drinking water

Get the Facts on Lead and Water: Invite Philadelphia Water to Your Next Community Meeting

Philadelphia's water is lead free, but we cannot control the plumbing in every home. That's why we need customers to get the facts about lead plumbing. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Philadelphia's water is lead free, but we cannot control the plumbing in every home. We want customers to have the facts on lead plumbing so that they are empowered to remove lead pipes and can take daily steps to reduce exposure risks. Credit: Philadelphia Water

The danger of lead in drinking water continues to be a hot topic in the news, and we know many people have seen or heard recent features addressing the issue. Because we know that even small amounts of lead may be harmful to infants, young children and pregnant women, we understand why people are concerned.

Although the drinking water provided by Philadelphia Water is lead free—our treatment facilities and water mains do not contain lead materials—homes built prior to 1950 may have water distribution pipes/service lines (the small pipe that connects a home’s internal plumbing to the water main) made of lead. Copper pipes inside homes may also be joined by lead-containing solders, and some homes may have brass pipes, faucets, fittings and valves that contain lead.

Philly Has Much to Gain—and Lose—from Paris Climate Talks

Flooding from Hurricane Irene in 2011 raised the Schuylkill River to levels not seen in 140 years. Climate change is projected to bring more extreme storms to the region. Credit: Philadelphia Water

Flooding from Hurricane Irene in 2011 raised the Schuylkill River to levels not seen in 140 years. Climate change is projected to bring more extreme storms to the region. Credit: Philadelphia Water

Chances are, you’ve already heard a little bit about the Paris climate change talks—formally, the “21st Conference of the Parties” or COP21—that kicked off yesterday with world leaders calling for action.

While those talks might seem a world away, there are more than a few good reasons for Philadelphians to pay attention.

#DrinkTapPHL: 15,000 Reasons to Ditch Disposable Bottles

Philadelphia Water and Head of the Schuylkill Regatta teamed up to give away 12,000 reusable bottles Oct. 24-25. It's part of a new effort to encourage people to save money with tap water and fight litter with refillable bottles. Credit: Philadelphia Water/Brian Rademaekers
Philadelphia Water and Head of the Schuylkill Regatta teamed up to give away 15,000 reusable bottles Oct. 24-25. It's part of a new effort to encourage people to save money with tap water and fight litter with refillable bottles. Credit: Philadelphia Water/Brian Rademaekers

There were lots of big names and important figures on the banks of the Schuylkill on Oct. 23 to announce a new network of water bottle filling stations along the Schuylkill River Trail, "America's Best Urban Trail" and Philadelphia's most popular recreational path.

But perhaps the most important (and certainly the cutest) people there were the 4th grade students from FS Edmonds Elementary School. Fresh from a field trip to the Fairmount Water Works, the kids enthusiastically took the #DrinkTapPHL/Schuylkill Navy River Stewards pledge to “Choose to Reuse” and were given some of the 15,000 free refillable bottles ordered for the new drinking water/anti-litter campaign. (For photos from Friday's kickoff, click here.)

New Filling Stations, 12,000 Free Reusable Bottles to Fight Plastic Bottle Litter

This graph shows that 55 percent of litter collected from the Schuylkill during recent skimmer boat trips was plastic, and 77 percent of that was platic bottles. SourceL Lance Butler, Philadelphia Water.
Clogging our Rivers: This graph shows that over 55 percent of litter collected from the Schuylkill River during recent skimmer boat trips was plastic, and 77 percent of that was plastic bottles. Click the graph for a larger image. Source: Environmental Restoration & Maintenance,
Office of Watersheds, Philadelphia Water.

Philadelphia Water and a coalition of people and groups who care about our rivers, parks and planet are taking the fight against wasteful single-use water bottles to the Schuylkill River.

Mayor Michael Nutter will join partners in this campaign at Kelly Drive and Fountain Green Drive on Friday, Oct. 23 at 12 p.m. in announcing a new network of water bottle filling stations that will stretch along Kelly Drive from East Falls to Boathouse Row, providing convenient access to free drinking water on one of the region’s most popular recreational trails.

City Council Imagined a Day Without Water - And They Didn't Like It

This graphic, produced by Value of Water, shows we aren't alone in dealing with main breaks. Over the last 5 years, Philadelphia Water averaged 823 water main breaks per year, a fairly typcial number for similar cities. Credit: Philadelphia Water/Value of Water.
This graphic, produced by Value of Water, shows we aren't alone in dealing with main breaks. Over the last 5 years, Philadelphia Water averaged 823 water main breaks per year, a fairly typical number for similar cities. Credit: Philadelphia Water/Value of Water.

