engineering

Philly Science Fest Highlights Overlooked STEM-Water Relationship

What Science Looks Like: Philadelphia Water Department Aquatic biologists Lance Butler and Joe Perillo sampling the health of aquatic wildlife on the Schuylkill River. Careers in science at PWD will be highlighted at this year’s Philadelphia Science Festival.
What Science Looks Like:
Philadelphia Water Department Aquatic biologists Lance Butler and Joe Perillo sampling the health of aquatic wildlife on the Schuylkill River. Careers in science at PWD will be highlighted at this year’s Philadelphia Science Festival
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When you turn on the tap for a fresh glass of Philadelphia water, do you think about all the scientists and engineers who make this daily convenience possible?

If your answer is "no," you're not alone.

But the fact is, science and engineering are a big part of the work we do at the Philadelphia Water Department every day.

From the biologists who monitor our source water (see photo above) to the laboratory technicians at the Bureau of Laboratory Services who sample and test the finished product to ensure safety, we rely on a variety of scientific experts to bring you top-quality water around the clock every day of the year.

We also have environmental scientists studying how climate change will impact our rivers and infrastructure, engineers working to transform waste water into energy, hydrologists fine-tuning green stormwater systems, and more.

That’s why we’re excited to once again be a part of the Philadelphia Science Festival—we want to highlight the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) that makes access to clean, abundant water possible and attract young people considering STEM careers to this critical field.

A “nine-day, community-wide celebration of science,” the Philadelphia Science Festival features “lectures, debates, hands-on activities, special exhibitions and a variety of other informal science education experiences for all ages.”

Belmont Raw Water Basin Project: Helping to Bring You Top-Quality Water

Construction of the cofferdam at the Belmont Raw Water Basin. Inset: Resident Engineer Kam Patel.
Above: Construction of the cofferdam at the Belmont River Water Basin. Inset: Resident Engineer Kam Patel. Credit: Philadelphia Water

In the public imagination, drinking water infrastructure usually comes down to two things: the drinking water treatment plants, and water mains that deliver the finished product to your tap.

In reality, the infrastructure it takes to treat hundreds of millions of gallons of water per day and get that top-quality water to 1.5 million people is far more complex, involving a variety of facilities along the way.

During Infrastructure Week 2016, we’ve been looking at some important infrastructure projects—all of which are funded solely by your water bill—that might get overlooked.

One such project is the renovated Belmont Raw Water Basin, which is in its final stages after years of work.

To give you an idea of how long this basin has been helping to provide Philadelphia with drinking water from the Schuylkill River, consider that Theodore Roosevelt became president the year construction began.

Check out amazing historic photographs of the original construction site here:

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.

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