Can a Vacant Lot Be Beautiful AND Work for Our Rivers and Streams? We Say Yes.

This map provides an overview of planned improvements at 55th and Hunter. Click the image for a larger version. Credit: Philadelphia Water. 

On Tuesday, we broke ground on a new project—our first official vacant lot site—that truly speaks to what the Green City, Clean Waters program is all about.

At its core, Green City, Clean Waters is about improving the water quality in our rivers and streams. But it’s also about improving our neighborhoods with green stormwater infrastructure that greens and beautifies communities. And it’s about forging partnerships with officials, other departments and government agencies, community groups, and non-profit organizations so that we can bring the benefits of Green City, Clean Waters to a diverse range of community improvement projects—from stormwater tree trenches added to routine sidewalk repairs to rain gardens that enhance schoolyard makeovers.

Our Heston Lot and Baker Playground project has all of those elements. Located in the in the city’s Hestonville neighborhood, the playground and adjacent vacant lot at 55th and Hunter streets has long been in the care of dedicated groups like the Hestonville Civic Association and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), which has maintained the lot through the LandCare program. But, three years ago, City Councilman Curtis Jones approached Philadelphia Water to see if we wanted to get involved in efforts to revamp Baker and make Heston Lot a more inviting, park-like space for the neighborhood.

Because we’re always looking for ways to expand the Green City, Clean Waters footprint, we jumped at the chance and set to work in designing green tools for the two sites. That was in 2012. Now, construction is underway, and we’re inviting the community to an Oct. 7 ground breaking celebration to learn more about what’s in store. Click Here For Event Details.

Councilman Jones is in the process of implementing Heston Lot improvements that include fresh sidewalks, a new gazebo with benches and a wheel chair access path. The City’s Department of Public Property, which owns the lot, helped raise funds for the gazebo. Across the street at Baker, Jones is working with and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to bring improvements that include sidewalk upgrades, a Mural Arts installation and new heater. PHS is also donating a post-and-rail fence for Heston Lot. In all, Jones’ office contributed $140,000 for the projects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also generously kicked in funding to help us with these projects and another nearby vacant land site.

To enhance those improvements and meet the stormwater management goals of Green City, Clean Waters, Philadelphia Water is building rain gardens and subsurface storage trenches at both sites. While the rain gardens will provide landscaped green space for the neighborhood, we’re upping the community beautification aspects of the project by working with Mural Arts to install a water-themed mural at Heston Lot. Designed by artists Eurhi Jones and Michael Reali, the colorful piece highlights neighborhood connections to the Schuylkill River and includes aquatic wildlife such as American shad, river otters and a heron. Reali will add textural dimension to Jones’ design, making some of the water elements sparkle and shine through the use of mosaic materials.

From an environmental perspective, the Heston Lot rain garden and storage trench will soak up and filter water from surrounding streets, and can hold 3,638 cubic feet of water. That’s equivalent to filling one SEPTA bus, 389 bathtubs, or leaving the faucet running for nearly 9.5 days! Across the street at Baker, that rain garden and storage trench will manage stormwater from 11,269 square feet of nearby impervious surfaces. The playground’s green tools have a stormwater storage capacity of 1,417 cubic feet, which is equivalent to 151 bathtubs of water or leaving a faucet running for over 88 hours. Combined, these sites provide the city with an additional 2.27 “greened acres”— that’s acres of impervious surface whose stormwater is now managed by Green City, Clean Waters tools.

While the actual green tools currently being built in Hestonville are pretty typical for Green City, Clean Waters, we’re excited about the potential to bring more green infrastructure projects like this to other vacant land sites in the city. The negative impact of vacant lots on communities is well documented. If we can work with partners to tackle the challenges of vacant lots through Green City, Clean Waters, we’re effectively delivering a one-two punch that knocks out blighted areas and turns them into valuable community green spaces that also help improve our rivers and streams.

Healthier rivers and streams. Greener, more beautiful neighborhoods. That’s what Green City, Clean Waters is all about, and the work underway at Heston Lot is shining example of what the program can achieve.

