A Banner Summer for the Schuylkill River

The Schuylkill River Trail, America's Best Urban Trail, in Center City. Photo courtesy of Montgomery County Planning Commission.
The Schuylkill River Trail, America's Best Urban Trail, in Center City. Photo courtesy of Montgomery County Planning Commission.

The Schuylkill River is closing out the summer in grand style and getting national attention as a premier destination for urban nature lovers.

On Wednesday, Philadelphia Water joined officials and groups from across the region on the river's banks to celebrate the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT) being named America's "Best Urban Trail" by USA Today. The now 65-mile pathway connecting Philadelphia and the upper reaches of the river won the top honor in an online voting campaign held earlier in the summer, and the designation has helped bring a spotlight to the SRT's scenic and functional qualities.

Eventually, the trail will grow to about 130 miles and connect the city and Pottstown in Montgomery County. The recent restoration of the Schuylkill Canal Towpath in Upper Providence Township is another win for the trail that added some fresh ground for cyclists and hikers to explore.

John Quigley, secretary of the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection, was at the Wednesday celebration and said the Best Urban Trail status points to a growing appreciation for the river—something he hopes will translate to more people advocating for the environmental health of the Schuylkill.

“What we’re celebrating is not just about recreation. This project is about building a constituency for the river,” Quigley told Mercury News, which covered the event. Check out the full Mercury story here

For Philadelphia Water and partners like the Schuylkill Action Network and the Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area, the national recognition is proof that decades of working to improve water quality is paying off.
The river also got lots of attention during last week's successful INVISIBLE RIVER fest, and, as demonstrated by this Sept. 2 photo of Bassmaster champs Mike Iaconelli and Takahiro Omori on the Schuylkill, the waterway is even attracting professional fishermen from places as far away as Japan:

Takahiro Omori on the Schuylkill.
Mike Iaconelli & Takahiro Omori above the Columbia Ave. Railroad Bridge via Mid-Atlantic Youth Anglers.

Omori, who was in the area for the 2015 Bassmaster Elite at Chesapeake Bay, came up to Philly and reportedly had an action-packed day of fishing on the river thanks to the Mid-Atlantic Youth Anglers association, which helped him explore some of their favorite spots.

Speaking of fishing, don't forget to sign up for the Philly Fun Fishing Fest on Sept. 12registration closes Sept. 10! RSVP by clicking here.

For more on America's Best Urban Trail, give this blog a read: 10 Ways to Celebrate the Schuylkill River Trail’s Designation as Best Urban Trail 

New and Improved Ralph Brooks Park Manages Stormwater with Green Tools

Top: City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, Mayor Michael Nutter, Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug, Connor Barwin of the Philadelphia Eagles and others cut the ribbon to open Ralph Brooks Park in Point Breeze. Bottom: A new rain garden stretches along the basketball courts, which sit atop a storage trench that will hold stormwater. The rain garden will be filled with plants next month. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Top: City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, Mayor Michael Nutter, Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug, Connor Barwin of the Philadelphia Eagles and others cut the ribbon to open Ralph Brooks Park in Point Breeze. Bottom: A new rain garden stretches along the basketball courts, which sit atop a storage trench that holds stormwater. The rain garden will be filled with plants next month. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

After three years of fundraising, planning, design, and construction, the Point Breeze community officially welcomed a tremendously improved Ralph Brooks Park at a ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday.

The project was made possible through the collaboration of several city and state agencies, Pa. State Representative Jordan Harris, City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, the non-profit groups Urban Roots, Mural Arts, PHS, Philly Rising, 25th Century Foundation, Tasker Street Baptist Church and the Make the World Better Foundation (MTWB), founded by Philadelphia Eagles player Connor Barwin.

That broad coalition allowed for a complete renovation of this public space, with improvements covering everything from new playground equipment and basketball courts to a community garden and green stormwater features that add to Philadelphia Water’s Green City, Clean Waters infrastructure.

The stormwater features include a rain garden at the southern end of the park, and an underground storage trench beneath the basketball courts along the western edge of the park. Combined, those green tools can manage over 16,000 gallons of stormwater—it would take 320 homes with rain barrels to store that much stormwater runoff—and the trees, shrubs and other plants add to the beauty of Ralph Brooks Park. While the ribbon cutting featured plants donated by Bartram’s Garden, the actual vegetation for the site will be planted in October, which will give the plants a better chance to become established and thrive.

