Tag Archives: TTF Watershed

Map of Phila. Litter CVNs by Watershed


Street and stormwater litter conditions vary across the City, with the TTF and Cobbs Creeks having the worst creek trash problems while the Pennypack and Wissahickon Creeks having less creek trash.

This map, prepared with ESRI’s ArcMap,  shows the incidence of 2013 litter Code Violation Notices for the 5 small creek watersheds in Philadelphia.

Clearly, the Tacony-Frankford and Cobbs Creek watersheds  have much more serious litter conditions than than the Wissahickon and Pennypack Creek watersheds.

TTF Watershed Litter Code Violations

The Tacony-Frankford Creek has a major stormwater trash problem, as discussed here, here and here.

In this post, I want to show how to map watershed boundaries, Philadelphia City Council District Boundaries and litter Code Violation Notice data to show the geographic relationships between chronic litter areas, stormwater flow and creek trash.

Here is my map:


I made this map using ESRI’s ArcMap and Philadelphia’s open  Code Violation Notice data. There were 6,258 litter code violations in the Philadelphia portion of the TTF Watershed. The Tacony Creek Park, highlighted in data green in the map, receives a large load of stormwater litter that gets caught along the banks and in vegetation along the banks.


Philadelphia Litter Walk

Philadelphia has a litter problem that causes water pollution problems in our local creeks, Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers as well as Delaware bay and Atlantic Ocean. Click this image to see how much litter accumulates in 95 feet of Philadelphia streets.


This litter photo survey was taken in the 6100 block of E Godfrey street near Adams Ave & Cresentville Road on 9/9/14.



I counted 155 pieces of litter in this 95 foot stretch of E Godfrey St. Count them yourself and see how many pieces you find.

Philadelphia’s Plastic Bottles Trashing Tacony – Frankford Creek

Plastic bottles are a serious water pollution problem in Philadelphia.  This photo survey shows the accumulation of plastic bottles in the Tacony – Frankford Creek and Tacony Creek Park.

(Click any image to launch slide show. Press X in Upper left to return to post)

You can download a pdf file of slides here.

Mapping Philadelphia Litter

The Philadelphia Streets Department (PSD) conducts street litter surveys several times each year. They use a Street Litter Index to assign as score (1 – minimal, 4 significantly littered) to rate small multi-block survey areas.

Here are side-by-side maps of PSD’s 2007-08 and 2012 surveys:
(Click to enlarge)


You can compare these 2 maps in a before-after fashion by clicking this image and moving the Vertical slider: (Click to see interactive version)


Notice the differences between 2007-2008 and 2012? Any ideas why 2012 looks like there is less litter?

Here is a short Word file on the Street Department’s Litter Index ( psd_street_litter_index)

Tookany – Tacony Creek Trash Tour: 3/11/14

A group of 20 had an educational 2-hour tour of trash in and around Tacony Creek Park and Tacony Creek on Tuesday, March 11, 2014.  The planned tour route is shown below:


Because of time considerations, we stopped at point 8, just below Roosevelt Blvd.

The tour briefing pdf is available here.

Rainfall Intensity and Philadelphia Creek Trash Loads

Philadelphia is not the only metropolitan area with creek trash problems, the Anacostia River in Maryland and Washington DC also has a serious creek trash problem.

The Anacostia Watershed Society and the DC Department of the Environment have conducted a number of studies of creek trash, including a very interesting study of the Nash Run (link).

image004The project investigator, Masaya Maeda, measured the trash collected in a custom built trash trap each month between March, 2009 and September, 2010. He found an interesting relationship between the hours per month of intense rainfall (>= 0.3 inches/hr) and quantity of trash captured by the trap.

This chart summarizes the Nash Run trash data,  hours of 0.3 or more  inches per hour precipitation in each month versus the quantity of trash collected.


Take a close look at the Aug, 2010 data point, it looks like an outlier. It turns out that there was a 0.5 inches/hour, a pretty intense storm that partially explains the specific situation in that month.

As Maeda reports “.. it is observed that the rainfall intensity larger than 0.3 inches/hour may be a tipping point to carry trash pieces into a nearby stream.” (pg 5- 7)

This Anacostia Watershed Society observation may be an important factor in Philadelphia Water Department’s Green City, Clean Waters Program (GC,CW).  The GC,CW program is focused on the frequent 1 inch or less storm events. This may not be helpful in controlling trash carried to Philadelphia creeks during the high intensity storms  that may be carrying most  street litter to Philadelphia creeks.

Here is a plot of the number of hours per year between 1950 to 2013  when the rainfall rate was greater than or equal to 0.3 inches/hour at Philadelphia International Airport.


The number of hours of rain  intensity >= 0.3 inches per hour ranges from a low of 7 to a high of 49 hours per year. If we look at the trend for intensities over 1 inch per hour, there seems to be a rising trend.


PWD has not conducted this type of detailed trash load by rainfall event study so we don’t have comparable rainfall intensity – trash load data for Philadelphia. We do know that we have significant trash loads in the Tookany Tacony Creek and we can see that the frequency of very  intense rain storms ( >= 1 inch per hour) is increasing. We clearly need  a street litter – creek trash study like those conducted by the Washington DC and the Anacostia Watershed Society to understand and address Philadelphia’s creek trash problem.

