The Philadelphia Water employees who authored the report include Elizabeth Couillard, an engineer for SWPP since 2012; Molly D. Hesson, an engineer with the SWPP team since 2006; Kelly Anderson, Program Manager for the SWPP; Mary Ellen McCarty, the Watershed Information Program Manager in PWD’s Office of Watersheds; and Chris Crockett, the Deputy Commissioner of Planning and Environmental Services at PWD and the founder of the SWPP.

Described on the AWWA website as “the largest nonprofit, scientific and educational association dedicated to managing and treating water,” the 50,000-member association has been around since 1881 (which means PWD has them beat by a mere 80 years!).

Getting an article printed in a journal with such a large membership provides PWD with an opportunity to share our successful source water protection efforts with other industry experts, and puts a spotlight on the work behind programs like our Early Warning System Partnership, which just took home a big Environmental Excellence award.

“At a time when we hear so many stories of the impact of human activity on drinking water supplies in the news, understanding and promoting the concept of ‘one water’ is increasingly important. This article was a great opportunity to share PWD's unique perspective as an integrated utility, providing multiple water-related services—drinking water supply, wastewater collection and stormwater management—to customers in Philadelphia,” says Couillard. “PWD’s Source Water Protection Program is charged with protecting Philadelphia’s water supply from upstream threats and is in a unique position to use department experience in each of these services here in the city and then apply them to protection strategies upstream.”

Philadelphia Water thanks the authors of the JAWWA article and all the people who make up the SWPP team for getting the word out about all the hard work we do to make sure Philly always has safe, clean water on tap.
Want to know more about the Source Water Protection Program? Click here.

Philadelphia Water's Early Warning System Getting Praise from High Places

Above: A map provided by the Source Water Protection Program's Early Warning System showing the tidal spill model trajectory for a hypothetical spill along the Delaware River.
Above: A map provided by the Source Water Protection Program's Early Warning System showing the tidal spill model trajectory for a hypothetical spill along the Delaware River.

Our Source Water Protection Program at Philadelphia Water does all kinds of important work to ensure the water we drink is safe and protected, from far-off springs in the Catskill and Pocono mountains all the way down to the intakes at our drinking water treatment plants.  However, one of the most critical jobs is overseeing the Delaware Valley Early Warning System–a complex network that stretches from the Delaware Water Gap all the way to Wilmington, Del. and provides a way to sound the alarm when incidents like spills and flooding events occur. 

In recognition of the hard work the Source Water Protection Program (SWPP) does to make sure this crucial web-based system is constantly updated to provide the fastest possible warning and response during emergency situations, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection selected the Delaware Valley Early Warning System (EWS) for the 2015 Pennsylvania Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence.  Our EWS will be among 15 other programs honored during a special dinner on April 28 in Harrisburg. The award recognizes “the development of a project that promotes environmental stewardship and economic development in the state,” according to the Pa. DEP website.

At its core, the EWS has a simple goal: to notify drinking water suppliers and other water consumers along the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers of spills and accidents that occur upstream as quickly as possible. Doing that requires a sophisticated network of over 300 users representing 50 organizations that make up what’s called the EWS Partnership.  Groups within the Partnership can access the system via the EWS telephone hotline or website to alert the network about spills and other incidents, and high-tech features like real-time water quality monitoring and computer models showing how quickly contaminants are moving downstream provide additional information for quick and smart decision making.

Last year, the Source Water team made the EWS even better by implementing a new computer model that predicts the tidal movement of water–critical information during a spill or flood scenario–in the lower Delaware River, where tides play a role in where water goes. This greatly enhanced detail on tidal flows in the Delaware Estuary is of tremendous value to places like PWD’s Baxter drinking water treatment plant, which supplies approximately 60 percent of the city with drinking water.

Given Philadelphia’s location along two rivers at the very bottom of a watershed with plenty of industrial activity, incidents requiring the use of the EWS are inevitable.  This reality makes the work of the SWPP team–and especially maintenance of the warning system–incredibly important, so we are particularly proud of this award from the Pa. DEP. Keep on keeping us safe!

A Clean River Attracts the Bass

Mike Iaconelli (credit: Alan McGuckin via CBS 3 Philadelphia)
Mike Iaconelli (credit: Alan McGuckin via CBS 3 Philadelphia)

From river testing to Bassmaster – the Delaware River is in the spotlight. Starting last Thursday, Philadelphia welcomed Bassmaster Elite to the banks of the Delaware. This nation-wide tournament, spanning four days, started off with 107 competitors – all competing for the grand prize check worth $100,000. By Saturday the competition cut down to 50, and finally, by Sunday only the top 12 remained.

PWD joins our fellow Philadelphians in sending our congratulations to this year’s winner Michael Laconelli. A Philly native, Laconelli has taken part in almost 200 tournaments in the last few years and has earned more than two million dollars in winnings.

“Bass fishing, professional and recreational, isn’t limited to rural areas or to places where true giant bass live. Philly is about as metropolitan as it gets. And yet, look at the crowds. At the same time, this tournament shows that metropolitan waters produce bass. Nine out of the 12 anglers caught limits today”, wrote Iaconelli on a blog.

Did you know that the Water Department monitors fish species in the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers? Click here to learn more about how PWD studies water quality by tracking the numerous aquatic species in our waterways.

New Video: Philadelphia's First Porous Street

Pass by the 800 block of tiny Percy Street near the Italian Market in South Philadelphia and you may not even notice that you're in the presence of Philadelphia's first street to be retrofitted with porous paving. Check out the new video from GreenTreks to learn about the design, construction and functionality of Percy Street's porous paving. It's just one of the many green infrastructure tools that PWD is using to soak up stormwater before it can enter our sewer system and cause overflows into our rivers and streams.

Scenes from the Northern Liberties Spokesdog Contest

Last weekend, Northern Liberties awarded its spokesdog title to Scooter, a Schnauzer-Beagle mix who'll help educate pet owners about the importance of picking up dog waste in order to keep our streams and rivers clean. Thanks to all the dog owners, judges and participants in this year's spokesdog contest! Above, Scooter is dog tired after a rigorous competition.

Syndicate content