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Fairmount Water Works

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Pew Center Gives $300K to Shine Light on Secret River Heroes

Families check out how freshwater mussels filter water at temporary exhibit by the PDE. Soon, the Water Works will have a 530-square-foot mussel hatchery.
Families check out how freshwater mussels filter water at temporary exhibit by the PDE. Soon, the Water Works will have a 530-square-foot mussel hatchery. Photo Credit: PDE.

Some of the most intriguing animals in our rivers also happen to be some of the most inconspicuous creatures out there. In fact, these little guys can be nearly invisible if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

But the reality is that freshwater mussels live extraordinary lives burrowed into the beds of our local creeks and rivers.

Now, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage is bringing their secret lives to the surface with a $300,000 grant that will fund the creation of a mussel hatchery right at the Fairmount Water Works.

Celebrating their 10th year of grant making in Philadelphia, the Center announced its 2015 recipients on June 16. We at Philadelphia Water are thrilled to see the Water Works counted among our region’s exemplary artists and cultural institutions and  look forward to the expanded environmental education efforts made possible through this grant.

 The Rivers Restoration Project: A Freshwater Mussel Hatchery will be an interpretive, multi-media installation that will combine science, history, and design in the creation of a site-specific, 530-square-foot living freshwater mussel enclave that will inspire visitors to discover and connect with the Schuylkill River’s rich habitat while developing an appreciation for the importance of environmental protection.

 The two-year grant process is expected to allow the Water Works to open the hatchery in late 2016.

If you’re wondering why the Center and the Water Works are investing in a mussel hatchery, read on.

To the untrained eye, these little shellfish—ranked among the most imperiled animals in the United States—may look just like a leaf lying on the sandy bottom of the Schuylkill or Delaware. But tucked inside that shell is an organism that can live for a century, providing our waterways with decades of invaluable filtration and stream/riverbed stabilization that makes water healthier for both wildlife and humans.

The lifespan and habitat of our native mussels varies depending on the species, but they can live by the millions in vast colonies along riverbeds. With each one filtering up to 20 gallons of water every day, these organisms collectively form nature’s equivalent of water treatment plants, removing pollution and harmful pathogens.

Sadly, these amazing little workhorses have suffered in a big way due to a number of human factors, including unmitigated stormwater runoff and dams, which block their reproductive cycle. This widespread habitat degradation has left many stretches of local waterways without mussel beds, which can lead to destabilized banks and streambeds and water that takes much longer to clear up after disturbance from storms and other heavy sediment events.

In recent years, Philadelphia Water has partnered with the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE) to survey our local waters for mussel populations. With additional help from groups like the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, PDE even began “reseeding” some Philly creeks with mussels, bringing them back to those areas for the first time in decades.  

The Water Works hatchery is the first project of its kind in the region, and could help fuel interest in a much larger commercial hatchery that would work to filter our water (reducing the workload at treatment plants) while providing young mussels for future regional reseeding efforts, said PDE's Danielle Kreeger.  

With this extremely generous $300,000 Pew grant, the Water Works will begin working on the hatchery with PDE and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University next month, bringing visitors a unique exhibit that will enrich the already impressive mix of education opportunities.

“Our 2015 grantees exemplify the diverse and dynamic cultural life of our region,” said Paula Marincola, the Center’s executive director. “As we reflect on the past 10 years of grantmaking in this vibrant community, we also look forward to the extraordinary cultural experiences this talented and ambitious group of artists and organizations will bring to Greater Philadelphia’s audiences.”

For more on educational opportunities at the Fairmount Water Works, which is celebrating its 200th birthday this year, check out their website.
You can see the full list of the amazing projects awarded 2015 grants from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage here.

Philly Student Artists Awarded in Green City, Clean Waters Contest

Winners from the K-2nd grade category celebrate along the Schuylkill with judge Tiffany Ledesma. Photo: Brian Rademaekers
Winners from the K-2nd grade category celebrate along the Schuylkill with judge Tiffany Ledesma. Photo: Brian Rademaekers 

Dozens of budding artists from schools all over the city came out to the Fairmount Water Works to claim their prizes after taking top spots in our Green City, Clean Waters 2015 Art Contest, hosted by Philadelphia Water and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE).

