Nine Mile Run blog


This year is not only our 15th anniversary as an organization, but also the 10th anniversary of the completion of the Nine Mile Run Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration project. The $7.7 million restoration began in 2002 and took close to 4 years to complete. On August 17, 2006, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held to celebrate the completion of the project , which was funded and supervised by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the City of Pittsburgh. This ambitious project turned a dangerous eyesore in a formerly isolated section of the park into a well-used regional amenity – an exceptional natural haven in the midst of the city.

The Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, founded in 2001, began outreach and education to the watershed communities prior to the restoration to help residents understand their connection to the stream and provide low cost ways to help improve water quality. During the restoration (2003-2006) we provided dozens of tours to explain the process and intended outcome to the public and to key stakeholders. When it was finished, the presence of NMRWA ensured continued stewardship, monitoring, and advocacy for the stream for years to come.

We celebrated and acknowledged this anniversary throughout the month of October, starting with a volunteer workday to steward the restoration area. 20 volunteers came out to give some TLC to the native plants and trees, remove trash from the stream, and also maintain a gravel trail that the Student Conservation Association built back in 2011. NMR is a public and ecological asset but can only remain a success with the dedication of volunteers. To date, NMRWA has coordinated over 2,200 volunteers who have donated more than 6,500 hours to steward and maintain the stream restoration. This doesn’t even include the countless hours that our Urban EcoStewards independently log, the labor put in by the Department of Public Works (DPW) or Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (PPC)staff OR our work to monitor the stream, advocate for better stormwater policies, or celebrate!

NMRWA also hosted a few walking tours of the restoration area recently. One was a public tour on October 2 of the upper restoration area, exploring the recent history of the stream. At the tour, photographs taken pre-construction, during construction, and directly post-construction were examined and then ultimately compared to the current conditions.

The national Environmental Advisory Board (EAB) of the USACE hosted their annual meeting here in Pittsburgh on October 18 and visited the restoration area as a case study site. The EAB was of course joined by the USASCE Pittsburgh District staff, including the newly appointed Commander, Colonel John Lloyd. Also in the group were two USACE staff members who were a part of the NMR restoration: Lenna Hawkins, now the Deputy District Engineer, was one of the project managers; and Rose Reilly, who was a biologist for the project and also author of various studies on NMR and long-time supporter of our organization.

The EAB was amazed by the ecological success of the restoration primarily due to the collaboration for stewardship between NMRWA, PPC, and DPW foreman, Dick Wilford and his crew. Had these entities not stepped up to the plate, the restoration would surely be in much worse shape. Furthermore, the group was also impressed with our current work to address the source of the stream degradation – reducing excess stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows in the watershed (and overall Pittsburgh region.) Over the past 15 years, we have all progressed to realize that it takes a combination of adaptive tactics to truly restore our natural environments, from planting native fauna and monitoring progress to reworking policy, capturing stormwater with natural processes, and creating healthy community assets. Going forward there is still work to do but this month surely humbled everyone in reflecting on just how far we, and the stream restoration, have come.

To learn more about the history of the restoration or about the monitoring program, check out the articles in our 15th anniversary fall newsletter!


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If you visited the stream over the summer, you may have noticed a funky hue to it from time to time.  We have documented some abnormalities in water quality in our regular monitoring sampling.  The NMR Monitoring Committee looked further into these abnormalities by reaching out to the municipalities.  The conclusion of the source of the water quality fluxes was that there were documented water main and sewer link breaks, causing an influx in pollution to the stream throughout the summer.

Looking upstream from Commercial Avenue on July 27, 2016. Note the white-blue hue of the water caused by elevated aluminum and bacteria.

Looking upstream from Commercial Avenue on July 27, 2016. Note the white-blue hue of the water caused by elevated aluminum and bacteria.

This is a stark reminder that while the stream and surrounding area is a beautiful place to walk or bike, the water flowing by is still plagued by urban stressors and an example of the environmental effects of aging infrastructure. The NMR stream itself has been studied for decades but NMRWA has worked with local ecological professionals to monitor the stream since near the end of the completion of the restoration in 2005.  There was a need to assist current research efforts and share information, but also to aggregate the results and inform the general public so NMRWA formed the NMR Monitoring Committee to collectively evaluate and assess the stream.

Looking upstream from Commercial Avenue again on August 24, 2016, a normal day. This is also a picture of one of the monthly sampling sites known as NMR-2.

Looking upstream from Commercial Avenue again on August 24, 2016, a normal day. This is also a picture of one of the monthly sampling sites known as NMR-2.

Recently, we updated our monitoring webpages so that you can interact with and understand the parameters we are assessing, where, and our methods.  With the assistance our Stream Monitoring Intern, Cassidy, we expanded the webpage content and added interactive maps as well.  Check out the map below, which is also on our sample site webpage, you can see the exact four spots we take monthly recordings of pH, conductivity, and temperature along with water samples to test for bacteria, metals, and ions.  In addition to the map below, there is also now a map to see some of the data collected and a webpage for reports and studies completed on the stream and watershed.

(click here or on the image below to see the full screen map)
NMR Sampling Site Screen Capture - Click to view

While we can’t completely control the urban watershed environment, we can contribute to the resiliency of the restoration and watershed as a whole through caring for our urban forest, capturing stormwater at our homes or in our neighborhoods, and stewarding the stream.  We hope you join us at any of our upcoming events this fall! If you have any questions about our monitoring program or upcoming events, please contact Maranda at .