As a part of the national "Imagine a Day Without Water" campaign, City Council backed a resolution recognizing the importance of our water infrastructure and the need for both local and federal investment to maintain the pipes and systems that deliver, remove and treat our water.

We're thrilled that Philly's elected officials (officially) get just how important it is to keep our water flowing! In the Tuesday, Oct. 1 session, City Council overwhelmingly approved the resolution. You can view the document here, and we've included the full text below.

MORE: Read Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug's Inquirer Op-Ed Here

Since there are roughly 2,000 employees at Philadelphia Water working 24/7/365 to make sure you always have clean, safe drinking water and that our rivers are protected and healthy, we know the importance of having water. And even just one day without water would more than inconvenient—it could be catastrophic.

It's more than brushing your teeth, having a cup of coffee and, of course, staying hydrated. So much—from the food we grow to our power plants and life-saving fire hydrants—depends on the nation's water infrastructure. And yet, we often take it for granted until something breaks because so much of this crucial system is hidden beneath our feet. In Philadelphia alone, there are enough pipes and sewers to stretch from here to California and back again, and much of that system is aging.
We've budgeted $767 million in 2016 to keep Philadelphia's water infrastructure running, but the system is still aging, and costs will rise.

That's why we're part of the "Imagine a Day Without Water" campaign, organized by the national Value of Water Coalition, to raise awareness about the need for infrastructure investment.
Learn more about this important issue at the Value of Water website, check out City Council's resolution below, and be sure to keep read an important message from Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug and former Pa. Governor Ed Rendell (now co-chair at Building America's Future) on the Philadelphia Inquirer's opinion page.

City Council’s Imagine a Day Without Water Resolution -  Full Text:

Recognizing the Philadelphia Water Department and the “Imagine a Day Without Water” campaign being held October 6-8 2015 which is geared toward recognizing the importance of clean water in our lives and the investment in infrastructure that is necessary to protect this valuable resource.


Whereas, the infrastructure that brings water to and from homes and businesses is essential to the quality of life and economic vitality of the city of Philadelphia; and

Whereas, Philadelphia residents on average utilize 87 gallons of water per person, per day; and

Whereas, Philadelphia has almost 3,200 miles of water mains with an average age of 70 years; and treats over 250 million gallons of drinking water per day and over 471 million gallons of wastewater and stormwater per day, providing reliable and clean water to over 2 million people; and

Whereas, while utilities nationwide are grappling with aging infrastructure, Philadelphia Water is making prudent and sustainable investments guided by a 10-year capital plan; and

Whereas, Philadelphia Water has been a model for innovation, delivering notable projects such as the Contaminant Warning System and the Biogas Cogeneration facility; and

Whereas, Philadelphia will invest $2 billion over 25 years in its Green Cities, Clean Water program to ensure clean water and an ever-greener Philadelphia for present and future generations; and

Whereas, green stormwater infrastructure will not only ease the burden on our sewers but will provide a maximum return in benefits to the public, the economy and the environment; and

Whereas, one-fifth of the U.S. economy would grind to a halt without a reliable and clean source of water; and

Whereas, for every one job created in the water sector, another 3.68 jobs are added in the national economy. And for every $1 spent on infrastructure improvements, the U.S .generates $6 in returns; now; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, BY THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, that the City of Philadelphia recognizes that water is essential to the quality of life and economic competitiveness and acknowledges the importance of educating the public about the value of water through the “Imagine A Day Without Water” campaign.

FURTHER RESOLVED , that the City of Philadelphia is dedicated to investing in the City’s water and wastewater infrastructure and calls on our federal partners to bring much-needed funding to Philadelphia to protect and restore our critical water infrastructure.

What About All the Thirsty Papal Pilgrims? We’ve Got Them (and You) Covered

 


Watch this short video to learn more about how we make your water safe. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

On the eve of the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia, there’s still plenty of speculation about just how many people will be in town for World Meeting of Families events. The most recent reported projections range anywhere between 300,000 and 1 million visitors and event organizers are prepared for as many as 1.5 to 2 million people.

To be on the safe side, Philadelphia Water used the upper end of that estimate in calculations aimed at ensuring our drinking water system will be able to handle whatever the Pope crowds can throw at it.

The short answer is that, yes, our system can provide plenty of safe drinking water for the city and any additional visitors this weekend.

