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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!

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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.


Do you own a rain barrel? Great! But now what?

Many homeowners are excited to get a rain barrel installed for a number of reasons. But once you have it, how do you ensure you are using it in the best way possible?

The best way to utilize your rain barrel is to drain it regularly. If a rain barrel is full, the second it starts raining, your barrel will start overflowing. While our StormWorks team installs all rain barrels with overflow mechanisms, the point of the barrel is to capture the stormwater from every rain, not just the first rain of the season.

The Stormworks Hydra is a rain barrel with two levels of spigots.

Many residents get a rain barrel so they can water their garden. However, very few gardens need 133 gallons or 116 gallons of water every week, even in the August heat. So how can you ensure a long lasting rain barrel that helps mitigate the negative impacts of stormwater while getting the water you need for your garden?

Some rain barrels have two levels of spigots. The top level is at watering can height, and the bottom one is for hose attachments. But if you install a spigot and hose on both openings, the top spigot can now be your “slow-drain” spigot. Run the hose to the base of a tree or a water-loving plant and let the hose drip continuously. You can still use the bottom hose to water your garden with the remainder of the barrel. If your rain barrel does not have two levels for spigots, consider calling StormWorks for a maintenance visit. We can add spigots on many barrels, and would be happy to help you get the most out of your barrel.

By keeping your barrel mostly empty throughout the season, you are doing more to mitigate stormwater problems in our region while extending the life of your rain barrel.

To see the Hydra and other rain barrel models we offer, please visit our StormWorks product page. If you’d like to see all of our rain barrel varieties in person, head on over to Construction Junction!


As many of you have followed over the last couple of years, the Rosedale Runoff Reduction Project (RRRP) has been a very large, all hands on deck project for NMRWA. So, with all of the hard work we collectively have put into the RRRP, we were very excited to share what we learned with other clean water based groups at the River Rally. Hosted annually by River Network, the River Rally is a national conference for river and water champions. The four day conference draws hundreds of professionals from across the country and focuses on inspiring and educational workshops.

This year’s conference was in Grand Rapids, MI and gave our staff an opportunity to see what is happening in another Great Lakes area of the country. Both our Design Manager Sara Madden and Director of Policy & Outreach Mike Hiller co-presented along with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and Clean Wisconsin. The River Network paired up our two projects for presentation, which they felt they were similar enough to create a comparison city workshop.

The title of the workshop was Neighbor to Neighbor: Building a Movement for GI and Ecological Restoration. Attendees learned the different approaches taken to implementing an impactful green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) project throughout an entire neighborhood. We even created a new game for attendees to play at the end to think strategically about GSI projects.

Mike and Sara had a great time exploring Grand Rapids (which is a beautiful city) and learning about the river restoration project taking place there that will transform their downtown. Also impressive is the fact they have reduced their combined sewer overflows to zero per year – great jobs Grand Rapids!20170510_141348

Lastly, we were able to meet dozens of interesting people from around the country working on similar projects to ours. It was inspirational to hear how they are engaging their communities and empowering them around clean water. We are excited to bring these ideas back to Pittsburgh!

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