Service Line Identification Pilot Program

The Philadelphia Water Department is committed to helping homeowners find out if their water service line is made of lead.

As part of this effort, PWD is partnering with researchers from Drexel University and contractors from Arcadis and Cornwell Engineering as part of a Water Research Foundation project, to pilot an innovative technology designed to help PWD’s engineers and field workers determine what material service lines are made of without having to dig them up.

What We’re Doing

The technology that the testing uses measures the waves that buried service lines give off when they are vibrated. These waves are then analyzed to determine the type of material the line is made of – copper, lead, or galvanized steel.

On the day we’ll be testing in your area, you will see PWD staff and contractors in safety vests on your block.

Currently, testing will only be performed in certain parts of West Philadelphia. We’ve pre-selected about twenty homes to take part in this initial wave of testing, according to a number of factors that fit the criteria we need for our test.

Testing is scheduled to begin the week of August 17th.

Why We’re Doing This

PWD is looking at this technology due to the large number of service lines of unknown material type that we have in our distribution system.

PWD needs to determine what these lines are made of, and the only other way of doing so is to excavate the lines and manually check them – a lengthy, messy, and expensive process.

Drexel University’s technology has the potential to save the Department – and its customers – a significant amount of money and effort while efficiently delivering vital information to our engineers about the material status of service lines all over the city.

A diagram showing a typical Philadelphia row home and its water supply plumbing underground. A pipe running from the City's water mains, which are under the street, into the basement of the home, is labeld "Buried sections of your water service line". A vertical pipe runs up from somewhere in the middle of the service line up to an access point in the sidewalk in front of the home, labeld "Curb Stop"

How It Works

During testing, a metal pole will be inserted into the curb stop (the small metal cover usually located in front of your property). This pole will then be gently tapped, which generates a measurable signal throughout the pipe.

The pipe gives off stress waves, which are then collected by advanced sensors on the surface.

All work is done at the street. We do not need to enter your home in order to conduct this testing.

At certain homes, we may ask homeowners to also collect samples from their taps before and/or after testing. These samples will help us verify our results.

If a lead service line is detected, you’ll receive additional information.


Email or call (215) 685-6300.

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