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Nine Mile Run blog

01
Jun

As we are heading into summer we wanted to provide a recap of all of our spring activity. It was a busy season of throwing fundraisers, tending to trees, and stewarding the watershed!

Fundraisers

To kick off our 15th anniversary celebration, we held two new and different fundraisers. The first event took place in March at Butterjoint, an upscale tavern in Oakland. From 4pm to midnight, we enjoyed “Nine Mile Rum” cocktails, snacked on loaded fries, and showed off our Hydra rain barrel (which we managed to fit in the back of the restaurant)! With Butterjoint’s generous help we were able to raise over $1000!

In April, our friends and supporters descended on Franktuary to enjoy the featured drink, “Nine Mule Run”, and special dish, “Dog with the (Storm)Works”, and a slideshow of NMR events, as well as NMR merchandise for sale. Within just a few hours we raised a couple hundred dollars and enjoyed many tasty dogs.

 

Stewardship

This spring we worked with 175 volunteers to remove 167 bags of trash and 26 tires from the stream and upper watershed communities!  These volunteers also removed 400 square feet of invasive species and planted 600 seeds of native milkweed plants in the stream and wetlands restoration area.

Urban Forestry

June is here and warmer weather has arrived. Although this spring was not a major planting season for us, we were able to prep 128 trees for the summer growing season working with various volunteer groups.  Our prep included removing vegetation from the area around the trees  and adding mulch when needed.  This helps reduce competition for resources, keeps grass cutting machines away from the trunks, and helps retain spring soil moisture a bit longer into the summer.

In April, we worked with volunteers at three tree care events in Wilkinsburg.  We worked with Job Corps students, our watershed tree tenders, and our other awesome volunteers.  On the final Saturday of April, volunteers helped put the finishing touches on part 1 of our pit expansion project.  We installed 30 perennial plants adjacent to the East Busway along Edgewood Avenue in Swissvale.  We look forward to watching these new plants grow!

In May, we worked with area youth to prep tree pits.  We joined Pittsburgh Urban Christian School students during their neighborhood clean up day to prep the tree pits around their school and in a favorite play space, Ferguson Park.  Two weeks later, under the white blooms of hawthorns, Wilkinsburg Boys and Girls Club helped us weed and mulch the tree pits in a Borough parking lot.  This work was in preparation for Wilkinsburg’s Thursday Open Market, which opens for the summer on June 16.  Finally, we returned to Kelly Elementary School to educate the fifth and sixth graders about the Nine Mile Run Watershed and how trees help us with our mission.  Then we set off to mulch around 50 young trees which we planted on their campus three years ago as part of the Wilkinsburg TreeVitalize 500 Trees project. This summer, we will be out and about in the watershed taking care of tree pits as well as watering newly planted trees.

So what’s coming up next?

We have two exciting events coming up this month! On June 4th we’re heading out bright and early to go birding and have breakfast in Frick Park. Then, on June 11th, we host our first ever Bike Tour & Block Party! Each event is $25 per attendee, but free to all NMRWA members. Not a member yet? Join us at ninemilerun.org/donate.

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28
Apr

New Tree Pits

rosedale st tree

Our work in the Rosedale Runoff Reduction Project (RRRP) area continues as we aim to complete the first phase of the project by the end of 2016. A major component of the project is the planting of 40 street trees in stormwater management tree pits.

This month one of our contractors, Penn Landscape & Cement Work, completed the first four of these tree pits on Rosedale Street.  The process included several months of design revisions and meetings with the City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Works. The tree pits, planted with Black Gum trees, are designed to be lower than the street grade so they will capture street runoff through curb cuts for ground infiltration.

As part of the Operation Better Block Cluster Planning Process, residents voiced their interest in adding green design elements to Rosedale Street. These tree pits are a first step.

Vacant Lot Cleanups

Also, in early April, Nine Mile Run staff worked with two volunteer groups to clean-up three vacant lots on the corner of Rosedale and Hill Streets, next to the Port Authority’s Wilkinsburg Busway parking lot.  With the help of 33 volunteers, over 100 trash bags were removed along with 15 tires!

The groups included students from a nature writing graduate class at Chatham University on April 4, who removed over 60 bags of trash and nine tires. On April 12, international students from Bosnia and Herzegovina, visiting through Magee-Women’s International Youth Leadership Program finished cleaning up the lots, collecting more than 40 bags of trash and eight tires. The groups also toured the restoration area of the NMR stream in lower Frick Park before the clean-up to get a sense of where the trash would end up if it had not been cleaned up in the upper watershed.

Stay tuned for more projects in the Rosedale area!

