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!

Schuylkill River Spree Under Way, Includes All-New SRT Ale!

View of the Schuylkill Banks section of the Schuylkill Trail from the South Street Bridge.
The Schuylkill River Trail, photo courtesy of Montgomery County Planning Commission.

One of the greatest uses humankind has devised for water is brewing that wonderful elixir known as beer (and ale, pilsner, lager, stout, porter or whatever whets your whistle on a Friday!). And one of PWD’s most important missions is safeguarding our beer water supply by acting in collaboration with other communities and groups as stewards of our wonderful Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers.

To call attention to the importance of our Schuylkill River and its value to the whole region, Sly Fox Brewery, with locations in Pottstown and Phoenixville, in collaboration with the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, will release SRT Ale on Earth Day (April 22). SRT Ale celebrates the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT), and a portion of the proceeds of the hoppy, gold-hued brew's sales will benefit the trail. The 5-day buildup to the official release begins TODAY as they kick off the SRT Spree. Sly Fox describes the journey from Pottstown to Schuylkill Banks in Philly well on their website

Reminiscent of Lewis & Clark, the SRT Spree includes a two-man-team representing Sly Fox Brewing Company. This is not an organized group excursion although fans of Sly Fox beer and the Schuylkill River Trail are welcome to travel along any segment of the journey or the entire trip.

The Schuylkill River Heritage Area provides even more details about this awesome journey:

The team will travel by kayaks, road bicycles, trail bikes, horseback, recumbent trikes and on foot to advance the giant can to the final destination. Each day the Spree will stop along the trail for an organized trail cleanup and recognition of a local beer purveyor that will introduce SRT Ale to the public.

You can volunteer to participate in the SRT Spree and help out with one of several trail cleanups planned for today through Wednesday. They are still very much in need of volunteers for tomorrow morning, in Kernsville from 8-10 a.m. if you can make the trek out to a community upstream!

Use this link to sign up for one of the clean-ups.

And get this… Trail Cleanup volunteers aged 21 and older will be given one free voucher to taste the new beer! SRT Ale tappings will be held each evening at licensed establishments located near the cleanup sites. Cheers! 

Endangered Shortnose Sturgeon Returns to the Schuylkill

Shortnose sturgeon
Shortnosed sturgeon, Acipenser brevirostrum. Author: Karen Couch, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Last summer, just below the Fairmount Dam on the Schuylkill River, an angler managed to catch a shortnose sturgeon, a species of fish that has been on the endangered species list since 1967! While sometimes found in the Delaware River, the shortnose sturgeon has never been found in the Schuylkill—at least not on record. PWD regularly samples fish in the Schuylkill and in their 14 years of sampling below the dam, they have not seen this species.

Spotting this shortnosed sturgeon not only indicates that the species could be coming back, it also indicates that the water quality of the Schuylkill is improving. Researchers have long used levels of dissolved oxygen to gauge water quality—oxygen deficient water is not good for aquatic life. The sturgeon is extremely sensitive to low levels of dissolved oxygen, so finding one in the Schuylkill indicates that the dissolved oxygen levels are on the rise.

If you’re lucky enough to catch a sturgeon, remember it is a protected species and that you should quickly return it to the water. To learn more about the shortnosed sturgeon and other species (not all good!) that inhabit the Schuylkill River, check out this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Schuylkill Expedition for High School Students

Are you a high school student looking for exciting programs to be a part of this summer?

Schuylkill Acts and Impacts is a weeklong service-learning expedition that will be offered to high school students from communities within the Schuylkill River Watershed. From Saturday, June 7 to June 14, students will travel the 120-mile Schuylkill River from its headwaters in anthracite coal lands of Schuylkill County to its confluence with the Delaware River in Philadelphia. Participants will be guided downriver, where they will learn about issues impacting water quality.

The expedition includes:

  • Paddling stretches of the river with biologists to conduct water quality monitoring
  • Touring abandoned and active coal mines
  • Visiting farms to examine stream bank erosion
  • Exploring the streets of Philadelphia to learn more about their pioneering work in mitigating stormwater

This is an opportunity that you don’t want to miss out on!

To find more information about the Schuylkill Acts and Impacts Expedition and to apply click here.

Spring Blooming in the Schuylkill

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Some customers in Roxborough and East Falls have been noticing an earthy odor in their drinking water. This is not uncommon in spring and summer when warmer water temperatures and abundant nutrients encourage blue-green algae to grow. While the algae are removed by water treatment, the earthy odor remains in trace levels of geosmin - a naturally occurring product of microorganisms found worldwide in soil and water. This compound has no reported health concerns and so it does not affect the safety of the tap water. 

If you notice any unusual odors, call our customer information line at (215) 685-6300. This allows PWD to track customer concerns and make necessary adjustments in treatment to control the odor. As a resident, there are a number of clean stormwater tips you can use to help keep these nuisance algae down in the watersheds. And if you’re thirsty for more information on your drinking water, check out the 2013 Water Quality Report. Previous Water Quality Reports can be found here.




