Philadelphia’s streets aren’t the only place where litter and debris accumulate — trash and debris are found in bodies of water throughout the city, including the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers and nearby streams.
Seeing that the amount of trash in waterways was a big problem, the Philadelphia Water Department started the Waterways Restoration Team (WRT) in 2003. The team’s work is dedicated to performing stream examinations and cleanup work throughout the city, like trash and debris removal and restoring eroded stream banks and streambeds.
WRT crews perform regular examinations of streams, Water Department infrastructure, and known litter hotspots throughout Philadelphia and respond to complaint-driven requests by department staff and the public. Once a location is identified, crews conduct assessments to determine what equipment and supplies are needed to address whatever the issues are. Common issues include trees and debris removal, maintenance, and stream bank stabilization and restoration, which may require large equipment such as backhoes and cranes. The WRT uses Cityworks, a Work Order Management System, to document stream examinations and stream cleanup activities.
The WRT doesn’t always tackle these issues alone and often partners with other agencies and organizations to promote a clean environment and healthy waterways through education and cleanups. The WRT partners with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, the PA Fish and Boat Commission, United By Blue, Tookany-Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership, and Park Friends Groups. These partnerships allow the WRT to maximize resources and build positive relationships with communities. One of the team’s major goals for the future is to improve communication and coordination with the community and other City agencies to provide a cleaner, healthier local environment.
The WRT’s Impact in Numbers
In 2017, the WRT conducted 740 site cleanups and removed 1,621.9 tons of debris from waterways—over 100 tons more than the previous year and the greatest amount removed by the WRT in any year yet. The collected debris included five vehicles, 72 shopping carts, and 855 tires. The number of large objects collected has decreased significantly since the program began. Since 2003, the WRT has removed over 100 vehicles and several abandoned boats from streams and floodplains with backhoes and cranes. Vehicles are removed and brought up to street level, where the Philadelphia Police Department loads vehicles onto flatbed tow trucks and takes them away.
Much of the debris collected was organic material (like trees and plants) that fell into waterways and restricted flow. 67 tons—or four percent—of the weight collected was human-generated debris, like litter and illegal dumping.
The WRT benefits Philadelphians through stream restorations, cleanups, and education The WRT not only protects infrastructure but provides a cleaner, healthier stream and habitat improvement for wildlife. Wildlife has rebounded noticeably in restored areas, with sightings of beaver, mink, eagles, and wood ducks, among others. This in turn provides an environment favorable for the public to enjoy, improving the quality of life for Philadelphians and visitors. A huge thanks to the Water Department and the Waterways Restoration Team for all of their hard work to clean and restore our local waterway environments.