News Feature | May 15, 2018

Philly Pins Water Quality Hopes On Baby Mussels

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,


Philadelphia is placing a major bet on mussels for improving water quality in the Delaware River basin.

A new project aims to use the mussels "as natural water treatment plants" in a key drinking water source, the Associated Press reported. The city draws drinking water from the Delaware River and the Schuylkill River.

Habitat destruction has eviscerated mussel populations in the Delaware River basin, according to NPR StateImpact. That’s why Philadelphia and several partner organizations have decided to create “a large-scale mussel hatchery expected to bring millions of baby mussels back into the river,” the report said.

“The hatchery has received $7.9 million in funding from the state and will be located at a botanical garden. Construction is expected to begin next year,” The Washington Post reported.

The project is viewed as a way to improve drinking water quality.

“If everything goes well in the lab, in less than a year these mussels will be in the Delaware River basin, cleaning the water we drink every day. They will be joined by plenty of mussels in the coming years as the city’s research and restoration center, a scaled-up version of the Fairmount exhibition lab, gets up and running,” NPR reported.

Lance Butler, a scientist with the Philadelphia Water Department working on the hatchery, highlighted the economic benefits of the project.

“They are doing the work for us, before the water comes in,” Butler said, calling the mussel project an example of blue infrastructure. “They are our ecosystems scrubbers. They are mini wastewater treatment plants.”

Each mussel can shoulder a considerable burden when it comes to cleaning up the water supply.

“Each animal will filter 10 to 20 gallons of water a day, just like a Brita filter in your kitchen. They remove all these microscopic particles,” said Danielle Kreeger, lead scientist with the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, per NPR.

Image credit: "Mussels," jeremy austin © 2008, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: