We’re Preparing for Heavy Rains – You Should Too

Flooding seen along Forbidden Drive in Fairmount Park during Hurricane Irene in 2011. In that storm, the Schuylkill River hit a high water mark not seen since 1869. Photo Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Flooding seen along Forbidden Drive in Fairmount Park during Hurricane Irene in 2011. In that storm, the Schuylkill River hit a high water mark not seen since 1869. Photo Credit: Philadelphia Water.

Whether Joaquin is a hurricane, tropical storm, or something else by the time that system reaches us, chances are we’ll see some intense rain. Philadelphia Water has been preparing for the upcoming heavy rain events by clearing inlets in low lying areas and inspecting other inlets to make sure they are clean.

We’re also working to make sure any intersections we know may typically flood will be closely monitored in case they need to be closed off due to high water levels. Our staff will monitor river levels for any tidal flooding that may occur, and have crews working to maintain our systems during these intense rain events.

Here are several tips to help ensure our customers (that’s you) are prepared for the storm too:

• Make sure if you live in a flood-prone area that you remove all valuables and electronic equipment from your basement floors. If you have had basement flooding in the past, you’ll want to make sure that items are placed on a shelf at least higher than the last high water mark, or bring it to a higher floor.

• Do not enter your basement if there is standing water, as the risk of electrocution exists. You should always wait until the water subsides.

• Do your best to seal any floor drains, as the water from the sewer would typically back up through the lowest point in your home.

• If you have sewer backups into your basement, you’d want to make sure you sanitize your basement properly. One quarter cup of bleach per gallon of water is recommended to clean all surfaces that any water touches. Make sure you properly dry the basement as well to help reduce the risk of mold buildups.

• You should always have bottled water in your home as well as flashlights and batteries in case of a loss of power.

Philadelphia Water always asks our customers to be our eyes on the ground, and you can assist us in spotting any trouble areas we may not be aware of. Should you see a flooded intersection, or if you're receiving water in the basement from plumbing fixtures, call us at 215-685-6300. This information is vital to keep records of flood locations and how these storms impact our systems. We would also be able to monitor those inlets should they be part of the reason for any street flooding, not necessarily sewer backups.

If you’re a customer and you experience any basement flooding through your fixtures, you may be eligible for our Basement Backup Protection Program. Call our hotline to get more information on this free program at 215-685-6300.

And remember, above all, be safe and take flood and weather warnings seriously!

Going With the Flow: PWD and Hurricane Sandy

This time last Monday, communities all along the East Coast braced for Hurricane Sandy, a ferocious event pushing tropical storm conditions into a cold front directly over the Northeast, all during the high tides of a full moon. The massive storm had widespread impacts and images from NY and NJ show significant damage and a long road to recovery.  From power outages, to blocked roads, to flooding, few events turn our collective attention to infrastructure with as much force as big storms.

Philadelphia Water Department staff worked from Thursday through Tuesday to prepare for the storm, clearing over 3,000 stormwater inlets in low-lying areas, and removing 155 tons of debris throughout the city. Clear inlets allow runoff to flow into the sewer system unimpeded by leaves or trash, which helps prevent localized flooding. In addition, PWD monitored both waste water and drinking water plants to ensure proper function during the hurricane.

After the storm passed, the Philadelphia Water Department worked closely with the Department of Parks & Recreation to remove trees and debris and lent equipment such as stingers, dumps and backhoes to help with the cleanup. Although trees were down, and power out for some, Philadelphia fared well during Hurricane Sandy, in part due to proper preparation, and in large part due to the luck of geography that protected the City from the devastating ocean flood waters that caused havoc in NY and NJ.  Look at these articles to read (and listen) more about how Philadelphia’s infrastructure worked during Hurricane Sandy:

“Hurricane Sandy, Day 2: Jersey Shore, Philly water, Delaware”
Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug speaks to Marty Moss-Coane on Radio Times
NPR, October 30th
The interview with the Water Commissioner begins at 15:00.

A post-Sandy look at how Philadelphia streets flood
Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, November 4th
Adam Levine

Flooding In Sight
Hidden City Philadelphia, October 29th
Adam Levine

Fortunately for Philadelphia (and the whole eastern seaboard), storms like Hurricane Sandy don’t happen too frequently. Ninety percent of storms are much smaller and  drop an inch or less of rain on the Philadelphia area. This is an important inch! The first rain that falls on the ground picks up all the dirt and grime of our city streets. In many parts of Philadelphia, this water combines with sewage from homes and businesses in the same sewer pipe that transports water to one of three Philadelphia treatment plants. During heavy rainfall, the system is designed to overflow without treatment, to keep the water moving and avoid sewer backups. This design leads to combined sewer overflows, and increases pollution in our streams. These frequent, smaller storms are the target for Green City, Clean Waters, Philadelphia’s 25-year plan to manage wet weather through green stormwater infrastructure (GSI).  

What about Green Stormwater Infrastructure during a Hurricane?

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