“This partnership demonstrates that green infrastructure projects can manage stormwater and enhance community efforts to improve and beautify public spaces,” Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug said of the project.

More: See Photos From the Ralph Brooks Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Other speakers at the event included Mayor Nutter and Barwin, who raised $170,000 for the project through a benefit concert. Philadelphia Water contributed approximately $152,000 to the project.

The Ralph Brooks renovations are part of Green City, Clean Waters’ Green Parks program, which works with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to leverage resources for park improvements and bring green stormwater tools to park sites.

Philadelphia Water is also working with partners from the Ralph Brooks project to bring similar improvements to Smith Playground in the West Passyunk neighborhood. Green infrastructure improvements at Smith are scheduled to begin construction next summer.

Urban Wildlife Podcast Explores Cool Philadelphia Water Job

Joe Perillo and Lance Butler of Philadelphia Water with a monster striped bass. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Joe Perillo and Lance Butler of Philadelphia Water with a monster striped bass. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

Earlier this summer the locally-produced Urban Wildlife Podcast sat down with our very own Joe Perillo to talk about what creatures lurk in Philly's waters. And if anyone knows, it's Joe.

After all, it's his job: Perillo is an aquatic biologist in Philadelphia Water's Bureau of Laboratory Services division who, along with fellow aquatic biologist Lance Butler, helped get our bio-monitoring program off the ground starting in 2001.

Aquatic bio-monitoring, the collection and study of things living in our watersheds, is a tool Philadelphia Water deploys to learn more about the health of our urban waterways.

Here's how Perillo described the value of bio-monitoring to Urban Wildlife, which is produced by reptile and amphibian enthusiast Billy Brown and West Philly birder and naturalist Tony Croasdale, who has helped tons of kids learn about nature in Cobbs Creek through his Wild West Philly docent program (supported by Philadelphia Water):

When you take a water sample, you're basically taking a snapshot. That's one second of what that water body is like. When you start looking at aquatic life like [algae] you're assimilating days' worth of information. When you move up to higher forms of life, such as invertebrates, their life cycle is months, so now you're taking in all that environmental information. When you go to fish, you're talking about years. So instead of just grabbing that one snapshot of that one second of what the water is like, by looking at the aquatic life, you're getting longer term pictures of the health of the rivers and, specifically, what's impacting the health: what's keeping it from being healthier, or being impaired or polluted. Is it stormwater? Is it sewer overflows? Is it habitat degradation, sedimentation?

We thought Perillo's Urban Wildlife chat was so good (topics such as drunken Philly alligators are covered), we decided to ask him a few questions of our own to learn a bit more about his bio-monitoring work, which involves everything from briefly stunning fish en masse with a cattle prod-like tool to collecting microscopic plant life.

Philly Watersheds: It seems like the public only sees and hears about what you guys are doing when you happen to come across a 40-inch striper and your picture ends up on Philly.com, but I assume your day-to-day work is a bit different than just electroshocking trophy bass. How much of the time are you out there collecting these living samples, and how much of the time are you studying the information you get from the samples?

Perillo: My work is strongly tied with the different seasons of the year and varying life cycles of diverse aquatic organisms. Some of the creatures we study (like shad) are only present in this region for a couple weeks in the entire year. I would say, in a general sense, that late winter through the spring and into early summer is the busiest time of year; I’m almost always in the field and hardly in the lab during this time period. My work moves indoors when ice starts to form on our waterways, so December, January, and February we are in the lab looking into microscopes, analyzing data, and writing reports.

PW: Does Philadelphia Water have labs where scientists study fish and other biological samples, or do you mainly send the samples out to another lab and then study the results when they come back?

Perillo: We work closely with state and federal scientiststo collect, analyze, and interpret results.

PW: What does Philadelphia Water do with the information it collects from aquatic life samples?

Perillo: Most information is related to State and Federal Permit Compliance requirements and ends up in comprehensive reports to the major environmental regulators. I have published some of our data in peer-reviewed scientific journals and presented research at international scientific conferences.

PW: In the years that you've been doing bio-monitoring in Philadelphia, have you observed any trends?

Perillo: A surprising trend for most folks is that in many instances water quality and biotic integrity is better in the city portion of a watershed than out in the suburbs.

