Project Flow

Project Flow is a five-week, interdisciplinary exploration of water. Through this program, students are exposed to Philadelphia’s water system, its waterways and infrastructure to help foster a better understanding of urban watershed issues such as water quality, public health, and stormwater management. Students go on field trips, conduct experiments, gather data, write, photograph, and ultimately, become engaged and active in their own communities (school or home).

July 27 – July 31

Our final week together! But not without a lot of fun, even with the heat.

This week included a trip to Independence Seaport Museum for a tour of the museum, kayaking on the Delaware River, water testing, and some fun at Spruce Street Harbor Park.  We also took a tour of Heinz Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum to see a wetland ecosystem.  The best part of the week was watching students put together an art exhibit of their photography from the 5 weeks. We are so used to seeing things on digital media, the students were excited to see their images printed on photo paper and displayed! Take a look at some of these gems, all by PROJECT FLOW!

July 22 to July 24

Three gorgeous days made our camping trip to Locust Lake State Park a complete success.  We stayed in 4 lovely campsites along the edge of Locust Lake, learning to set up tents, roll out our sleeping bags and make sure our tents were free from food so that there were no unexpected visits from…..bears!  After a quick set up on day one and bag lunch, we took a walk around the lake and then grabbed our suits and went swimming.  Dinner and s’mores were accompanied by David on the Mandolin and Aaron Hoke on the guitar. Aaron is an instrumental music teacher with the School District of Philadelphia who agreed to volunteer on the trip.   A special thank you to him for his helpfulness and for his guitar playing and willingness to give us a few days and nights of his time.

The next morning, we met Bill Reichert from The Schuylkill Headwaters Association He led us on a fascinating tour of the area.  We visited an abandoned Anthracite coal mine and learned about what happens when water and coal mix!  He also showed us attempts to remediate the problem through engineered wetlands and other mitigation techniques. We were able to test the water at the mitigation site to learn about pH values.  Robin Tracey took us on a nice little hike in the woods behind the campground after lunch, and then it was time to swim again.

On our last day, before getting back on the bus to Philadelphia, we enjoyed a morning of canoeing and kayaking.  Everyone had a smiling faces for this event!

July 22
Beth Kephart Books: At Andalusia, with the young people of Project Flow and Aqua Squad Click here.

July 17

Today was another field trip day.  We hopped a bus up to Venice Island in Manayunk.  We met up with the Schuylkill Acts and Impacts kids to learn about how the Water Department is managing water on Venice Island.  (SA & I students traveled the length of the Schuylkill River by kayak to learn about the health of the waterway. These high school students had quite an adventure!) Venice Island has a massive underground storage tank that acts as a repository for stormwater runoff that is collected from the pervious pavement.  They also have rain gardens and a drainage system to collect the run-off.  Water collected here is pumped directly to the wastewater treatment plant.

From there, we said goodbye to Acts and Impacts and walked up the Manayunk Canal.  The Canal was originally built, not to connect watersheds like the Erie Canal, but as a part of a system of dams to create stillwater to help ship coal downstream from the headwaters area.  The Manayunk Canal is currently fed by streams.  By the time we hit the dam and upper lock, the lock was dry.  The canal currently functions as a wetland, and we saw lots of associated wildlife.  We also saw several managed water inputs into the canal.  One appeared to be a combined sewer overflow while another looked like a buried stream.   We hightailed it back to the bus and headed downriver to southwest Philadelphia to a place called Bartram’s Gardens.  We had picnic lunch under historic cherry trees and then met with Davy, an educator.  Davy guided us through some drawing exercises and then took us out into the gardens to draw some of the plants found there.  We then hiked down to the river to see an old mill-stone site, and, under Davy’s guidance tasted some of the many edible plants found there.

Jessica writes “ On Friday, we went to the Bartram Garden’s Park.  I really enjo[ed] it… I loved that the garden was really peaceful.  Also, I loved that we were drawing in such a peaceful place, forgetting about everything.”

July 16

On July 16th, we went on an urban hike to examine how water interacts with the cityscape.  In particular, we were looking at how the city and the water department are working to cut down the amount of run-off to keep pollutants out of the Schuylkill.  This is called Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI).  Our hike started at the Art Museum parking garage and sculpture garden, w hich is one of the largest green roofs in the country and the largest in Pennsylvania.  We then headed down the new Schuylkill river trail to South Street.  We saw one of the biggest threats to the Schuylkill, which is the train tracks.

