Join the Schuylkill Scrub!

Visit the Schuylkill River in the warmer months and you will find it teeming with life, both in the water and along its banks. It is hard to imagine that this scenic river, which provides drinking water to over 1.5 million people (that’s 12 out of every 100 Pennsylvanians!), was once considered the dirtiest river in the country.  The Schuylkill has come a long way and today boasts one quarter of the watershed designated as high quality or exceptional waters. But it still needs your help… and now is the time to do it—join the Schuylkill Scrub!

The Schuylkill Scrub, coordinated by the Schuylkill Action Network, is an annual clean-up initiative that happens every spring. This year’s Scrub started at the beginning of March and runs through May 31, so there’s still time to organize and register a clean-up event in you part of the watershed (or find one that already exists). You’ll be working alongside other partners and concerned citizens to clean as many miles of road, stream and parkland within the watershed. This coordinated effort will help keep our land and water litter-free (which is a good thing, remember, people drink that water).

The Schuylkill Scrub is now part of the Great American Cleanup of PA, so you’ll be part of a larger effort to clean and beautify our entire state and your cleanup can get free supplies like trash bags, gloves and vests, provided through Keep PA Beautiful and PennDOT. Additionally, during the Pick It Up PA Days, which is from April 11th to May 4th, registered events will have access to reduced or free trash disposal.

Last year, Keep America Beautiful logged over 52,000 volunteers who removed 1,300 tons of trash in over 1,200 neighborhoods in the five counties surrounding the Schuylkill River! Help make this year a success by signing up today and know that you‘re part of the effort to keep trash out of the Schuylkill, from the headwaters in Schuylkill County down to its confluence with the Delaware River in Philadelphia.

Click here for more information and to register your cleanup:

If you don’t have time to organize your own cleanup, there may be one happening in your neighborhood already! Use this link to find existing cleanups

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.

Learn About the Hidden Streams Beneath Our Feet on Monday, March 16

Watershed History Fact

If you're intersted in learning about our watershed or rivers (or history for that matter!), we highly recommend attending a talk by our very own historian, Adam Levine, this coming Monday, March 16 at National Mechanics (22 S. 3rd Street) at 6PM. The talk, titled "From Creek to Sewer: History of Topographical Change in Philadelphia,” is part of the Tapping Our Watershed science cafe series and will discuss the history of Philadelphia's lost streams and creeks. Many aspects of this topic, from considering what lies beneath the city to looking at the way man has manipulated the natural environment in favor of the built environment, are truly compelling.

Over the course of three centuries of development, most of the city's surface streams were covered over and became part of our 3,000 mile sewer system. Levine will use paintings, drawings, maps, plans, photographs and surveys to illustrate his talk and transport you back to a time when streets were streams. In fact, just a few blocks from National Mechanics, where the talk will take place, is a great of example of this—the former Dock Creek runs under what is now Dock Street. You'll come away knowing that at any given place inPhiladelphia, you may be walking over the descendant of one of the city's many former streams and creeks. If you can't make the event on Monday to see Levine deliver this presentation live, his website—Philly H2O—is a great repository of watershed history and material.

Mill Creek Sewer Construction at 47th and Haverford from

According to the Academy of Natural Sciences' blog, the Tapping Our Watershed talks "are sophisticated enough for the experienced scientist but formatted for the casual guest who is interested in tapping into watershed issues on a deeper level." Since it is at a local "watering" hole, guests must be 21 or older but those under 21 can attend with a chaperone at least 25 years old.

PowerCorpsPHL + PWD = A Win-Win Team

What has 18 legs, eradicates garbage and debris, spreads good will wherever it goes and spends 900 hours fighting to protect our rivers?

The PWD PowerCorpsPHLTeam!

Philadelphia Water is proud to be a service partner for PowerCorpsPHL. PowerCorpsPHL is an AmeriCorps program for Philadelphians ages 18 to 26 designed to address the City of Philadelphia’s environmental stewardship, workforce development and violence prevention priorities. PowerCorpsPHL members spend 6 months in full time-time service, followed by 3 months of job placement support. Corps members work with either Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, or with the Philadelphia Water Department.

The PowerCorpsPHL program has been hugely successful since the program launched in 2013. Not only are PWD PowerCorpsPHL members making a significant impact on the water quality in our region, they are also gaining invaluable job skills, launching many of them into successful careers in the green job sector. Members that work within PWD are paired with supervisors to learn electrical and HVAC trades, building maintenance, inlet cleaning, and Green Stormwater Infrastructure maintenance. 

PWD staff and PowerCorpsPHL members 

The program is a win-win for both the participants and the service partners. Out of the 43 PowerCorpsPHL members that have served with PWD during the three cycles so far:

  • Seven joined Philadelphia Water's Apprenticeship Program to further their skills and advance their professional network.
  • Seven signed up for another 6-month term of service with PWD through PowerCorpsPHL
  • At least eight have found employment, some with PWD, some with related businesses
  • Many others are returning to school to advance their education with the goal of pursuing careers in the water industry. 

