109 Louis Cook

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This an original proof for signs used to mark storm drains that deliver water to the Schuylkill River either directly or indirectly when a large rain event causes an overflow. I saved the proofs because of how much this project has meant to me. The actual markers started being applied in late 2015 and this will continue for years. They are intended to teach people that there is a negative impact when anything besides clean rain water enters these drains, and hopefully to motivate them to stop littering and even pick up litter they see on the street. It’s one in a series of seven different markers, each with it’s own representative animal and color to designate each of Philadelphia’s seven rivers and streams. After working for the Philadelphia Water Department making graphic communications for four years, this is by far my favorite project and to me represents the unlikely path that led me to most of the work I do today.

About twelve years ago I started exploring the strange wilderness hidden in the middle of the city, mostly for the purpose of fishing. I became very interested in local water use, impacts and infrastructure history. Since then I have traced most of the water’s edges and gotten strangely emotionally invested. With some friends I started a fishing club, ran bank cleanups, contests, been in the media, made many rather unlikely friends and eventually got a wonderful job. It still amazes me how many species thrive downtown in between thin stripes of green that sidle the rivers and streams. As the health of the waters has continued to improve after their 20th century low points, the diversity and density of living things continues to grow quickly enough that I have been able actually observe it. I chose this particular marker to submit because I have seen otters in person below Fairmount Dam on the west bank several times, posed almost exactly as shown in this illustration. Fairmount Dam and Fairmount Waterworks can more clearly be seen in the original sketch.

There’s a “fish ladder” on West River Drive, just to the left of what is seen in this image. It allows migratory fish to pass above the dam for spawning. A camera inside caught one of these otters on video a few years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6IvzWHf-Wg  The presence of a high level predator like an otter is an indication of the positive momentum this river’s health currently has. All of the species in this series though, have similar real significance.

I have also been able to observe many times just how much litter and debris enters the waterways after a rainstorm. Cleaning up trash once it’s in the river is an enormous challenge and I hope these markers make a difference in keeping litter out of the storm drains before it has a chance to make it to the river. It’s just one of many initiatives the Water Department is working on, but I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity to participate in solving this problem.