Looking at the truly impressive quality of their work, it’s clear that Philadelphia Water is also a big winner this year. Thanks to the more than 1,300 students who took time to create posters and videos reflecting our “Only Rain Down the Storm Drain” theme, we now have tons of incredible art to help spread the word about protecting our watersheds.

“It was really tough for us to pick winners this year because there were just so many amazing submissions to pick from,”  Tiffany Ledesma, a judge for K-2nd grade entries and member of the Green City, Clean Waters public engagement team, told students and families at the April 28 ceremony.  

Winning students and their teachers from Germantown Friends School, Maritime Academy Charter School, C.C.A Baldi Middle School, St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls, Archbishop Ryan High School, Philadelphia Center for Arts and Technology (PCAT) at Foundations, Inc. and Aspira, Inc. of Pennsylvania took home gift cards, a variety of art supplies for their schools, framed certificates, and a contest calendar featuring their artwork.

In addition to the calendar, the winning artwork was used to create street art and SEPTA advertisements that will be seen around the city in the coming months and help spread the word about keeping litter and pollutants off of our streets and out of our waterways. Winning videos were posted to Philadelphia Water’s Vimeo page  and shared on social media sites for Green City, Clean Waters and PDE.

Stop by the Water Works center next to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for a free copy of the calendar and check out the videos on the sites above. 

Congratulations to all the winners, and a big thank you to all the students who submitted work and helped get the Green City, Clean Waters message out! 

Click here to check out more photos from the awards ceremony.  

Earth Day Exhibit Reveals Philly's Trash Problem

Artist Bradley Maule works on "One Man's Trash." Fairmount Water Works Photo.
Artist Bradley Maule works on his "One Man's Trash" exhibit. Fairmount Water Works photo.

Anyone who’s taken the time to enjoy the many scenic opportunities afforded by Philly’s waterways has had that moment—you’re soaking in the green and sunshine, marveling at the natural beauty of a river or stream cutting through the urban landscape. And then, some ugly piece of litter breaks the mirage, reminding you that you are, indeed, still in a very big city. One with a trash problem.

Bradley Maule, a Pennsylvania native and Philly transplant, has had that moment more times than he cares to count. Like many nature lovers, he often had the impulse to pick up litter someone else carelessly dropped while hiking along one of his favorite haunts, the Wissahickon Creek in the city’s Northwest. His distaste for the pervasive trash, though, soon morphed into a sort of obsession. Out of this obsession was born “One Man’s Trash,” the latest exhibit at our Fairmount Water Works, which opens (quite appropriately) for today’s Earth Day festivities.

The first in a series of “Culture and Conversation” events that celebrate the Water Works’ 200th anniversary, “One Man’s Trash” is the culmination of a year’s worth of trash collected by Maule during weekly walks in Wissahickon Valley Park, an 1,800-acre wooded gem with the Wissahickon Creek at its heart. The Mt. Airy resident and artist laid out his plans for the project on his website, Philly Skyline, and described his yearlong effort for readers:

Each week, once a week, for all of 2014, I went on 2-3 hour hikes, picking up all the litter I encountered. If something was too big to haul out, I made a note of it on my phone’s text app and made arrangements to remove it with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and Friends of the Wissahickon, the official partners on this project.

Luckily for us, Maule drew the line at picking up “organic litter”—a distinction that means we don’t have to look at a display of rotting apple cores or bags of dog waste!

The Water Works will unveil Maule’s work, which includes infographics reflecting his meticulous tally of collected litter, during a 5:30 p.m. opening reception. The exhibit will be on display through June 26, after which all the junk he’s collected will be recycled, donated and otherwise disposed of.

"A timely exhibit for Earth Day, ‘One Man's Trash’ brings to the forefront the amount of litter accrued on land, and provides an insightful look into how our behavior truly affects our water supply," says Karen Young, executive director of Fairmount Water Works.

