As you may have seen in our Spring newsletter, since 2013 we have been working with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (PPC) on a grant received from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program. One of the goals of our partnership on this grant was to develop a culture of stewardship for the Nine Mile Run watershed by engaging a wide range of ages in citizen science and stewardship activities. One way we approached this was to implement PPC’s Mission Ground Truth (MGT) program at Wilkinsburg Middle School.
MGT is an interdisciplinary ecosystem assessment program mapped to PA state academic standards for 7th and 8th grade students that includes in-class discovery activities as well as a field trip to Frick Park. During the field trip, students get to be ecologists for the day, and have the opportunity to use the same tools and sampling methods that scientists use to evaluate the health of forest and stream ecosystems.
Recently, NMRWA staff worked for two days in Frick Park with Environmental Educators from PPC to help lead the Wilkinsburg Middle School students through the field day programming.
We began each morning by discussing goals for the day, then broke into small groups. During the morning session, the groups each explored a section of the Fern Hollow stream while discussing questions such as “how can ecologists detect and measure pollution in a stream?” and “what benefits do humans and animals get from streams?” Then the students recorded data on physical and chemical water quality characteristics, such as temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and velocity. Next, we explored the benthic macroinvertebrate populations by carefully overturning rocks and collecting samples using a net. To wrap up, we would discuss how everything tied together by asking questions like “based on the data we collected, is the stream healthy or unhealthy?“and “how does the quality of Fern Hollow affect the health of Nine Mile Run?”
After a break for lunch, the students got to venture into the forest for a deeper look at the complex forest ecology present in Frick Park. We identified different tree and plant species and talked about the various ecosystem services that forests provide to animals, streams, and people. We asked questions like “why is biodiversity important in forests?” and “how is the health of this forest related to the health of Fern Hollow and Nine Mile Run?” Then the students used forestry tools to collect data on the location, size, and type of trees, and we looked for evidence of Asian long-horned beetles. To wrap up, we asked questions similar to the morning session, like “is this section of the forest healthy or unhealthy?”
Over the course of the two days, we had a wonderful & enriching experience working with the students and with the PPC staff. Thank you to Mike, Taiji, Steve, and Chelsea for their expertise & enthusiasm in implementing the MGT programming!
For the past two years, NMRWA has been working with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (PPC) to increase the environmental stewardship capacity of our watershed community. Funding for this work was provided by a grant received from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program. Maybe you read about this in our recently released Spring newsletter?
Yesterday, as a part this program, NMRWA staff co-led a training workshop for Urban EcoStewards on streamflow monitoring in Nine Mile Run. Along with Sarah Lavin, a graduate student in the Department of Geology and Planetary Science at the University of Pittsburgh, Sara Powell & Paul Yanulavich spent a sunny Sunday morning working with eight volunteers to measure streamflow and take cross-section measurements of the stream.
It is important for us to understand streamflow patterns and how the stream channel is changing in Nine Mile Run, both for continued restoration efforts in Frick Park (e.g., erosion remediation), and also so we can assess how well management efforts in the upper watershed (e.g., green stormwater infrastructure, rain barrels) are reducing excess stormwater flows into the stream.
Unfortunately, continuous monitoring of discharge (the volume of water flowing through the stream during a unit of time) is complex and expensive. Instead, since last summer, we have been working with Urban EcoSteward (UES) volunteers to help us collect data that will allow us to create something called a stage-discharge rating curve.
This curve will allow us to ‘reconstruct’ a continuous discharge record – giving us a much better understanding of streamflow in Nine Mile Run!
So, at Sunday’s training, we demonstrated how UES volunteers can measure the stream’s velocity and cross-sectional area – two critical pieces to calculating discharge. We then used similar methods to measure the stream channel geometry.
The geometry of the channel is also important to understand, because storms can cause large volumes of water to surge rapidly through Nine Mile Run, changing the stream channel shape very quickly. These changes, whether they are due to erosion or damage to built rock features, put our restoration efforts at risk. Regular cross-section measurements will allow us to look at how the shape of the stream channel is changing over time, and to apply necessary management efforts as needed.