PW: And, of course, what's the coolest aquatic life you've ever found in Philadelphia?

Perillo: Several years ago, was the first time in almost 200 years that an adult American Shad was found above Valley Forge in the Schuylkill River. At one time this species was the king of the river, shaping much of the cultural and economic history; but it was nearly wiped out during the Industrial Revolution due to severe pollution, over-harvesting, and construction of dams/loss of habitat.

To learn more about Perillo's work out on Philadelphia's rivers and hear some great stories about the natural world at your doorstep, listen to the full Urban Wildlife Podcast episode here (Joe comes in around the 9 minute mark). You can also read about our fish monitoring program (the source of those great striped bass pics) here.

Fish Fest: Inspiring Life-Long Watershed Stewards

Watch our video to learn more about the Philly Fun Fishing Fest.

There’s something about fishing—the wonder, perhaps, that you inevitably experience when you cast your line into the water and hope that something will appear, alive and fighting, on the other end—that makes it an especially potent way of getting people hooked on "watershed stewardship."

Being a watershed steward is a fancy way of saying you care about the rivers, streams, creeks, wetlands, brooks and bays around us; Philadelphia alone has seven watersheds, all of them feeding into the much larger Delaware River watershed, stretching from the cold, wild trout-filled streams of the Catskill Mountains in New York all the way down to the salty Delaware Bay, where blue crab and flounder swim.

We want everyone in the Philadelphia region to think of themselves as watershed stewards because people who care about the source of their drinking water make our job—protecting and treating that water—that much easier. Whether it’s voting for elected officials who care about water quality or just picking up pet waste to keep it from washing into rivers and streams, we can count on watershed stewards to be on our side when it comes to making sure the Delaware watershed is in tip-top shape.

That’s the sentiment behind the Philly Fun Fishing Fest (Fish Fest for short), a Schuylkill River tradition now in its 11th year. It’s a day when anyone, old or young, fishing license or not, can come down to the banks of this amazing river and, we hope, make that special connection that leads to a life of watershed stewardship.

"Our source water protection efforts, from working with partners far upstream to reducing the amount of stormwater entering waterways from city streets, are all guided by our ‘One Water’ approach, which recognizes that everything we do comes back to the goal of having healthy rivers," says Tiffany Ledesma, a member of Philadelphia Water’s public engagement team. "Fish Fest is a great, fun way for people of all ages to experience what a healthy Schuylkill River has to offer in a hands-on way, and we want residents to have a direct stake in our efforts to take water quality to the next level."

This year’s Fish Fest, a totally free catch-and-release only event, will take place Saturday, September 12, from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. (rain date: Oct. 3). Participants must register and fill out a quick form, which you can find by clicking here. The deadline for signups is Thursday, September 10. We’ll even have fishing poles available for loan and worms to use as bait. Experts will also be on hand to teach you how to cast and identify the fish species caught.
Prizes for a variety of categories, including the biggest (AND smallest!) fish, will be awarded during an 11:30 a.m. ceremony. To make the day even more fun, we’ll be holding the second annual Crazy Hat contest, open to all. Get creative with your head gear for the chance to reel in a prize!

What to Expect
Anglers during last year’s fest recorded nearly four dozen catches, and species identified included channel catfish, striped bass, bluegill, American eel, American shad, white perch, pumpkinseed sunfish, and red-breast sunfish.

Philly Fun Fishing Fest 2014: See Photos from Last Year, Including Fish Measuring and Crazy Hats

REMEMBER: Registration and Release of Liability are required to fish at the Fishing Fest. The registration must be completed ahead of time and the release form must be brought on the day of the event in order to participate. Register here and download the Release of Liability here. Questions? Call : 215-685-6300 or email us at StreetGreening@gmail.com.

Philadelphia Water’s partners for this event include Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, the Pa. Fish and Boat Commission, Schuylkill Banks, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Plano Tackle.

Want to Spread the Word? Download a Fish Fest Flyer by Clicking the Image Below:

Fish Fest Official Flyer 

Throwback Thursday: Hydrants Are for Fires, Not for Fun...

