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.
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.
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!
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 Study in Nine Mile Run
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 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.
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.
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.
Today’s blog post comes from the Clean Rivers Campaign – an education & advocacy program designed to raise awareness of the stormwater runoff and sewage overflow issues in Allegheny County. NMRWA is one of the CRC’s six founding organizations. Last week, NMRWA staff participated in the Clean Rivers Campaign’s actions which explained Pittsburgh’s need for a CAP to ALCOSAN.
CRC Gets A Win Towards CAP!
The Clean Rivers Campaign had a big week last week. On Monday, March 23rd, campaign supporters gathered in Market Square downtown to seek petition signatures asking ALCOSAN to create a Customer Assistance Program (CAP). A CAP would protect our low and fixed income neighbors who will be affected most by rate increases. Thanks to the action downtown and other canvassing efforts, CRC collected over 2,000 signatures on the petition.
On March 26th, CRC continued efforts to create a CAP. Arriving at ALCOSAN, supporters had assembled all of the petition signatures into a banner showing the strong support from the community. As ALCOSAN Board members arrived for their meeting, chants began, “We Need A CAP!”. Supporters then attended the Board Meeting where they heard Chairman John Weinstein announce the creation of a subcommittee which will work with ALCOSAN staff to create a CAP. This is the first step in creating a CAP program but, it’s not a done deal!
This is a great victory for the Clean Rivers Campaign! But we still have a lot to do in creating a green first plan and ensuring the implementation of a CAP to protect our most vulnerable neighbors.
Thank you to everyone who joined us for our actions and who signed our petition! Below is the media coverage of our two actions and our win:
Municipalities Receive Extension to Pursue Green Infrastructure
The Clean Rivers Campaign has been educating consumers and urging ALCOSAN and regional leaders to adopt a green first approach to solving our sewer overflow problem since 2011. This approach is the only one that takes ratepayer money and returns not only clean rivers but community benefits like green spaces, reduced flooding, jobs, and other community improvements. Monday’s announcement by the DEP is an important step towards ensuring ratepayer dollars are invested in communities, not simply buried under our rivers.
We are pleased that the DEP is taking such an active role in promoting green infrastructure in our region. Requiring municipalities to complete green plans in exchange for an extension on their consent orders is a great first step. But now we must ensure that those plans are coordinated and we must pursue a regional green infrastructure assessment. That coordination and cooperation will allow our region to create a plan that places green infrastructure strategically and effectively rather than just municipality by municipality. A coordinated approach will yield a plan that maximizes green infrastructure for flow reduction, brings our region the best water quality, most community benefits, and most cost effective solutions by allowing us to rightsize our gray infrastructure.
Mayor Peduto and County Executive Fitzgerald have been great advocates of green infrastructure in this endeavor, and we praise their leadership. In other cities and regions where green plans are underway, visionary leadership, both political and within the authority, has been critical to successful planning and implementation of sustainable wet weather controls. Without leadership, our region will miss out on an opportunity to use this largest ever public works investment to the benefit of both our water quality and our communities. With the Mayor and County Executive’s leadership and the DEP’s support, we have made important progress toward greening our plan, now we must coordinate as a region, identify world-class leaders for our plan, and move forward.
Below is the media coverage of the DEP extension:
Today’s blog post comes from GTECH – a nonprofit organization in Pittsburgh that cultivates the unrealized potential of people and places to improve the economic, social, and environmental health of our communities. NMRWA and GTECH, along with several other nonprofit organizations, formed a partnership that shares a CFO. This post was written by Sara Innamorato, Marketing and Communications Manager at GTECH.
A community garden is a wonderful idea for a vacant lot. The benefits outside of fresh produce, became very real to Lisa Freeman after founding the Manchester Growing Together Community Garden in 2011. Just a few blocks from her home in Pittsburgh’s Northside, the garden has had a lasting impact not only on her, but the surrounding community as well.
GARDENS ARE A TOOL FOR CRIME PREVENTION
Lisa had a hard time ignoring the illegal activities happening on the corner near her garden. She would walk past young men selling drugs while hers arms were full of compost and tools. Instead of overlooking their behavior, she began to ask them for their help. Soon those that were engaged in illicit activities became garden volunteers.
