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!