By Dylan Lewis
As heatwaves surge across the country, the most effective thing we can do to beat the heat is to stay hydrated. Philadelphians may have a hard time doing just that thanks to the city’s complicated history with its water. Considering recent boil water advisories, the chemical latex spill a few months ago, and long-standing misconceptions regarding tap water, it’s important to understand the state of water in our city.
The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) recently released a comprehensive report delving into the state of Philly tap water. Brian Rademaekers, public information officer with PWD, joined ecoWURD Magazine to give a breakdown of the report and to explain the process that our water goes through before it makes it to our faucets.
“The water quality report that we put out is a way of reaching people, educating them and having a conversation about what are you concerned about–here’s what we do, here’s the testing we do, here’s where your water comes from–and it really is the result of a whole collaboration, a year-long process. It represents an entire year of data and of testing that we work with our labs and our other teams to put together,” said Rademaekers.
The primary sources for our water are the Delaware and Schuylkill watersheds, which then make their way to three different treatment plants. From there, the water goes through multiple filtration steps followed by disinfection to guarantee there is nothing in the water that could make people sick. Throughout this entire process, there is rigorous testing to confirm that all contaminants have been eliminated and ultimately meet the heavily regulated federal standards. All of this filtration and testing could make you wonder what was in the water in the first place.
Penn Environment recently released a report regarding sewage overflows into Philadelphia rivers. Stephanie Wein, clean water and conservation advocate, joined ecoWURD Magazine to talk about their new sewage map which details sewage contamination throughout the Delaware River Watershed.
“Very little matters if you can’t assure that you and your family have clean and safe water to drink. That is the most basic right, it’s 70% of our bodies. We want to be trusting the water that we drink,” said Wein.
While the report from PWD illustrates the process through which our water is cleaned, Penn Environment works to paint a clear picture of how our water has gotten so dirty.
Older cities like Philadelphia have a two-part wastewater system. All the water used in our homes travels into the pipes, under the streets and then to the waste wastewater treatment plant. When it rains, a storm drainage system moves the water from the streets into the river. This seemingly simple two-part system is disrupted when there’s a large rain event, and the water that has not made it to the treatment plant mixes with the stormwater and the pipes overflow resulting in the sewage making its way into the river. With climate change bringing more rain and a larger population requiring their wastewater to be treated greatly there’s an increased risk of water contamination due to overflow.
Despite the challenges of water contamination, Wein and Rademaekers agree that tap water is still the best option for consumption. “There are more protections, there’s more regulation, there are more checkups on it than anything you could buy at the grocery store. So unless there’s a specific water advisory like that incident back in March where there was a warning about the water or unless you are in a community where fracking has polluted your water […], usually tap water is gonna be the cleanest and the safest and it’s the cheapest,” said Wein. Rademakers said it best, “It’s so nice to have a cold pitcher of clean Philly tap. I’m telling you, it’s a great thing to have to be able to do that.”
To read both reports:
To read PWD’s response to Penn Environment’s Report:
Listen to both these interviews: