Director’s Notebook: Who Provides Your Drinking Water?

Conservation // June 14, 2017

In case you missed it, PennFuture declared June “Water is Life Month” to focus on the causes and solutions to our critical water problems. In addition, Philadelphia was the site of the annual conference of the American Water Works Association this week. About 11,000 water professionals gathered at the Pennsylvania Convention Center to ensure that our nation’s decrepit infrastructure related to water and wastewater systems has more prominence on the public agenda. (Read more here.)

This is an opportune time to reflect on the source of our water in Philadelphia, and why FOW is asking folks on Facebook to tell us who provides their drinking water.  You can take the quick survey on our Facebook page. In the coming months, FOW plans to post a series of questions to the public concerning our drinking water. We all need to begin thinking a little bit more deeply about the infrastructure and complex processes that ensure we all have safe, clean drinking water—something we all need, but often do not understand very well.

Neighbors in one township may not realize that from township to township in Pennsylvania and around the country, our drinking water is provided by a variety of different entities—some are privately owned and some are run by municipalities. The water entering Philadelphia has already gone through several different municipal jurisdictions before it arrives at our county line, and the ground water that contributes to our base flow is itself a water source for other upstream communities. That absolute inter-connectedness is something we tend to forget about because we cannot see it.

Once you realize how fragmented our water provision sources are, you can start to understand why cooperation is essential. In the Wissahickon Watershed, we might feel like we are particularly connected to our waterway because we can see it, hear it, and observe where it enters the intake at the confluence of the Schuylkill River. We understand that when we turn on our taps, part of the water that comes out is, in part, from the Wissahickon Creek. But it is more complicated than that.

As everyone who is a member of Friends of the Wissahickon knows, FOW has a keen interest in water provision because the Wissahickon Creek is a surface water provider of drinking water for the citizens of Philadelphia. It contributes to the drinking water of residents in Center City and Northwest Philadelphia. There are so many challenges that the creek faces throughout the watershed: development, changing climate, and threats to habitat. Often the most impactful decisions on Philadelphia’s water quality are made by communities miles away–and this is true for almost everyone in the U.S. who relies on public or commercial water systems. It is only with concerted efforts, like the national conference this week, that we have any hope of making profound changes in our inter-connected waterways.

Individuals still have an important role to play. One of FOW’s commitments over the next year is to help our members and the broader community connect with political activism that can do the most for our waterway and waterways throughout Pennsylvania. To keep informed on these efforts, connect with us @FOWissahickon on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or become an FOW member today.

by Maura McCarthy, FOW Executive Director