A 1985 video from Philadelphia Water uses an original rap to warn people about the dangers of using fire hydrants to cool off.
A 1986 video from Philadelphia Water uses an original rap to warn people about the dangers of using fire hydrants to cool off. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

...if you want to play smart, don't let them run! That's the message in this (now hilarious) public service announcement from 1986 featuring a punchy little beat, original rap lyrics, and some, uh, funky dancing and clothes/hair styles to match. Take 30 seconds and treat yourself to this gem from 1980s Philly:


Done laughing yet? OK, now for the serious part: Plenty has changed since we put that out 29 years ago, but the underlying message is still the same. Opening hydrants to cool off decreases water pressure and makes it difficult for firefighters to do their jobs, plus it can damage water mains. The water pressure alone from a hydrant can cause serious injury or even death, especially if there are little kids around.

From a waste perspective, the amount of water used in one hour by an open fire hydrant can be equivalent to a household's water usage for an entire year.
In 2008 alone, taxpayers had to pay $1 million for damage caused by residents who opened hydrant caps. Fire hydrants are used for the sole purpose of fire hazards. Please avoid uncapping them. (If you see an open hydrant and want to report it, we updated the number at the end of the video: 215 685 6300.)

Lucky for us, the city has invested in lots of safe options for cooling off, including spraygrounds, pools and official cooling centers (remember, rivers and creeks are not a safe option). You can find all of the city's hot weather resources by clicking here.

Now, can we hear that hot beat one more time?

H/T to YouTube user Allison Venezio for uploading the original video earlier today, it made our morning!

PS: Know anything about the performers in this video? Shoot us a line at StreetGreening@gmail.com with the subject "Hydrant PSA".

What Plumbers and Contractors Need to Know About GSI

We can't say it enough: Green City, Clean Waters represents a major shift in the way we think about and do infrastructure. That means the tools we use to effectively manage stormwater—collectively called Green Stormwater Infrastructure or GSI—look and work differently than the traditional pipes and sewers people are used to seeing.

One big difference is that these green tools have a much more noticeable presence in neighborhoods because they use things like trees, grasses, soil and stones on the surface to slow down water from storms that can overwhelm our sewers. In addition to managing stormwater, these green tools are also designed to have the same community benefits we get from having beautiful parks and gardens in our neighborhoods; in many cases, a stormwater tree trench or a rain garden can look pretty much just like your everyday street tree or landscaped garden.
That tendency to blend in can be misleading though, because GSI can be sort of like an iceberg: we see the green tip of it on the sidewalk, in a park or on the street, but the bulk of the infrastructure is spread out over a large area underground.
This diagram of typical street tree trench is a good example:

A diagram of a typical street tree designed by Philadelphia Water.
A diagram of a typical street tree designed by Philadelphia Water.

Because GSI is a relatively new concept, even plumbers and construction contractors aren't always aware of its presence or don't realize how much is going on below the surface. That can lead to costly mistakes that could damage Green City, Clean Waters infrastructure and hurt a neighborhood's ability to manage stormwater.

To avoid accidentally damaging these important tools, we put together a simple FAQ for plumbers and contractors to help them understand how GSI works, what it looks like, and what they should do if they're working with or near Philadelphia Water's green infrastructure. Click on the image below to get a full-size copy of the GSI FAQ for plumbers and contractors, which includes important phone numbers and contact information. If you're a resident and think you see construction that's damaging green infrastructure in your neighborhood, this FAQ sheet could be useful for you too:

GSI FAQ for Plumbers and Contractors

If you are involved with a community group that hosts zoning meetings or have other interactions with developers in your community, please feel free to share this helpful FAQ with them, especially if you know a project could impact nearby green infrastructure. With Green City, Clean Waters set to increase its footprint dramatically over the next two decades, it's more important than ever for the development community to understand how green tools work so we can all meet the goal of improving our water quality!

UPDATE: Almost 10K Pounds of Trash Removed; Can You Help Too?

A crew of volunteers celebrates after hauling an impressive load of trash from the Delaware River. Credit: Living Lands and Waters.
A crew of volunteers celebrates after hauling an impressive load of trash from the Delaware River. Credit: Living Lands and Waters.

Philadelphia Water is sponsoring a big clean up on the Delaware River with Living Lands and Waters and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, and we're still looking for some fresh volunteers out on the water. In the first few clean up days, members of the community who care about the health of the Delaware have already collected nearly 10,000 pounds of trash!

