Historical pollution

Water Treatment Ahead of its Time

By: Trey Cody

Fairmount Water Works

Fairmount Water Works, Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service

As in intern in EPA Region III’s Water Protection Division, there are always ample opportunities to learn about environmental protection. One of my most recent adventures was a trip to the Fairmount Water Works Interpretative Center in Philadelphia with other interns in my program.

The original Fairmount Water Works was considered at the time of its opening in 1815 to be a wonder of the world.  After witnessing its magnificent architecture and design, I would argue that it still is today. During the trip we learned about how, with advanced technology for its time, the Water Works facility allowed Philadelphia to be the first municipality in the nation to take on the responsibility of distributing fresh drinking water to the public. This was done with the use of two steam engines which pumped water from the Schuylkill River to a 3-million-gallon reservoir to house it.  In 1822, a 1,600-foot dam was built across the Schuylkill in order to direct water to three water wheels, which had replaced the steam engines.  Another innovation for its time was the use of hydropower–the facility itself was powered by the river.  And I learned that Fairmount Park was created to preserve open space to protect our water supply.

It is clear that the availability for clean drinking water has been a priority for centuries.  I knew that Philadelphia gets its drinking water from both the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, but it was nice to learn about the history behind this.  It gives me pride to know that the Mid-Atlantic Region was home to a facility ahead of its time that is still to this day a model for drinking water facilities across the U.S.

Do you know how your drinking water is treated and which source it comes from?  Do you have a similar story to a visit to a drinking water facility?  Leave us a comment and tell about it!

About the Author: Trey Cody has been an intern with EPA’s Water Protection Division since graduation from high school in 2010. He is currently attending the Pennsylvania State University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Old-Time Sentiment and Sediment in Lancaster County

Legacy Sediments accumulated to 5 meters tall

Legacy Sediments accumulated to 5 meters tall

By Bonnie Turner-Lomax

I’d encourage you to take a trip through Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County to get a sense for the area’s rich culture and old-world charm, its picturesque farms, covered bridges and quaint towns and villages.  And keep an eye out for the occasional horse and buggy.

One thing you won’t be able to spot, though, is another part of the county’s past – an environmental legacy that has played out for centuries beneath area waters.

During the late 17th through 19th centuries, it was common for communities to build dams on nearby streams to provide water power for various mills that served the communities. Sediment has been accumulating behind these now defunct but still in-place dams since they were first constructed.  Centuries of sediment accumulation (referred to as legacy sediments) have resulted in numerous environmental impacts, including:

  • changes in stream structure,
  • unnaturally high stream bank walls,
  • loss of wetlands,
  • excess sediment scouring during storms,
  • and increased loading of nutrients and sediments downstream.

This historic pollution has present impacts, and affects Lancaster county as well as other communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

Recently, more than 140 environmental professionals converged at Franklin & Marshall College in the heart of Lancaster County for a workshop to deal with this age-old issue.

The group, including federal, state, and local representatives, academics and environmental consultants, held discussions, considered challenges and opportunities, and did field visits to the Big Spruce Run and Banta restoration projects to highlight potential benefits of the sediment fix to water quality and wetlands.

By meeting and establishing a communication forum to share data and information, the group is taking steps to create an environmental legacy of pristine streams, waterways, and wetlands.

Find out more about legacy sediment removal and stream restoration.

About the Author: Bonnie Turner-Lomax came to EPA Region’s mid-Atlantic Region in 1987 and has held several positions throughout the Region.  She is currently the Communications Coordinator for the Environmental Assessment & Innovation Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.