Green First in the ‘Burgh
The Clean Rivers Campaign (CRC) is organizing to transform the Pittsburgh region’s largest public infrastructure investment into one that maximizes environmental and community benefits. Whenever it rains, sewage overflows into our rivers. The region is under federal mandate to stop water pollution. The sewer authority’s uninspired plan is to hold sewage in giant tunnels under the rivers, costing ratepayers over $2 billion.
The CRC supports a sustainable, innovative solution that maximizes green infrastructure first in order to manage stormwater, reinvest in communities and create good jobs. Pittsburgh’s Mayor William Peduto agrees. He too supports “a plan that incorporates a ‘green-first’ approach to save ratepayers money, improve our neighborhoods, and create good local jobs, all while improving water quality and reducing flooding.”
We all want to live in a clean, vibrant Pittsburgh with good jobs and healthy neighborhoods and we have the opportunity to invest in that future now. We can get there with large scale green solutions like trees, rain gardens, and porous pavement. To make our vision a reality, the CRC needs to conduct a Regional Green Infrastructure Opportunity Assessment to quantify: (1) the potential of large scale green solutions to curb Pittsburgh’s sewer problems and (2) the economic and social benefits that could result. The study will provide local data to demonstrate the viability of a green-first alternative and serve as a model for over 200 municipalities grappling with similar water quality problems.
The CRC, a coalition of six nonprofit organizations, formed in 2011. Our efforts have successfully changed the discourse, creating a cultural shift in public awareness and bringing average citizens into the dialogue.
The Clean Rivers Campaign’s Opportunity Assessment must provide reliable data with clear recommendations that can be used by policymakers and community leaders to advocate with ALCOSAN and the EPA for a green-first sewer fix. Our timeline is:
1. Seek proposals from consultants (Month 1) The first will be for a technical analysis to determine the potential for large scale green infrastructure to manage stormwater and contribute toward meeting regulatory compliance. The environmental engineering firm hired will build on existing data, analysis and information. They will analyze the opportunities and challenges associated with green infrastructure approaches in our region. The second will be for a community impact study to explore how green infrastructure would impact local business district development, repurposing of vacant lots, improving the environment (air quality and greening) as well as creating family sustaining construction and maintenance jobs.
2. Review the proposals and select the consultants. (Month 2)
3. Work with and monitor selected consultants to ensure timely completion of study. (Months 3-6)
4. Disseminate results to the public and key decision makers. (Month 6 or sooner if possible)
why we’re doing it
The Pittsburgh region is at a critical juncture. After years of negotiations, ALCOSAN, our countywide sewer authority, signed a Consent Decree with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It agreed to create and implement a plan that would fix broken sewers and eliminate sewage overflows that pollute our rivers. When ALCOSAN released this plan in 2013, it focused solely on single purpose gray engineering strategies like giant holding tanks and underground tunnels used to store excess stormwater and sewage until it is processed. This approach would cost over $2 billion – and ratepayers would experience year after year of rate increases to cover the cost.
In late January of 2014, the EPA declared ALCOSAN’s plan “deficient”. We now have a window of opportunity to make a green-first plan a reality. At a time when so much of our infrastructure is in need of replacement or repair and so few communities can foot the bill, we need resilient solutions that address many community needs at the same time. Shouldn’t we do everything possible to pursue a sustainable solution that reduces sewer overflows, cleans our air and water, creates good jobs and reinvests in neighborhoods?
The Clean Rivers Campaign believes we must! Green infrastructure uses vegetation and soil to manage rainwater where it falls. By weaving natural processes into the built environment, green infrastructure manages stormwater, mitigates flooding, reduces the impacts of climate change and at the same time repurposes vacant lots and rebuilds blighted neighborhoods. Implementing large-scale green infrastructure like properly planted and maintained trees, bioswales, rain gardens, porous pavement, and green roofs is a viable alternative for our region. A green-first plan also means that ratepayers will see tangible improvements in their communities – from cleaner water to new green spaces, beautified business districts and family sustaining jobs for local residents. But without the Regional Green Infrastructure Opportunity Assessment, we lack the local data to support that vision. Our leaders and policymakers urgently need this information to advocate with ALCOSAN and the EPA for the opportunity to go green first.