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Value of water

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Infrastructure Week 2017: Our Time to Build

Infrastructure Week 2017

May 15-19 is Infrastructure Week 2017, and the Philadelphia Water Department is joining fellow utilities, cities, organizations and businesses around the country to highlight the importance of investing in infrastructure.

Infrastructure is what makes our communities work. It’s the investments we make together to make life better.
Generations before us had the vision to build roads, bridges, water mains and sewers, treatment plants, airports and more—all for a more prosperous future where people can count on basics like access to clean water.

Now, it’s our time to build and to take care of what those generations built for us.

Follow our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts for exclusive content not available on the blog and check back for posts about big projects, innovative "living infrastructure" and more. You can also visit the Infrastructure Week site to get tools for your own infrastructure advocacy. 

To kick the week off, we’re sharing a piece Mayor Jim Kenney authored for the influential Brookings Institution think tank about the role Green City, Clean Waters can play in growing our city’s green workforce:

Here's a short video about our work that was posted to Facebook:

City Council Imagined a Day Without Water - And They Didn't Like It

This graphic, produced by Value of Water, shows we aren't alone in dealing with main breaks. Over the last 5 years, Philadelphia Water averaged 823 water main breaks per year, a fairly typcial number for similar cities. Credit: Philadelphia Water/Value of Water.
This graphic, produced by Value of Water, shows we aren't alone in dealing with main breaks. Over the last 5 years, Philadelphia Water averaged 823 water main breaks per year, a fairly typical number for similar cities. Credit: Philadelphia Water/Value of Water.

As a part of the national "Imagine a Day Without Water" campaign, City Council backed a resolution recognizing the importance of our water infrastructure and the need for both local and federal investment to maintain the pipes and systems that deliver, remove and treat our water.

We're thrilled that Philly's elected officials (officially) get just how important it is to keep our water flowing! In the Tuesday, Oct. 1 session, City Council overwhelmingly approved the resolution. You can view the document here, and we've included the full text below.

MORE: Read Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug's Inquirer Op-Ed Here

Since there are roughly 2,000 employees at Philadelphia Water working 24/7/365 to make sure you always have clean, safe drinking water and that our rivers are protected and healthy, we know the importance of having water. And even just one day without water would more than inconvenient—it could be catastrophic.

It's more than brushing your teeth, having a cup of coffee and, of course, staying hydrated. So much—from the food we grow to our power plants and life-saving fire hydrants—depends on the nation's water infrastructure. And yet, we often take it for granted until something breaks because so much of this crucial system is hidden beneath our feet. In Philadelphia alone, there are enough pipes and sewers to stretch from here to California and back again, and much of that system is aging.
We've budgeted $767 million in 2016 to keep Philadelphia's water infrastructure running, but the system is still aging, and costs will rise.

That's why we're part of the "Imagine a Day Without Water" campaign, organized by the national Value of Water Coalition, to raise awareness about the need for infrastructure investment.
Learn more about this important issue at the Value of Water website, check out City Council's resolution below, and be sure to keep read an important message from Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug and former Pa. Governor Ed Rendell (now co-chair at Building America's Future) on the Philadelphia Inquirer's opinion page.

City Council’s Imagine a Day Without Water Resolution -  Full Text:

Recognizing the Philadelphia Water Department and the “Imagine a Day Without Water” campaign being held October 6-8 2015 which is geared toward recognizing the importance of clean water in our lives and the investment in infrastructure that is necessary to protect this valuable resource.

Whereas, the infrastructure that brings water to and from homes and businesses is essential to the quality of life and economic vitality of the city of Philadelphia; and

Whereas, Philadelphia residents on average utilize 87 gallons of water per person, per day; and

Whereas, Philadelphia has almost 3,200 miles of water mains with an average age of 70 years; and treats over 250 million gallons of drinking water per day and over 471 million gallons of wastewater and stormwater per day, providing reliable and clean water to over 2 million people; and

Whereas, while utilities nationwide are grappling with aging infrastructure, Philadelphia Water is making prudent and sustainable investments guided by a 10-year capital plan; and

Whereas, Philadelphia Water has been a model for innovation, delivering notable projects such as the Contaminant Warning System and the Biogas Cogeneration facility; and

Whereas, Philadelphia will invest $2 billion over 25 years in its Green Cities, Clean Water program to ensure clean water and an ever-greener Philadelphia for present and future generations; and

Whereas, green stormwater infrastructure will not only ease the burden on our sewers but will provide a maximum return in benefits to the public, the economy and the environment; and

Whereas, one-fifth of the U.S. economy would grind to a halt without a reliable and clean source of water; and

Whereas, for every one job created in the water sector, another 3.68 jobs are added in the national economy. And for every $1 spent on infrastructure improvements, the U.S .generates $6 in returns; now; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, BY THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, that the City of Philadelphia recognizes that water is essential to the quality of life and economic competitiveness and acknowledges the importance of educating the public about the value of water through the “Imagine A Day Without Water” campaign.

