Keeping Our Drinking Water Pure

This post was originally published March 19 in the Southwest CDC Globe Times, as part of PEC’s ongoing watershed education and community outreach on behalf of the Philadelphia Water Department.

Kadafi El-Kardah, Community Engagement Specialist

Have you seen the colorful “Keep it Clean” markers outside of Philadelphia’s storm drains? Each marker pictures an animal and names a local stream: Darby-Cobbs, Delaware, Pennypack, Poquessing, Tacony, Schuylkill, and Wissahickon. Those waterways are the City’s watersheds, which means water running off streets and sidewalks into those storm drains then flows into these water bodies. Storm drain marking is a community-led program that reminds residents that storm drains are pathways to our creeks and rivers, and that they should be kept clear of any trash or debris. Dumping down storm drains is prohibited and could lead to significant damage to our rivers and streams.

When it rains, flow in the storm drain system is expected, but if the weather is dry, flow in the system indicates a problem. An illicit discharge is a threat to water quality, and is defined as any direct or indirect non-stormwater discharge to the City’s storm drain system. “Direct” discharge are flows in the storm drains created by improper connections between the sanitary sewer and storm drainpipes. In this case, sewage waste flows straight to our rivers instead of to the wastewater treatment plant.

Storm drain markers serve as a reminder to keep storm drains clean. The water entering these storm drains will eventually travel to the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, the sources of our drinking water. Dumping down storm drains is prohibited by law.

Indirect discharges are flows created by pollutants that enter the system through a storm drain or by infiltrating through the joints of the buried storm sewer pipes. Outdoor washing activities, leaking trash cans and dumpsters, and the spilling and dumping of chemicals into the storm drain are examples of indirect illicit discharges.

To prevent illicit discharges, consider the following:

  • Educate your neighbors at community meetings and on social media about the importance of not dumping into a storm drain or directly into our waterways. You can also educate your neighbors through newsletters or by marking storm drains in your neighborhood.
  • Hire a licensed contractor to remove any home improvement or construction waste from your home.
  • Dispose mop water in the sink and not into the storm drain.  
  • Dispose your cooking oil properly. For homes, residents can dispose their grease in a jar and place it in their regular trash. Restaurants and other businesses dealing with significant amounts of grease must install grease traps and hire a cooking oil recycling hauler.
  • Drop off paint, vehicle fluid, and other hazardous waste at an approved drop-off event or hire a contractor that specializes in hazardous waste disposal.