winter

PSA from Your Dog: Smart Deicing Tips to Protect the Environment and Pets

Did you know using too much salt and other ice-melting chemicals can hurt pet paws? Smart use of deicing products can also help minimize impacts on our watersheds.
Did you know using too much salt and other ice-melting chemicals can hurt pet paws? Smart use of deicing products can also help minimize impacts on our watersheds.

If you're the kind of person who thinks about the health of our urban watersheds, you've probably wondered if using too much salt on driveways and sidewalks can hurt Philly's rivers and creeks.

As snow piles up in the winter, we often turn to salt or other solutions to melt snow and ice as an important public safety measure that saves lives on our roadways every year.

Still, it's important to know that all deicers can be harmful to our water supply, the environment and even pets when overused. The best strategy is to read the labels and use as directed only when needed.

High concentrations of salt can damage and kill vegetation and harm freshwater ecosystems and fish. Excess salt can also seep into the ground and destroy soil structure, which can lead to erosion and further pollute waterways.

And, those heaps of caustic rock salt on sidewalks can also irritate sensitive pet paws, making a winter wonderland walk post-snowstorm much less fun for dogs like Shorty, seen at top.

Schuylkill River Trail Water Stations Closed for Winter

Four water stations along the Schuylkill River Trail between East Falls and the Fairmount Water Works were closed in November 2017 for winterization and will reopen spring 2018.
Water stations along Kelly Drive were closed following the Phila. Marathon for winterization and will reopen in spring 2018. Credit: Laura Copeland and Frank Gaffney, Philadelphia Water Department.

Following the 2017 Philadelphia Marathon, Philadelphia Water Department crews shut down and winterized all four Schuylkill River Trail water stations located between the Falls Bridge and Fairmount Water Works. The much-used features—offering fountains, bottle filling stations and ground-level bowls for dog walkers—are taken offline each winter to guard against freezing temperatures that can cause burst plumbing.

When spring temperatures allow, Water crews will perform maintenance, flushing and testing before restoring service to the stations.

First introduced in 2016, the stations provided trail users with more than 21,000 gallons of drinking water between late April and mid-November during the 2017 season. In terms of the volume of plastic, single-use bottles kept out of the waste stream, the stations distributed enough water to fill roughly 159,100 half-liter disposable bottles.

In addition to providing free access to top-quality drinking water for daily trail users, the water stations reduced waste and litter generated by marquee events held along Philadelphia’s scenic Schuylkill River waterfront.

The stations provided enough water to offset nearly 2,200 single-use plastic bottles during the 2017 Head of the Schuylkill Regatta alone. During the one-day Dragon Boat Festival, spectators and competitors drank enough Philly tap to fill nearly 1,700 16-ounce plastic bottles.

The Philadelphia Water Department is working with partners in the Office of Sustainability, Parks and Recreation, the School District, Public Health and other City departments to expand access to drinking water and promote Philadelphia’s top-quality water as an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.

Increased access to drinking water stations will also encourage refillable bottle use, furthering the City’s Clean PHL anti-litter and Zero Waste initiatives.

To get alerts about water station openings, subscribe to Philadelphia Water Department alerts with your email and mobile number here.

Your Pipes Can Freeze Too!
Note: Homeowners should be winterizing their plumbing, too. From shutting off outdoor hose connections to insulating basement windows near the water meter, there are number of things homeowners can do to prevent extreme cold from causing damage that a can lead to frozen pipes, flooded basements, and costly repairs. You can check out some cold-weather tips here and in the video below. 


Keeping out the Cold from Philadelphia Water Department on Vimeo.

Worried About Salt? Smart Winter Deicing Tips to Protect Rivers, Creeks and Pets

The beautiful Tacony Creek in winter. Smart use of deicing products can help minimize impacts on our watersheds. Credit: TTF Watershed Partnership.
The beautiful Tacony Creek in winter. Smart use of deicing products can help minimize impacts on our watersheds. Credit: TTF Watershed Partnership.

