While this last year has been a far cry from normal as we continued to serve the city and navigate the challenges of COVID-19, 2021 had no shortage of highlights at the Philadelphia Water Department.

Protecting, treating, and delivering water for more than 1.6 million people, we maintained the crucial services our city depends on—all while marking major achievements, advances, and milestones.

From community poetry to infrastructure investments and mural unveilings, 2021 offered a plethora of opportunities allowing us to better serve Philadelphia residents.

2021 Marks a Decade of Green City, Clean Waters

Throughout 2021, we took on a major enterprise: capturing the last 10 years of Green City, Clean Waters and celebrating all the PWD employees and partners who helped reach all of our goals for this critical milestone. By hitting our benchmarks, we are keeping billions of gallons of pollution out of waterways each year.  

Green City, Clean Waters: A Decade in the Community explores the last 10 years through the lens of engagement, residents, businesses, jobs, and partnerships.

Using blogs, research, videos, photos, graphics, and a dedicated campaign webpage, we tapped into the many talents of our colleagues (and partners) to produce a comprehensive and creative tribute to the first decade of this 25-year plan to restore our local waterways.

And in October, we brought the celebration to American Street, where we hosted an official ribbon cutting for the site of a significant green stormwater infrastructure project.

Check out the blog series!

Philly Is in Running for EPA Loan for Water Infrastructure

In December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the City of Philadelphia was selected to apply for a $246 million Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loan. To date, the EPA has announced 63 WIFIA loans that are providing $12.7 billion in credit assistance to help finance approximately $26 billion for water infrastructure projects across the country, creating approximately 73,000 jobs and saving ratepayers over $4.5 billion.

The loan would support improvements for Philadelphia’s water infrastructure, including upgrades to treatment facilities, pumping stations, storage systems, and water main replacement. The proposed improvements included are all part of the larger 2019 Philadelphia Water Department Drinking Water Master Plan (WMP). The plan—which addresses operations, regulations, public engagement, and affordability—consists of 400 inter-dependent projects aimed at upgrading the City’s drinking water treatment and supply facilities.

PWD Adds New Boat to Fleet

The small but important PWD fleet of boats got a new addition in 2021, adding a 28-foot vessel that can fit about 8 people. The boat can be used on the Delaware and Schuylkill and will assist in everything from trash and debris removal from hard-to-reach areas to infrastructure assessments, says Office of Watersheds Senior Scientist Lance Butler.

“The shoreline is unfortunately where we tend to see the most trash and litter, and this with this vessel you can really get close to the banks,” Butler says.

With a front that drops down to make loading crew and equipment and offloading trash easier too, the new boat provides added flexibility operations on the water.

“This is a boat that will give us lots of options,” says Maria Horrowitz, Environmental Engineer and Watershed Field Services Manager. “It’s our swiss army knife of boats.”

Water Quality Report Wins Data Prize

In January, PWD was the only utility among five winners of the Water Data Prize— a national competition challenging the drinking water industry to create more accessible approaches to scientific data. PWD clinched an honorable mention for a retooled web version of the 2019 Water Quality Report.

Our Public Affairs Division partners with the Bureau of Laboratory Services each year to produce this important communication tool. Our most recent report is more accessible than ever. It’s available in print and as a mobile-friendly web edition.

New Development Services Unit

This summer, we took a big step towards streamlining how we work with developers when we introduced the new Development Services Unit, which operates within our Planning and Environmental Services Division. It merges Utility Plan Review, Stormwater Plan Review, and related support groups to better serve development project needs.

With each new construction project in the City, developers must work with PWD to connect to the public water and sewer system, as well as manage stormwater. PWD regulates the development community to ensure the safety of our work and infrastructure for our customers.

Treatment Plants Clinch National Awards

Our Water Pollution Control Plants have once again been recognized by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) for demonstrating outstanding dedication to water sanitation and treatment. The Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant achieved a Platinum Peak Performance Award for 21 years of 100 percent compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

Additionally, the Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant earned a Gold Award for NPDES permit compliance during 2020. These facilities—and the staff who operate them—work 24/7 to ensure millions of gallons of wastewater are cleaned every day before being released back into the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers.

PENNVEST Grant Given to Manayunk Canal

In July, the City received a $20.9 million loan through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) to demolish and rehabilitate portions of the Feeder Gate House and Canal Intake Channel Wall along the Manayunk Canal. These improvements will provide major upgrades to the stormwater collection and conveyance systems. The project will address discharges of stagnant canal water, preventing pathogens, organics, and other contaminants from entering the City's water treatment system.

Commissioner and PWD honored at Globys

A few weeks ago, the Global Philadelphia Association honored Commissioner Randy E. Hayman, Esq. with its Sustainable Development award at their annual "Globys" event in recognition of PWD's leadership in the arena of sustainability, including efforts on climate, green infrastructure, energy and resource recovery, and watershed protection.

Read Global Philadelphia's interview with Commissioner Hayman →

Fish Fest Returns

After COVID concerns ended a 15-year streak in 2020, this September saw more than 100 folks of all ages once again flocking to the banks of the Schuylkill River for our annual Fish Fest! Dozens of fish, including eel, perch, and catfish, were caught and released. The largest catch was a flathead catfish measuring more than 38 inches long!