04
Apr

Clean Rivers Campaign LogoOver the last five years, we have worked diligently as part of the Clean Rivers Campaign (CRC) to mobilize ALCOSAN ratepayers, generate media coverage and key stakeholder engagement to change our region’s plan to comply with the US EPA Consent Decree for Western PA (which requires a drastic reduction in sewer overflows into our waterways) to one that recognizes the importance of climate resilient and sustainable 21st-century solutions.  Because of the work of the CRC, our regional dialogue on this issue now focuses on how to maximize green infrastructure to capture rain where it falls and improve water quality, while rebuilding blighted neighborhoods and producing essential community benefits.

EPA logo

In January 2016, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Mayor Bill Peduto (with the support of ALCOSAN) sent a letter to the US EPA, US Department of Justice, and PA Department of Environmental Protection calling on them to allow a “green-first, green-preferred” adaptive management approach to Consent Decree compliance. On March 9th, the EPA sent a positive response, indicating that the regulators are willing to modify the Consent Decree to allow “a consequential change in direction”, including an extended timeline.

This is a huge win for our region that could not have happened without our CRC supporters. Thanks to all of you who endorsed the campaign, attended or testified at public meetings, wrote letters to the editor, contacted your representatives, or in any other way made known your desire for a sustainable solution.

How you can stay informed on this issue:

We must now ensure that a transformative sustainable plan will be implemented; the EPA is allowing us the space and time to accomplish this, but it is still up to our sewer authority to take advantage of this opportunity. To keep up to date on new developments, sign-up for CRC e-news and alerts.

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03
Mar

The following post is a guest blog entry from Eric Martin, a Coro Fellow who interned with Nine Mile Run for the last eight weeks.

Hello!

My name is Eric Martin and I am currently working at Nine Mile Run as part of my nine month long experience as a Coro Fellow. What is the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs? The Coro Fellowship is a leadership development program in Pittsburgh for young adults who want to pursue a career in public affairs. The Fellowship is focused on training individuals who, as citizens and leaders, will all their lives act constructively and competently to build up and improve their communities and society as a whole.

I am originally from Fairmont, WV and graduated in 2010 from West Virginia University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering. In my time since graduating, I have been fortunate enough to have been able to work in short, but connected, experiences that have allowed me to live in other parts of the country and the world while gaining a wide range of skills. Before joining Nine Mile Run for my eight week placement, I was placed at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, where I was tasked with consulting and recommending improvements to their Operations Department.

Eric helps sample water in Nine Mile Run

Eric helps sample water in Nine Mile Run

At Nine Mile Run, I have been fortunate enough to be thrown right in the mix! On my second day, I found myself in the heart of the Nine Mile Run stream helping Maranda and Abbey with our monthly stream sampling. It is unbelievable to think that that was during the second week of January and it is now almost March, and my time here is almost over. In between, I have helped with marketing and project initiatives with Mike, accounting with Lindsey-Rose, learned how to build rain barrels with Paul, attended Clean Rivers Campaign meetings with Brenda, and worked a lot with Jared and the StormWorks crew! Phew!

I want to thank everyone here for being so welcoming and nice! I have felt right at home and a part of the team from the moment I started working here. My hope is that I have helped here in some way and will continue helping to advance the mission of Nine Mile Run in my final weeks here as well as moving forward in my career!

11
Feb

This guest post was written by Rob Rossi, a graduate student in the department of Geology and Environmental Science at the University of Pittsburgh. He was a graduate summer intern of NMRWA in 2015.

Road salt is a common part of winter for many Pittsburgh residents.  In Pennsylvania, more than 840,000 tons of road salt (sodium chloride, or table salt) were applied to roadways between 2009 and 2014.  Although it helps keep our roads and sidewalks ice and snow free, road salt has unintended consequences.  Many people are familiar with the ever annoying winter problems of salt stained clothing or shoes/boots, but the environmental effects of road salt are less obvious.  Road salt can have numerous negative effects on the environment, such as increased fresh water and soil salinity, and less obvious effects, such as increased time necessary for rain to soak into the soil.  Additionally, when road salt dissolves in highway runoff, these waters have high total dissolved solids (TDS), which can flush roadside soil metals from clay particles  (see animated Figure 1).  Metals flushed by these reactions can include plant nutrients (e.g., potassium, calcium, magnesium) or toxic trace metals (e.g., arsenic, lead, cadmium).

Road salt exchange gif

Figure 1. Animation of a cation exchange reaction. Potassium (K), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg) ions bound to soil clay particles are exchanged by sodium (Na) ions in solution. Mobilized metals are then released into the soil water, and ultimately the ground or surface water.

Road Salt Study in Nine Mile Run

Lysimeter Working

Figure 2. Lysimeters are plastic tubes with a ceramic cup. To collect a soil water sample, a scientist applies a vacuum (arrow) and the lysimeter sucks up soil water (dashed lines) like a straw.

