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City of Philadelphia

Climate Change Adaptation

As a leader among water, wastewater and stormwater utilities, PWD employs innovative technologies, leading research and adaptive management strategies to ensure high levels of safety and service. It is our obligation to prepare for the impacts of climate change and we are committed to working with the Office of Sustainability, other city agencies, partners, stakeholders, climate scientists, industry experts and officials from all levels of government to address this challenge.

Impacts from climate change pose a significant challenge to water utilities across the nation. PWD created the Climate Change Adaptation Program (CCAP) to understand the impacts that climate change will have on our drinking water, waste water and stormwater systems and to develop cost-effective adaptation strategies to minimize those impacts.

The CCAP stays up-to-date on the latest climate science and is committed to assessing risk and planning for the future to ensure that PWD continues providing high levels of service—clean, safe drinking water and environmentally progressive wastewater and stormwater services—to our current customers and future generations.

Climate Change Impacts on PWD Systems

We are already seeing climate change impacts and in the coming century Philadelphia is expected to have a warmer, wetter future with more extreme weather events compared to historical observations.
  • Higher air temperatures – Increased air temperatures naturally raise the temperature of our source waters, potentially impacting aquatic life and creating new challenges for the drinking water treatment process. 
  • Sea level rise - As sea levels rise, the mixing zone, also known as the salt line, where fresh water and saltwater from the Atlantic Ocean meet, could creep far enough upstream to reach PWD drinking water intakes, threatening to impact our drinking water quality. Sea level rise coupled with extreme storms could also increase flooding and coastal erosion.
  • Increased Rain and Extreme Storms – Increased rain and storm intensity leads to more stormwater runoff which negatively affects the quality of our source waters, stresses drainage systems, degrades streambank stability and could lead to more combined sewer overflows. Severe weather may also lead to increased flooding, threatening aging infrastructure, critical facilities and private property.
  • Drought – Seasonal drought may increase in duration and frequency, which could affect source water quality and substantially reduce river flows and available water supply. 
More information about the impacts of climate change can be found in the PWD statement on climate change.

Our Response

The CCAP works with all PWD divisions to make sure that climate change is considered in long term planning efforts. While climate change presents new challenges to managing our water resources, the good news is that PWD is already working towards solutions and has many of the necessary systems and programs in place to monitor, understand and respond to climate change impacts.

PWD has two programs dedicated to addressing climate change, one focused on mitigation and one focused on adaptation, and PWD is already building resiliency through the Green City, Clean Waters plan, long-term water and wastewater plans, and the efficient operation and management of infrastructure systems.

PWD’s part in addressing the global issue of climate change has taken a three-fold approach:
  1. Mitigate, or lessen, PWD’s contribution to climate change by saving energy and using renewable energy sources;
  2. Study climate science and perform a comprehensive risk assessment to understand what impacts climate change will have on Philadelphia’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems;
  3. Adapt to the expected changes by implementing proactive, cost-effective strategies that include incorporating climate considerations into the planning and design of projects.
More information about PWD efforts to address climate change can be found in the PWD statement on climate change and the CCAP overview sheet.

Frequently Asked Questions

To see all of our Frequently Asked Questions, click here to view and download our FAQ pdf.

What climate change impacts are anticipated for Philadelphia?

Anticipated impacts from climate change in Philadelphia include more rain, extreme storms, higher air temperatures, rising sea levels, and possibly increased drought. Philadelphia is already experiencing many of these impacts and scientists expect these changes to increase in severity and magnitude within the coming century.

To learn more about the specific impacts Philadelphia may see due to climate change, check out these two reports from the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability:
Useful Climate Information for Philadelphia: Past and Future
Growing Stronger: Towards a Climate-Ready Philadelphia.

How will rising sea levels affect Philadelphia?
Philadelphia is not as close to the Atlantic Ocean as other Northeastern US cities such as New York and Boston. However, the Schuylkill River below Fairmount Dam and the Delaware River along the Philadelphia border are tidal. Increasing sea level in the Atlantic Ocean is likely to increase sea level in the Delaware Bay and ultimately increase the elevations of high tide and low tide in the tidal Schuylkill River and the Delaware River that borders Philadelphia.

How may anticipated climate change impacts affect the drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services provided by the Philadelphia Water Department?
Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) provides clean, safe drinking water, wastewater treatment and stormwater management to all residents and businesses within Philadelphia County. All of the services PWD provides are anticipated to be impacted by climate change in one or more ways. Specific examples of these impacts can be found in our Statement on Climate Change, in our FAQ document and in the “Climate Change Impacts on PWD Systems” section above.

How is PWD planning for climate change impacts?
PWD created the Climate Change Adaptation Program (CCAP) in 2014 to better understand the impacts that climate change will have on the drinking water, waste water and stormwater systems. The goal of the program is to reduce the exposure to and associated expenses from climate change impacts by identifying and implementing effective, achievable adaptation strategies. The CCAP is using a risk assessment process based on the best available science to identify vulnerabilities and develop adaptation strategies that will be integrated into existing programs, inform major investments and guide operational and design standards.

How is climate change adaptation planning a function of infrastructure planning?
Providing safe drinking water, treating wastewater and managing stormwater requires a considerable amount of infrastructure. PWD has over 3,000 miles of water mains, over 3,500 miles of sewer pipes, over 75,000 stormwater inlets, over 20 pumping stations, 12 finished water reservoirs and storage facilities, three wastewater treatment plants, three drinking water treatment plants and more! Maintaining, upgrading and replacing city water infrastructure is paramount to everything we do. PWD infrastructure is designed to last a long time so considering the long-term impacts of climate change when designing projects is extremely important.

The CCAP is currently determining approaches to work within existing frameworks to ensure that climate change impacts are considered during the planning and design of infrastructure projects.

Additional Information and Resources