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It’s a Wrap! Congratulations to our Rain Barrel Artists

With over 800 votes, the results for our Rain Barrel Wrap contest are in! Congratulations to the top three winners: Philly Pride, Cats and Dogs and Liquid Motion.

Students between the ages of 11 and 21 from Laura W. Waring School and YESPhilly participated in a design workshop with artists from the Mural Arts Program and educators from Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center and the Philadelphia Water Department to create exciting original artwork that will be wrapped around a limited number of rain barrels. We hope this artwork will help bring attention to small actions in stormwater management (like installing a rain barrel) that can make a big difference.

Thanks to everybody who voted to help select the top three student designs. You are invited to the Fairmount Waterworks Interpretive Center for the Water Department and Mural Arts dedication where we’ll recognize the winning artists. The dedication is scheduled for Thursday, March 14th at 4:00 p.m. right behind the Museum of Art on the Schuylkill River in the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center at 640 Water Works Drive. Please send RSVPs to


Philly Pride by Titus Edwards (YES Philly)

Philly Pride

Titus’ idea for this design came from a classroom conversation about pride in Philadelphia. For him, pride in the City comes from the people in his community. He chose the typical rowhomes of ordinary people as a symbol of Philadelphia community pride.

Cats and Dogs, a class collaboration

Cats and Dogs

This design is a playful interpretation of the old saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs!” Students created a whimsical image by using bold colors and drawing a variety of cats and dogs.


Liquid Motion, a class collaboration

Liquid Motion

For this design, students chose blues and greens to represent water. They mixed these colors with glue, let them dry and photographed them against a light, giving the photographs a water-like translucency.

Tired of Dumping?

PWD pulling tires from the river


311. That’s the number of tires PWD’s Waterways Restoration Team pulled out of Frankford Creek in early February. The Waterways Restoration Team is dedicated to cleaning up and protecting Philadelphia’s streams, which often means pulling illegally dumped tires, construction site waste, shopping carts and the occasional car, out of our waterways. Additionally, the Waterways Restoration Team helps to stabilize eroding creek banks, remove invasive plants and protect City infrastructure. Cleaning up our waterways improves the City’s valuable water resources: the streams we walk, run and bike along and the water we drink! Want to help? Join the effort to clean up Tacony-Frankford Creek by contacting the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership and sign up for an upcoming cleanup led by United By Blue

A Kickstart for Green Infrastructure

Photo Credit: PlanPhilly

Innovative green stormwater infrastructure will help breathe new life into the historic Cynwyd Train Station! The Lower Merion Historical Society is working to raise money over the next month for a new multipurpose stormwater harvesting system for the 125-year old train station. They’ve chosen Kickstarter as their fundraising tool—a website that allows individuals to make direct contributions to creative projects. 

Five years ago, the Historical Society began a program to refurbish Cynwyd Station, built in 1890 by the Pennsylvania Railroad. Although the station building is no longer used by Septa, once renovated, the site will be a trailhead with bathrooms and refreshments for the Cynwyd Heritage Trail, a walking and biking pathway. 

The biggest challenge in renovating the building is the waterlogged basement. The station’s current downspouts deposit rainwater too close to the building’s foundation, causing water to soak into the lower level.

North Street Design responded to the Historical Society’s dilemma with a pro-bono design for a combination stormwater tank, downspout planter and bench system for Cynwyd Station. The system will match the station’s aesthetics, manage rain water and serve as a seating area. 

While North Street is covering the design and installation costs of the stormwater system, the Historical Society needs your help covering supply costs. Through the Kickstarter website, the Society has about three weeks to raise about $2,000 in donations. They are already over half-way to their $5,000 goal! Help support this innovative project and learn more details about the plan by visiting the Kickstarter page. In exchange for a donation, the Historical Society is offering free memberships, guided tours and rain garden workshops. 