We’re Preparing for Heavy Rains – You Should Too

Flooding seen along Forbidden Drive in Fairmount Park during Hurricane Irene in 2011. In that storm, the Schuylkill River hit a high water mark not seen since 1869. Photo Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Flooding seen along Forbidden Drive in Fairmount Park during Hurricane Irene in 2011. In that storm, the Schuylkill River hit a high water mark not seen since 1869. Photo Credit: Philadelphia Water.

Whether Joaquin is a hurricane, tropical storm, or something else by the time that system reaches us, chances are we’ll see some intense rain. Philadelphia Water has been preparing for the upcoming heavy rain events by clearing inlets in low lying areas and inspecting other inlets to make sure they are clean.

We’re also working to make sure any intersections we know may typically flood will be closely monitored in case they need to be closed off due to high water levels. Our staff will monitor river levels for any tidal flooding that may occur, and have crews working to maintain our systems during these intense rain events.

Here are several tips to help ensure our customers (that’s you) are prepared for the storm too:

• Make sure if you live in a flood-prone area that you remove all valuables and electronic equipment from your basement floors. If you have had basement flooding in the past, you’ll want to make sure that items are placed on a shelf at least higher than the last high water mark, or bring it to a higher floor.

• Do not enter your basement if there is standing water, as the risk of electrocution exists. You should always wait until the water subsides.

• Do your best to seal any floor drains, as the water from the sewer would typically back up through the lowest point in your home.

• If you have sewer backups into your basement, you’d want to make sure you sanitize your basement properly. One quarter cup of bleach per gallon of water is recommended to clean all surfaces that any water touches. Make sure you properly dry the basement as well to help reduce the risk of mold buildups.

• You should always have bottled water in your home as well as flashlights and batteries in case of a loss of power.

Philadelphia Water always asks our customers to be our eyes on the ground, and you can assist us in spotting any trouble areas we may not be aware of. Should you see a flooded intersection, or if you're receiving water in the basement from plumbing fixtures, call us at 215-685-6300. This information is vital to keep records of flood locations and how these storms impact our systems. We would also be able to monitor those inlets should they be part of the reason for any street flooding, not necessarily sewer backups.

If you’re a customer and you experience any basement flooding through your fixtures, you may be eligible for our Basement Backup Protection Program. Call our hotline to get more information on this free program at 215-685-6300.

And remember, above all, be safe and take flood and weather warnings seriously!

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.

New Video: Philly Water Art Strengthens River Connections

A girl checks out the Waterways art at the Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center. Photo credit: Philadelphia Water.
Waterways art at the Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center. Photo credit: Philadelphia Water.

Before we started our trailblazing Waterways collaboration with Mural Arts, we hit the streets for an informal survey looking at what people in Manayunk know about our efforts to improve the health of the Schuylkill River and whether that’s something they care about.

Since the dozens of colorful vinyl pieces created by artist Eurhi Jones for Waterways were designed to act as steppingstones linking Pretzel Park to a vastly improved Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center with tons of important stormwater features, we wanted to know how many people knew about those improvements.

In that survey, a striking 90% of the people we spoke to weren't aware of all that Venice Island's stormwater features are doing to improve Schuylkill River water quality. The number was way out of whack with the percent of people—a full 100%—who support improving the health of our waterways. In other words, everyone wants healthy rivers, but not many people know how money is being spent to achieve that goal.

So, five months after the Waterways debut, we went back out to the streets of Manayunk to see if people had a better sense of how features like the green roof  and 4 million gallon stormwater basin at Venice Island are helping to make the Schuylkill better. And, we’re pleased to say that 30.6% of respondents said they knew about Philadelphia Water’s Venice Island improvements. It might not be the 100% we all want, but it’s a start!

To further highlight Waterways and other infrastructure-enhancing public art projects, we put together a cool video about Philly Water Art projects. You can find out all about Philly Water Art while getting a unique drone’s-eye-view of Venice Island and Manayunk here:

While Waterways was designed to be a temporary street art project, the Mural Arts team has been doing weekly check-ups on the integrity of the installation, and so far it’s still looking great. Philadelphia Water has also been monitoring the effectiveness of our stormwater basin, and it’s also doing its job of keeping dirty water out of the river. If you haven’t seen Waterways in person yet, we encourage you to take a stroll and soak in the art while checking out amazing Manayunk green spaces like Pretzel Park, the Manayunk Canal and Venice Island.