” ELEMENTS THAT WE ASSUME AS BAD BECAME PART OF THE COMMUNITY — PART OF THE GARDEN. IT HAS A REDEMPTIVE VALUE. THEY WERE PULLED INTO THIS COMMUNITY” LISA FREEMAN
Her observations aren’t new. According to a study performed in Philadelphia in 2000, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society maintained and greened 14,000 of Philly’s 54,000. At the end of a ten-year period, neighborhoods sporting reclaimed vacant lots showed a statistically significant decrease in shootings and other violent activity.
YOUTH EDUCATION OPPORTUNITIES EXTEND BEYOND HEALTHY EATING
Gardens near school-aged children are a great learning tool. Not only do they teach children about healthy eating, ecological stewardship and plant maintenance, but also they bolster math and history skills.
In the summer of 2014, Lisa and her husband, Wallace Sapp, who runs the Math Doctors program at Manchester Pittsburgh Public School PreK – 8 as a volunteer, created a summer program called Math + Mud to address social and educational gaps facing the school. Eighty-three percent of this Manchester school’ s population is below the poverty line and 27% of the third graders were below “basic” math skills assessment. This summer supplemental program gave 3rd graders the opportunity to learn math and “play in the dirt, while building important social skills and healthy eating habits.
GARDENS JUST AREN’T FOR THE GROWING SEASON
The garden has become more than just a food producing area, it also serves as a community gathering space year-round. Last year Lisa, her husband and fellow neighbors hosted a Light Up Night community party.
In fact, Lisa is currently raising funds for her neighborhoods annual Light Up Night amongst other needs for her garden. Watch more of Lisa’s story and donate to her crowdfunding campaign.
“Nine out of 10 scientists believe that humans are causing global climate change, surveys suggest. But only about one out of two science-education facilities are discussing it at all”.
Two recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette articles explored the presence of climate change lessons in museums. Some people are concerned that nationally, museums are not addressing climate change with their audiences. One expert estimates only about half of facilities around the country are addressing the issue “one way or another”. Some institutions explain that facts in this category are controversial and not conducive to creating science exhibits which often take years to develop. Others argue that the sponsors and funders of some museums are barriers to speaking candidly about climate change.
Everyone seems to agree that museums are able to reach large populations. Many see it as a responsibility of theirs to communicate about climate change.
At the end of the article, “Discussion of climate change is scarce at some Pittsburgh science-education institutions”, the Climate and Urban Systems Partnership (CUSP) is mentioned. For several years NMRWA has been part of this effort to reach more people with lessons on climate change. CUSP is a national project, funded by the National Science Foundation, with groups working in Philadelphia, New York, Pittsburgh and Washington, DC. Each city works to create a model of climate change education that can be used in cities around the country. Focusing on community issues, the group relates climate change back to their audiences. Many Pittsburgh area organizations, with a focus on the environment, come together to form CUSP.
NMRWA has been participating in discussions and activities of CUSP. This year, CUSP created a fun and exciting plan to engage kids and adults in learning about climate change. CUSP’s leaders assembled an impressive Climate Change Playground where anyone could learn how everything from daily activities to city planning can affect our climate.
You can read more about the Climate Change Playground in our blog post about ALCOSAN’s Open House where NMRWA staff participated in the playground.
CUSP focuses on creating activities that are fun and engaging for kids and adults. All of the aspects of the playground are hands-on and interactive, inviting kids to take an active role in their learning. Adults often become engaged through their kids. In every CUSP activity, participants learn what they can do to help combat the effects of climate change. NMRWA focuses on the green infrastructure activity where participants see how a rain storm floods a city and how green infrastructure reduces the amount of rain a city has to endure. We are able to deliver the message that green infrastructure brings many benefits with it and it can reduce the amount of water coming into Nine Mile Run. We explain that with climate change, we can expected more severe weather events like large rain storms. Finally, we ensure participants understand that green infrastructure is accessible to them whether they purchase it for their home or advocate for its use in their communities.
NMRWA is excited to be part of CUSP and share what everyone can do to protect and conserve Nine Mile Run. CUSP collects data and information at each playground they assemble. They hope to continue to improve on their activities based on this information. All of the activities are available for partner organizations and educators to use and will be shared with the CUSP partner cities, expanding the reach of the climate change lessons.
What do you think? Should museums offer more educational opportunities about climate change?
Check out some pictures below of the Climate Change Playground at the ALCOSAN Open House.