Water For Your Garden

Watering Your Garden in Philadelphia

There are several options in Philadelphia for providing water to gardens and urban farms.

To learn more about obtaining water for your garden please review the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD)’s guide here. It includes details of how, through their Charitable Discount Program, you may be able to receive a substantial discount to your water bill. Find the application for this program on page 10 of the guide, and contact CFS.Charity@phila.gov with questions. 

Gardeners in Philadelphia have four options for accessing water for plants:

  • (1) Private, existing water sources
  • (2) New, dedicated water lines
  • (3) Rain collection
  • (4) Fire hydrant permits

(1) Private water sources (such as your hose or your neighbor’s hose) are a low-cost way to water plants. However, gardens, especially those on vacant land, are not always near available private water sources.

(2) New water lines that go directly to a garden vary in cost depending on factors such as location. The cost of installing a new water line begins at $1,000-$2000 but can cost significantly more (sometimes more than $10,000). However, PWD has begun to offer zero interest loans for installation costs. To find about the loan program, contact Joanne Dahme at joanne.dahme@phila.gov.

(3) Rain Collection: The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) Office of Watersheds and the Energy Coordinating Agency partner to provide free rain barrels to Philadelphia residents. This is a great way to collect water for your garden provided that access to a downspout is available and that the water collected is safe for use. In order to receive a free rain barrel, you must attend a workshop (held throughout the City, throughout the year). Visit https://www.phillywatersheds.org/rainbarrel for upcoming workshops, or call PWD at (215) 685-6213 or the Energy Coordinating Agency at (215) 988-0929 and ask about upcoming workshops and obtaining a rain barrel.

(4) Fire Hydrants: Philadelphia also provides free water from City hydrants to gardeners. To get access to a hydrant, gardeners need a permit (available to gardeners at no cost) and specified equipment. While water and the permit are free, the equipment can cost $300 or more (and it must meet PWD requirements).  The Garden Justice Legal Initiative has worked with PWD to create a step-by-step explanation of the permit process. 

Obtaining a Hydrant Permit- a Step-by-Step Guide:

Step 1: Evaluate Hydrant, Garden, and Equipment Needs

To get PWD permission to use a hydrant, gardeners need: access to a nearby hydrant, a permit, and approved equipment. If hydrant water is your best option, here is some basic information to begin the permit process.

Locate the nearest hydrant and record this information in the

HYDRANT WORKSHEET:

Your Garden’s Address

Fire Hydrant Location

Approximate distance between hydrant and garden (Note whether hydrant and garden are on the same side of the street).

  • For safety reasons, PWD will not allow you to run a hose across a street.
  • If it is safe, PWD may give you a permit to carry water across the street in containers.

Estimate of how much water you will need

  • Just make note of the size of your garden and take your best guess about how long it would take you to water it each day – it is okay to estimate.

Visually inspect the hydrant and note any defects.

  • If there are any problems with the hydrant, e.g. if it is leaking or looks broken, you should always contact the hydrant desk (215-685-9641) as soon as possible to report malfunctions.

Examine the top of the hydrant and record the type of locking device.

  • Hydrants are secured with a three-sided operating nut or a round operating nut (a three-sided nut uses a normal wrench, but it takes a special tool to open a round operating nut).

Equipment

Before you can obtain a permit, you will need to have access to proper equipment to use the hydrant safely. There are two ways to get this equipment:

  •     Request a hydrant box from the city (limited availability) or
  •     Purchase the equipment (as a group or individual).

Obtaining Hydrant Boxes

PWD has an informal program that provides a limited number of free, pre-approved boxes with all of the equipment necessary to use a hydrant for gardening. PWD delivers boxes at the beginning of the growing season and collects them at the end.  Due to increased demand, PWD does not have available boxes for all applicants, or funds to obtain additional boxes.

The best way to get a box is to check with PWD. Typically, gardeners who have hydrant boxes keep them from year-to-year.  They do so by calling PWD in January to reserve their box. If a past user does not renew, the box becomes available on a first-come first-served basis. PWD maintains an informal waiting list for boxes each year. However, in the event that a box becomes available during the season, the city may also provide it to interested people on a first-come first-served basis.

Always check with PWD to see if there are any boxes available before purchasing equipment.

Joseph Yeager (215) 685-9656 is currently in charge of urban garden permits. If he is unavailable, you may call the PWD general number (215) 685-6300 with inquires.

Purchasing Equipment

If there are no hydrant boxes available you will need to purchase equipment. This equipment is generally available from plumbing supply stores. PWD estimates that one complete set of supplies costs around $350. A list of pieces is below–if you are purchasing equipment, please contact PWD to obtain a list of approved models for this equipment.

