Sometimes it feels like we take water for granted. Not only do we use it to hydrate ourselves, but also use water to wash ourselves, our clothes, and the dishes! Our source of water comes from the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, and it’s not looking too fresh. However, there are water plants: the Baxter Plant, the Queen Lane Plant, and the Belmont Plant that clean and purify that water so that when it travels through miles of pipes, it arrives to our sinks with no hassle, right?
Well, the process may seem smooth, but there are times where things can take a bad turn. As it travels through the pipes from the water plants to our homes, that water can still be re-exposed to contaminants and pollutants. When someone drinks dirty water, the short-term effects are diarrhea, vomiting, stomach aches; if someone were to drink it for a long period of time, it can cause cancer, specifically leukemia, infertility, and developmental problems for young infants.
Even though the water is tested before it leaves one of the three plants, after traveling through miles of pipes, water can be contaminated. In 2019, 90% of Philadelphia residents had 3.0 ppb and 0.28 ppb of lead and copper, respectively. This means that there were 3.0 parts per billion of small amounts of contaminant in our drinking water. This is a good thing; low levels of contaminant is in our water!
However, the other 10% of residents do not have that luxury. Their water may contain high levels of these chemicals due to corrosion in their pipes or erosion of natural deposits. Students who live in these homes may have to rely on their schools to get clean water. Some public school students in Philadelphia have expressed their concern about contaminated water in the water fountains. While Philly schools are now working to solve these problems, there still needs more work to be done, in both schools and in the Philadelphia community.
DIY Water Filter
An alternative is making clean water at home with a DIY water filter. Using at home items and buying other materials is an inexpensive alternative than buying a built-in water filter that can cost hundreds!
Another way is to simply boil your water to get rid of any lingering bacteria, but be careful because it can get hot!
Get Water Tested
The first step to making sure that we have clean water is to test it. Testing the water quality in our homes can ensure that our water is safe to drink. The Philadelphia Water Department conducts free lead testing for residential customers who call their hotline: 215-685-6300.
The city of Philadelphia receives over 10 inches of rain above the national average on an annual basis. While there are many benefits of more rain, the surplus of stormwater runoff has caused problems in many areas of the city. One of the most profound problems is the cross connections of stormwater runoff and sewage runoff which have affected the lives of many residents’ access to clean sanitation and drinking water. This has become a common occurrence throughout the history of the city.
The city’s rainwater management system is one of the oldest in the nation. Built in the 1800s it involves capturing stormwater and sewage runoff in the same underground catch basin to pipe system. Through this underground system, the mixed runoff is then sent to one of three water treatment plants, and the treated water is then sent to lakes, ponds, and the Delaware river. During storms of grand magnitude, many times these basins overflow causing the mix of sewage and stormwater to flood the surface, and pollute the soil, asphalt, and residential properties.
This has been a major problem in Philadelphia for years and many attempts to make awareness of this issue have been made. More modern cities such as San Diego and Austin have developed separate pipes for sewage flow in order to prevent these cross connections. While environmental activists have fought extensively to make awareness of this issue, much of the public remains unaware of such issues.
Build a Rain Garden
City residents can build rain gardens in their backyards. A rain garden is a small garden of shrubs, flowers, and trees built on porous soil that allows rainwater to infiltrate into the ground. The plant-life and soil acts as a filtering mechanism for the water to mix with the groundwater without carrying pollutants.
The main purpose of rain gardens is to reduce stormwater runoff on city streets, further preventing the overflow of sewage catch basins onto the streets during a period of high rainfall. If city residents build rain gardens on their properties (i.e., backyards and/or front lawns), the amount of stormwater runoff in the city could decrease drastically.
Build a Rain Barrel
Rain barrels are large barrels that can capture stormwater at a city’s residence. Rain barrels can be attached to a gutter system in a home, condominium, or apartment complex. This can drastically reduce stormwater runoff on a residential city street by capturing water and then redirecting water through an underground catch basin system.
During a period of high rainfall, this has a similar affect as rain gardens. Rain barrels can also lower water costs if water is stored in the barrel. Stored water from rain barrels can be used for lawn irrigation and other uses, further contributing to a environmental sustainability.
The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) and the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society (PHS) started the RainCheck program that allows city residents to install rain barrels for free and also offers the service of installing rain gardens at a reduced cost.
Tapping into these services can be a jumpstarted, which may have a domino effect throughout residential properties in the city. Here is the link to sign up for RainCheck.