Governor Awards Schuylkill Action Network for Environmental Excellence

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SAN Logo

A big shout-out to the Schuylkill Action Network (SAN) for receiving the 2013 Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence! This award is granted each year to a Pennsylvania organization that displays outstanding achievements in environmental protection throughout the Commonwealth. The highest environmental statewide honor given to businesses and organizations, this award commends such activities as energy conservation, waste reduction and pollution management.

The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE) will accept the award on behalf of the Schuylkill Action network for their accomplishments in the protection of the City of Philadelphia’s source water. The Philadelphia Water Department's Source Water Protection Program takes a watershed-wide approach to protecting the quality of the City’s drinking water sources. The SAN is a particularly important partner in this approach to source water protection. PWD, along with the US Environmental Protection Agency Region III, PDE, and PA DEP founded the SAN in 2003 after PWD completed the Schuylkill Watershed’s Source Water Assessments. Through partnerships with a variety of other environmental organizations, businesses and federal and state agencies, the Schuylkill Action Network is dedicated to the short-term and long-term well-being of Pennsylvania’s natural resources, as well as educating the public about the importance of a healthy water system.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Council will be hosting a ceremonial dinner to honor all the award recipients on April 17 at the Hilton Harrisburg, with Richard Allan, Secretary of the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources serving as keynote speaker.

Vote for the Schuylkill River for 2013 River of the Year!

In case you didn't hear, the Schuylkill River is a nominee for the 2013 River of the Year- an honor bestowed upon a Commonwealth river to elevate public awareness about that resource and recognize important conservation needs and achievements. The winning waterway undergoes a year of activities and events celebrating the river, including a special extended paddling trip known as a sojourn. These water-based journeys for canoeists, kayakers and others raise awareness of the environmental, recreational, tourism and heritage values of rivers.   The winning river will be selected by votes from the public, so don't forget to cast your vote today!!! Voting ends on January 18th.

The Schuylkill River flows through both rural and urban communities starting in Pennsylvania’s Coal Region and passing to the City of Philadelphia.  Over 1.5 million people receive their drinking water from the Schuylkill River and its tributaries. Improved water treatment systems, watershed education programs, and other cleanup measures have transformed the river from a dead river in the mid-1900s to a healthy habitat for a vast amount of fish and other wildlife. The Schuylkill River provides an ideal spot for recreation with its vast network of trails leading to the Schuylkill Banks greenway in the heart of Philadelphia.

Read more blog posts about fish improved fish habitat in the Schuylkill:
Fair Catch: Fishing on the Schuylkill
Upstream Battle: Shad Ascend Schuylkill Pas Phoenixville for First Time in Almost 200 Years
Northwest Passage: Fairmount Fish Ladder Helps Shad Swim Up the Schuylkill

To learn more about the contest and to cast your vote, just visit the website below.  Happy Voting!
Cast your vote here:

Philadelphia Inquirer: Love Your River

The Schuylkill is a vital part of Philadelphia's social and physical landscape, and the once-mistreated river is on its way back. An article in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer—part editorial, part love letter to the river—details the inspiring comeback of one of our city's major waterways. Beth Kephart focuses on the increased hospitality to fish in the river and the development of the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center, where plans are underway to improve upon the historic site's appearance and expand its educational capabilities. Kephart took part in a design charrette, in which ideas for the Water Works were discussed:

There were schemes that focused on connections among other area institutions. There were ideas designed to elevate the FWWIC's visibility, via exterior lighting and outdoor sculptures, say, or by the creation of a reflecting pool in the parking lot. There was talk about snaking the river's timeline across the old Water Works floors - a trickle of water, a tale. There was an early sketch of a kinetic waterfall.

The Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center is free and open to the public: Visitor Information

Fair Catch: Fishing on the Schuylkill

PAC Member Chris Eife with a 30” Striped Bass caught on an A Salt Bomber Lure.

Philadelphians are often surprised to learn just how diverse the wildlife can be below the surface of the waters around our city. These recent catches by members of the Philadelphia Anglers Club are great examples of fish species that swim our rivers, right under your nose! These fish were released back into the wilds of the Schuylkill.

Chris at it again with a Flathead Catfish over 20 pounds!

And PAC Co-Founder Matt Coll with a 25 pound Carp caught on a piece of fake plastic corn.

Read more blog posts about local fishing:
Shad State of Affairs, Part Two: Swimming With Mackerel
Reel Good Time: Photos from the 2012 Philly Fun Fishing Fest
Northwest Passage: Fairmount Fish Ladder Helps Shad Swim Up The Schuylkill

And learn about Pennsylvania’s many fish species on the PA Fish & Boat Commission’s species gallery:

Reel Good Time: Photos from the 2012 Philly Fun Fishing Fest

Last weekend's Philly Fun Fishing Fest was, um, off the hook. Nearly 100 participants came to the Schuylkill banks, and the fish were definitely biting. A total of 225 fish were caught; 10 different species were hauled in during the catch-and-release event, including striped bass, white perch, yellow perch, channel catfish, white catfish, small-mouthed bass, blue gill, alewife, spot and blueback herring.

Thanks to our sponsors (Dick's Sporting Goods and Plano) and our partners (Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and the Schuylkill River Development Corporation). More photos after the jump.

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