Thank you so much to all the Urban EcoStewards and interested volunteers for coming out on Sunday! We will be posting more photos from the day on our Facebook page, so make sure to check them out!
If you are interested in becoming an Urban EcoSteward, click here for more information or email .
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:
Most of you are aware by now there is an issue of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) polluting Nine Mile Run. During wet weather, our watershed’s aging combined sewer systems do not have the capacity to handle both stormwater and sewage so they overflow into Nine Mile Run, introducing pathogens, trash, and other pollutants to the stream. We have actively worked to correct this issue through green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) interventions in the upper watershed over the last 14 years, including installing rain barrels and rain gardens and planting over 900 street trees.
Despite all of this effort, however, we still have degraded water quality during and after wet weather. When we developed our 2013-15 Strategic Plan there was one main goal: to reduce the flow of stormwater and sewage into Nine Mile Run.
We understood to achieve this goal we would need to install GSI facilities capable of capturing large quantities of stormwater before it enters the combined sewer system. In 2014, we worked with Matt Graham of Landbase Systems to identify areas in the watershed that have high amounts of stormwater flowing into curb inlets and eventually overflowing into Nine Mile Run. Through detailed analysis, he identified an area in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, which is actually outside of the watershed, but is part of the Nine Mile Run sewershed, that contributes over 25 million gallons of stormwater and sewerage overflow to the stream annually during wet weather events.
In case you aren’t familiar, a sewershed is simply a drainage area determined by the curbs, storm drains, pipes, and outfalls that all drain to a common outlet (e.g., Nine Mile Run). It doesn’t match perfectly with the Nine Mile Run watershed boundary because sewersheds often cross the boundaries of watersheds that existed before urbanization.
The Rosedale Runoff Reduction Project (RRRP) is a holistic sustainable stormwater project with the goal to remove all 25 million gallons of overflow entering the stream. We will achieve this by constructing 3 large GSI sites, 40 stormwater management tree pits, 200 Hydra rain containers, and 10 rain gardens.
In October 2014, we were awarded $150,000 from PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) Watershed Restoration and Protection Program to construct one of the GSI sites. And most recently in January, we received notification that we were awarded $236,175 from the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Growing Greener Program to construct a second site and install 200 Hydras. Both of these grant awards will allow us to implement the first phase of the RRRP, which proposes to remove 7 million gallons of annual runoff from the combined sewer system.
Stay tuned for proposed plans, details, schedule of implementation, and outreach events related to the RRRP!
Did you know? There are 3 employees at NMRWA named Sara(h)! We don’t always know which one someone is talking to but we always have fun with it.
It can be a challenge sometimes to differentiate between Sara, Sara and Sarah or Sara P and Sarah P, so we thought we would help you out.
We created a little game to get to know the 3 Sara(h)s better. Each Sara(h) answered the same five questions about themselves. Below are the questions and the Sara(h)s’ answers. Read the question and think about which answer you most identify with. Keep track of your responses and at the bottom, you will find a key that will tell you which Sara(h) you most relate to. You can also see what the other two Sara(h)s answered to learn a little more about them. Okay, let’s get started!
1. What is your favorite restaurant in Pittsburgh?
A. Il Pizzaiolo
B. Spak Brothers
C. Mad Mex
2. What is your favorite book, TV show and movie?
A. A Walk Across America, Breaking Bad, and The Life Aquatic
B. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, 30 Rock, and Almost Famous
C. Harry Potter, The West Wing, The Birdcage
3. If you could go anywhere on vacation, where would it be?
A. Tour the country of Iceland
C. Victoria Falls
4. Tea, coffee or hot chocolate?
B. Coffee, Coffee, Coffee
5. What is the last thing you ate?
A. North African Yam Salad from the Co-op
C. Kale salad
If you answered mostly A: you identify most with Sara Madden, the Design Manager for Stormworks.
If you answered mostly B: you identify most with Sarah Peterson, the Communications Program Assistant for NMRWA
If you answered mostly C: you identify most with Sara Powell, the Monitoring and Communications Manager for NMRWA
Which Sara(h) did you get matched with?
We hope this helped distinguish the Sara(h)s a bit more and that it was fun in the process! If you ever see us around the watershed (or our favorite restaurants) be sure to say hi!