FURTHER RESOLVED , that the City of Philadelphia is dedicated to investing in the City’s water and wastewater infrastructure and calls on our federal partners to bring much-needed funding to Philadelphia to protect and restore our critical water infrastructure.

Throwback Thursday: Cost of Water in 1898 vs. 2015

From the Philadelphia Water Archives: A bulletin board outside the archive room at 12th and Market.
From the Philadelphia Water Archives: A bulletin board outside the archive room at 12th and Market.

When you think about the truly priceless value of clean drinking water—something we all need to survive—compared to what it actually costs, tap water may well be the most undervalued commodity out there.

At 7/10ths of a cent per gallon, Philadelphia Water’s tap is an incredibly good deal, especially when you consider how much work we do to make sure 1.7 million customers have constant access to this resource.

And, since we distribute about 275 million gallons of drinking water every day, we think about the cost quite a bit.

We came across a photo in the archives that proves we’ve been thinking about the cost of drinking water (and how to communicate that to our customers) for a long time:

A Feb. 25, 1898 photograph from the Philadelphia Water archives showing the cost of drinking water.
A Feb. 25, 1898 photograph from the Philadelphia Water archives showing the cost of drinking water. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

In this 1898 photo, taken at the Fairmount Water Works, officials created what’s essentially a 117-year-old infographic by posing with various containers of water and providing the cost of each by volume.

It got us thinking: what would that same amount of water cost today? Naturally, we did the math, and here’s what we found:

Cost of drinking water in Philadelphia in 1898 vs. 2015. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Cost of drinking water in Philadelphia in 1898 vs. 2015. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

Adjusted to today's value using the Consumer Price Index (a dollar in 1898 would be worth a bit more than $28 in 2015), these numbers represent a more than 500 percent increase in the cost of drinking water.

What’s behind the spike? The answer to that question comes from another question: how on earth did they provide 1,000 gallons of water for just $00.04 ($1.15 in 2015 dollars)?

Well, let’s just say that what they called “drinking water” in 1898 was a far cry from what Philadelphians expect when they turn on a faucet today. There was no guarantee that the water wouldn’t make you sick, let alone look clean.

Our historian, Adam Levine, says water treatment at the time was pretty much non-existent: river water was pumped to reservoirs where, if demand happened to be low enough, it had time to clarify before going off to homes. High demand, however, often meant the water didn’t even have time to settle, and the results could be rather ugly.

"I have come across a number of cartoons from the period that talk about the water running out of pipes as black as ink, due to the coal dust (washed down from upstate coal mines) suspended in the river water after heavy rains," Levine says.

For a Throwback Thursday double-dip, let’s take a look at one of those cartoons:

A cartoon from August, 1898 addresses typhoid in Schuylkill River drinking water.
A cartoon from August, 1898 addresses typhoid in Schuylkill River drinking water. Credit: Philadelphia Water. 


Today, we still let the water settle—but that’s just one step in complex process that involves filtration, treatment for pathogens, and lot and lots of testing. We were one of the first cities to use filtration, and the advent of chlorination in the early 1900s helped to make widespread water-borne illnesses a thing of the past—a past that, as we see here, meant very cheap but dangerous drinking water.

“Our largest [budget] items are for chemicals and energy (electricity and natural gas),” says Debra McCarty, Director of Operations for Philadelphia Water. “The process of treating river water to become potable water has become more complicated over the years. The standards to which we treat drinking water are far higher than ever. Regulations continue to change, and we continue to meet them.”

All that work (check out this graphic for a look at how we treat tap water) adds costs to the price of drinking water, but at $00.07 for every 10 gallons, we think it’s a pretty good deal for something truly priceless—safe, tasty tap water 24/7.

The value seems like an even better deal when you consider the cost of drinking bottled water.
The American Water Works Association estimates bottled water costs Americans anywhere from 300 to 2000 percent MORE per gallon than the average gallon of tap water.

So make the smart choice: drink tap water, save money, and be glad you aren’t living in the 1890s!

Want to stay up to date on the latest Green City, Clean Waters news and get important Philadelphia Water updates? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter now by clicking here!

Hey, Mr. Vice President: Why Not Have Both?

The Value of Water's Radhika Fox and Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug speak during Infrastructure Week. Credit: Brian Rademaekers
The Value of Water's Radhika Fox and Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug speak during Infrastructure Week. Credit: Brian Rademaekers 

The Value of Water Coalition just sent out a recap of highlights from Infrastructure Week (May 11-15), and they led off with a summary of comments made by Vice President Joe Biden:  

Vice President Biden kicked off Infrastructure Week with a fiery speech about how our infrastructure needs to be modernized. Biden highlighted the lack of visibility for water infrastructure: "No one sees it. You get a chance to invest in the stormwater drainage system, which causes enormous pollution, or you build a new park... it's not a hard choice for a politician to make." Biden also stated "We need to modernize our water infrastructure. Sewage, stormwater runoff, safe water supplies."

It's truly great to see the importance of water infrastructure getting talked about in such high places, and we owe the VP for the shout out. But we couldn't help but think that the "either/or" "pipes vs. parks" scenario he laid out - either you use public funds to improve water infrastructure or you build a new park - might be a bit too black and white.