You're Invited…Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! Design Awards Ceremony

The Philadelphia Water Department and Community Design Collaborative invite you to the Design Awards Ceremony concluding the Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! design competition. This national, interdisciplinary design competition challenged designers, engineers, and other sustainability professionals to show how green stormwater infrastructure can transform our City.

The design competition is part of Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up!—an 18-month partnership between the Philadelphia Water Department, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Community Design Collaborative to revitalize urban neighborhoods through the adoption of green stormwater management in the Philadelphia region. These methods are outlined in Green City, Clean Waters, Philadelphia’s $2 billion, 25-year plan to protect and enhance the City’s waterways by managing stormwater primarily through innovative green stormwater infrastructure.

After a reception and an exhibition of competition entries in the Hall of Dinosaurs at the Academy of Natural Sciences, we’ll move to the auditorium for rapid-fire presentations by the nine finalists. Three winning teams will be chosen by a jury to receive $10,000 prizes. Proceeds from the Design Awards benefit the Collaborative’s Infill Philadelphia program. Reserve your spot!


Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! Design Competition Awards

Thursday, March 7, 2013

6 PM to 9 PM 

Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 

One more… with ENERGY

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Geothermal at Southeast

These pipes are part of the geothermal system at the Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant.

We wrap up the week with exciting cost savings measures at our Water Pollution Control Plants. 

Since the cost of energy is one of the driving forces behind our overall expense increases, we have sought to reduce the amount of energy we use, and to produce it ourselves from renewable sources. The Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant (NEWPCP) Biogas Project will generate electricity and thermal energy for use on-site, fueled mainly by biogas from the plant's digesters. This project is designed to generate 5.6 MW of power and is expected to reduce PWD’s energy costs by over $12 million over the course of the 16-year contract with renewable energy company Ameresco, Inc.

At our Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant, we’ve installed a 250 kW solar array (in addition to a geothermal project) expected to pay-off its entire installation cost in just nine years. And get this: the Federal Government paid for half of it! The project was made possible by $850,000 from the Recovery Act’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant awarded to the City from the Department of Energy (DOE) and $850,000 from PWD and technical assistance from DOE’s Solar America Cities program. After nine years… nothing but nice, clean, solar-generated electricity.

PWD remains committed to keeping our own costs low so that any rate adjustments we request are as reasonable and low as possible for our customers. These are just the first of what we hope will be many similar efforts in the future to lower our dependence on fossil fuels, contribute to a healthier environment, and lower our costs for energy. Look for more information about our waste-to-energy measures at PWD’s exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show, Saturday March 2nd through Sunday March 10th. 

Not (quite) as romantic as a dozen roses…

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This Valentine’s Day we are focusing on the Rate Stabilization Fund (get excited)! It might not be as romantic as a dozen roses, but it is very important for our customers. The Rate Stabilization Fund is one of the ways we keep our costs as low as possible. We do this so that increased expenses or drops in revenue aren’t always passed directly on to our customers and our rate adjustments can be kept lower. One of our goals over the time period covered by our new rate schedule is to build up the Rate Stabilization Fund. Considering the weather we have had lately and the pressure it puts on our infrastructure, ours is more literally a “rainy day fund” than similar accounts kept by any other government or private sector entity. Happy Valentine's Day!

Reality TV idea: Chasing Down Delinquent Ratepayers

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New technology, like this tablet used for recording water shut-offs, will help make PWD's record keeping more effiecent and cost-effective.

One of the biggest complaints we hear from our ratepayers is the idea that while they pay their bills on time and in full, others who are perfectly able to pay are delinquent and getting their water for free. It’s a really easy way for people to lose faith in a utility and government in general if they feel like they’re shouldering the load while others are not. Trust us. We hear you.

We’ve made it a point to chase down delinquent ratepayers and increase automation of metering and billing systems to make it more efficient to collect. Since 2001, when we created the Revenue Protection Unit, we’ve been able to recover over $25 million in additional billings. The days of people getting unmetered, free water at the expense of everyone else are long since gone. While the occasional delinquent payer might still get away with skipping out on his or her bill for a short time, our improved technology means that they won’t get away with it for long. 