Drink More Tap Murals + Music

We continued our partnership with Mural Arts Philadelphia around Drink More Tap: a campaign using visual and performing arts to increase awareness of the benefits of drinking the city’s top-quality tap water. (It’s healthy, sustainable, and affordable!)

The project was inspired by tap water-consumption research conducted by PWD and ImpactED at the University of Pennsylvania. Results showed that Philadelphians with the least amount of money are spending the most on bottled water.

During the fall of 2021, the Drink More Tap murals, created by El Salvador-born artist Calo Rosa, were officially unveiled at Penrose Recreation Center and Cruz Recreation Center in North Philadelphia.

The public art was accompanied by original music composed by local singers and instrumentalists. From Brazilian beats to funk fusion, musicians tackled the task of creating tap-water tunes.

PWD Pens Germantown Poetry Project

In another arts-meets-infrastructure collaboration, a grant from the U.S. Water Alliance’s Water, Arts, and Culture Accelerator allowed us to connect with Germantown residents impacted by flooding. As a pilot member of the program, we were tasked with addressing a climate-related water challenge through the integration of arts and culture alongside other utilities, including Central Arkansas Water, Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, and Tucson Water.

Our Public Affairs team joined forces with Trapeta B. Mayson, Philadelphia's 2020-2021 Poet Laureate, to curate “Wingo-WHAT?” — an artistic intervention designed to shed light on Germantown flooding concerns through poetry, education, and flooding resources. (Wingo-WHAT = Water • History • Arts Activation • Transformation)

During the summer and fall, Mayson guided community members through several poetry workshops around Germantown, inspiring individuals to compose their own verses which will be woven into a larger project culminating in 2022.

School District wins Stormwater Pioneers

Every year since 2014, we’ve celebrated Stormwater Pioneers, our annual award honoring the best in stormwater management on non-residential properties

The 2021 award was given to the School District of Philadelphia for its exceptional commitment to maintenance, education, and community engagement around green stormwater infrastructure (GSI.)

From Strawberry Mansion to Fishtown, 13 ‘green’ schools across the city were recognized.

In November, we held a ceremony with students and staff at Southwark School—one of the 13 honorees—which was attended by School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. William Hite.

Drink Philly Tap Launches New Guidebook

In 2019, PWD joined with ImpactED at the University of Pennsylvania and a few other partners to pilot Drink Philly Tap, a program committed to empowering Philadelphians with knowledge about the benefits of drinking Philly tap over bottled water. Funded by the William Penn Foundation, several components were encompassed in this project, including an Ambassadors program that had residents talking to their communities with facts about drinking water quality in Philadelphia.

In 2021, Penn received a grant to study the impacts of these ambassadors, as well as develop guidance for future ambassador programs. This ultimately led to the new Drink Philly Tap Ambassador Program Guidebook.

This fall, PWD staff, including Deputy Commissioner for Communications and Engagement Glen Abrams, Public Engagement Team Manager Tiffany Ledesma, and Outreach Specialist/City Planner and Hailey Stern, participated in a panel presentation with the Water Center at Penn that showcased the ambassador program’s purpose, outcomes, research findings, and best practices.

POOL Exhibit (re)set for 2022 + Floating Workshop Awarded $3M

From 1961 to 1972, the Kelly Pool served students and competitive swimmers. (Photo source: Fairmount Water Works)

Despite its postponement after Hurricane Ida, the Fairmount Water Works' highly anticipated POOL exhibit will be returning on World Water Day, March 22, 2022.

The Fairmount Water Works' POOL is a multi-disciplinary art exhibition exploring the social history and present-day implications of segregated swimming pools in America. Visitors can expect an immersive experience, including rarely seen archival film footage and photographs. Learn more.

Big Step for Floating Workshop

In other big Water Works news, our education center really ended the year on a high note when Pennsylvania Senator Nikil Saval announced The Fund for the Water Works as a $3 million recipient of a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant to develop The Floating Water Workshop. 

The proposed Floating Water Workshop design features a 5,400-square-foot dynamic learning space that would rest on the Schuylkill River, connecting to the east bank and Schuylkill River Trail using two gangways just south of the historic Fairmount Water Works site. The Workshop will be a learning laboratory of hands-on STEAM-based (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) engagement for people of all ages using current environmental education strategies, technology, and creativity.

PWD Staff Selected for Duke University Fellowship

In December, two PWD employees, Nafissa Bizo, Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant Manager, and Kelly Anderson, Watershed Protection Program Manager, were selected as 2022 Fellows of the Duke Water Innovation Leadership Development Program—a cohort-based executive education program designed for rising leaders in water services management.

Annual enrollment in the program is limited to between 15 to 20 Fellows to optimize the learning environment. Thanks to generous support from program funders, tuition, travel, and lodging costs, which otherwise would be valued at about $14,000, are covered for each Fellow.

Congratulations to Nafissa and Kelly on this opportunity to bring fresh skills to the already amazing work you're doing!