The real beauty of our Green City, Clean Waters program and the green infrastructure it makes use of is that we get to add new green spaces to neighborhoods in the form of rain gardens, bumpouts, tree trenches and more, all while bulking up our water infrastructure and protecting our rivers. With Green City, Clean Waters, neighborhoods are expanding their green space, and Philadelphia is drastically reducing the toll stormwater runoff takes on our streams and rivers.

So, what do you say, Joe? Why not have that cake and eat it, too. After all, that's what the "triple bottom line" of Green City, Clean Waters is all about: It’s good for our city, good for our wallets, and good for our water. 

Commissioner Neukrug Touts Leadership at 'Value of Water' Forum

The panel at Value of Water Coalition's WHYY forum.
The panel at Value of Water Coalition's WHYY forum. Photo Credit: Brian Rademaekers

The tragic Amtrak crash that claimed eight lives and left hundreds injured in Port Richmond last week was an inescapable topic for panelists speaking at the May 14 Value of Water Coalition forum at WHYY's studios. Organized as a National Infrastructure Week event, What’s the Value of Water? The Pennsylvania Story featured five speakers, including Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug.

Like others at the forum, Neukrug noted how the "terrible" Amtrak tragedy sparked an intense and emotional debate about the importance of infrastructure investments.

"It’s fascinating to watch this discussion that’s happening with infrastructure now," Neukrug told the audience, noting the tone in Washington D.C. became "very partisan, very quickly."  But, Neukrug said, there are valuable observations to be made regarding how people think about infrastructure funding. 

“If you really want to create change in the city, or to create change in infrastructure in America, there are only two ways to do it … one is crisis, and the other one is leadership. What’s fascinating is that, if you watch this, crisis ain’t working,” said Neukrug. “Crisis happens. You can look at California today and realize that they’re just about out of water. And, yes, there are some policy shifts, and they are trying to figure out how to conserve water at the tap … but no big innovative change has come out of it. So, that takes the two ways of creating change and kind of shoves crisis to the side and leaves us with leadership.”

Pointing to the tagline in the new Philadelphia Water logo – “Est. 1801” – Neukrug detailed the city’s long history as a leader in innovative water management, starting with the creation of Fairmount Park as a means of protecting drinking water sources and the development of the Fairmount Water Works to deliver that drinking water.

As for more recent examples of leadership, Neukrug pointed to Philadelphia Water’s 25-year Green City, Clean Waters plan, a nationally recognized model that uses Green Stormwater Infrastructure to achieve federal stormwater requirements while saving taxpayer money and contributing to the larger goal of making Philadelphia the greenest city in the country.

He also pointed to the department’s Biogas Cogeneration Facility at the Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant, which turns human waste into energy needed to run treatment plants. Features like that and the sewage geothermal installation and solar photovoltaic system at the Southeast WPCP are important in part because they reduce air pollution, but also because every dollar not spent on energy is a dollar that Philadelphia Water can spend on improving infrastructure.

Neukrug said the ultimate goal isn’t just to get treatment plants to a “net zero” status where they are using no outside energy, but to create “net positive” facilities that can actually produce power for use elsewhere. That forward thinking recently saw the city awarded with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Leadership Award

“We have really changed the game in Philadelphia,” Neukrug told the panel.

For more on Commissioner Neukrug’s comments during the forum, check out the video clips below.

Commissioner Neukrug's Opening Remarks:

Commissioner Neukrug on Biogas and Net Zero Energy Goals: 

Other panelists at the forum were: Beverly Coleman, Assistant Vice President for Community Relations and Economic Development, Temple University; Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow, Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program; Aldie Warnock, Senior Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and Public Policy, American Water and Steven Wray, Executive Director, Economy League of Greater Philadelphia.

Want more? Read Value of Water Coalition’s latest report, The New Wave of Innovation.  

The Value of Water

Value of Water Coalition logo

Philadelphia Water Department is proud to be a founding member of The Value of Water Coalition, an alliance of public and private water agencies, business and community leaders, and national organizations united in communicating the importance of water to the economic, environmental, and social well-being of America. 

The Value of Water Coalition draws attention to our nation’s aging and underfunded water infrastructure, and educates on the fundamental importance of water. PWD plays a crucial role in the Coalition’s work with Commissioner Howard Neukrug serving on the Steering Committee and contributing content to the Coalition's website

The Coalition is growing and redoubling its efforts in 2015 as water-related issues are a rising concern for the nation. Issues like water main breaks in the Northeast during the cold winter months, which we recently discussed on this blog, and record drought affecting the West Coast

Despite the essential role that water plays in driving critical sectors of the economy and contributing to the high quality of life we enjoy in America, water is often overlooked in the national discussion of infrastructure investment, especially since water infrastructure is largely invisible. Few people (at least those who don’t regularly read this blog!) realize what it takes to treat and deliver drinking water every day or how wastewater is cleaned so that it can be safely reused or returned to the environment. The Value of Water is seeking to get that conversation going.

To learn more about The Value of Water’s work, visit: and follow them on Twitter @TheValueofWater.

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