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Venice Island Projects On Schedule, Water Department Says

Installation of new water tank and recreation center creation should finish by 2013.

The promise land seems far away, but a Philadelphia Water Department spokesperson said updates to Venice Island in Manayunk are right on schedule.

"We know that it's an inconvenience to Main Street businesses right now, but Manayunk has been great to work with," said PWD spokesperson Joanne Dahme.

The water department joined the Schuylkill Project and others at the Tuesday night for an update on construction projects at Venice Island and the and Canal.

(To read the towpath updates, .)

, workers began ripping down the Venice Island Recreation Center to make way for the Manayunk Performing Arts Center, new recreation equipment and a 4-million gallon storm water containment tank.

Now that demolition is done, most of the Venice Island work is excavating and pouring concrete for the new tank, Dahme said. It's on schedule and should finish up by January 2013.

Largely created as a water department project, storm water is a key element. The new parking lot on Venice Island will have storm water areas cut into it, as will the Manayunk Performing Arts Center and the pump house.

"We will get a lot out of this, and we'll be looking at great outdoor classroom," Dahme said.

Following a question from resident Rich Giordano, Dahme said the tank helps mitigating storm water and sewage water during a heavy rain incident. She said the tank will hold excessive storm water and prevent it from merging into the sanitary system, or going into the river.

1.7 Miles on the Manayunk Canal

Completed in 1819, the canal itself is 1.7 miles long. Though once a major means of transporting coal, it became underused after the railroad boom. 

Lance Butler has worked as a biologist for the Philadelphia Water Department for the past 12 years and helped with the canal project's ecological aspects.

"When I first saw the canal, I thought this place could be incredible—it could be such an accouterment to the Manayunk area," he said.

In an aquatic survey, the water department found unaesthetic algae blooms, odorous and odd tasting (but not harmful) water quality, and periodic extreme conditions in the summer, which led three significant fish kills.

Some of the long-term plans are spillway rehabilitation further up the river at the Flat Rock Dam. A new sluice gate will be installed. That, combined with a Fairmont Park dredging project, will allow freshwater to flow downstream to the canal.

Reintroducing a steady stream of water to the canal should eliminate many of those problems, Butler said, and allow for new vitality.

"We want to be able to get the flow back to an acceptable velocity for recreation purposes and for the natural flushing of algae," Butler said, adding that the current base flow of 5 to 10 cubic feet per second should improve to 50 cfs.

However, the human element still exists, as garage is a problem.

"Everyone's seen beer bottles, trash, debris, construction materials in there, but in my 12 years, since (Sykora) and the have gotten involved, I've seen improvement," Butler said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and PA Department of Environmental Protection will meet with the water department July 7. After getting the plans done and the bids out, construction should start on the dam in the fall of 2013, finishing in 2014.

Manayunk Neighborhood Council President Kevin Smith inquired about recreation plans upstream, which Butler said was up for discussion. He previously worked on improvements along at Wissahickon Creek at Bells Mill Road and the Forbidden Drive.

Though many aspects are under way, movement on projects like docks, connection to Wissahickon Creek and the Manayunk Bridge are yet to begin.

To stay up-to-date with the projects, visit www.phillywatersheds.org.

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