Through Rain, Sleet, Snow and Papal Madness, We'll Be Here

The stars of Philadelphia Water's customer service call center: They'll be on the line 24/7 during the Pope's visit. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
The stars of Philadelphia Water's customer service call center: they'll be on the line 24/7 during the Pope's visit, as will all essential staff who respond to customer needs. Photo credit: Philadelphia Water.

With Pope Francis just days away from his historic visit to the City of Brotherly Love, you can almost feel the excitement in the air. Like other city agencies and utilities, we've been engaged in months of planning to make sure the visit goes smoothly.

But, just as important, we want to make sure our level of service to every customer remains intact throughout the Pope's stay. Because providing clean, fresh water is the most essential service a city can provide, we never take a breakand we'll be on the clock, as always, 24/7 throughout the World Meeting of Families.

That means water main and sewer repair crews and equipment will be on hand to respond to an emergency anywhere in the city. And it means that our dedicated customer service staff will be on hand to answer any calls to our water help hotline, which you can reach by dialing 215 685 6300. Even our inlet cleaning crews will be on hand to make sure trash and other debris isn't blocking stormwater from the sewers. (For the latest official Pope-in-Philly info from the city, you can visit a special page set up for the occasion by clicking here.)

Now, a little bit about what you can do. If you're a Francis fan, you probably already know that one of his first major statements, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, centered entirely on environmental concerns. In that letter, he specifically calls out our "throwaway culture" and its impact on the earth.

Like any event of this size, the Pope's visit to our city is likely to generate a huge amount of waste. In fact, one company has already pledged to donate 1 million 12 oz. disposable water bottles. It's a generous gesture and we know how important it is for people to stay hydrated, but since studies show that about 70% of plastic bottles never make it to the recycling plant, that means some 700,000 of those bottles very well may become litter that could end up in our rivers and parks and will still be polluting the earth generations from now. Even if we manage to recycle every bottle, there's also the air pollution associated with producing, delivering and refrigerating bottled water.

If you are one of the many people heading downtown for papal events, consider doing our planet a favor by using a refillable bottle that takes advantage of a modern miracle: cheap, safe and abundant tap water. Philadelphia Water will be providing water connections for event organizers, who will offer filling stations. It might seem like a small gesture in the fight against our throwaway culture, but if everyone takes the pledge to ditch disposable bottles, it will have a big impact.

Want to help spread the word about using refillable bottles? We created a funny Pope meme you can share on Facebook and Twitter with the #PopeInPhilly and #CleanWatersPHL hashtags:

The Pope thinks reusable bottles are a great idea!  PS: Keep an eye on this blog for more on the Pope's Philadelphia Water reusable bottle. It's a real thing we'll be talking about soon!

UPDATE: Samantha Phillips, director of the City of Philadelphia's Office of Emergency Management, has announced a new text alert system specifically for the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ visit.

“If you are planning to attend this historic event, we encourage you to sign up for text alerts for the Pope’s visit to get real time information of real importance,” says Phillips. “Having piece of mind is part of enjoying the event.”

Enrolling is easy. Text “papalvisit” to 888777 and you will be registered. It’s that simple, and that important.

Alerts will be sent through the duration of the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ visit. Message and data rates may apply depending upon your plan with your service provider.

In addition, the City of Philadelphia offers ReadyPhiladelphia, which allows subscribers to sign up for emergency or weather alerts by text, email, and phone or the Everbridge app. ReadyPhiladephia is available year round to those who live and work in the city. Subscribers can get alerts for up to five locations in the city that are important to them. To sign up for ReadyPhiladelphia, go to and click on “Sign Up For Alerts”.


