The Philadelphia Water Department announced last week that Port Richmond will be home to a new $100 million preliminary treatment building next door to the Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant at the corner of Richmond Street and Wheatsheaf Lane. The site will support the existing plant, providing pretreatment to allow for a major increase in capacity during wet weather. Construction will begin this summer and is slated to last four years.
“Philadelphia’s multi-decade plan to reduce combined sewer overflows just got a huge boost,” said Water Department Commissioner Randy E. Hayman. “We are thrilled to move forward with this vital piece of our effort. This fiscally responsible investment gives us much more muscle and capacity, drastically reducing water pollution that impacts our rivers and streams.”
The project was green-lighted thanks to a low-interest loan awarded by the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority’s PENNVEST program, which funds sewer, stormwater and drinking water projects across the state.
Screening and inorganic materials removal will allow the plant to increase its wet-weather treatment capacity from 435 million gallons to 650 million gallons treated per day.
A press release said that the new facility will “drastically reduce pollution in the Delaware River and employ local workers.”
A spokesperson for the Water Department said the plant’s construction will bring 30 temporary construction jobs to the neighborhood during the next four years. It is unclear how many permanent jobs the facility will create once the facility begins operation.
Plans for the building include a green roof and two-stage odor-control system to meet Clean Air Act requirements.
An additional $6.72 million in funding to bolster stormwater management was also announced by PENNVEST on Jan. 20. That loan will go toward green stormwater upgrades in the Lawncrest neighborhood, with construction dates to be announced.
Both investments allow the City of Philadelphia to work toward meeting its federal Clean Water Act obligations detailed in the city’s internationally recognized, 25-year Green City, Clean Waters initiative.
Launched in 2011, Green City, Clean Waters will reach the 10-year mark in June 2021.
The new facility and Lawncrest project will ultimately help Philadelphia meet Green City, Clean Waters pollution-reduction goals, which call for the elimination of about 8 billion gallons of sewer overflow annually by 2036. This includes the city’s construction of green stormwater infrastructure, like underground water storage basins, rain gardens and pervious paving, which prevents excessive rainwater runoff from entering the city’s sewage system.
The key reason it’s important to keep this excessive stormwater from entering its sewage system is because of Philadelphia’s combined sewer system. Many more modern American cities have a separate sewer system, which means there are two sets of pipes underground: one for stormwater, and another for wastewater. In these cities, the stormwater goes through the appropriate pipes, which leads back to a natural body of water, such as a river or a lake. Wastewater, which is water that comes from residents’ drains, goes through a separate set of wastewater pipes, which lead to a water treatment plant. In combined sewer systems, like the one Philadelphia has, wastewater and stormwater get mixed together. When storms happen in cities with combined sewer systems, the water level rises underground in the pipes, which have built-in dams. If the water level rises over the dams, the stormwater/wastewater mix leaks into rivers, causing water pollution.