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Abby helping with watering monitoringHey there! My name is Abby. I moved to Pittsburgh last November after studying environmental science at Rutgers University and spending a summer working with the Musconetcong Watershed in rural New Jersey.

I moved to Pittsburgh because it fit all of my requirements for a place to live:

(1) it’s a beautiful city with a rich history;
(2) it’s not my hometown;
(3) it has lots of water, much of it in need of some TLC.

Soon after I moved, I got in touch with Maranda, the Restoration Stewardship Coordinator at Nine Mile Run Watershed Association. Maranda and the entire NMRWA crew welcomed me on board as a volunteer while I was settling into my new life. From December to May, I spent a few hours every Wednesday morning working at the office or out in the stream.

After growing up in what I refer to as the “garden part of The Garden State” and going to school for environmental science, it is extremely important for me to have a role in conservation. Volunteering with NMRWA gave me the opportunity to do stream monitoring and help with event planning. Along the way, in addition to improving my birdwatching skills, I learned about the watershed, the sewershed and the wonderful communities that make up Nine Mile Run!

NMRWA allowed me to maintain a connection with our valuable water resources. In June I started working full-time at La Prima Espresso Company as the Sustainability Coordinator, through which I plan to increase the company’s community involvement and decrease its ecological footprint. This includes highlighting the importance of water. Coffee cultivation has an enormous impact on the environment, and when coffee is brewed, the water used has an enormous impact on the taste of the coffee. We must realize that everything comes around.

Now that my mornings are busy with the exciting caffeinated world of coffee, I am hosting evening pop-up stream sweeps! Join me after work from 6:00-8:00pm on Wednesday, August 10th at the parking lot by the Duck Hollow bridge. If you are not familiar with the stream, Duck Hollow is at the outlet of NMR to the Monongahela River, at the bottom of Old Browns Hill Road. Summer rains wash debris through the watershed, but we can catch some of the litter  before it gets lost to the larger rivers! I’ll have everything ready to clean up the stream. Just bring yourself, some sunblock, and boots if you’d like.  Looking forward to meeting you!Abby and Maranda out fish sampling

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Our 1st annual Bike Tour and Block Party this past June was a success!  NMRWA had 63 riders tour along the 9 mile bike tour route through the watershed on a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon.  Riders up! -Bruce Woods and 9 other members of The Major Taylor Cycling Club supported the ride by marshalling everyone safely through intersections and busy streets.  Karen Brooks, a board member of Bike Pittsburgh and longtime NMRWA member and watershed resident also coordinated the safety and logistics of the route.  These expert bike riders truly kept us safe and riding smoothly through our urban watershed.

Along the route, various rainwater management initiatives that NMRWA has pioneered were showcased by our staff members, Jared and Sara.  While visiting the Rosedale Runoff Reduction Project in Homewood, NMRWA’s first large-scale community green infrastructure development project, the group got to hear from the engineer, Barton Kirk of Ethos Collaborative. From Homewood, the tour was led through Wilkinsburg, Edgewood, Swissvale, and Swisshelm Park.  The route even looped through lower Frick Park to explore the Nine Mile Run stream restoration.  The group was able to truly come full circle since the stream is the waterway where every drop of rainwater (and sometimes even sewage) flows to in the watershed.

The last stop was at a private residence to showcase at-home stormwater management possibilities, all designed and installed by Stormworks. The bike tour weaved all throughout the watershed and exposed the stormwater issues the neighborhoods are facing but also how NMRWA is working directly with the community to implement holistic stormwater management to improve the vitality of the urban environment and ultimately, the Nine Mile Run stream.

The bike tour arrived to the jammin’ block party around 3pm to be greeted with delicious Leona’s ice cream sandwiches, treats that are made right in the watershed community of Wilkinsburg!  Riders were also able to cool down with fresh lemonade, provided by Biddle’s Escape.  The upbeat tunes from the live music of Timbeleza filled the air as riders refueled with yummy pizzas from Proper Brick Oven and danced to the beat.  Wigle Whiskey was handing out free tastes of whiskey made from scratch right down in the Strip District.  Nate Levi, a watershed resident of Edgewood, also kept the party happy with free smiles and ice-cold beers from Green Flash Brewery.  All in all, a sunny and fun Saturday afternoon.  NMRWA thanks everyone that rode on the bike tour and enjoyed themselves at the block party!

See all of the Bike Tour & Block Party pics in our Facebook photo album.

The success of this event was made possible with support from: The Sprout FundBiddle’s EscapeWESAWYEPWilkinsburg Chamber of CommerceWilkinsburg Community Development CorporationCompass Self StorageKindred CyclesFreeRideHealthyRide, Bike PittsburghSci-TekPort Authority of Allegheny County, Michael Baker International, James Street Flower & Gift Shoppe, The Major Taylor Cycling Club, the Borough of Wilkinsburg.

Save the date to continue our 15th year celebration! Come and “Sip for the Stream” on Friday, September 30th from 6pm-9pm at Wigle Whiskey’s Barrelhouse and Whiskey Garden on 1055 Spring Garden Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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