Philadelphia Water Quality: Yesterday
The City of Brotherly Love is in the crux of two mighty rivers, the Schuylkill and Delaware. But even with fresh water literally on either side of the city, colonial Philadelphia was fraught with frequent and widespread epidemics. In the 1700s, it was common for Philadelphians to dump industrial waste and human sewage into the creeks and streams to be carried away to the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, which unfortunately also provided drinking water to the city.
The mounting exposure to bacteria and pollutants led the city to build one of the first water and wastewater systems. The surface creeks and streams became the framework for this infrastructure system. Sewers in creek beds cost-effectively used gravity flow to move the wastewater away from the city and allowed city planners to create the grid layout of Philadelphia. However, this systematic erasing of surface creeks and streams has changed the hydrological conditions. Of the 283 miles of streams that once flowed through Philadelphia to carry runoff to the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, only 118 miles remain today.
It wasn’t until the early 20th Century when city planners realized the negative effects of piping streams and the benefits of creating public parks instead. In 1815, city planners combined the beauty of nature and the science of engineering to create the awe-inspiring Fairmount Water Works. Check out the video below to learn more about Fairmount Water Works.
Philadelphia passed the Purity of Water Act in 1905 to try to curb the sewage pollution evident in the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, the act was not enforced until the 1950s. To combat the sewage-filled intake sources, the city began adding a lot of chlorine to the filtered water, creating the world-famous Schuylkill Punch.