That's almost five tons of litter and other pollution that would otherwise be hurting wildlife habitats and damaging a major Philadelphia drinking water source.
So don't just imagine what we could accomplish with a few more volunteer crewsput an exclamation point on the end of your summer and join us!

Clean ups will be held this week and weekend, and continue through Tuesday, September 1. Designated work days will include two shifts, one from 9 a.m. to noon and one from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. In order to coordinate sites, all volunteers must RSVP by clicking here and filling out the form a the bottom of the page. Supplies and free food will be provided.

Cleaning crews will be based out of the following locations:

Penn’s Landing – 101 S Columbus Blvd Philadelphia, PA 19106 (Walnut East parking lot, closest to the Seaport Museum and Marina)

Ridley Park Marina- 401 S Swarthmore Ave Ridley Park, PA 19078

Delair Boat Ramp – 17 Derousse Avenue Pennsauken, NJ 08110

More details will be emailed to volunteers prior to event.

Living Lands & Waters is an Illinois-based environmental organization established by Chad Pregracke in 1998. Read more about the fascinating story behind Living Lands and Waters on their website. Questions? Contact Living Lands and Waters at 563.505.8321 or amber@livinglandsandwaters.org.

From the Living Lands and Waters Instagram account:

Almost 10,000lbs of trash removed from the #DelawareRiver in just three #rivercleanups! #Philadelphia

A photo posted by Living Lands & Waters (@livinglandsandwaters) on

See What a Healthier River Looks Like at INVISIBLE RIVER

Performers from INVISIBLE RIVER 2014 hang suspended from the Strawberry Mansion Bridge. Credit: INVISIBLE RIVER.
Performers from INVISIBLE RIVER 2014 hang suspended from the Strawberry Mansion Bridge. Credit: INVISIBLE RIVER.

We have lots of ways to measure the improving quality of Philadelphia's two rivers, but one of our favorite is simply seeing more and more people think of the Schuylkill and Delaware as beautiful, natural places to visit for recreation and relaxation. Since everything we do comes back to protecting and enchancing water quality, we see the change in the way people think about our rivers as a real metric of success.

But, as much as our rivers have improved, not everyone knows about it, and many people are still physically cut off from accessing these urban treasures.
Helping to nudge people to the scenic and natural beauty of the Schuylkill River is INVISIBLE RIVER, a nonprofit whose mission is "to use art, outdoor activities and dynamic programming to build wise stewardship of our rivers and waterways, to create unique and otherworldly artistic celebrations and to engage the public in art and environmental education."

We can get behind that!

Over the last few years, INVISIBLE RIVER has created a lot of buzz with stunning acrobatic performances featuring dancers suspended from the Strawberry Mansion Bridge, with the river acting as a breathtaking backdrop.
This year's big event will take place Saturday, August 29th from 2 to 8 p.m. and incorporates what Artistic and Executive Director Alie Vidich calls "a more open format than previous events."

Rather than just one big performance, this year will be more like a festival on the river that kicks off with an opening performance followed by lots of cool activities, with their trademark acrobatics as the grand finale.
A processional led by Positive Movement & Ecstatic Drill Team starts things off at Mander Recreation Center at 2140 N 33rd St. and Diamond Drive at 2 p.m., and a full day of activities will center around the festival area in the parking lot next to the St. Joseph’s University Boathouse, 2200 Kelly Drive. Participants are encourgaged to park at Mander take a walk to the river from there.

As one of the event sponsors, Philadelphia Water will be there too, partnering with Mural Arts to host some activities showing people how the green tools that make up Green City, Clean Waters are making the Schuylkill River even healthier. We'll also have members of our education team from the Fairmount Water Works there to provide some family fun.

Other INVISIBLE RIVER activities include free boating and paddling lessons, fishing lessons for kids, food trucks and vendors, and a beer garden.
Those who want to catch the Strawberry Mansion Bridge performance should be there at 5:30 p.m. There are lots of cool options for watching the performance, including "Bring Your Own Boat" and  a "Front Row Seats" program that lets people rent boats from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Check out the INVISIBLE RIVER website for more details, including transportation options like bike rentals and a special Phlash shuttle to help people get to the river.

"We have seen a change in the way people view the river, especially with the artists who interact with the river and the anglers who fish in the Schuylkill," says Vidich. "But for some people, there's still this cloud of past pollution hanging over the river, and we hope events like this can help change that."