Philadelphia Water Works

The Water Department


Many projects don’t need special approval from the Water Department in order to be approved by the City. However, there are two kinds of projects that do require Water Department approval form this, oh so special, entity. The first is a demolition permit. Before you can obtain a demo permit you must discontinue water service to your property. Can you imagine tearing down a building with water running through it?


Luckily, getting a water discontinuance is rather simple. You go to the glorious and luxurious 1401 JFK Boulevard. Descend to the lower level, hang a left and then a right. After you enter the concourse you will see a Water Department sign above a portion of the countertop service desks. You simply ask for a water discontinuance to your property. Make sure you have a copy of the owner’s ID if you yourself are not the owner. And that’s basically it.


Big Plans


The second kind of project that will require approval from the Water Department is anything over 50,000 square feet. If you are working on a project of a certain size you need to get a Water Department pre-requisite stamp. But NOT from 1401 JFK. You must take your plans to the City Planning Commission on the 13th floor of 1515 Arch St.


This is one of those tricky things you can really only learn through trial and error.


If you are interested in, or more likely, frustrated by the inconsistencies in permitting procedure take a gander at my last post- Information Breakdown.


Old and Essential


It’s easy to forget about water infrastructure because it is so well hidden, but this ubiquitous resource has actually been quite literally sewn into the city for more than two hundred years. Before we were planning for electricity and internet the founders of cities created massive water infrastructure. This country literally has more than 2 million miles of underground water pipes, nearly all of which are in various states of decay.


The minimal role the water department now plays in the city planning process is a massive departure from the history of water management in the city. If you have ever visited the Schuylkill River waterfront behind the Philadelphia Art Museum, you know that the great pavilion is actually the Philadelphia Water Works.


The Water Works Pavilion is not only beautiful but functional. Charles Dickens praised it for its pleasant design and public usefulness.


The pavilion is part of the great water infrastructure of the city. Initially, water was pumped from the river the Mill House and into the city.  Today the Fairmount Water Works buildings house the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center (FWWIC), a hands-on science and environmental educational center, created by the Philadelphia Water Department.


Throughout the city, there are a number of spectacular water fountains like the one in Logan Square, which were erected to enshrine the public right to water. These grandiose fountains were actually public drinking fountains.


As time has moved on, however, access to water has become less celebrated. Yet, it is an important history we should not forget. There is serious and growing concern over access to water in many parts of the world. And while Philadelphia may not yet have to face the concern of running out of the water. It is imperative that we create a more meaningful role for the Water Department in the City Planning apparatus to ensure this vital resource is sustainably managed.


Philly Zoning Team
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