Baxter

Baxter's Best: A Beer About Protecting Philly's Water

From right to left, counterclockwise: Tim Patton pours Baxter's Best at the Green City, Clean Waters 5-year party; the beer's namesake at top left in in 1961; a placard describing the character of the beer. Credit: Brian Rademaekers and PhillyH2O.org
From right to left, counterclockwise: Tim Patton pours Baxter's Best at the Green City, Clean Waters 5-year party; the beer's namesake at top left in in 1961; a placard describing the character of the beer. Credit: Brian Rademaekers and PhillyH2O.org

In marking the five-year anniversary of Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters program, we’ve been busy talking about the importance of protecting the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers—the source of drinking water for over 1.5 million people in Philadelphia alone.

While we usually think about our drinking water as something residents consume in cold glasses from their kitchen tap, in a way, that water is also often served via a different sort of tap—those found at the hundreds of Philly bars proudly pouring beers brewed right here in our fair city.

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.

Philadelphia Water's Early Warning System Getting Praise from High Places

Above: A map provided by the Source Water Protection Program's Early Warning System showing the tidal spill model trajectory for a hypothetical spill along the Delaware River.
Above: A map provided by the Source Water Protection Program's Early Warning System showing the tidal spill model trajectory for a hypothetical spill along the Delaware River.

Our Source Water Protection Program at Philadelphia Water does all kinds of important work to ensure the water we drink is safe and protected, from far-off springs in the Catskill and Pocono mountains all the way down to the intakes at our drinking water treatment plants.  However, one of the most critical jobs is overseeing the Delaware Valley Early Warning System–a complex network that stretches from the Delaware Water Gap all the way to Wilmington, Del. and provides a way to sound the alarm when incidents like spills and flooding events occur. 

In recognition of the hard work the Source Water Protection Program (SWPP) does to make sure this crucial web-based system is constantly updated to provide the fastest possible warning and response during emergency situations, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection selected the Delaware Valley Early Warning System (EWS) for the 2015 Pennsylvania Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence.  Our EWS will be among 15 other programs honored during a special dinner on April 28 in Harrisburg. The award recognizes “the development of a project that promotes environmental stewardship and economic development in the state,” according to the Pa. DEP website.

At its core, the EWS has a simple goal: to notify drinking water suppliers and other water consumers along the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers of spills and accidents that occur upstream as quickly as possible. Doing that requires a sophisticated network of over 300 users representing 50 organizations that make up what’s called the EWS Partnership.  Groups within the Partnership can access the system via the EWS telephone hotline or website to alert the network about spills and other incidents, and high-tech features like real-time water quality monitoring and computer models showing how quickly contaminants are moving downstream provide additional information for quick and smart decision making.

Last year, the Source Water team made the EWS even better by implementing a new computer model that predicts the tidal movement of water–critical information during a spill or flood scenario–in the lower Delaware River, where tides play a role in where water goes. This greatly enhanced detail on tidal flows in the Delaware Estuary is of tremendous value to places like PWD’s Baxter drinking water treatment plant, which supplies approximately 60 percent of the city with drinking water.

Given Philadelphia’s location along two rivers at the very bottom of a watershed with plenty of industrial activity, incidents requiring the use of the EWS are inevitable.  This reality makes the work of the SWPP team–and especially maintenance of the warning system–incredibly important, so we are particularly proud of this award from the Pa. DEP. Keep on keeping us safe!

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