Philadelphia’s Water System

Philadelphia’s Water System


Coincident with any permanent loans that may be authorized next year, the Philadelphia water bureau will request that substantial provision be made therein for betterments to the city’s water distribution system. No estimate has been made of the amount needed to place the system in safe condition. At this time there is pending in councils an urgent request for an appropriation of $15,000 to build a masonry or concrete bridge to support the four great mains crossing the Eva street ravine at the Roxborough filtration plant, which furnishes water to Germantown, Roxborough, Manayunk and Chestnut Hill. In the past two years one or other of these mains have broken, with resultant danger of a water famine in the district and considerable property loss. The insecurity of other great distribution mains in other parts of the city has been pointed out by Chief Davis and has also been called to the attention of councils.

“While these Roxborough mains have proven unsafe and the necessity of reconstruction at this point has been thereby emphasized, it must not he overlooked,” Mr. Davis said, “that there are numerous other places in the distribution system where important pipes are laid on similar wooden trestles.”

Meanwhile the water bureau is steadily carrying out the work of ascertaining by petometric tests all over the city where water is being wasted through “leaks” or other causes. By such tests the bureau expert discovered one of the biggest leaks that has been found in the investigation. At Ninth and Locust streets the petometers showed that there was a leak amounting to about 80,000 gallons a day. The cause was a broken elbow in a 30-inch city main at that point. Recently, also, the bureau found the 30-inch distributing main in Rex avenue was leaking badly at a point where it passes under the bed of Wissahiekon Creek. This main conveys filtered water from the Roxborough plant to Chestnut Hill and Germantown. 1 he amount of “water loss” at this break under the creek will he ascertained in a few days. Chief Davis is constructing a cofferdam in the bed of the stream to reach the main and make the necessary repairs.

Philadelphia’s Water System


Philadelphia’s Water System


The growth of Philadelphia never was more rapid in the 230 years of its existence than during the last decade or two. Its expansion has been steady and substantial. In 1876 the number of dwellings was 143,936, and at the present time the total number of buildings is nearly 340,000. The total number of buildings has increased from 100,000 in 1876 to about 375,000 at the present time, while the population is approximately 1,-500,000. In studying the history of the water department it is found that in 1876 the city had 028 miles of water mains; at present there are nearly 1,700 miles of mains, which supply the large population with an abundance of water. In fact, the city has been pumping much more water than there was any need of, on account of the extravagant use of the city’s supply. Philadelphia officials are proud of the fact that the residents are liberal users of water for legitimate purposes, and it can be said that an effort has been made on the part of the consumers to comply with the demand for more economy in the use of water, which has brought the waste down to the minimum. A rigid campaign was carried on last fall, when a water waste exhibit was held in the City Hall courtyard, a complete description of which, with illustrations, was given in FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING. It proved of great educational value, and it can he said that practically all the leaks have been stopped.

Like Finding a Gold Mine

The water inspectors have been making a house-to-house inspection, looking for leaks and laps that have not been paid for. When they had covered about 20 per cent, of the city they found enough unpaid water taps to give a net revenue to the city for the first four months of the year of $73,000. It is estimated that when the inspection is completed there will be a gain of something like $200,000. The daily per capita consumption is 170 gallons, except in West Philadelphia, where it has been reduced to 125 gallons, and the consumers there have ample supply. During the first four months of the present year the total consumption was 39,000.000,000 gallons. It is claimed that Philadelphia has daily brought to its doors a liberal supply of the best filtered water that can be found anywhere. Aside from supplying such a large per capita consumption—a per capita supply nearly five times that of London—the plant also supplies more than 16,000 fire hydrants.


