Wissahickon

Earth Day Exhibit Reveals Philly's Trash Problem

Artist Bradley Maule works on "One Man's Trash." Fairmount Water Works Photo.
Artist Bradley Maule works on his "One Man's Trash" exhibit. Fairmount Water Works photo.

Anyone who’s taken the time to enjoy the many scenic opportunities afforded by Philly’s waterways has had that moment—you’re soaking in the green and sunshine, marveling at the natural beauty of a river or stream cutting through the urban landscape. And then, some ugly piece of litter breaks the mirage, reminding you that you are, indeed, still in a very big city. One with a trash problem.

Bradley Maule, a Pennsylvania native and Philly transplant, has had that moment more times than he cares to count. Like many nature lovers, he often had the impulse to pick up litter someone else carelessly dropped while hiking along one of his favorite haunts, the Wissahickon Creek in the city’s Northwest. His distaste for the pervasive trash, though, soon morphed into a sort of obsession. Out of this obsession was born “One Man’s Trash,” the latest exhibit at our Fairmount Water Works, which opens (quite appropriately) for today’s Earth Day festivities.

The first in a series of “Culture and Conversation” events that celebrate the Water Works’ 200th anniversary, “One Man’s Trash” is the culmination of a year’s worth of trash collected by Maule during weekly walks in Wissahickon Valley Park, an 1,800-acre wooded gem with the Wissahickon Creek at its heart. The Mt. Airy resident and artist laid out his plans for the project on his website, Philly Skyline, and described his yearlong effort for readers:

Each week, once a week, for all of 2014, I went on 2-3 hour hikes, picking up all the litter I encountered. If something was too big to haul out, I made a note of it on my phone’s text app and made arrangements to remove it with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and Friends of the Wissahickon, the official partners on this project.

Luckily for us, Maule drew the line at picking up “organic litter”—a distinction that means we don’t have to look at a display of rotting apple cores or bags of dog waste!

The Water Works will unveil Maule’s work, which includes infographics reflecting his meticulous tally of collected litter, during a 5:30 p.m. opening reception. The exhibit will be on display through June 26, after which all the junk he’s collected will be recycled, donated and otherwise disposed of.

"A timely exhibit for Earth Day, ‘One Man's Trash’ brings to the forefront the amount of litter accrued on land, and provides an insightful look into how our behavior truly affects our water supply," says Karen Young, executive director of Fairmount Water Works.

When asked what he wants people to take away from the exhibit, Maule says he wants to inspire “…deeper consideration for the waste we each generate” and to foster awareness “that we need to treat our parks better.” In addition to compiling all the trash, he took time to look at the broader waste tied to a specific trail-side menace: the plastic water bottle.

"One of the most common objects I encountered over the course of the year was plastic water bottles—255 of them (with 43 brand names)," Maule told us. Maule also says his focus on the Wissahickon underscored a troubling connection between littering in parks and fouling up our waterways. "Almost all of Philly's big parks — Fairmount, Wissahickon, Pennypack, Cobbs, Tacony, Poquessing—exist where they do because of watersheds," notes Maule. "Unless it's picked up and properly disposed of, litter ultimately ends up in our waterways, whether directly in a place like the Wissahickon, or after a journey from city streets through gutters and sewers."

Click here to register for the “One Man’s Trash exhibit. The event is free, but space is limited.

News Stream: Iodine-131 Levels Tied To Thyroid Patients

The Philadelphia Inquirer offered coverage of Wednesday night's panel discussion on iodine-131 at the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center. Officials from PWD, the EPA, Pennsylvania DEP and the city Department of Health were able to confirm that detected levels of radioactive iodine-131 are due to thyroid patients who pass the substance to waterways through their urine. (I-131 is used to treat about half of thyroid-cancer cases in the area.) While the levels of iodine-131 pose no risk to public health in Philadelphia, some questions remain. According to the article

"One mystery officials have pondered is why iodine-131 isn't showing up in many other places, or is found at lower levels than they see here. One reason: most other cities aren't looking for iodine-131. Plus, the Philadelphia region is a medical center, and a lot of sewage-treatment plants discharge into waterways that then flow past Philadelphia and into its drinking-water intakes."

Visit our Iodine-131 information page, which includes FAQs, fact sheets and links to more news items.

This Place Is BMPing: Saylors Grove

Each week, we profile a BMP—short for Best Management Practices—to demonstrate how local businesses, organizations and neighbors are helping to keep our streams and rivers clean by managing stormwater on their property.


Saylors Grove before renovation


Saylors Grove after the creation of a stormwater wetland

Before the Philadelphia Water Department constructed a stormwater wetland at Saylors Grove in Fairmount Park, the area received an excessive amount of runoff that drained into Monoshone Creek, a tributary to the Wissahickon, resulting in erosion of the Monoshone and impaired water quality. The creation of a one-acre wetland in 2006 now handles approximately 25 million gallons of urban stormwater each year, slowing the flow to the Monoshone and filtering the stormwater naturally by removing pollutants as the water cascades over rocks en route to the wetland.

PWD continues to monitor this stormwater wetland to determine the reduction in stormwater flow to the creek and analyze its performance. It is estimated that the wetland intercepts 73% of the watershed's annual runoff.

Learn more about this stormwater BMP project, find it on a map and view photos at  the Temple-Villanova Sustainable Stormwater Initiative project page. After the jump, another photo of the fully vegetated wetland.

11 For 2011: Bells Mill Stream Restoration

PWD's Watersheds blog closes out the year with a list of 11 green missions accomplished in 2011, from innovative stormwater management projects and stream restorations to groundbreaking policy agreements and energy-generating solar arrays.