If you're the kind of person who thinks about the health of our urban watersheds, you've probably wondered if using too much salt on driveways and sidewalks can hurt Philly's rivers and creeks.

As snow piles up in the winter, we often turn to salt or other solutions to melt snow and ice as an important public safety measure that saves lives on our roadways every year.

Still, it's important to know that all deicers can be harmful to our drinking water supply and the environment when overused, so the best strategy is to read the labels and use as directed only when needed. High concentrations of salt can damage and kill vegetation and harm freshwater ecosystems and fish. Excess salt can also seep into the ground and destroy soil structure, which can lead to erosion and further pollute waterways.

Use these winter deicing tips to help protect our watersheds:

Be Ready: Frozen Pipes Are No Winter Wonderland

Check out the tips below and reduce your chances of having cold weather damamage to your home plumbing system.
Click the image above to check out some helpful tips that can reduce your chances of having cold weather damage your home plumbing system.

Extreme cold can cause pipes and the ground to expand and contract, and very cold river water can also make water mains more brittle. In part, those factors can help to explain why more than half of Philadelphia’s water main breaks occur during the coldest months in a typical year.

But our more than 3,000 miles of water mains aren’t alone when it comes to feeling the impacts of Old Man Winter.

Another Reason to Love Spring: Winter Will Loosen Its Grip on Our Water Mains

This Friday, March 20, is the Vernal equinox--the first day of spring (even though it's supposed to snow)! Here at PWD, we're taking one big collective sigh of relief, hoping that the harsh cold of winter is behind us. With warmer temperatures, the
natural forces that put so much strain on our hundreds of miles of cast iron
water mains will begin to relent and we should experience less water main breaks. 

Recently, Philadelphia Magazine published Philadelphia: We’re Not Alone in Water Main Breaks, which explores winter's effects on water mains and makes clear that Philadelphia is not unique when comes to this problem. In fact, it points out that Philadelphia grades better than the national average. 

The piece notes, when compared with other cities and the national averages for water main breaks per year, we're actually doing pretty well. Our average 240 breaks per 1000 miles of pipe per year beats the national average of 270 per 1000 miles. And our water system's life-cycle average (which is the average number of years it would take at our current rate of replacement to replace the entire system) is 125 years, which sounds like a long time until you compare it to the national average of 200 years. Starting in 2016, PWD will replace old pipes at an even faster rate to get that life-cycle average down to 100 years. A baby born in 2016 could live long enough to see every mile of pipe replaced in his or her lifetime! So that's something. 

As we replace the cast-iron pipe we're using newer ductile iron pipe. (Remember "ductile" from physical science class? Think flexible... not brittle.) This will help to cut down even further on the number of breaks per year. While we may never be able to completely avoid water main breaks, our hope is that we can reduce the number and continue to improve our response and resolution time so that when the inevitable break does happen, it causes as little disruption as possible.

In the meantime, we appreciate our customers and the people of Philadelphia helping us out by keeping an eye on the streets. And we appreciate our crews that work around the clock to fix water main breaks in less than desirable conditions. If you see a water main break or suspect one because you see water where you don't think water should be, please call our 24-hour hotline at 215-685-6300.

Thanks to Our Cold Weather Heroes!

If you’ve been listening to the radio or watching TV news any morning over the last couple months, you’ve undoubtedly heard several reports about broken water mains all over the region. Though we’ve been able to dodge the snowfall that has made life very difficult in other cities, the extreme swings in temperature have done a number on our pipes.

During a mild winter, when the temperature outside only occasionally dips below 32 degrees, the temperature of the ground below tends to remain at a constant, slightly warmer temperature. As a result, we tend to see fewer wintertime water main breaks. 