Urban Trees: Study Says They're Really, Really Good for Us

Soak It Up! Adoption volunteers take care of street trees in an East Falls bumpout. Stormwater street trees, tree trenches, and rain gardens are just some of our green tools that commonly incorporate trees. Photo credit: Philadelphia Water.
Soak It Up! Adoption volunteers take care of street trees in an East Falls bumpout. Stormwater tree planters, tree trenches, and rain gardens are just some of our green tools that commonly incorporate trees. Photo credit: Philadelphia Water.

We came across an interesting read recently that looks at a study in Toronto that sought to determine the economic and health benefits associated with trees in urban settings. Here's a summary of the study that appeared in a July 23 New Yorker article titled "How Trees Calm Us Down":

"... a new study in the journal Scientific Reports by a team of researchers in the United States, Canada, and Australia, led by the University of Chicago psychology professor Marc Berman ... compares two large data sets from the city of Toronto, both gathered on a block-by-block level; the first measures the distribution of green space, as determined from satellite imagery and a comprehensive list of all five hundred and thirty thousand trees planted on public land, and the second measures health, as assessed by a detailed survey of ninety-four thousand respondents. After controlling for income, education, and age, Berman and his colleagues showed that an additional ten trees on a given block corresponded to a one-per-cent increase in how healthy nearby residents felt."

One percent? Doesn't sound like much, does it? But here's the quote that blew us out of the water:

"To get an equivalent increase with money, you’d have to give each household in that neighborhood ten thousand dollars—or make people seven years younger," Berman told the article's author, Alex Hutchinson.

Who wouldn't like to get their hands on an $10,000, let alone feel seven years younger?
Because so many of our Green City, Clean Waters projects use trees to either help soak up stormwater or improve overall renovations, this study made us wonder just how many new trees Green City, Clean Waters is bringing to the city.
Here's what we found:


SMP* Trees

Non SMP Trees

New Trees









In Construction








"SMP" stands for Stormwater Management Practice. Note: because the "designed" figure could change, this should be considered an estimate.

That's a lot of trees, right? And, by the calculations of this study, if there's just one household for every 10 Green City, Clean Waters trees, they would be making those households feel a collective 1,552 years younger or $2,217,000 ($2.2 million) richer. Of course, there are many more households than that in the neighborhoods improved by Green City, Clean Waters trees, so the exact benefits are much harder to tally. But the impact is clearly huge. 

That's just in the first four years of the 25-year Green City, Clean Waters plan. We still have another two decades of greening ahead of us, and we're really looking forward to a much greener Philly with even healthier rivers in 2036!

Hooked: Great Turnout for Philly Fun Fishing Fest

A young angler checks out her catch with a Fish Fest volunteer. Credit: Philadelphia Water
Ava Morales, winner of the "Most Succesful Angler" award in the Under 14 category, checks out her catch with a Fish Fest volunteer. She caught a total of nine fish, a number topped only by Leo Sheng, a professional fisherman and founder of the Extreme Philly Fishing YouTube channel. Sheng caught 39 fish. Photo credit: Philadelphia Water

A few clouds and some high water weren't enough to keep people from enjoying some fine Schuylkill River fishing on Saturday, and the Philly Fun Fishing Fest saw one of its biggest crowds ever during the 11th annual event.
Hosted by Philadelphia Water, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, the Pa. Fish and Boat Commission and Schuylkill Banks, the free fishing competition included 114 anglers this year.

The annual day of fishing showcases Schuylkill River recreational opportunities and water quality improvements while encouraging residents to develop a personal connection to this crucial drinking water source.
With free tackle and bait for use during the fest, not to mention a free pass on required licenses from the Fish and Boat Commission, the day is also a popular way for novices to give fishing a try.

But, looking at the final tally of fish, you wouldn't think this was an inexperienced crowd. In just four hours, Fish Fest participants recorded a whopping 234 catches! Species included channel catfish, white perch, blue gill sunfish, American eel and striped bass, with channel cats by far the most common catch. You can check out photos from Philly Fun Fishing Fest by clicking here.

Bob's Bait and Tackle on Ridge Avenue in East Falls donated a new rod and reel combo as the grand prize for the raffle drawing.

