Restoring Watershed Health Across Boundaries in the Pittsburgh Region: Saw Mill Run Case Study
Note to Reader:
In October 2015, the 17th Annual 3 Rivers Wet Weather Sewer Conference was held in the Pittsburgh region. More than 400 municipal officials, engineers, managers, public works directors and wet weather experts gathered to learn, educate and share experiences for overcoming the wet weather problems that have plagued the Pittsburgh region for decades. See the 2015 conference agenda for details.
The program included a presentation titled Saw Mill Run: A Case Study for Managing Stormwater Runoff Across Municipal Boundaries. This watershed initiative has been drawing attention because the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has adopted the Saw Mill Run project as a pilot of its watershed management plan.
Saw Mill Run: Alongside congested Route 51, glimmers of a living stream
“With few opportunities to witness Saw Mill Run, all most people know is that it floods. With its floodplains hemmed in and water quality compromised by pollutants, the stream in heavy rains often rushes over its banks and gets our attention,” writes Diana Nelson-Jones in an article published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The article is complete with a video tour.
The article describes how Saw Mill Run flows behind the scenes, below steep slopes of fast-food plastic trash, relentless traffic, busted up sidewalks, miles of parking lots and commercial buildings, many boarded and vacant.
An Opportunity to Reconnect with Nature
“How would you know something so beautiful could be down here?” she quotes Lisa Brown, coordinator for the Saw Mill Run Watershed Association. “We have to take the opportunities we can to acquire land and create connections between people and this stream. If folks can’t connect physically, how can they care about it? Communities are vitally important to repairing the damage done.”
“We’re looking at greening the area, making the stream more natural and restored to reduce runoff.”
“People think nature is something you have to drive hours to get to. The more I see of this stream, the more excited about my job I become.”
Coordinating Role of Watershed Group
Twelve municipalities are up against an end-of-year deadline to present complex and potentially expensive plans for reducing stormwater and pollution into Saw Mill Run.
The 11 South Hills communities and 14 Pittsburgh neighborhoods loosely follow Route 51 from the West End to Brentwood and rise into the hills on either side. They’re under an Environmental Protection Agency mandate to cut runoff-driven pollution, including phosphorus and sediment, that flows into the creek.
The newly formed Saw Mill Run Watershed Association is coordinating their efforts. Though each municipality is responsible for its systems, there’s potential to jointly fund projects. Upgrades to storm sewer systems could vastly improve flood-prone Saw Mill Run.
To Learn More:
To download and read the complete story published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, click on Saw Mill Run: Alongside congested Route 51, glimmers of a living stream.