There were lots of oil tankers on the tracks and the tracks are next to the river.  A spill or a crash would be disastrous for the city’s water.  We then crossed onto South Street look for GSI.  We found rain barrels, green street trees, stormwater bump-outs, planters, green walls, urban parks and gardens, and possibly a greywater recycling system (we weren’t sure).  We then went to Greenfield Elementary.  Their playground features a rain garden and pervious paving that absorbs water.  We ended the day back at Logan Circle, where we got a great look at another green roof at Sister City café (and had water ice).

Tyheim wrote:  “I… liked our visit to the Schuylkill River Community Garden.  I liked to see people in the Philadelphia community trying to help the city by keeping it clean and green.”

July 15

Another rainy day meant more changes in plans.  The morning was spent with the Sultan of the Sewer System, Adam Levine.  He gave us an excellent power point presentation with lots of pictures of Philadelphia history.  There are old sewers that are still in use and new sewers as well.  Dealing with sewage was an early problem in Philadelphia.  Sewers were primarily designed to get rid of smells, which many people believed made folks sick.  Sewers were often existing streams that were then encased in brick and later in concrete.  They dumped directly into the river.  In the afternoon we worked with Sandy on photography.  We started printing pictures and worked on creating the right sized paper.  We also made silhouettes for sun prints.  We hoped to use these to make water-themed sun prints but the weather did not cooperate.

Photo by Anthony

Photo by Anthony

July 14

We’ve been incredibly busy here at Flow over the last week.  And with all the thunderstorms and rain, we’ve certainly had a lot to talk about during Green Storm water Infrastructure week.   On Monday, we walked upriver and photographed people interacting with the water.  We had to cancel our trip to the Wastewater Treatment Plant because of lightning storms.  So instead, we spent some time preparing for our visitors from Texas that we are hosting next week.  We also practiced setting up tents for our camping trip next week.  We paused to chronicle some of our favorite moments thus far.  Here is a sample:

My favorite day was when we went on our first hike with Sandy.  I liked it because I never went hiking [before]; it was my first time.  Also Sandy was really nice…. I never knew [there were sewer] pipes there.  – Jessica

My favorite part is… my friends.  This is always fun when I’m with my friends. –Tyheim.

My favorite five minutes… was when I caught the crayfish in the White Clay Creek because I love catching water animals.  – Blake

My favorite part was when I had to present the watershed. – George

My favorite activities would be…looking at the water creatures.  Knowing there are so many small insects and tiny plants gives me this feeling water is much more than drinking water and cleaning dishes but [also] a habitat for other living organisms that also value the water.  It also shows me, we as humans, should protect the water source no just for us but other living things.  – Morah


Photo by Halim

Photo by Halim


July 10

A special thank you goes out to PWD’s Laura Eyring for hosting us at the PWD lab. Project Flow got a special behind-the-scenes tour to learn about how PWD keeps our water safe with continual monitoring and testing.

We really liked hearing from different scientists about what they do and their educational background. We learned a lot about chemistry, and it was amazing to see all of the technology that makes up a chem lab.

After a lovey lunch outside, we headed over to the Wagner Institute for Fridays in the Field. It was nice to be outside and relax a bit while learning about the natural world that exists even in this urban area.

July 9

Today was a busy day, continuing with our studies of the water that comes out of our taps: how it is filtered for our use and what we can do to protect the safety and purity of our water. After an early lunch, we visited the Schuylkill intake center and the Belmont water treatment center.  Educator Anne Harvey started our tour where the water is taken from the Schuylkill River at the pumping station to be sent up hill to the Belmont Treatment plant. It was really powerful to stand by the river at the intake site and think about how that water (including some pollution that we could see) would be transformed into our drinking water.  Uphill at Belmont Treatment plant, we were interested to see filtration on a large scale and compare the process to the filters we made in the classroom yesterday.   Our West Philadelphia Project Flow students realized that their homes get water from this place….how cool!

We also continued working on our photography with FWW educator Sandy Sorlien.  We looked at examples of our earlier work and how to manipulate images before and after we shoot them.  It turns out, we are pretty good photographers with really creative ways of looking at the world of water.  We then went out and photographed people using water in and around Fairmount Water Works.  (We need more time with that!!) We are planning a small exhibition of our work on the last day of Project Flow.

July 8

In preparation for our trip to the water filtration plant tomorrow, we did some experiments with water filtration and tried to build our own water filters.  Rachel made up some dirty water with her own secret recipe that included organic debris, baby oil, dirt, and dye.  We had mesh screens, coffee filters, cotton balls, gravel and sand.  Chelby tells us more about the filter her group built:

First we put sand in the funnel and put a screen over it and then put gravel over it then put two coffee filters over that and the poured the dirty water in it, and it came out [almost] clear.

