Year in Review (Part One): 2016 a Big Year for Philly’s Water Stewards

Commissioner Debra A. McCarty helps a West Philly Student put on a new button at 2016 rain garden ribbon cutting event. She became the first woman to lead the department. Credit: Brian Rademaekers
Commissioner Debra A. McCarty helps a West Philly Student put on a new button at 2016 rain garden ribbon cutting event. She became the first woman to lead the department. Credit: Brian Rademaekers

Newly-elected Mayor Jim Kenney rang in 2016 in a big way by naming Debra A. McCarty Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner, making her the first woman to lead the organization in its nearly 200-year history.

That big announcement, it seems, set the tone for PWD in 2016.

It was a busy year, with lots of exciting news—big and small—for Philly’s water community, and we recently took some time to look back at all the great things happening here.

We made major investments in our infrastructure. We marked important milestones with partners and residents. We revived superheroes, and we collaborated with science-savvy brewers…

It was such a big year at PWD, we’re presenting our 2016 highlights in not one blog post, but three!

(See Part II)

Without further ado, here is the first installment of our three-part series exploring highlights from the last year, presented in no particular order:

5 Down: Philly Celebrates Five Years of Cleaner Water, Greener Neighborhoods


Our Green City, Clean Waters program hit a five-year milestone in June 2016 by surpassing greening targets, resulting in an estimated 1.5 billon gallon per-year reduction in pollution from stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows.

The best part about that big improvement in water quality? We did it by working with public and private partners to build new green tools at hundreds of sites in neighborhoods all over Philly, making our communities healthier, more vibrant places to live, learn, work and play.  

We celebrated the achievement and talked about what’s in store for the next 20 years of Green City, Clean Waters by holding events with partners and residents all over the city. Hundreds of people also joined us for a “5 Down, 20 to Go” party at the Fairmount Water Works.

Read about what Green City, Clean Waters accomplished in its first five years here, and check out some videos from the 5 Down party (including a rap about clean waters!) here.

Drinks on Us: Kelly Drive Water Stations
We introduced four new water stations along the Kelly Drive portion of the Schuylkill River Trail this spring, and in the fall we announced a new effort to expand public water access through a partnership with the Office of Sustainability.

 

 

As more people look for ways to cut down on waste and litter caused by single-use water bottles, the stations proved to be very popular with the thousands of people who use the trail every day.

Check out our end-of-season tally to find out how these stations provided enough water during 2016 to fill more than 156,000 single-use half-liter bottles.

Big Investments in the Infrastructure that Keeps Philly Running

 

At the Philadelphia Water Department, we are responsible for maintaining a network of more than 6,000 miles of water, sewer, and stormwater pipes, six treatment facilities, and 34 pump stations.

In our budget released in July 2016, we committed more than $301 million to improving the infrastructure that allows us to provide drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services for our more than 1.5 million customers. That includes building new water mains and sewers, upgrading our drinking water and Water Pollution Control Plants, providing major flood relief projects, and more.

One big project that kicked off in 2016 is the $78 million East Park Reservoir renovation in Strawberry Mansion, which will modernize part of our drinking water system, preserve important migratory bird habitat and provide space for the new Discovery Center—an amazing new asset for our youth.

A collaboration between the Audubon Society, Outward Bound and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, the Discovery Center will preserve an unused section of the reservoir that’s become an important wildlife habitat while also providing educational opportunities to local kids. The facility is set to open in 2018.

Since January 2016, PWD has been busy building two new, 30-million-gallon vertical tanks for holding drinking water. This drinking water modernization project is set to be completed in fall 2019.

An aerial view of the East Park Reservoir site showing a nearly completed water tank. Credit: PWD
An aerial view of the East Park Reservoir site showing a nearly completed water tank. Credit: PWD

When completed, the improvements will include a new landscaped rain garden at 33rd Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue and wildflower plantings along the north and east borders of the site. Green stormwater improvements are also proposed for Reservoir Drive and along Ridge Avenue.

We’ll continue to host meetings with Strawberry Mansion neighbors and post updates about progress here on the blog.

Baxter’s Best: Cheers to Philly Tap
As a tribute to local water quality and watershed protection programs like Green City, Clean Waters, Saint Benjamin Brewing Co. brewed Baxter’s Best in May 2016.