When asked what he wants people to take away from the exhibit, Maule says he wants to inspire “…deeper consideration for the waste we each generate” and to foster awareness “that we need to treat our parks better.” In addition to compiling all the trash, he took time to look at the broader waste tied to a specific trail-side menace: the plastic water bottle.

"One of the most common objects I encountered over the course of the year was plastic water bottles—255 of them (with 43 brand names)," Maule told us. Maule also says his focus on the Wissahickon underscored a troubling connection between littering in parks and fouling up our waterways. "Almost all of Philly's big parks — Fairmount, Wissahickon, Pennypack, Cobbs, Tacony, Poquessing—exist where they do because of watersheds," notes Maule. "Unless it's picked up and properly disposed of, litter ultimately ends up in our waterways, whether directly in a place like the Wissahickon, or after a journey from city streets through gutters and sewers."

Click here to register for the “One Man’s Trash exhibit. The event is free, but space is limited.

Is it too soon to talk about storm flood relief?

Well this is certainly a topic that is fresh in everyone’s minds as recent extreme rains have left basements flooded, cars wrecked, roads closed, and our Water Works temporarily out of commission. These events are becoming more frequent as what used to be known as “100-year storms” occur once or twice each decade now. In this region, PWD plays an important role in planning for consequences of global climate change and mitigating the effects of these weather events.

Our primary method of handling this has been to reduce the amount of stormwater run-off that rushes directly into our streams and rivers by investing $40 to $50 million each year to create more acreage to soak that rain into the ground water. We’re also investing $30 million in infrastructure improvements every year to enhance our ability to collect and divert stormwater. Over the next several years we are studying potentially $1 billion in system improvements through our Green City, Clean Waters program. For homeowners, PWD has provided nearly $1.7 million since 2005 to install basement back-up protection devices at 455 homes in the city.

PWD and our partner city agencies are also coordinating response and recovery with other city, state, and federal agencies to provide advanced warning forecasts in advance of large storms. We’re creating tidal and neighborhood flooding projections and vulnerability analyses, revising FEMA flood map, projecting climate change impacts, installing signage in vulnerable areas, reviewing zoning and building codes, and meeting with communities to help guide them through these changes.

PWD has always been forward looking and has anticipated the challenges and opportunities that Philadelphia has faced over the decades. Storm flood relief is a challenge that is only going to get more severe over the next several decades. We continue to focus on the issue as we have for the past several years.

Uncover the Green Winner Announced!

Tyler School of Art professor Kelly Holohan and Uncover the Green Winner Lauren Hoover

Congratulations to Lauren Hoover, a Tyler School of Art undergraduate, who won the top prize for the medallion design competition! Lauren’s Uncover the Green design recognizes the history and integrity of the City’s existing infrastructure (our sewer pipes) and acknowledges our urban setting with a nod to the green path that we’re on to clean up our creeks and rivers. If you look closely at Lauren’s beautiful design, you’ll see that she cleverly spelled “WATER” in the medallion. Design professionals, outreach experts and various government agency representatives participated in the selection process. Lauren also won the People’s Choice Award, voted on by the participants’ of Friday’s Uncover the Green award ceremony at the Fairmount Water Works.

PWD’s goal is to place the medallions next to green stormwater tools to help brand the new environmentally friendly stormwater management infrastructure in neighborhoods across the city. PWD also hopes that Lauren’s design will influence future manhole covers.

Special thanks to our partner – Mural Arts Program – in addition to our major sponsors, NextFab and Fleisher Art Memorial.

Thank you, also, to our expert judges at Maskar Design, Cloud Gehshan Associates, Community Design Collaborative, The Public Workshop, Partnership for Delaware Estuary, Office of Arts, Culture & Creative Economy, Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Fairmount Water Works and the Philadelphia Water Department staff.