PWD has been working to return streams to their natural state and create stable, healthy waterways able to sustain native vegetation and aquatic life. 2011 saw the restoration of Bells Mill—a 5,100-foot tributary to the Wissahickon—nearly completed, with grading and rock structures in place that will help stabilize the streambank and reduce erosion. With the addition of some landscaping in spring 2012, the project will be fully complete.

Elsewhere in the Wissahickon watershed, stormwater wetlands at Cathedral Run and Wises Mill began functioning this year. These wetlands mitigate the impact of stormwater flows, reduce the amount of sediment that ends up in the streams and increase the diversity of aquatic vegetation in those wetland areas.

This Place Is BMPing: Wises Mill Run Stormwater Wetland

Each week, we profile a BMP—short for Best Management Practices—to demonstrate how local businesses, organizations and neighbors are helping to keep our streams and rivers clean by managing stormwater on their property.


Photo: Friends of the Wissahickon

Wises Mill Run, a tributary of Wissahickon Creek, is a waterway that's severely impacted by stormwater flows. After storms, the nearby neighborhood's storm sewers discharge a large volume of water into Wises Mill Run, resulting in erosion of the creek's bed. The Philadelphia Water Department led a project to divert runoff from the storm sewer into a two-tiered stormwater wetland that can hold 150,000 cubic feet of water. This wetland reduces peak flows to the creek by storing runoff before discharging it into the creek. The photo above depicts the wetland at work after Hurricane Irene.

Learn more about this stormwater BMP project, find it on a map and view photos at  the Temple-Villanova Sustainable Stormwater Initiative project page.

Scenes From A Storm: Hurricane Irene, Part 2

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Photo: Friends of the Wissahickon

Today's post-Hurricane Irene photos come from the Wissahickon, where at least one crayfish (above) was inconvenienced by flooding.

After the jump, more shots of the raging Wissahickon, all courtesy of the Friends of the Wissahickon.

In The News: Water, Watersheds Everywhere


A member of the Miss Rockaway Armada at the Schuylkill launch site (Photo: Tod Seelie)

Today's Philadelphia Inquirer featured a trifecta of water and watershed-related news:

On the front page, reporter Sandy Bauers details the detective work the Philadelphia Water Department is doing to track down the source of iodine-131 levels observed in the Wissahickon in the spring. The prime suspect? Iodine-131 that is present in medication used to treat thyroid cancer. Full article

"Officials from the Water Department, the EPA, and the DEP emphasize that the levels detected are tiny and don't constitute a public health threat. Philadelphia's drinking water meets standards for radioactivity and remains safe, they say. Even if it was getting into streams above Philadelphia, iodine-131 has such a short half-life - half the radioactivity is gone after eight days - that amounts would be much reduced by the time they were swept downstream.

But, said Chris Crockett, the Water Department's deputy commissioner of environmental services, 'we don't want any iodine-131 in our water. I don't want it there for me or my kids and my family. And I don't want it for our neighbors and citizens.'"

Be sure to read our Iodine-131 Q&A for PWD's official word on the topic. Once again, Philadelphia's drinking water is safe to drink.

Elsewhere, a group of artists known as the Miss Rockaway Armada is building a salvaged-materials flotilla/performance space for a September art installation in the Schuylkill and Delaware. Commissioned by the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the installation features music, theatrical performances and ... oh, just go here and try to figure it out. Full article

"'This project is more about reinterpreting the water space in Philadelphia,' [said Tod Seelie]. 'The experience of breaking the shore-to-water barrier and actually being in the water has a lot more implications than you might think.'"

And finally, a Colorado environmental technologies firm is unveiling a demonstration project on a Lancaster County farm that seeks to reduce the amount of nitrogen from cow waste. Excess nitrogen levels in groundwater and rivers due to agricultural waste has a damaging effect on the Chesapeake Bay. Full article

'"There is a real pressing need to find alternative ways of handling manure," said Jan Jarrett, president of PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy group.

The federal Clean Water Act in the last 40 years has reduced so-called point source pollution or effluent from factories and sewage treatment plants. But farming, which was exempt from the act, increasingly has been responsible for more pollution, damaging waterways by flooding them with nutrients.

When manure is used as fertilizer, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other potentially damaging chemicals eventually (often in about two years) make their way to groundwater and streams, and to bigger waters such as the Chesapeake.'

Take A Hike

Philadelphia's rivers and streams provide ample opportunity for recreation; events in the coming week suggest it's hiking season in the parks and refuges near the water:

At the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Tinicum, there's a Summer Bird Walk on Saturday, July 9 and a Birding By Ear Walk on Sunday, July 10. Check here for the full summer schedule of events.

The Friends of the Wissahickon are sponsoring a three-mile hike on Wednesday, July 13. The hike is guided by a trail ambassador and begins at the Valley Green Inn: "Experience caves, trek the famous Fingerspan Bridge, cross Devil's Pool, discover The Spring House, Shakespeare's Rock, learn about major improvements to the trails, the history of the Livezey Mill, and other areas of the park and hopefully, spot some local wildlife." Click here to register for free.

The Lower Merion Conservancy has hula hoops and butterflies on Sunday, July 10 and a free Summer Evening Hike on Wednesday, July 13 in Gladwyne: "Hike from the lush creekside trail in Turtle Hollow, past the Henry Foundation, to Riverbend and back through the Philadelphia Country Club. A lovely way to complete the exploration of bridlepaths that connect Rolling Hill Park to Riverbend."

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