Philadelphia’s three wastewater treatment plants recently received recognition from one the of nation’s top clean water organizations: the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA).

Mary Ellen Senss, Commissioner Hayman, and Donna Schwartz stand spaced out behind a conference table, wearing masks. The award certificates are propped up on the table in front of them.

Left to right: Wastewater Treatment Manager Mary Ellen Senss, Commissioner Randy E. Hayman, and Deputy Commissioner of Operations Donna Schwartz with the Department's Peak Performance Awards.

Each of our hard-working plants won a Peak Performance award, recognizing perfect compliance under the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) last year.

NACWA represents municipal wastewater treatment facilities across the U.S., where important work usually takes place out of sight.

But in reality, they are hubs of activity that never rest.

And you can be sure people would notice pretty quickly if everything they flushed or washed down the drain didn’t get proper treatment.

That constant demand makes waste treatment plants challenging but rewarding places to work.

"No two days are the same, and the main focus of the day can change instantly. Because the influent flow never stops, the plant staff always have to be on top of things," says Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant Manager Doug Cowley. "There is always something going on. Whether it has to do with the process, equipment, weather, meetings, tours or administrative tasks, we handle it with diligence, knowledge and creativity."

Here's a quick look at the three plants and their achievements:

Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant

The Southeast Plant has achieved 20 consecutive years of perfect compliance and will again receive the Platinum Peak Performance Award from NACWA.

"It’s an honor for the plant to reach this milestone, with 20 years of teamwork among all of the personnel who work at the Southeast plant today and those who have worked here in the past. The teamwork and professionalism demonstrated by everyone here on a daily basis has made it possible to protect our rivers and consistently meet the standards set for us," says Manager Doug Cowley. "Our rivers are healthier now than they have been for generations, and running our treatment plants efficiently has a lot to do with that."

  • Manager: Doug Cowley
  • Serves: Center City, South Philadelphia, the Navy Yard, and parts of parts Northwest Phila. and Springfield Township in Montgomery County.
  • Treatment: Treats an average of about 77 million gallons daily.
  • Workforce: Staffed 24/7, Southeast WPCP can employ up to 67 workers.
  • Fun Fact: Southeast WPCP is divided into two identical east and west halves, which operate independently of each other. This allows the performance and operating characteristics of the two sides to be compared with each other. As needed, the operation on one side of the process can be adjusted without changing the other side.

Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant

The Northeast Plant received the Gold Peak Performance Award from NACWA, recognizing perfect compliance with wastewater regulations in 2019.

"This award is for the Northeast plant’s staff. The plant accepted and treated a record flow-rate of 532 million gallons on its peak day during the 2019 fiscal year, while exceeding all water quality treatment standards. This is only possible if you have attentive operation, rigorous maintenance, and expert support staff,” says Northeast WPCP Manager Nafissa Bizo. "Today, during these unprecedented times, they are continuing to show what they’re made of. Despite multiple vacancies, they have taken time away from their families, worked around the clock, remained focused, and continued to support our mission."

  • Manager: Nafissa Bizo
  • Serves: Northeast Philadelphia and parts of Bucks and Montgomery counties.
  • Treament: Treats an average of about 208 million gallons daily.
  • Workforce: Operated nonstop 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the plant can employ about 130 Water Department staff at full capacity.
  • Fun Fact: Our largest plant, the Northeast WPCP creates about 2,100 tons of wastewater sludge every month. An average of 30 barge loads of digested sludge are moved per month to the Biosolids Recycling Center in South Philadelphia.

Southwest Water Pollution Control Plant

The Southwest Plant has achieved nine consecutive years of perfect compliance and will again receive the Platinum Peak Performance Award from NACWA.

"On behalf of our whole team, I am thankful for NACWA’s recognition of our nine years of perfect compliance," says Plant Manager Mohammad Ibrahim. "These awards are impressive because they show what a well-oiled crew can achieve year after year, and that we all strive to make Philly’s rivers as clean as possible by meeting environmental regulations that protect our water."

  • Manager: Mohammad Ibrahim
  • Serves: West Philadelphia and small parts of Delaware and Montgomery Counties.
  • Treatment: Treats an average of about 162 million gallons daily.
  • Workforce: The plant operates 24/7 and can employ about 127 Water Department staff at full capacity.
  • Fun Fact: Gases collected from sewage help to heat 22 buildings and also help to turn sewage into fertilizer pellets at the Biosolids Recycling Center.