To get to that conclusion, our Water Planning Team looked at factors like the level of demand recorded between Sept. 22-28 over the last six years, as well as the level of demand during other big events like recent Welcome America celebrations. Predictably, higher temperatures were the most consistent factor in increased demand. Most large events, however, didn’t create a significantly higher demand for water.

That said, it’s worth noting that temperatures during the Papal visit should top out in the mid-70s—a nice cool weekend for outdoor events.

Philadelphia Water typically delivers an average of 225 million gallons per day to the distribution system. The potential water demand during the Papal Visit may increase up to 278 million, according to our analysis. But, even if demand increased by 53 million gallons, Philadelphia Water would still be able to keep up. That’s because our water treatment facilities are designed to cumulatively produce up to 623 million gallons per day under optimal and fully functioning conditions. On top of that, the storage capacity for treated and untreated water in the combined drinking water plant and distribution system provides a substantial quantity— 1.065 billion gallons—to meet demand increases.

What does all that mean? It means that Philadelphia Water’s advanced and robust drinking water system is designed to make sure we all have 24/7 access to clean, safe and affordable drinking water, even during big events like this.

And, just in case you’re wondering what happens with all the waste from the Papal Port-a-Potties, we’ll be treating it at our Southwest Water Pollution Control Plant.

More: How Do We Make Water Drinkable? This Graphic Shows It All.

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.

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!

Green Tools: Six Ways They Can Make a Climate Changed-Future a Little Less Scary

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a cool new infographic out showing how the green stormwater infrastructure we use in Green City, Clean Waters helps to reduce the impact of climate change by making Philadelphia a more resilient city.

The EPA graphic focuses on urban areas and paints a grim picture of the future awaiting cities as the effects of climate change intensify in the coming decades. Considering the already staggering cost of flooding events stemming from super-storms like Hurricane Sandy, the projection of a 30 percent increase in annual flood costs is especially troubling. 

But there's good news, too: we already have the some of the tools we need to help fight the negative impacts highlighted. And, thanks to Green City, Clean Waters—a plan that the EPA approved back in 2011—Philadelphia is ahead of the curve when it comes to using green as a tool for making our neighborhoods safer, more livable places. 

We like to point out how our green approach makes our city a better place right now, but it's also about looking out for future generations. That's why Philadelphia Water is taking climate change seriously and designed Green City, Clean Waters to be flexible and adaptive in the face of environmental challenges that range from more intense storms to longer and more intense droughts.  

Check out the EPA infographic here:

GSI for Climate Resiliency: An EPA Infographic
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

When you look at numbers like those from the Burnsville study—a 93 percent reduction in damaging stormwater runoff—it's easy to see how having more rain gardens and other green tools will be a real asset in a future where we see more and more instense rain events. It's just part of larger long-term plans Philadelphia Water and the city have for addressing climate change, but Green City, Clean Waters will play a role in addressing those challenges over the next few decades. 

Want to keep up on Green City, Clean Waters news and events and learn more about sustainability initiatives at Philadelphia Water? Click here and sign up for our monthly newsletter now! 

Happening Today: A Brand New Chapter for Philadelphia Water

Part one in a series of stories examining the foundations of our new brand

Way back in the summer of 1987, the Philadelphia Water Department selected its first logo through a design contest for art and design schools in Philadelphia. The winning submission came from Eric E. Doyle, and was designed to convey a department eager to serve the needs of its customers. That sentiment hasn’t changed.  

But Philadelphia Water has evolved tremendously in other ways over the past 29 years. We are working harder than ever to provide quality customer service and protect our infrastructure and water sources, all while transforming Philadelphia into the greenest city in the country. We’re also strengthening our outreach and education efforts to communicate who we are today and our vision for the future. Our new logo is a highly visible reflection of these initiatives.

Philadelphia Water is rolling out a new look for the first time since 1987.

The new logo puts ‘WATER’ front and center and emphasizes the full range of services we provide that impact the quality of life for Philadelphians: quality drinking water, safe and responsible wastewater management, and a commitment to the environment and protecting our city through stormwater management. The updated logo also includes a tagline with a nod to our legacy of serving the city for the last 214 years. 

In the following months, we’ll be using these blog posts to take a closer look at the work behind the new brand, starting with: 

 

  • New efforts in quality customer service
  • New efforts in infrastructure
  • New efforts to transform Philly into a green city
  • New efforts in education and outreach

 

Keep an eye out for more updates at Phillywatersheds.org and feel free to share our new look! 

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