The largest set of PowerCorpsPHL members working with PWD are in our Green Infrastructure Maintenance team. They help ensure that green stormwater infrastructure, like rain gardens, tree trenches and vegetated bump-outs, are functioning properly. The current team has:

  • Been a part of 1,108 maintenance events
  • Maintained 388 stormwater managemetn sites--some multiple times!
  • Collected 80,357 lbs of garbage and other debris out of our stormwater systems

 Learn more and find out how you can get involved

Study Shows Evidence of “Triple Bottom Line” Effects of Green Stormwater Infrastructure

Water Fact Infographic

When we started the 25-year, $2.4 billion Green City, Clean Waters plan in 2011, the idea was that we could better manage our stormwater and reduce combined sewer overflows by leading with green infrastructure, as opposed to only using gray infrastructure, and that it would also have additional social and economic benefits. We call it our “triple bottom line" approach. While the environmental benefits (good news—we’re on track to meet our environmental targets for year five of the plan!) and economic benefits are quantifiable, the social benefits are harder to measure. But a recent study, published this January in the American Journal of Public Health, indicates that the green stormwater infrastructure we’ve installed in Philadelphia does, indeed, have social benefits as well.

The study, led by Michelle Kondo, formerly a postdoctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics and now a scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service in Philadelphia, looked at 52 green stormwater projects in Philadelphia and found consistent and statistically significant reductions in narcotic possession and manufacture, as well as burglaries near those sites.  

These impressive results caught the eye of the Inquirer’s Sandy Bauers, who featured the study in her regular GreenSpace column

[Kondo] and her colleagues, including Penn epidemiologist Charles Branas, who had studied vacant lots, compared the 52 sites with 186 similar areas where projects were planned but not yet built. They factored in socioeconomic data from the census, crime statistics, and health data.

Their results, published in January in the American Journal of Public Health, were an eyebrow-raiser. Between 2000 and 2012, incidents of drug possession at the project sites dropped by as much as 27 percent compared with the control sites.

As far as a half-mile away, "we saw a significant reduction," Kondo said.

The study controlled for a number of other factors—gentrification, general improvements in quality of life, etc.—that had occurred over the 12 years of the study and yielded a strong positive correlation between the presence of a Green City, Clean Waters project and incidents of drug possession. 

Clearly, there’s still more studying to be done so we can determine links to other improvements in overall quality of life measures and reductions in crime, but these initial results are very promising! Studies like this help demonstrate the return on investment for each individual green infrastructure project and that the triple bottom line approach is truly paying off! 

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

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!

Get Funding for Projects to Protect the Schuylkill River Watershed

Schuylkill River and Philadelphia skyline
Image courtesy of Ed Yakovich. 

PWD is one of several public and private funders of The Schuylkill River Restoration Fund

The Fund provides grants to government agencies and non-profit organizations for projects that improve the quality of water in the Schuylkill’s watershed. Since 2006, the Fund has collected more than $2 million and funded over 60 projects! Applications are now being accepted for the 2015 Schuylkill River Restoration Fund.

Does your community group, school or non-profit business have a project in the works that might qualify for funding? View the Fund guidelines here. And download the application here

Your organization may also qualify for a $4,000 Land Transaction Assistance Grant, which is intended to assist with transaction costs for permanent land protection projects (conservation easements, full fee acquisitions, donations). Download the Land Transaction Assistance Grant guidelines here.

While the grants also focus on agricultural pollution and abandoned mine drainage, here in Philadelphia, past recipients have used funding from the grants to pay for projects that manage stormwater run-off. 

In 2014 Grants totaling $337,465 were awarded to seven projects. Among them was a $37,961 award for a meadow at SDP’s Cook-Wissahickon School that resulted in 3,300 sq. ft. of new meadow installed and maintained, as well as an education for the neighbors in the difference between a meadow and an unkempt lawn

Want more information? Contact Tim Fenchel at or call the Schuylkill River Heritage Area at 484-945-0200.

Put a Little Mussel Into It!

Westcott Phillip, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 

If you’ve never been to the Wagner Free Institute of Science  at 1700 West Montgomery Avenue (not far from Temple University), then this coming Thursday, February 26, is a great chance to visit this “unusual natural science and history museum in its original Victorian setting.” At 6pm, Dr. Danielle Kreeger, Science Director for the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE), will give a talk on Aquatic Underdogs: How Freshwater Mussels Can Help Save our Great Waters

The mission of the PDE (which the Philadelphia Water Department works closely with!) is “to lead science-based and collaborative efforts to improve the tidal Delaware River and Bay, which spans Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.” Among these efforts is Dr. Kreeger’s work on the ecology and restoration of bivalve shellfish and coastal wetlands, as well as climate adaptation, living shorelines, and ecosystem services. 

And freshwater mussels are some amazing—if severely challenged—little bivalves in need of restoration. PDE has great info about freshwater mussels including how they, as filter feeders, “suck water in and trap solids such as dirt, algae and other pollutants then release the clean filtered water back into the environment.” 

Unfortunately, as the title of Dr. Kreeger’s lecture suggests, the freshwater mussels in this area have faced a steep decline, from over a dozen different species to just one now commonly found in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The freshwater mussel has been described as “the most imperiled of all organisms in North America.” Dr. Kreeger’s presentation “will describe the fascinating lifestyle and status of freshwater mussels and chronicle how local efforts to restore these animals will protect our waterways.”

The museum at the Wagner Free Institute of Science (often called a museum of a museum) will be open prior to the lecture, which begins at 6pm. There is no cost to attend but registration is required. Click here to register.

Freshwater Mussels from the Unionidae Collection at the Wagner Free Institute of Science