For more than a century the city depended upon pumps and wells for its water, although lying between two flowing rivers. In 1799 the city awakened to the necessity of energetic ration and passed an ordinance appropriating $150,-000 to develop a water supply. The subscribers to these bonds were to have free water rights for three years. With this money the first water works in the United States were completed. The works began furnishing water in January, 1801, having cost to that date $220,360. In 10 years the plant was declared behind the times, and in 1812, during the second war with Great Britain, a new plant was started, to be known as the Fairmount Water Works. The plant was completed in three years. The city, however, continued to grow and in 1850 Mayor Vaux called attention to the need of a new system, but it was not until 1882 that a board of experts reported the need of increasing the reservoir capacity. In 1885 the chief engineer reported that “at the point where the city water is drawn the impurity is constantly increasing. It is probably approaching the limit of unwholesomeness.” While the success of Philadelphia’s water service, when measured by financial standards, is shown in its present day surplus of receipts over earnings, and its marked tendency toward increased receipts and decreased expenses, perhaps the most convincing testimony to its success, the best justification for the large expenditure necessary to place it upon its present high level of excellent service, is the remarkable testimony furnished by the decrease in the death rate from typhoid fever.

Filtration Decreases Death Rate

This improvement in the public health is directly traceable to the filtered supply. The official records show that while deaths from typhoid in 1907, or before the filtration plant was in operation. were 890, they fell during 1909, when the supply of filtered water was availabe for the larger part of the year, to only 333, or 37 per cent, of the deaths in 1907. The number of typhoid cases recorded during 1907 was 6.712. while those recorded in 1909 were only 2.406. Philadelphia’s water supply system is represented by three great factors:

First—Its filtration plants, comprising the following: Torresdale, with capacity of 220,000,000 gallons a day, followed, in capacity, by the new Queen Lane reservoir, just being completed, with about one-third of Torresdale’s capacity, or 75,000,000 a day. These arc supplemented by the smaller filters at Belmont and Roxborough, with a total of 70,000,000 gallons.

Second—The reservoirs, divided into active and reserve, with a total capacity of 1,453,830,000 gallons, equal to five days’ supply for the whole city. These reservoirs range in capacity from the grtat Fast Park reservoir, with three basins and a total capacity of 688,618,000 gallons, down to the lower Roxborough clear water basins of 3,000,000 capacity. In this list of reservoirs arc included the three standpipes utilized by the city to force water to the higher levels above the gravity line from the great reservoirs. The standpipes referred to are the Belmont high service, water level of which is at an elevation of 304 feet above river level; the Roxborough high service standpipe, 431 feet above that level; the Frankford high service pipe, 300 feet.

Pumping System

Third—The pumping system, supplemented bv that distribution. This pumping plant has a total daily capacity of 309,730,000 gallons, divided as follows: Taken from the Schuylkill raw water, 231,730,000 gallons; from the Delaware. 297,000,000 gallons, making a total of raw water taken from the primary sources. 528,790,000 gallons. Supplementary to this intake and handling of raw water, there is a rehandling of water for the high service amounting to 31,000,000 gallons a day, while centrifugal pumpage and pumpage at filter beds represent a total centrifugal pumpage of 350,000,000 gallons.


The second division of this third classification of water service, namely, distribution, is made through 1,012 miles of pipe under streets; and 1,430 miles of service pipe, or a total of more than 3,000 miles in length, or sufficient to cross the Atlantic ocean, or extend across the American continent from Philadelphia to San Francisco. The mains vary in size from one-half inch to a diameter of 11 feet; 464 miles of water mains have been laid and relaid since 1898, making practically a new system of service mains. To sum up the situation, Philadelphia, in the opening years of the twentieth century, offers convincing proof in her $70,000,000 water supply system that she still leads all American cities in that development which represents the highest type of civilization. Philadelphia marked the opening days of the eighteenth century by the adoption of a new charter and establishment of a well-planned manufacturing interest: she celebrated the opening of the nineteenth century by establishing the first great water works in America: the city marked the opening of the twentieth century bv creating the greatest filtration plant in the world at an expenditure of $27,500,000, securin” ability, through this new addition to her plant, to supply filtered water, from which 99 per cent, of all bacteria has been removed, to a population of 1,550,000 resident in 320.000 separate homes, performing this task by means of wafer service employing 2.200 men, nine pumping stations with an aggregate dailv capacity of 909.000.000 gallons, four filter plants with combined dailv capacity of 305,000,000 gallons, reservoirs holding 1,400.000 gallons, and water mains 1.000 miles in length, making a per canita delivery of 200 gallons a day at a cost of less than one cent a dav to each person in the city.