Throwback Thursday: Our Infrastructure Foundations

In this week's throwback post, we see some large mains under construction
August 4th, 1904— almost exactly 111 years ago.
As the three large, cast iron mains are laid in a Northeast neighborhood, some residents have gathered to watch the construction activity.

We couldn't help but take a closer look at the awesome facial hair on the guy on the right side of the photo (see the close-up of him below). Maybe this is really Fishtown, circa 2015?

New Living Wall Acts as a Billboard for Green Tools

Right: The frame of the living wall with native plants ready for installation. Right: The nearly completed wall before the installation of four stormwater tanks. Credit: Philadelphia Water and SHIFT_DESIGN.
Right: The frame of the living wall with native plants ready for installation. Right: The nearly completed wall before the installation of four stormwater tanks. Credit: Philadelphia Water and SHIFT_DESIGN.

Philadelphia residents and tourists in the city’s historic Independence Hall area can now soak in a truly stunning piece of green infrastructure. Thanks to a partnership between Philadelphia Water, the National Park Service, Independence National Historical Park and SHIFT_DESIGN, a breathtaking new “living wall" is now managing stormwater runoff from the roof of the Department of Interior building located at 3rd and Walnut streets.

And, if the steady stream of passersby who stopped to admire and ask about the project during last week’s installation is any indicator, the colorful grid of flowers and grasses is already a success from a public education standpoint. 

Featuring over 70 individual plants—all of them native to Pennsylvania—suspended from a vertical structure, the living wall collects rainwater from the roof in four stainless steel tanks. Instead of flowing into Philadelphia’s sewer system, which can become overwhelmed during intense rainstorms, the water is pumped from the storage tanks via solar power into irrigation lines that sustain the plant life.

The wall was made possible as a result of the partnership between Philadelphia Water, the National Park Service and the Pennsylvania Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Coastal Nonpoint Pollution (CNPP) grant program. A Philadelphia-based business, SHIFT_DESIGN conceived, fabricated and installed the living wall, even donating some of their services to make this billboard for the functional beauty of green stormwater infrastructure a reality.

"For Philadelphia Water, this project is part of ongoing efforts to promote a better understanding of our Green City, Clean Waters program," says Paul Fugazzotto, a member of the department’s public engagement team who worked to develop the partnership. "This living wall will inspire businesses and residents to pursue creating their own innovative, beautiful green tools."

Mario Gentile, founder of SHIFT_DESIGN, says that, like all of the firm’s projects, the living wall was made using completely locally sourced and recycled materials.

"This is a completely self-contained system, so it’s not taxing the grid from an electricity or water perspective," says Gentile. "We like to do projects like this to prove that it’s doable."

Drexel students Oliver Law, Hanna Karraby, Aimee Turner and Iat Chi Sin are working with SHIFT_DESIGN through a cooperative program and helped install the wall, which is scheduled to be finished this week after a two-and-a-half year process. 

Check out our Flickr page to see more images of this stunning living wall and the installation process. 

'Uncover the Green' Lids Highlight the ‘Underdog’ of GSI

Inset: Laura Hoover (at right) with her winning design. At bottom left: a new "Uncover the Green" clean out lid.
Inset: a new "Uncover the Green" clean out lid. Laura Hoover (at right) poses with her winning design at the Fairmount Water Works.

If anyone ever said infrastructure can’t be functional and eye-catching, we’re proving them wrong.

Over the last week, our Green Stormwater Infrastructure Maintenance team (GSIMN) has been busy installing artistic "clean out covers" that aren’t just essential for our green tools and sewers—they’re also downright beautiful.

Like Waterways, a temporary street art installation that debuted in Manayunk in May, the new clean out lids use art as a way of speaking to residents about the importance of green infrastructure investments and highlight the presence of green tools in neighborhoods.

The sidewalk and street installations, which incorporate "Philadelphia Water" and an intricate tree branch pattern, are the fruit of our 2014 “Uncover the Green” student design competition. In the coming weeks and months, 1,000 of the new engraved cast iron covers will be placed over access points that allow maintenance crews to inspect and clean the hidden but crucial components of GSI that capture stormwater.

The covers were designed by Tyler School of Art’s Lauren Hoover, who was an undergraduate student when her submission was selected by design professionals, outreach experts and various government agency representatives in May 2014. Hoover also won the People’s Choice Award, voted on by participants at an Uncover the Green award ceremony held at the Fairmount Water Works. Over 40 students submitted designs, and Hoover’s work was selected from among eight semifinalists.

The citywide contest was held in conjunction with the Mural Arts Program and sponsored by NextFab and Fleisher Art Memorial.

With the distinct new lids, residents will have one more way to spot the green stormwater tools that enhance the beauty of our neighborhoods and make Green City, Clean Waters work.

Alex Warwood, an environmental scientist in Philadelphia Water’s Office of Watersheds who oversees the Aesthetic Maintenance Program through a partnership with PowerCorpsPHL, says the hidden subsurface components don’t get the same attention as the lush, highly visible “living landscapes” of surface components seen in tools like tree trenches and rain gardens.