  • 3/4″ back flow preventer       
  • Some 3/4″ X 4″ nipples
  • Hydrant adaptor 3/4″ X 4”
  • 3/4″ garden hose
  • Standard Hydrant wrench
  • Pipe tape
  • 3/4″ shut off valve

The backflow preventer is the most costly piece of equipment required and you must purchase one approved by PWD. An approved backflow preventer typically costs between $150 and $450.

Step 2: Contact the Department

After evaluating your garden and hydrant, call PWD. Be prepared to provide a PWD staff person with some basic information about yourself (such as your name and contact information) and your garden.

Explain that you would like to use a city hydrant for an urban garden and request approval for a no-cost garden hydrant permit.

Provide the details about your garden collected in the worksheet.

Confirm the list of necessary equipment.

Confirm the hours and location of the office where you will need to bring the backflow preventer you will obtain to get it approved so you may receive a permit.

The Plumbing Unit is in the Concourse level of the Municipal Services Building at 15th and Arch Streets.

PWD will send a message to the Licensing & Inspections Department pre-approving you for a no-cost permit.

Step 3: Obtain Equipment

After getting the equipment specifications from PWD, purchase your equipment.  Purchase only the exact equipment approved by PWD. In some cases, secondhand equipment may be more affordable. If you plan on sharing equipment with someone who already has a permit instead of purchasing your own, call PWD and ask to have your name added to the existing permit.

You will need:

  • 3/4″ back flow preventer       
  • Some 3/4″ X 4″ nipples
  • Hydrant adaptor 3/4″ X 4”
  • 3/4″ garden hose
  • Standard Hydrant wrench
  • Pipe tape
  • 3/4″ shut off valve

It is always your responsibility to make sure equipment works properly. PWD recommends (but does not yet require) that a certified plumber test backflow preventers annually.

Step 4: Permit

After purchasing your equipment, you are ready to get your permit. Take your backflow preventer, photo identification, and your Hydrant Worksheet to the Licensing & Inspections Department.

Present your device backflow preventer for inspection at the Permit and Zoning desk in the Concourse level of the Municipal Services Building at 15th and Arch Streets.

Ask to apply for a permit for the Temporary Use of a City Fire Hydrant.

Make sure to tell them that you already have approval from PWD for a no-cost permit!  An approved Urban Gardeners listing is supplied to the L&I Plumbing Unit at the start of each season and continuously updated through the year.

Step 5: Permit Management & Responsible Operation

Permits expire. Urban garden permits are normally issued for the duration of the growing season, six months, and require renewal each year.

Always report any hydrant damage or malfunction immediately.

Keep your Hydrant Worksheet and permit for later use.

Protect the future of the hydrant program by following these directions from PWD:

“Hydrant users must exercise judgment to ensure hydrant use does not create a hazardous condition that may compromise public safety.  It shall be the responsibility of the user to ensure that the hydrant is functioning properly at the conclusion of the workday. When the permit expires, a post use inspection will be performed by PWD.  The hydrant user shall be held responsible for a malfunctioning hydrant if PWD was not notified of any defects.”

We hope you found this information useful. Please see the Licensing, Permits and Regulations in Philadelphia resource for more information or check out the Grapevine Forums for more assistance.

This information is accurate as of 2013 when Grounded in Philly was first launched; however, some information may have changed since then. Although The Public Interest Law Center works to make sure the information on the website is accurate and up to date, and has fixed inaccuracies that have come to our attention, we make no claim as to the accuracy of all of this information. We recommend that you consult with a licensed attorney if you want assurance that the information on the website and your interpretation of it are appropriate for your particular situation. We are continuing to improve Grounded in Philly’s accuracy and usefulness.

If you see something on this page that appears to be inaccurate, please contact Jonathan McJunkin.

More resources for securing access or ownership of land for your garden or farm

How to Obtain Land Through Adverse Possession

Gaining land ownership through adverse possession in Philadelphia requires a 21 year statutory period before you can obtain the title to the land or property.

Philadelphia Stormwater Charge: Community Garden Discount

Here’s how you can get a discount on your Philadelphia stormwater bill for your community garden.

About Neighborhood Gardens Trust

The Neighborhood Gardens Trust is a crucial resource for the preservation of gardens and community green space, providing a trust for public land in Philadelphia.

Conservatorship of Vacant Properties

Conservatorship is a helpful tool to obtain the rights to manage a property in order to return it to productive use and into compliance with code.

Gardening Without Ownership

You don’t need to own vacant land to establish a community garden or green space in Philadelphia, but gardening without ownership comes with risks. Find out how to get started.

Licenses, Permits, and Regulations

If you plan to sell food produced in your farm or garden–especially prepared foods–you should be aware of Philadelphia laws about food safety & preparation.

Liens and Debt

Unpaid debt from a previous owner can stand in the way of using a vacant lot for a community space–here’s how to find out if a vacant lot has debt, and what to do.

Employment and Labor Law

If you are looking to hire workers or have volunteers in your community garden or urban farm, you need to comply with state and local labor laws.