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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".

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?

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.

Throwback Thursday: Cost of Water in 1898 vs. 2015

From the Philadelphia Water Archives: A bulletin board outside the archive room at 12th and Market.
From the Philadelphia Water Archives: A bulletin board outside the archive room at 12th and Market.

When you think about the truly priceless value of clean drinking water—something we all need to survive—compared to what it actually costs, tap water may well be the most undervalued commodity out there.

At 7/10ths of a cent per gallon, Philadelphia Water’s tap is an incredibly good deal, especially when you consider how much work we do to make sure 1.7 million customers have constant access to this resource.

And, since we distribute about 275 million gallons of drinking water every day, we think about the cost quite a bit.

We came across a photo in the archives that proves we’ve been thinking about the cost of drinking water (and how to communicate that to our customers) for a long time:

A Feb. 25, 1898 photograph from the Philadelphia Water archives showing the cost of drinking water.
A Feb. 25, 1898 photograph from the Philadelphia Water archives showing the cost of drinking water. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

In this 1898 photo, taken at the Fairmount Water Works, officials created what’s essentially a 117-year-old infographic by posing with various containers of water and providing the cost of each by volume.

It got us thinking: what would that same amount of water cost today? Naturally, we did the math, and here’s what we found:

Cost of drinking water in Philadelphia in 1898 vs. 2015. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Cost of drinking water in Philadelphia in 1898 vs. 2015. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

Adjusted to today's value using the Consumer Price Index (a dollar in 1898 would be worth a bit more than $28 in 2015), these numbers represent a more than 500 percent increase in the cost of drinking water.

What’s behind the spike? The answer to that question comes from another question: how on earth did they provide 1,000 gallons of water for just $00.04 ($1.15 in 2015 dollars)?

Well, let’s just say that what they called “drinking water” in 1898 was a far cry from what Philadelphians expect when they turn on a faucet today. There was no guarantee that the water wouldn’t make you sick, let alone look clean.

Our historian, Adam Levine, says water treatment at the time was pretty much non-existent: river water was pumped to reservoirs where, if demand happened to be low enough, it had time to clarify before going off to homes. High demand, however, often meant the water didn’t even have time to settle, and the results could be rather ugly.

"I have come across a number of cartoons from the period that talk about the water running out of pipes as black as ink, due to the coal dust (washed down from upstate coal mines) suspended in the river water after heavy rains," Levine says.

For a Throwback Thursday double-dip, let’s take a look at one of those cartoons:

A cartoon from August, 1898 addresses typhoid in Schuylkill River drinking water.
A cartoon from August, 1898 addresses typhoid in Schuylkill River drinking water. Credit: Philadelphia Water. 

Ouch.

Today, we still let the water settle—but that’s just one step in complex process that involves filtration, treatment for pathogens, and lot and lots of testing. We were one of the first cities to use filtration, and the advent of chlorination in the early 1900s helped to make widespread water-borne illnesses a thing of the past—a past that, as we see here, meant very cheap but dangerous drinking water.

“Our largest [budget] items are for chemicals and energy (electricity and natural gas),” says Debra McCarty, Director of Operations for Philadelphia Water. “The process of treating river water to become potable water has become more complicated over the years. The standards to which we treat drinking water are far higher than ever. Regulations continue to change, and we continue to meet them.”

All that work (check out this graphic for a look at how we treat tap water) adds costs to the price of drinking water, but at $00.07 for every 10 gallons, we think it’s a pretty good deal for something truly priceless—safe, tasty tap water 24/7.

The value seems like an even better deal when you consider the cost of drinking bottled water.
The American Water Works Association estimates bottled water costs Americans anywhere from 300 to 2000 percent MORE per gallon than the average gallon of tap water.

So make the smart choice: drink tap water, save money, and be glad you aren’t living in the 1890s!

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From the Archives: Cutting a 48-inch cast iron pipe, May 16, 1905

PWD Catalogue No. 1986.002.1902



The distribution system put in place to carry Philadelphia’s filtered water supply to every neighborhood in the City, built along with the filter plants in the first decade of the 20th century, included miles of massive pipes this size. This photo shows how such a pipe was cut to the length needed. The steam engine on the right is transmitting power, via the gears and chain, to draw the blade around the pipe. As the blade goes around, the workmen tighten the blade so it cuts deeper and deeper until it cuts through the pipe.


The grinning child in the background may belong to one of the workmen, or to the photographer, or he simply could have been hiding in the pipe until the photographer said “Cheese!” and then popped his head out so he could be in the picture—something we now call “photo-bombing.” He was certainly not the first or the last child to do this, as a number of photos in the PWD Historical collection show, including this one from 1907. 

From the Archives: Work gang in the Torresdale Conduit, December 18th, 1906

PWD Catalogue No. 1986.002.2546



This group of workmen filling a crack in the Torresdale Conduit. They are using slurry of concrete, sometimes called grout, which is being pumped into a crack from the metal basin in the foreground through the nozzle held by the man in the background.



The Torresdale Conduit was built along the Delaware River front 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 its kind in the world.


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 was built completely “in tunnel”, like an underground mining operation, rather than in an open excavation from the surface. To do this, eleven shafts were built along the length of the conduit, connecting the surface with the work area underground. As the construction progressed, excavated material was raised up and removed through these shafts, and construction material was lowered down.


Fourteen people died in the construction of this pipeline, which is still in use and an integral part of the City’s water distribution system.


For more information on the history of the city’s water filtration system, click here.

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