But without these access points, which are unique to Green City, Clean Waters installations, Warwood says much of the infrastructure wouldn’t operate properly. The GSIMN team routinely removes the covers and uses cameras to inspect pipes that distribute stormwater evenly throughout tree trenches and other green tools. If something is blocking the pipes and preventing the infrastructure from operating properly, crews will flush the system or use powerful vacuum hoses to restore the flow. Most structures get cleaned out at least once a year.

"The subsurface components of many of our GSI systems are sort of the underdogs of our green tools," says Warwood, "and they are absolutely critical for them to work. The new lids help promote Philadelphia Water's green infrastructure, and they help the average resident to see that there’s much more to GSI than just the plants on the surface. Some of the most important functions are happening where people can’t see them, and these covers are a really cool way to draw attention to that."

So, next time you're out for a walk and you notice one of these new designs on the sidewalk, take a look at the green infrastructure around you—this is your invitation to uncover the green and discover Green City, Clean Waters!

Time to Vote for Your Favorite Spokesdog

Scoop the Poop! Watch our video above about the importance of cleaning up after your dog!

We received over two dozen nominations for the next Philadelphia Water Spokesdog. And while we personally think all these cute pooches would be great ambassadors in the campaign to spread awareness about the impact of pet waste on our waterways, it's up to you to vote in the champ.

With the average dog producing about 200 pounds of waste every year, the negative impacts that come from improper disposal can add up quickly—especially in dog-crazy neighborhoods.

Getting more people to obey laws requiring dog owners to pick up after their pet and place the poo-llution in a trash can means less untreated waste getting washed into our sewers and rivers during rains.

You can read all about the Spokesdog contest by clicking here, and be sure to vote for your favorite pup by clicking here.

Voting ends August 31, and the winner will show up in our pet waste educational materials and at community events to spread the word.

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

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.

End Summer with a Bang: Volunteers Still Needed on the Delaware!

Event flyer
Click on the image above for larger, shareable version of the event flyer.

Looking for a fun way to do some volunteer work before the summer ends?
Time is running out, but we have just the event for you. Philadelphia Water is joining the nonprofit Living Lands and Waters and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary in an upcoming Delaware River cleanup event, and we need your help!

Join us as we clean up the Delaware River through September 1. Cleanups will be held on designated work days from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. While the deadline for signups was August 14, we're still looking for volunteers on all days. Please join us and RSVP here!

All events 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.
Supplies and free food will be provided, and large groups are encouraged to register now.

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 Amber at 563.505.8321 or

Community Gets Updates on North Phila. Green Improvements

This illustration shows how stormwater tree trenches, an important tool in the Green City, Clean Waters plan, work. Plans are under way to install these tools in the neighborhood around Fotterall Square and Vandergrift/Danny Boyle Park. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
This illustration shows how stormwater tree trenches, an important tool in the Green City, Clean Waters plan, work. Plans are under way to install these tools in the neighborhood around Fotterall Square and Vandergrift/Danny Boyle Park. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

The Hope Partnership for Education and other community members in North Philadelphia got an update on Green City, Clean Waters improvements planned for their area during the Hope Community Day celebration on Saturday, July 25.

The event, held with the help of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), the Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM), the Community Design Collaborative, Temple University, the 22nd Police District and Youthbuild Philadelphia Charter School, shed light on a number of initiatives to improve the community.

Philadelphia Water gave an update on the city-wide Green City, Clean Waters plan, which was introduced in 2011, and presented plans to install green stormwater tools around Fotterall Square, Vandergrift/Danny Boyle Park, and nearby streets. Because the improvements will impact the park, we’re working closely with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to make this plan a success.

Designs for the local improvements began to take shape in January, 2015 and are scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. As this was the very first Hope Community Day, we were very proud to be a part of the festivities and were excited to see so much interest in greening projects.

The plans discussed on July 25 currently call for creating stormwater tree trenches in the following locations:

• Cumberland Street from 12th to 11th

• 12th Street from York to Cumberland

• York Street from 12th to 11th

• 11th Street from York to Cumberland

• Cumberland Street from 11th to 10th

• York Street from 10th to 9th

• Cumberland Street from Germantown Avenue to 9th Street

• 9th Street from Germantown Avenue to Cumberland

• York Street from 9th to Germantown Avenue

• Susquehanna Avenue from Franklin to 7th Street

• York Street from 8th Street to 7th Street

As a part of the presentation, members of the community learned how the tree trenches will help reduce sewer overflows by taking in stormwater during rain or snow storms and slowly releasing into the ground.
The project will also include a rain garden or infiltration basin at Vandergrift/Danny Boyle Park, located at York Street and Germantown Avenue, which will further help to reduce stormwater that may overwhelm sewers.

Thanks again to Hope for hosting the event and to everyone who came out! Philadelphia Water will continue to update the community as the plan moves forward, and we’ll post information about progress here on the Philly Watersheds blog.