treatment

Latest Philadelphia Water Quality Data Out Now

See our latest water quality data at phila.gov/water or request a free copy at 215 685 6300.
Our 2016 water quality data is out. Read the report by clicking the image above or request free copies at 215.685.6300 or waterinfo@phila.gov

Philadelphia residents have 24/7 access to top-quality water, a fact that they check themselves thanks to annual reports the Philadelphia Water Department releases detailing a year's worth of data.

This transparency is a defining quality for public water providers like PWD, and we take pride in the tremendous effort that goes into the constant monitoring done at our labs.

During our most recent fiscal year, we delivered nearly 82 billion gallons of water to local homes, businesses, schools and other organizations. On average, our customers used 223 million gallons of clean water every single day.   

Making sure that water is great water that beats Safe Drinking Water Act standards is what drives us, and we're proud to provide this year's reportthe result of more than 10,000 monthly lab tests conducted by our scientists during 2016.

Read it now in English or Spanish or check out the audio version.     

In addition to the water quality data, you will find info about:

  • New programs and efforts to remove lead service lines from customer properties and educate people about getting safe water when your home does have lead pipes
  • How we get water from the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers and what we do to protect our source water and watersheds
  • Why we help residents build landscaped rain gardens in their yards with matching funds of up to $2,000
  • How we monitor the water, what we look for and how our scientists deal with issues as they emerge
  • New educational programs offered through the Fairmount Water Works
  • What you can do to care for our source water at home
  • Who to call if you suspect illegal dumping in waterways or storm drain inlets
  • Local watershed groups looking for volunteers 

Give it a read now and let others know where to find this valuable information.

To receive a printed copy of this report in the mail, contact our Public Affairs staff at waterquality@phila.gov

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.

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.

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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!

Pew Center Gives $300K to Shine Light on Secret River Heroes

Families check out how freshwater mussels filter water at temporary exhibit by the PDE. Soon, the Water Works will have a 530-square-foot mussel hatchery.
Families check out how freshwater mussels filter water at temporary exhibit by the PDE. Soon, the Water Works will have a 530-square-foot mussel hatchery. Photo Credit: PDE.

Some of the most intriguing animals in our rivers also happen to be some of the most inconspicuous creatures out there. In fact, these little guys can be nearly invisible if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

But the reality is that freshwater mussels live extraordinary lives burrowed into the beds of our local creeks and rivers.

Now, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage is bringing their secret lives to the surface with a $300,000 grant that will fund the creation of a mussel hatchery right at the Fairmount Water Works.

Celebrating their 10th year of grant making in Philadelphia, the Center announced its 2015 recipients on June 16. We at Philadelphia Water are thrilled to see the Water Works counted among our region’s exemplary artists and cultural institutions and  look forward to the expanded environmental education efforts made possible through this grant.

 The Rivers Restoration Project: A Freshwater Mussel Hatchery will be an interpretive, multi-media installation that will combine science, history, and design in the creation of a site-specific, 530-square-foot living freshwater mussel enclave that will inspire visitors to discover and connect with the Schuylkill River’s rich habitat while developing an appreciation for the importance of environmental protection.

 The two-year grant process is expected to allow the Water Works to open the hatchery in late 2016.

If you’re wondering why the Center and the Water Works are investing in a mussel hatchery, read on.

To the untrained eye, these little shellfish—ranked among the most imperiled animals in the United States—may look just like a leaf lying on the sandy bottom of the Schuylkill or Delaware. But tucked inside that shell is an organism that can live for a century, providing our waterways with decades of invaluable filtration and stream/riverbed stabilization that makes water healthier for both wildlife and humans.

The lifespan and habitat of our native mussels varies depending on the species, but they can live by the millions in vast colonies along riverbeds. With each one filtering up to 20 gallons of water every day, these organisms collectively form nature’s equivalent of water treatment plants, removing pollution and harmful pathogens.

Sadly, these amazing little workhorses have suffered in a big way due to a number of human factors, including unmitigated stormwater runoff and dams, which block their reproductive cycle. This widespread habitat degradation has left many stretches of local waterways without mussel beds, which can lead to destabilized banks and streambeds and water that takes much longer to clear up after disturbance from storms and other heavy sediment events.

In recent years, Philadelphia Water has partnered with the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE) to survey our local waters for mussel populations. With additional help from groups like the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, PDE even began “reseeding” some Philly creeks with mussels, bringing them back to those areas for the first time in decades.  

The Water Works hatchery is the first project of its kind in the region, and could help fuel interest in a much larger commercial hatchery that would work to filter our water (reducing the workload at treatment plants) while providing young mussels for future regional reseeding efforts, said PDE's Danielle Kreeger.  

With this extremely generous $300,000 Pew grant, the Water Works will begin working on the hatchery with PDE and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University next month, bringing visitors a unique exhibit that will enrich the already impressive mix of education opportunities.

“Our 2015 grantees exemplify the diverse and dynamic cultural life of our region,” said Paula Marincola, the Center’s executive director. “As we reflect on the past 10 years of grantmaking in this vibrant community, we also look forward to the extraordinary cultural experiences this talented and ambitious group of artists and organizations will bring to Greater Philadelphia’s audiences.”

For more on educational opportunities at the Fairmount Water Works, which is celebrating its 200th birthday this year, check out their website.
You can see the full list of the amazing projects awarded 2015 grants from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage 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.

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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.

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