This isn’t quite how the water department does it but it gives us a head start on tomorrow.  We also taste tested bottled water vs. tap water and watched a short video about how bad bottled water is for the environment.  About half of us could identify the tap water in a taste test, but some of that was random guessing.

In the afternoon we explored the Schuylkill Riverfront and the skate park.  At the riverfront we made sunprints (images tomorrow!).  At the skate park, we studied how the built environment and nature worked together to mediate water run-off.  Some of the strategies were the same ones the Schuylkill Center used to protect the river.  It’s interesting how both spaces are engineered and natural at the same time even though we think of one as urban and the other as wild.

July 6 & 7

No blog post from Monday, because we were at the Stroud Center for Water Research and got stuck in traffic coming back and didn’t get home to the FWW until almost 4pm.  We’ll fold that into today’s post.  Today (7/7) we went to the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education (SCEE).  At both Stroud and SCEE we talked about testing for the health of a stream.  Stroud monitors White Clay Creek which supplies the drinking water for Newark, Delaware and the UD campus.  Today at SCEE, we looked at a spring that is one of the only primary water sources in the city of Philadelphia – that means that the water originates in the city unlike the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers.  At Stroud, we focused on looking at macroinvertebrates to tell if a water source is healthy.  At the Schuylkill Center we added non-living or abiotic factors to the tests.  Sana’i tells us more:

Today we went to test… abiotic factors of the creek.  Some of the factors were pH, dissolved oxygen, nitrates and temperature, along with some of the other things.  Also we went on a hike where we got to eat wineberries which tasted a lot like raspberries.  We also came across toads, worms, butterflies, and other beautiful things of nature.  We also saw a rain garden, and I learned a lot things.

Yesterday, we did something similar, except we tested biotic factors of White Clay Creek.  We sampled the water for macro-organisms.  We found things such as mayflies, crayfish, and water pennies.  I learned you can tell how polluted water is by biological, physical, and chemical factors.

Overall, [they] were both very fun and great experiences, like holding [the worm which we named] Jeff Bob, Jr.

July 1, 2015

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we spent a lot of time looking at water in the city.  On Tuesday, we explored the fountains and domesticated water in and around the Parkway.  We were also learning how to use our digital cameras to make compelling photos.  On Wednesday, we explored Wissahickon creek with Sandy, one of the staff here at the waterworks.  Sandy helped us map the Wissahickon watershed (or at least the section around Blue Bell park).  We spent a lot of time talking about how the land around the water effects the water itself.  We also tried to imagine how different communities used the Wissahickon in the past and how those uses changed the way the land and water looked and acted.   We saw Rittenhouse town, an old mill site, and also explored Saylor’s Grove a new stormwater remediation park.  Take a look at some of our pictures below to see the difference between domesticated and wild water.

June 30, 2015

Today was all about close looking.  We spent the morning looking at fountains in the Parkway area and thinking about the role decorative water plays in the city.   We took a lot of photographs of water as we learned to use the cameras. In the afternoon, we worked with clay to learn about how topographic maps work.  Tomorrow when we hike in the Wissahickon we’ll learn how topographic maps are a different way of seeing the land and waterways.

When we were doing our close looking, we had a moment of serendipity!  Raymond tells us more about a new resident of the parkway:

June 29, 2015

Welcome to the blog for Project Flow 2015.  Project Flow brings rising 8th and 9th graders from across Philadelphia’s private and public schools to explore their city’s waters and watersheds.  Over the next five weeks we will interact with the ecosystem of the city and the people who try to manage it to learn the ins and outs of our drinking and waste waters and all the creatures, human or otherwise, that use them.  Along the way we will do art, science, history, photography, writing, kayaking, and camping.  Come back frequently to find out what we were up to.

We did an activity around setting goals for the summer.  Some of the goals from the students were:

  • “I hope that I will be able to learn about watersheds, how water is treated and transported throughout the city.  Also, I hope to meet new people and have fun learning.”
  • “I hope to experience things I never did.”
  • “My hope is to explore more about the history of cleaning water.”
  • “I hope to see more different birds.”
  • “Something I’m looking forward to is making new friends.”


Upcoming Events

  1. The Watershed is an Open Book

    April 25 @ 5:00 PM - 6:30 PM
  2. Shad Day

    April 27 @ 12:00 PM - 4:00 PM
  3. The Watershed is an Open Book

    April 27 @ 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM
  4. The Watershed is an Open Book

    May 4 @ 12:00 PM - 2:00 PM
  5. We Drink the River!

    May 4 @ 1:00 PM - 4:30 PM