Where Does Your Drinking Water Come From?

Emilie Wetzel
Jul 5, 2017

Our interns Sandy Spreckley and Krista Vandetty recently took a tour of the Belmont Drinking Water Treatment Plant. Read below to hear about their experience.

 On Friday, June 9th, we took a tour of the Belmont Drinking Water Treatment Plant. We started our tour at the Pumphouse on the Schuylkill River. Dottie Baumgarten, a Water Department educator, met us there and gave us some background information about the water treatment plants that serve Philadelphia. We learned that there are three water treatments that serve Philadelphia; depending on where you live, you receive your drinking water from either Belmont, Queen Lane, or Baxter water treatment plants. The Queen Lane and Belmont water treatment plants take in water from the Schuylkill River, while Baxter draws from the Delaware River. 

At the Pumphouse, we learned that the river water entering the Pumphouse passes through screens in order to filter out large materials.  Next, we drove to the Belmont Water Treatment plant. As we drove, we learned that there are pipes four-feet in diameter underneath the road that push the water from the Pumphouse to the treatment plant.  

Once at the Belmont water treatment plant, we could see the water pouring in from the Pumphouse’s pipes into two giant basins. These basins were built over a century ago in 1901 and are 35-feet deep. They each hold 35 million gallons of water, allowing the plant to process nearly 70 million gallons of water everyday! We learned this facility is currently under construction to make the reservoirs larger so Belmont can process and distribute nearly 90 million gallons of water a day. The construction is expected to finish soon, so Belmont will be pumping out even more clean drinking water very shortly!

In these large basins, silt, sediment, sand, and other large particles settle out to the bottom, and sunlight causes bacteria and algal blooms near the surface layer of water, leaving the cleanest water in the middle of the pool. Pipes transport water from the middle section of the pool to the chemical house. In the chemical house, many chemicals and other additives are incorporated to help disinfect and remove the particles from the water to make it clean enough to drink.

After this, the water is transported outside to be filtered again. The particles and chemicals drop to the bottom of the tanks, leaving the cleanest water on the surface. A dam is used to separate the top inch of clean water, which then goes into pools inside the plant where sand, gravel, and rocks are used to filter the water one last time. Krista thought watching the dam-facilitated filtration was the best part of the tour. 

Sandy says “This tour was really amazing! Thanks Dottie Baumgarten for leading our group and showing us how West Philadelphia gets its drinking water.”

Krista says “I pass the treatment plant every time I come to TTF and have always wondered about the giant pools of water. I would recommend touring a water treatment plant to anyone, because it truly is an incredible process that I think people take for granted. A lot of work goes into this huge process to make our lives simpler.”

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