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Stream Restoration

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Fightin' Phils: A Caddis Comeback?

The Philopotamid caddisfly larvae. Credit: Philadelphia Water
The Philopotamid caddisfly larvae. Credit: Philadelphia Water

Uh, not those Phils. With 62 losses already in the season and the All-Star break just behind us, we're talking about the comeback of a different kind of “Phils,” the aquatic insects of the family Philopotamidae.

The larvae of these tiny invertebrates, also known as fingernet spinning caddisflies, live under rocks in well-oxygenated areas of streams.
Philadelphia Water scientists have been surveying insects and other forms of aquatic life in Philadelphia area streams for more than 15 years now to assess water quality and habitat conditions. You’d be surprised what you can learn from bugs—they’re a big part of what scientists call “bioindicators.”

The last few years, we've noticed a bit of an uptick in the number of Phils in our samples—a good thing because these little guys are somewhat more sensitive to pollution than many other aquatic insects we usually find in urban streams.

Here's a look at what we've found since 2000:

Above: Percent Philopotamide caddisflies in Philadelphia Water stream survey samples 2000-2014. Note: No samples were taken in 2009-10. Each dot represents a specific sample location. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Above: Percent Philopotamide caddisflies in Philadelphia Water stream survey samples 2000-2014. Note: No samples were taken in 2009-10. Each dot represents a specific sample location.

It's too early to speculate on what might be responsible for the increase. Maybe intense storms in 2004 and 2005 depressed the numbers of Phils and we're just seeing a return to normal conditions. Maybe we're seeing more Phils because we've begun to spread our sampling stations around the various city streams a little more—nobody knows.

But it is, nevertheless, a good sign to see increased numbers of slightly more pollution-sensitive insects. We hope the trend keeps up as more stringent stormwater regulations, introduced July 1, are implemented and Green City, Clean Waters continues to grow. Those efforts will improve dissolved oxygen levels (good news for the Phils) in our waterways by reducing the amount of stormwater pollution entering our rivers and streams.

Read more about what you can do to give these Phils a fightin' chance on the Rain Check page.

Guest blogger Jason Cruz is an aquatic biologist at Philadelphia Water.

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

New Hydrology Map Makes Way For Stream Buffers

This week, the Philadelphia Water Department is submitting a hydrology map for approval by City Council. This would be a step toward PWD's ultimate goal of protecting Philly's rivers and streams with a 50-foot buffer zoning ordinance. (Read more about the zoning code in Plan Philly's News Article.)

Stream buffers improve water quality and support aquatic life by providing habitat, reducing erosion and filtering stormwater. We want to limit development in these areas and encourage property owners to plant natural vegetation.

Our GIS (Geographic Information Systems) staff have been capturing and maintaining the hydrology data that is displayed on the map. We are sure that it is an accurate and complete representation of current waterways in Philly.

To learn more about planting a vegetated buffer in your backyard, visit our page about Backyard Stream Buffers.

11 For 2011: Bells Mill Stream Restoration

PWD's Watersheds blog closes out the year with a list of 11 green missions accomplished in 2011, from innovative stormwater management projects and stream restorations to groundbreaking policy agreements and energy-generating solar arrays.

PWD has been working to return streams to their natural state and create stable, healthy waterways able to sustain native vegetation and aquatic life. 2011 saw the restoration of Bells Mill—a 5,100-foot tributary to the Wissahickon—nearly completed, with grading and rock structures in place that will help stabilize the streambank and reduce erosion. With the addition of some landscaping in spring 2012, the project will be fully complete.

Elsewhere in the Wissahickon watershed, stormwater wetlands at Cathedral Run and Wises Mill began functioning this year. These wetlands mitigate the impact of stormwater flows, reduce the amount of sediment that ends up in the streams and increase the diversity of aquatic vegetation in those wetland areas.

8,000 Feet of Stream Restoration

Cobbs Creek stream restoration near Marshall Road, completed in 2004

Join us on Thursday, November 17 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center to learn about the planned stream restoration for Cobbs Creek, which will encompass approximately 8,000 linear feet of stream length. Gerald Bright, an environmental program scientist with PWD, will provide an overview of the restoration and its aim to mitigate combined sewer overflows and improve water quality using natural stream channel design techniques. The project will enhance Cobbs Creek Park by installing stormwater management projects, improving trails and gateways, and creating a more scenic waterway.

Learn more about PWD's efforts to improve water quality through Waterways Restoration.

News Stream: Schuylkill Restoration Projects

Photo: Meliora Environmental Design

Seven projects in the Schuylkill River watershed will receive funding from the Schuylkill River Restoration Fund to improve water quality and address remediation issues. Two sites are in Philadelphia: The Albert M. Greenfield School (pictured above) will receive $50,000 for the installation of a green roof, and a stormwater management project in Shawmont will receive $60,000. Other projects upstream in Berks County will also address water quality issues, detailed in an article in the Pottsville Mercury:

"Measures include stream bank fencing, animal crossings and manure storage facilities, as well as native tree plantings and riparian buffer restoration, all of which are aimed at improving water quality in the Schuylkill by preventing biological pollutants and sediment from entering streams in the first place."

For more info on projects in the Schuylkill watershed, visit the Schuylkill Action Network website.

Stream Restoration: Whitaker Ave

Before stream restoration
After stream restoration

Our green works aren't confined to stormwater infrastructure such as tree trenches and rain gardens. PWD's Office of Watersheds recognizes the need to preserve and restore our remaining streams to ensure a high-quality water supply and provide a healthy environment for recreation and wildlife. Last year, a 2,200-foot stretch of Tacony Creek just south of Roosevelt Boulevard was given a natural makeover. Like many urban streams, the Tacony is "flashy"—large volumes of stormwater runoff quickly enter the creek and erode its banks—and suffers from a degraded habitat for fish and other aquatic life. Trash and abandoned automobiles littered the creek banks, which were being overtaken by Japanese knotweed, an invasive bamboo-like plant species.

The Ecological Restoration Unit designed a plan to remove abandoned railroad abutments and stabilize the banks with specially placed stones and the planting of more than 3,000 new trees and shrubs. Rock vane structures were placed at bends in the stream and boulder clusters were placed in the stream center; both redirect flows and improve habitat for aquatic life. As a result, this portion of the Tacony is not only healthier and more attractive, but the creek's restoration also saves taxpayers money when compared to traditional structural solutions.

Learn more about degraded waterways and PWD's other restoration projects.

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