PWD Wins Environmental Communications Honor Award

Kudos to PWD for winning the 2014 Environmental Communications Honor Award from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers & Scientists. Not to toot our own horn too much, but we’re excited! This award recognizes the importance of conveying environmental messages to the public and emphasizes innovative and creative approaches to communicating messages. PWD representatives will officially accept the award on Thursday, April 24 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

At the same time, we’ll be celebrating the winners of the 2014 Green City, Clean Waters Art Contest — just one example of the creative ways we engage people about stormwater. PWD and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary will recognize students from K-12 for their illustrations about stormwater management. The ceremony will be held at Fairmount Water Works from 4:00pm – 6:00pm.
Please RSVP by Wednesday, April 16th to Dee Ross at or at 1-800-445-4935, ext 106.

A Spectacular Green Week for Schools

Last week PWD picked up the pace of the green schools program with three fantastic events!

On Wednesday, judges gathered at the Fairmount Water Works to pick winners from the GreenSTEM Challenge.  Students from three schools: George W. Nebinger, Albert M. Greenfield and Cook-Wissahickon, designed creative containers to hold environmental sensors that measure factors like soil moisture. Judges based their selections on creativity, use of materials and constructability to choose thee winning designs: a sword in the stone, a spider and a futuristic light-up, disco-esk dome. Visit GreenStem Challenge for images of the imaginative designs.

On Thursday, George W. Nebinger School hosted representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary and PWD to celebrate the new green school yard. All three agencies helped fund and coordinate the project that removed pavement and replaced it with a rain garden. Music students welcomed the guests with a touching performance of “In the Jungle” and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” before a discussion of the site and the Urban Watershed Curriculum.

To top off the week, students from Greenfield Elementary formed a human chain from Center City to the Schuylkill River in celebration of winning the Green Ribbon School Award. Awarded to Greenfield in 2013 by the US Department of Education, this award recognizes the school as a model educational community of green practices. The human chain of 500 people connected the city to the river through the outstretched arms of children, parents, teachers and everyone who took part!

Uncover the Green Competition Results

The first round of judging in the Uncover the Green competition is completed!

Several weeks ago, the Philadelphia Water Department launched Uncover the Green. This exciting design competition challenged Philadelphia’s undergraduate and graduate students; to design a medallion to represent Philadelphia’s new green storm water tools, as well as a second design for new manhole covers.

Over 40 submissions were received and following the first round of judging , the top eight have been selected for the next round! Visit the completion website to view the finalists.

Join us on May 2nd from 3:30 to 5:30 P.M. at the Fairmount Water Works as we reveal the top three winners, as well as our city’s new medallion and manhole designs. Everyone is welcome for an afternoon full of activities, including a People Choice Awards. Refreshments will be served!

Special thanks to our first round of judges:

  • Community Design Collaborative
  • Cloud Geshan Associates
  • Maskar Design
  • The Public Workshop
  • Partnership for the Delaware Estuary

The Schuylkill Action Network closes Beer Week & the Schuylkill Sojourn with a celebration of Stonefly IPA

This Friday, June 7th, the members of the Schuylkill Sojourn (who are paddling to Pottstown today) will arrive in Philadelphia at Boat House Row. The Schuylkill Sojourn is a weeklong kayaking and camping expedition along the Schuylkill River. The Schuylkill Action Network, a supporter of the Sojourn, has also teamed up with the Saucony Creek Brewing Company on a fun project to protect and highlight the Schuylkill River. Recognizing that good beer requires clean water, the brewery crafted its Stonefly IPA. Named for the Stonefly, an insect that thrives in clean water, the beer not only symbolizes watershed health, but a portion of the proceeds are also donated by the brewery to Schuylkill watershed protection efforts.

The founder and brewer at Saucony Creek Brewing Company will join the Schuylkill Sojourn kayakers on Friday to usher a ceremonial keg of Stonefly IPA down river to a short press conference on the deck of the Fairmount Water Works at 4:30 pm to toast our vital Schuylkill waters. 

Following the press conference on Friday, the keg will continue on along the river, this time by bike, to Grace Tavern for a Philly Beer Week Event featuring Stonefly IPA. All are welcome, so come on out and help us protect the Schuylkill River one beer at a time. 

Join the facebook event here!

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