In fact, feel free to contact us at (215) 685-6300 if you suspect someone of stealing a water hook-up. We take these reports seriously and will fully investigate.

“Interest-ing” Cost Cutting Methods

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Dollar Bill Water Drop

Continuing with this series about the steps PWD has taken to keep our rate changes as low as possible, let’s talk interest rates.

If you’ve refinanced your home recently to take advantage of historically low interest rates, then you know how much you can save in your own budget. The Water Department issues bonds almost every year to fund major capital expenses. With falling interest rates and an improved bond rating, we’ve been able to refinance much of this debt, saving over $40 million just in the last few years. Over the coming years we intend to use our new rates to improve our bond rating even further. By doing so, we will reduce interest payments and realize more savings.

Cost Savings Week Begins With A Project That Will Save Billions!

Liberty Lands Rain Garden

A rain garden manages stormwater at Liberty Lands Park, Northern Liberties.


During our last blog series we talked about how the rising costs of “big ticket items” are a large part of what’s driving PWD's rate adjustments. We should also explain that we aren’t proposing these adjustments without first doing everything we can to balance increasing costs with cuts to our expenses. 

Some of the most significant savings come from the Green City, Clean Waters plan. This is the City of Philadelphia's plan to meet requirements for reducing the overflow of sewage into the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers during rain storms. While other cities have been faced with costs as high as $8 billion for creating entirely new tunnels to separate storm water from waste water, PWD will spend about a quarter of that over the next several years on green infrastructure meant to keep much of the storm water from ever entering the system. The end result: fewer streets torn up for months to install new tunnels and more trees and other greenery throughout the city, providing cleaner air and water while reducing the urban “heat island” effect that cooks us each summer.

These are investments that will pay off down the road in lower maintenance costs, less strain on the current infrastructure and fewer gallons of water that need to be treated at our sewage treatment plants. This doesn’t even begin to capture the lower costs that will come from an overall healthier, cleaner environment when you factor in lower healthcare expenses and less need for massive clean-ups of our rivers and streams.

It’s a win-win… a less expensive way of enacting these mandated measures to clean up our stormwater process and lower costs down the line as we realize the benefits of these investments.

For more information about Green City, Clean Waters, check out the Year in Review to see how far we’ve come already and learn more about where we’re going.  For a highly technical analysis of the cost-savings from Green City, Clean Waters, view Section 9 of the plan which compares alternatives to the green infrastructure approach. 

Have you noticed Green City, Clean Waters projects in your neighborhood? Share them with us on our Facebook page.

Sewage Plant Going to the Birds

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Photo Credit: Emma Lee/for NewsWorks

This winter the Northeast Wastewater Treatment plant by the Betsy Ross Bridge has become home to a host of unexpected guests: southern cave swallows! While the plant has been a winter residence for a large population of northern rough-winged swallows since 2005, the arrival of their new companions has been baffling birders.

The rough-winged swallows of Northeast Philly are a highly unique group in the bird world. Typically seeking shelter from cold weather in the South, Philadelphia is the only northern city where the swallows stay throughout the winter months. Their relatives, cave swallows (typically found in Mexico), have also been moving north recently, which bird experts say is caused by climate change.

According to Anthony DiGironimo, the facility’s process manager, the reason for the birds’ extended northern vacation is food. Insects called flying midges are attracted to the large underground wastewater treatment pools. The pools maintain a constant temperature through the winter, making a safe home for the midges, which in turn provides the birds with a steady food supply.

However, there are alternate theories for the swallows’ behavior changes. Perhaps the birds use the waterway near the plant for navigation, or the plant could have a warm roosting spot. Regardless of their motivations, birders continue to enjoy observing these odd feathered friends.

Learn more about the swallows of Philly from Newsworks!

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