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City of Philadelphia

Sourcewater Issues

The quality of our drinking water is directly linked to the quality of our source water—the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. 
The following issues raise concerns related to maintaining a high quality drinking water source for Philadelphia.

Forest Clearing and Development
Forest clearing to accommodate land development, natural gas drilling, and increasing populations can decrease the quality of our water supply. For example, if all of the forest in the Schuylkill watershed were cleared for development, fecal coliform levels could increase by more than 250%. Consequently, land preservation is an important component of source water protection.

Stormwater Runoff
You may notice that rivers turn brown after heavy rains. That’s because runoff scours dirt and sediment from river banks and washes pollutants into the water. Bacteria levels are highest in Philadelphia’s rivers after rain events. According to Rivercast (, the Schuylkill River is unsuitable for certain types of recreation more than 30% of the time due to high bacteria levels.

Agriculture Runoff
Agriculture runoff is the primary source of pollutants in streams and rivers in the United States. More than 25% of the land that influences the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers is used for farming. The runoff from this land contains bacteria, pathogens, sediment and fertilizers.

Spills and Accidents
Rivers are vulnerable to accidental, natural and deliberate contamination events. Since May 2008, more than 50 events—including sewage leaks, oil spills and fish die-offs—were reported in waterways near Philadelphia. These contamination threats create the need for comprehensive early warning systems to protect the water quality of the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers.

Treated Wastewater Effluent
Hundreds of wastewater treatment plants discharge into the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers upstream of Philadelphia. The Schuylkill is sometimes as much as 60% treated wastewater discharge during prolonged periods without rain. PWD is closely studying impacts of such high percentages of effluent.

Improper Disposal of Trash/Waste
Many of Philadelphia’s storm drains lead directly to our rivers. Throwing pet waste, leftover paint, toxins or trash down storm drains pollutes our drinking water sources. By increasing awareness of the connection between “street to stream,” this pollution can be reduced.

Pollution from Geese and Wildlife
Geese and other wildlife are sources of contamination in our waterways. A single goose can produce up to three pounds of manure every day and 1,095 pounds of fecal material every year. This waste contains bacteria and other harmful pathogens that present public health and drinking water treatment concerns.