Rob Rossi, a graduate student in the Department of Geology and Environmental Science at the University of Pittsburgh, has been researching the effects of road salt on roadside soils in Nine Mile Run.  Specifically, Rob has been analyzing soil and soil water chemistry in samples collected from three roadside soil water sampler “nests”.  Each nest is a group of four lysimeters which behave much like giant straws, sucking up soil water samples when a vacuum is applied to the end of the soil water sampler (see Figure 2).  The lysimeters collect soil water at roughly 6, 12, 24, and 36 inch depths along a hill slope perpendicular to I-376.

In the soil samples, soil sodium concentrations are highest in soils collected from near the road.  Soil sodium concentrations decrease with distance from the roadway, approaching values observed in the local bedrock (see Figure 3).  One theory is that high sodium concentrations can be attributed to the minerals breaking down in the bedrock but because sodium concentrations in roadside soils are much higher than sodium concentrations found in the bedrock, minerals in the bedrock breaking down is likely not what inputs sodium to these soils.  Instead, the application of road salt to I-376 is likely causing high sodium concentrations in roadside soils.

Sodium concentration chart

Figure 3. Sodium concentrations in the sampled top (black), mid (red), and bottom (grey) hillslope soils. The vertical dashed line indicates the average sodium concentration in local bedrock. Parts per million (ppm) is a measurement scientists use to describe the concentration of an element. In other words, if a bucket holding a total of 1 million marbles contained 100 ppm of blue marbles, 100 of those 1 million marbles would be blue marbles.

Sodium concentrations in sampled soil waters peak at different times throughout the year relative to the location along the hillslope (see Figure 4).  In particular, the earliest peaks in soil water sodium concentrations occur in the top hillslope soil waters in late February/early March in the intermediate depth (39 and 61 cm depth) soil waters.  Additionally, soil water samples from the deepest top hillslope nest have, in general, the highest sodium concentration.  While sodium concentrations spike in soil waters collected from all depths of the top hillslope nest station, soil water sodium concentrations peak only in deeper soil waters of the mid hillslope nest.  Moreover, the peak in soil water sodium concentrations at the mid hillslope nest do not peak at the same time as when soil water sodium concentrations peak at the top hillslope nest.

NaTime

Figure 4. Sodium concentrations in top (a), mid (b), and bottom (c) hillslope soil waters collected between October 2013 and November 2014. The light blue box indicates the time of the year when road salt is not applied to roadways.

These patterns in soil water sodium concentrations suggest that the way soil water flows in roadside soils influences the movement of sodium through these soils.  Specifically, because the deeper top hillslope lysimeters (i.e., 12, 24, and 36 inch) peak before the shallowest (i.e., 6 inch) lysimeter, high TDS waters likely interact with deeper soils first.  High TDS runoff from the highway is often observed to enter the soil column via infiltration (i.e., water percolating downwards through the soil), which produces a peak in sodium concentrations in the shallowest soil waters first.  However, because this pattern in soil water sodium concentrations is not observed in samples collected from the Nine Mile Run transect, sodium is potentially transported to deeper soils via lateral flow originating from leaking highway drains and water flow between bedrock layers.

Previous scientific studies have observed that sodium loadings to soils persist beyond the period when road salt is applied to roadways, and this relationship is also apparent at this study site.  Specifically, sodium persists as slow moving wave, where peaks in top hillslope soil water sodium concentrations occur within a month of when road salting ends, and peaks in soil water sodium concentrations at the mid and bottom hillslope stations occur later in the year.  Thus, the distance from the roadside affects when soil water sodium concentrations will peak, suggesting that sodium is relatively slowly released from roadside soils throughout the spring and summer.

How does road salt affect the water quality of Nine Mile Run?

The results of this study suggest that sodium and metals are continually flushed to stream waters throughout the year. When sodium levels are high, the ecosystem cannot physiologically maintain a salt balance, which affects aquatic organisms living in the stream – particularly plants and animals that are not adapted to high concentrations of ions, and therefore cannot regulate the water and salt content within their cells. This stress can change the diversity of species within the ecosystem. The increased metal loading could impair the stream ecosystem, negatively impacting aquatic life such as fish.  Some metals may be either beneficial or toxic, depending on their concentration. The primary mechanism for toxicity to organisms that live in streams is by absorption or uptake across the gills. The metals that are most toxic to aquatic organisms are Copper, Iron, Cadmium, Zinc, Mercury, and Lead.

I-376 Sodium runoff model

Figure 5. A conceptual model of how sodium travels through the hill slope soils next to I-376. The color of the arrows indicates the relative timing of when sodium is transported via this flowpath. Blue occurs in mid to late February, dark grey in early March, orange in early May, and red in early August.

Thus, it is likely that road salt application impacts soils down the hillside of I-376, and that the negative impacts of road salt application are not limited to the winter and early spring.

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