 

 

A special British-style ale designed to highlight the natural mineral qualities of Philadelphia tap water that make it ideal for brewing and named after our Samuel S. Baxter Water Treatment Plant, Baxter’s Best was served at bars across the city and at a series of water-themed nights at the PHS Pop Up Beer Garden on South Street.

Read about the science behind the beer in a great story by Philadelphia Inquirer health and science reporter Tom Avril.  

Volunteers Lend a Big Hand for Philly Rivers
Nearly 1,000 volunteers joined PWD and local apparel company United By Blue at 15 clean ups to remove nearly 33 tons of trash from waterfront green spaces like Bartram’s Garden and Penn Treaty Park.

 

 

It was inspiring to see so many people dedicated to taking care of our watershed parks, and we look forward to more of these events in 2017. Subscribe to the blog and follow us on Facebook or Twitter to find out about upcoming spring cleanups.

In related news …

PWD’s Trash-Fighting Fleet Gets a New Tool
In spring 2016, the department added a new 20-foot workboat to the fleet of small boats used to remove trash from Philly’s rivers and shorelines.

Designed to let crews from our Watersheds Field Services unit access hard-to-reach areas along the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, the workboat has proven to be a valuable tool in efforts to get rid of unsightly litter than can harm aquatic wildlife.

Read our June 2016 blog about the workboat’s maiden Schuylkill voyage.

And while we’re still waiting for year-end totals from our largest trash-skimming vessel, the R.E. Roy, our other skimming vessels were deployed 47 times in 2016, collecting 3.8 tons of trash and recyclables, including 1.3 tons of recyclables and 21 tires.

Once the R.E. Roy’s numbers are tallied in late January, the 2016 trash haul will go up considerably: from July 2015 to June 2016, the entire PWD skimming fleet collected nearly 20 tons of floating trash and recycled 79 tires through our partnership with Bridgestone.

Stay tuned—we will provide new totals in early 2017!

Residents Cash in on Rain Check
It’s been a year of growth for our Rain Check program, which teaches Philadelphia residents how stormwater runoff hurts waterways and helps them install green tools at home—including free rain barrels and discounted landscaping projects—to reduce pollution.

Over 1,500 people attended Rain Check workshops in 2016—about 300 more than last year.

As a result, we helped 152 homeowners pay for and install custom green tools that manage stormwater. That makes 2016 the busiest year yet for projects like depaved driveways, permeable patios, rain gardens, and downspout planters.

We also installed 611 free rain barrels at homes across the city, bringing the total number to nearly 4,800.

If you’re thinking about joining the Rain Check club, now’s a great time: in January and February, we’re raffling off special rain barrels wrapped in designs made by Philly art students with the help of Mural Arts. Taking a winter workshop also happens to be a smart way to get a jump on spring greening projects.

 

 

Already attended a workshop? Get a friend to do the same between now and February 20, and we’ll enter your name in a raffle for two free tickets to the world-renowned Philadelphia Flower Show.

Learn more and sign up here!

A big thank you goes out to all of our Rain Check participants and to our Rain Check partners, the Pa. Horticultural Society and the Sustainable Business Network—here’s to an even busier 2017!

Hablo …You Name It!


PWD can provide information and materials in dozens of languages to help the city's diverse communities get the most of their water utility.PWD can provide information and materials in dozens of languages to help the city's diverse communities get the most of their water utility.

PWD joined the City of Philadelphia’s Language Access Philly effort following an Executive Order from Mayor Kenney establishing a City-wide policy on language access.

We offer translation services for dozens of languages, and customers calling our hotline at 215-685-6300 can request assistance.

Call Center Upgrades
Our hard-working Customer Information Unit, responsible for answering calls to the PWD hotline around the clock, implemented upgrades aimed at making life easier for our customers.

PWD's Customer Information Unit answers the emergency hotline 24/7/365.
PWD's Customer Information Unit answers the emergency hotline 24/7/365.

Now, customers can call either the Water Revenue Bureau at 215-686-6880 or PWD at 215-685-6300 to make meter appointments, obtain account balance information or make payments 24 hours a day, all without having to speak to a representative.
Of course, real people are always there to help, too.

Customers can also look forward to more streamlined services in 2017!

On Deck ...

Read Part Two of our 2016 highlights, featuring good stuff like:

  • The stories behind our new storm drain marking critters
  • The rebirth of a long-lost Philly super hero
  • Good news about a living science exhibit at the Fairmount Water Works

... and more!

Share this post with your friends, and be sure to read Part II!