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This Place Is BMPing: Friends Center

Each week, we profile a BMP—short for Best Management Practices—to demonstrate how local businesses, organizations and neighbors are helping to keep our streams and rivers clean by managing stormwater on their property.

Located two blocks north of City Hall at 15th and Cherry streets, the Friends Center features one of Philadelphia's most famous green roofs. In keeping with the Friends' commitment to "tread lightly on the Earth," the green roof and stormwater collection/reuse system help to preserve the Schuylkill River watershed by lessening the impact of more than 58 million gallons of runoff per year. The green roof absorbs 90% of stormwater, and the remaining 10% that does not infiltrate is filtered by the vegetation and soil. In addition, rainwater from the roof is collected in six large tanks in the building's basement, where it is purified and reused as "grey water" to flush restroom toilets. These efforts have led to a 90% reduction in the Friends Center's water bill.

Learn more about this stormwater BMP project, find it on a map and view photos at  the Temple-Villanova Sustainable Stormwater Initiative project page.

A Century Of Water Filtration

PWD historical consultant Adam Levine marks 100 years of water filtration in Philadelphia.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Philadelphia’s water filtration system, completed with the construction of the Queen Lane Filters in 1911. Combined with the chlorination of the city’s water supply in 1914, filtration led to a great reduction in the incidence of water-borne diseases, contracted from the polluted drinking water drawn from the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. One of these diseases, typhoid fever, alone had killed more than 27,000 Philadelphians in the previous 50 years, and hundreds of thousands more in other cities around the world. Construction on the filtration system began in 1901 but dragged on for a decade for various reasons—a delay that led to many unnecessary deaths hinted at in the cartoon above.

While filtration rendered the polluted river water safe to drink, it did nothing to reduce the industrial and human wastes that continued to pour into the rivers. Not until the 1950s, when the city’s sewage and treatment collection was completed more than 40 years after initial planning had begun, did the moribund health of the city’s rivers begin to recover. For more information on the history of water filtration in Philadelphia, visit the filtration page on PhillyH2O.

A Roof With A View

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And also some views of the roof: Here are some photos from Wednesday's unveiling of the green roof bus shelter at 15th and Market.

What's An Estuary Worth? About $10 Billion/Yr

Map of 2011 priority projects for the Delaware Estuary (Image: Partnership for the Delaware Estuary)

A recent study by the University of Delaware puts a price tag on the economic value of the Delaware Estuary—the tidal portion of the Delaware River Basin—and the number is big. An estimated $10 billion flows annually from the economic activity and water-related jobs the estuary provides for a half-million people in the tri-state area. The results of the study were announced earlier this month by the nonprofit Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, and the implications are far-reaching in terms of project planning, policy decisions and future investment.

Art In The Open

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Plastic Fantastic by Diedra Krieger

The French call it en plein air—painting outdoors. But Monet and Renoir would scarcely recognize Philly's version of it. The second annual Art In The Open takes place June 9-12 along the banks of the Schuylkill (roughly from Fairmount Water Works to Bartram's Garden) and offers much more than easels and landscapes. The highly interactive Art In The Open festival includes video installations, kayak tours, dance performances, costume-making workshops, and sculptures such as the one pictured above, made from more than 6,000 post-consumer water bottles and due to be installed on the lawn near the Fairmount Water Works. Check out the events page for a full listing and calendar.

That's Why They Call It Brewerytown

Bergdorff Brewery, N. 29th and Parrish St.

Sold-out event tonight at the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center: The Breweries of Brewerytown and Vicinity, a presentation by historian Rich Wagner. More details here. Philadelphia's brewing history is yet another example of the crucial role that our rivers and streams play in the economy, growth and well-being of the city.

"Brewers were attracted to the area ponded by the dam at the Fairmount Water Works for the ice they could harvest from the river. Then, in vaults carved along its banks, brewers would pack wooden hogsheads of lager beer with ice for six to eight months for the beer to 'ripen.' Brewerytown evolved into a neighborhood that accounted for about half the city’s beer production and included some of the largest brewers in the nation, who shipped their beer throughout the world.

Poised above the banks of the Schuylkill at the edge of Fairmount Park, the area between 30th and 33rd Streets from Girard Ave. to Oxford St. was home to 11 breweries, many with malt houses, a keg manufacturer and a bottling equipment manufacturer. It was a neighborhood whose atmosphere was once described as being like 'vaporized bread.'" has an excellent blog post on the topic; Wagner's brief history blames Prohibition for the eventual exodus of breweries from Brewerytown. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has an 1862 watercolor of Lipp's Brewery on the banks of the Schuylkill near Lemon Hill Mansion.

Boats On Parade

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Forget the Dad Vail Regatta—this Sunday, the Tidal Schuylkill Festival wraps up with a non-motorized boat parade, with awards being handed out for "creativity, gall and garishness." Put the finishing touches on your Mummer's-brigade boat or Lady Gaga canoe and head to the Bartram's Garden Meadow at 4 p.m. to launch a craft or cheer the sailors. Go here for more details and free registration for the event.

Watershed History: Roxborough Water Works

A brief history of the Roxborough Water Works by Philadelphia Water Department historical consultant Adam Levine

Looking north on Granville Street toward Upper Roxborough Reservoir, 1948

By the end of the 1850s, it was already apparent to Henry P.M. Birkinbine, chief engineer of the Philadelphia Water Department, that the northwestern section of the city—including Roxborough, Manayunk, and Chestnut Hill—would need to be served by its own water works. The high ground in this area was far above the reach of existing reservoirs in the city, which supplied water by gravity to homes and businesses. Wells in populated areas were becoming unpalatable and in many cases unhealthy. A small private water works, built to serve Germantown and its vicinity, used a spring and dam of water along Papermill Run (now called Monoshone Creek), but Birkinbine predicted that its capacity would soon be outstripped by the rapidly growing population.

“Manayunk and Roxborough [contain] a population numbering about twelve thousand,” Birkinbine wrote in a report to City Councils in September 8, 1859. “Of these, at least three thousand are operatives employed in the different factories. This part of the city is much in need of a supply of water for culinary, manufacturing and sanitary purposes, and for protection against fire, as the property in the manufactories is of great value, and now almost entirely without protection against fire…. From the dense population of parts of the district, the wells have become so contaminated, that the water in but few of them is now fit for culinary purposes. The necessity of a supply for manufacturing and mechanical purposes, is evident.”

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