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Archive for 2017


This October, NMRWA was fortunate to strengthen our partnership with the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) by providing a real-life learning laboratory for students and international visitors. In spring semester of 2017 we worked with Professor Marcela Gonzalez’s class, “City and Region, Theory and Practice”, as part of a group of nonprofits that hosted student-led projects. Two of our staff members, Michael Hiller and Maureen Copeland, coordinated a project that analyzed the Rosedale Runoff Reduction Project (RRRP) through a triple-bottom-line assessment. The resulting study provided a baseline to develop a custom calculator.

We were excited when Professor Gonzalez approached Mike Hiller again in the summer of 2017 to work more comprehensively with her fall semester of 2018 capstone class, “Policy Planning in Developing Countries”. The course was coordinated with a capstone course in the University of los Andes in Bogota, Columbia. The entire course of GSPIA students were assigned to work with NMRWA, specifically on the RRRP. The research projects include developing a triple-bottom-line calculator, analyzing the tree canopy, and comparison of other planning projects related to the RRRP. Additionally, the students were asked to think about how these problems and solutions could be translated on a global scale.  This question is especially important as University of los Andes embarks on a series of water quality projects in Villapinzón, a small community outside of Bogota. Villapinzón has heavy industry, with large leather factories that create polluted waterways.

The visitors and NMRWA staff touring the Center for Coalfield Justice in Washington, PA.

In the spring semester of 2019, GSPIA students will visit Villapinzón to learn about their local project.  However, the local community leaders, students, and faculty from University of Andes visited Pittsburgh first, in October, to learn about our work. So it was with great pleasure that we welcomed these international visitors to the watershed, giving them a tour of the NMR Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Project and the RRRP. We also tagged along on a tour of the Center for Coalfield Justice in Washington, PA to learn about how the local waterways are being polluted in a rural area of Pittsburgh.

Thank you to Professor Gonzalez, University of Pittsburgh students, University of los Andes students and faculty, the community leaders of Villapinzón, and the Center for Coalfield Justice! We truly enjoyed our time together, and look forward to future opportunities to work together and exchange information on a global scale.




Street stormwater runoff draining into a storm sewer.

Everything that we do here at NMRWA is only made possible through the continued involvement of local municipal leaders, community groups, and residents.  Over the years we have developed programs to empower each of these stakeholders to help improve the water quality of Nine Mile Run. One of our most recent projects, the NMR Stormwater Partnership, provides an opportunity for us to formalize these relationships while meeting the standards of a PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) program.

The program, administered by the DEP, prescribes that every municipality that discharges stormwater from their Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) must meet the EPA’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)  permit standards. This program is vital for helping control and reduce the amount of stormwater discharged from our storm sewer system into our local ecosystems. The Boroughs of Edgewood, Swissvale, and Wilkinsburg each must enter into a new permit every five years, with their next permit cycle beginning in 2018.

With this opportunity ahead, in 2016 the three boroughs, NMRWA, and several partners (Allegheny County Conservation District, Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, PA Department of Transportation, Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority, and Three Rivers Wet Weather) decided to form the NMR Stormwater Partnership. The mission statement of the partnership is to “cooperatively conduct community outreach and engagement to meet and exceed the requirements of the PA MS4 Permit”. We are currently working to achieve this through engaging, educating, and empowering specific audiences and stakeholders.

The NMR Stormwater Partnership logo.

The Partnership meets every other month to share resources and develop programs/projects around improving the water quality of NMR, the approach for which is outlined in the NMR Stormwater Partnership Plan. Other items in the plan include creating shared communications platforms like our new webpage, special events, unique educational approaches, and several campaigns such as anti-litter, Pups4Clean Water, and the native plants campaign. Each of these programs will discuss stormwater at the watershed level, bringing accountability into the home and the community. Success can only be measured by how many residents are empowered to become better environmental stewards, so please join us in this new effort!


Interns collecting and identifying macroinvertebrates at our Commercial Avenue stream site.

This summer, NMRWA lead a water quality monitoring internship program. Through this program, high school students with an interest in environmental science were able to gain field experience by assisting in stream monitoring.

As you may already know, NMRWA monitors four stream sites each month as a way to assess the health of our watershed. Stream monitoring involves water quality parameters such as temperature, pH, and conductivity, among others.

Our interns assisted in monitoring two of our four stream sites throughout June, July, and August. In addition to measuring classic water quality parameters, our interns sampled for aquatic macroinvertebrates.

In freshwater streams such as Nine Mile Run, macroinvertebrates serve as indicators of water quality. For example, mayfly larvae are highly sensitive to pollution. For this reason, finding mayfly larvae in a stream is an indicator of high water quality. Midge fly larvae, on the other hand, are not sensitive to pollution. Finding only midge fly larvae in a stream may be an indicator of low water quality.

Mayfly larva (Field Studies Council, 2015).

Midge fly larva (DIY Fly Fishing, 2009).

At NMRWA, we use macroinvertebrate data to calculate water quality “grades” for our stream sites. Our grades are an average of four values: the percent of EPT macroinvertebrates collected (% EPT), the percent of pollution sensitive macroinvertebrates collected (% intolerant), the total taxa richness score, and the dominance index. You can learn more about these values here.

Our interns assisted in the grading process by hand-calculating % EPT, % intolerant, and the total taxa richness score. We later calculated the dominance index and the overall score for each of the two sites sampled by our interns. The results are given below.

Water quality grades based on macroinvertebrate data collected by our interns.

While these may not seem like impressive scores, we are seeing an improvement from previous years. In 2016, Commercial Avenue received a D (34.3) and Duck Hollow recieved a C- (44.2). In 2013, Commercial Avenue received an F (11.5) and Duck Hollow received a D (27.3). Our results support the trend that we have been seeing throughout the past several years: gradual improvement in the quality of our stream sites.

We thank our interns for their role in monitoring the health of our watershed this summer and wish them a happy school year!

Group photo of our interns.


This summer, NMRWA partnered with the Hosanna House to assist in providing environmental education during their annual summer camp at the newly enhanced outdoor classroom. The Hosanna House has provided a fun summer camp experience in the community for kids ages 5 through 14 for years and we were excited to be a part of the growing tradition.

During the three, day-long sessions, campers established a flowering pollinator area by planting dozens of new native plants. To compliment the pollinator garden, the kids also created and decorated tree identification signs for the outdoor classroom area, and bug hotels, which provide shelter for the insects of the garden and woodlands. On the last day of the sessions, the campers focused on identifying elements of habitat and using binoculars to looks for birds; the highlight was finding a sleek Cedar Waxwing.

The campers were able to tie all of this together with a field trip in June to the Nine Mile Run stream in lower Frick Park, learning more about the watershed, plants, and wildlife. NMRWA hopes the campers are now more connected to, and may be more inquisitive about, the natural world around us.

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