During a winter like this, with air temperatures dropping into the low single digits and staying there for days, the water in the mains gets colder and denser and the traces of water in the ground freeze and expand.  The cold, dense water flowing through the pipe causes the pipe material to contract at the same time the expanding ground around the pipes pushes and pulls them in all directions. It’s a recipe for broken joints, which we’ve seen plenty of!

Each broken main has the potential to make a real mess as water coming to the surface quickly freezes over and service to homes and business is disrupted. Into these breaches, go our cold weather warriors. These repair crews are tasked with identifying the leak, shutting off the water going to the broken section of pipe (made complicated by frozen valves), pinpointing the exact location of the break (often the hardest part!), digging up the frozen ground around the break to repair it, and quickly patching the street to return life to normal. And they do this in ideally less than eight hours, usually while working in sub-freezing temperatures… with water flowing all around… in the dark! 

So what can you do to help?

PWD monitors 3,200 miles of water mains and has crews all over the city inspecting and maintaining the water and sewer system to find and repair leaks before they become bigger problems. But we need you, citizen of Philadelphia, to help out by acting as another set of eyes and ears. When you see any water that looks like it’s in the wrong place, get in touch with us to report it.

The good news is we have a bunch of ways to do so. The way to reach us directly is by calling (215) 685-6300. Granted, when the water starts flowing down your street at 5am you’re not likely to have this blog post handy so you can also call 3-1-1 and ask to be transferred to report any water or sewer emergency. Finally, if the phone isn’t your bag, you can get in touch with us directly through Twitter (we read all of the Tweets directed toward us and respond as quickly as we can). Follow us at twitter.com/PhillyH2O.

Oh, and please… feel free to let that crew who is out there in the cold, getting wet and trying to fix that break as quickly as possible, know that you appreciate the tough job they’re doing. The rest of us here at PWD certainly do!

Cold Weather Tips from PWD

With temperatures dipping into the single digits this week, it’s a great time to share our cold weather tips for winterizing your water system. Early action can help you avoid costly repairs to your pipes and water meter. Here are our tips to keep out the cold:

1. Identify the location of the shut-off valves for your water main, usually near the water meter. In emergencies, use the house-side shutoff valve to shut off your water supply.

2. Keep water meter above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

3. When cold air blows on a pipe, it is at risk of freezing. Reduce that risk by repairing or replacing broken windows, covering windows with plastic and caulking windows near water meters and pipes.

4. Wrap and insulate all water pipes in unheated areas, like your basement. Pay close attention to pipes near exterior walls, especially in kitchens and bathrooms.
5. In extremely cold weather, let water run overnight at a trickle. Moving water will help prevent the pipes from freezing.
6. Disconnect garden hoses and winterize the outdoor faucet. 


If you plan to be away from home or own a property that is vacant for an extended period of time,  drain and winterize your home plumbing system. 

The first sign of freezing pipes is reduced water flow from a faucet, so check your faucets for flow and pressure before you go to sleep and again when you wake up. If you do experience low pressure and suspect your pipes are frozen, check with a neighbor to make sure the problem is isolated to your home. 

  • Do not apply direct heat to the pipes. If your pipes or water meter freeze, use a space heater or hair dryer to heat the area. 
  • Make sure the faucets is turned on so melting water can drip out.
  • After your pipes thaw, look to see if your pipes are cracked or damaged and make sure to take the necessary precautions to prevent freezing from happening again. 
  • You may want to engage the services of a licensed, registered plumber. 

  • Shut off water with the house-side water main valve near your water meter.
  • If the break is in a hot water pipe, close the valve on top of the water heater.
  • Call a licensed and registered plumber to to repair the broken pipe. 

If your pipes freeze, PWD is not responsible and is not able to help. Protecting your pipes and water meter from the cold is well worth the effort and will ensure your water flows through the winter. 

Check out this video for more. 


Keeping out the Cold from Philadelphia Water Department on Vimeo.

To get a printable, .pdf version of these tips, click here

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