Fishing prizes, donated by sponsors Dick's Sporting Goods and Plano Tackle, were awarded in 16 categories:

Category Winner Prizes
Last Fish Caught Jalieha Lyles Take Me Fishing Tackle Box donated by Plano Tackle
First Fish Caught Lynell Robinson Take Me Fishing Tackle Box donated by Plano Tackle
Smallest Fish Caught Emre Olceroglu (4" White Perch) Runner up: Eric Mondelli Take Me Fishing Tackle Box donated by Plano Tackle
Youngest Participant  Ayden Chomper Tackle Box and Dick's Sporting Goods Gift Certificate  
Third Largest Fish (Adult) Jamie Lafferty JR (21.5" Catfish)    Take Me Fishing Tackle Box from Plano and Dick's Sporting Goods Gift Certificate 
Third Largest Fish (14 & Under)  Jon Conway (17" Catfish)  Take Me Fishing Tackle Box from Plano Tackle and Dick's Sporting Goods Gift Certificate 
Second Largest Fish (Senior)  George Cooper (19.75" Catfish)  Rod and Reel, Dick's Sporting Goods Gift Certificate 
Second Largest Fish  (Adult)   Fran Murray (22.25" Catfish)  Rod and Reel, Dick's Sporting Goods Gift Certificate 
Second Largest Fish  (14 & Under) Jason Miller (21in Catfish) Rod and Reel, Dick's Sporting Goods Gift Certificate    
Most Successful Angler (Senior)  Jamie Lafferty SR (8 fish) Take Me Fishing Tackle Box from Plano Tackle, Rod and Reel, Dick's Sporting Goods Gift Certificate
Most Successful Angler (Adult) Leo Sheng (39 fish) Runner-up: Emre Olceroglu Take Me Fishing Tackle Box from Plano Tackle, Rod and Reel, Dick's Sporting Goods Gift Certificate   
Most Successful Angler (14 & Under)  Ava Morales (9 fish) Take Me Fishing Tackle Box from Plano Tackle, Rod and Reel, Dick's Sporting Goods Gift Certificate  
Largest Fish (Senior)  James Preston (20.75in Catfish) Spiderwire Tackle Box, Dick's Sporting Goods Gift Certificate
Largest Fish (Adult) John McCann (22.50" Catfish)  Spiderwire Tackle Box, Dick's Sporting Goods Gift Certificate 
Largest Fish (14 & Under)  Marcus Morales (22.25" Catfish)  Spiderwire Tackle Box, Dick's Sporting Goods Gift Certificate

Living Lands and Waters Leaves Philly with 32,832 Pounds Less Trash

Two Dumpsters full of trash from the Delaware River.
This trash was collected from the Delaware River by crews working with Living Lands and Waters in late August, early September. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

Living Lands and Waters, an Illinois-based non-profit dedicated to cleaning up America’s rivers, spent the end of the summer on the Delaware River. And they found lots and lots of trash.

In a cleanup effort that lasted from August 20 to September 2, LL&W travelled up and down the river in a pair of boats designed for collecting trash.

Here are the stats from their stay:

• LLW hosted a total of 20 cleanups

• 237 people from the region came out to gather trash

• 32,831.5 pounds (about 16.5 tons) of garbage were removed from the Delaware River

• 330 of the bags collected contained non-recyclable trash

• 353 (over 50 percent) of the bags collected contained recyclables

• 308 tires were removed and later recycled by Bridgestone/Firestone

Philadelphia Water took part in the effort, and one of the most striking aspects of the cleanup was just how many plastic bottles litter the banks of our biggest river. Nearly every foot of the shoreline near the Betsy Ross Bridge contained numerous plastic bottles, and only the infuriatingly hard to collect debris left behind by Styrofoam coffee cups came close to outnumbering this form of trash.

If anyone participating in that effort wasn’t an advocate for reusable water bottles and coffee mugs, they surely are now. Click here to see some photos (including some of a pickup truck literally overflowing with collected plastic bottles) from one of the cleanups with Philadelphia Water.