Philadelphia’s Floatables Control Approach Hurting Tookany – Tacony Creek

Philadelphia’s Creek Trash Problem
10 of PWD’s Tookany – Tacony Creek outfalls, both MS4 and CSOs, show signs of street litter trash immediately below the outfalls.
Here are 1/20/14 photos of trash below PWD’s T-03 and T-05 CSOs:
Photo by Kelly O'Day
Photo by Kelly O'Day
To get a close look at the deplorable trash conditions below these 2 outfalls, I suggest that you view the 3-D dynamic views at these links:
Unfortunately, PWD’s excellent Green City, Clean Waters program will only partially address Philadelphia’s street trash – creek trash problem.

To understand the reasons behind why PWD outfalls discharge so much trash to the Tookany – Tacony Creek we need to examine PWD’s  floatables control program.

PWD’s Floatables Control Program

Philadelphia has used trapped inlets since the late 1800’s to prevent floatables from entering the sewer system. With 100% inlet trapping and regular inlet cleaning, PWD has done a good job controlling floatables from both MS4 and CSO outfalls. PWD also uses vessels in the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers to collect floating debris.

PWD’s historic approach to floatables control is simply not adequate for current conditions in the Tookany – Tacony Creek. Plastic bags and food wrappers have neutral buoyancy so that they do not necessarily get trapped in the inlet, rather some of this material flows to the sewer where a significant portion of CSO and 100% of MS4 litter is discharged to the creek. In a small creek like the Tookany – Tacony much of it gets caught on rocks and branches, the rest flows downstream to the Delaware River and out to the Bay and Ocean as marine debris.

PWD conducted a 10 year study of outfall netting at T-04. Unfortunately, PWD did not examine the content of the netted debris, rather PWD relied on visual observation. PWD concluded that the majority of the net debris was natural organic material, leaves, and concluded that it was not necessary to upgrade the City’s floatables control program.

The Anacostia Watershed Society conducted a 1 year netting study and found that 10% of their debris was man-made products, like plastic bags and food wrappers. Washington DC and the Maryland Counties are taking aggressive steps to control their stormwater outfall trash discharges because they recognized the importance of controlling plastic bags, food wrappers and other trash that can pass through trapped stormwater inlets.

Marine Debris

My work to date has focused on documenting trash in the creek bet and along the banks of the Tookany – Tacony Creek. I can not quantify what portion of PWD’s outfall trash discharge is retained in the creek and what portion passes through the creek to the Delaware River, Bay and Ocean. I suspect that a significant portion of TTF Watershed street litter winds up as marine debris.

A recent UK study on marine debris in the Thames Estuary sheds some light on the fate of street litter. UK scientists placed eel fyke nets at the bottom of the Thames at 7 locations for 3 months. 8,400 pieces of litter were trapped in the 7 nets over a 3 month period from  Sept. to December, 2012. Here are 2 quotes from the study authors..

“The waste collected for the study is only a small snapshot of the volume of litter that may exist at the bottom of the Thames.”

“Plastic bags and other large items are unlikely to get caught in the small nets, so the true extent of the problem is still unknown, the researchers said.”  ENS, 1/2/14

We have a great deal to learn about green stormwater. My Tookany – Tacony Creek trash surveys demonstrate that PWD discharges large quantities of street litter to the Tookany – Tacony Creek. The Thames study shows that some of this litter will make its way to the Delaware where it will move along the River – Bay bottom and pose a threat to aquatic life.

Philadelphia’s street litter is a significant water pollution problem that needs to be addressed for protection of the small Tookany – Tacony Creek, the Delaware River and Bay as well as the Atlantic Ocean.

Litter Control Must Be First Step in Green Stormwater Infrastructure

This photo of creek trash in Cheltenham’s Rock Creek, a small tributary to the Tookany – Tacony Creek, shows why we need to do a better job controlling street litter.

Photo by Kelly O'Day

This photo was taken on 12/28/13 along Rock Creek, just downstream of Ogontz Ave (Route 309). The structure in the upper left of the photo is the conduit under Ogontz Ave. Philadelphia’s T-01 combined sewer outfall discharges into this conduit.

The plastic bags and other creek trash litter is from Philadelphia street litter and Cheltenham shopping parking lot litter carried to Rock Creek by stormwater runoff through storm sewers and by overland flow.

You can see a dynamic photo survey of Rock Creek at this link.

Documenting Tookany – Tacony Creek Trash

1st, Best wishes for a happy and litter free 2014!

2nd, there is a new tool to help document the creek trash conditions in the Tookany – Tacony Creek, Photosynth 2 from Microsoft.

I’ve  developed a series of photo trash surveys of Rock Creek using this new software. Please take a look, I think you will be surprised how well the creek trash shows up in the 3D like images.

Rock Creek is a beautiful creek so I have included some “nice” segments along with the litter filled segments.

  • Good – Rock Creek by Washington Lane: link
  • Bad – Cheltenham storm sewer outfall:link
  • Ugly – Rock Creek downstream of PWD’s T-01 outfall, behind Cheltenham Mall: link

You can control Photosynth  by clicking the icon in lower right of screen: to stop – start movement. Photosynth_1

Once you have stopped image movement, you can manually advance through images by holding mouse left button down and moving mouse up or down to move through the scene. You can zoom and pan on a specific location by using the scroll wheel on your mouse.

Here is a image of trash build-up just downstream of PWD’s T-01 outfall.


I plan to document all creek trash hotspots with Photosynth in the next few months. It turns out that winter is the best time to photograph creek trash because most vegetation has died back, exposing the trash.