IMG_7669, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from parker yo!’s photostream

There are two issues regarding stormwater runoff and sewage overflows in Pittsburgh. There’s the immediate problem of significant flooding experienced by homes and businesses after large storms — causing thousands of dollars of damages to individuals. Then, there’s the long term issue of a federal mandate which requires the separation of our stormwater and sewage systems. Where we have a choice is in the approach we take to solve these problems. We can do it the “gray” way and spend nearly 10 billion dollars of local ratepayer money. Or, we can do it the “green” way and improve our environment while saving billions of our own dollars.

The green way aims to keep most of the stormwater out of the sewer system entirely by capturing and cleaning it naturally. Instead of stormwater running off of the concrete, asphalt and brick and mortar of parking lots, roadways, and buildings; green infrastructure — ponds, parks, and green rooftops — provides the excess water a place to soak in and avoid overloading the sewage system. This not only prevents the overflow from seeping into places like the basements of our homes, it also stops it from contaminating our rivers and, eventually, our drinking water (according to the Clean Rivers Campaign, our rivers are the main source of drinking water for 90% of our region’s residents).

We’ve written before about the Philadelphia Water Department’s Office of Watersheds’ efforts to create a green infrastructure. Now, Cleveland plans on spending millions on green infrastructure projects to help combat their own flooding and sewage overflow problems. Via

In what environmental officials say could set an example for the nation, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District plans to spend $42 million in the next few years on neighborhood “green” projects aimed at reducing flooding and the discharge of untreated waste.

For 38 areas being considered for the program, which is being funded by ratepayers as a part of the district’s $3 billion in court-ordered system improvements, it likely will reduce local flooding and add a variety of new amenities.

The new amenities include parks and community gardens. Moreover, the plan calls for the demolition of abandoned buildings — further enhancing and revitalizing neighborhoods. We need to take this same approach here in Pittsburgh. Furthermore, we must ensure that the immediate changes that we make to rectify what is now broken serve a comprehensive modernization — and greening — of our system.

You can learn much more about these issues at the 3 Rivers Wet Weather website here and Clean Rivers Campaign website here and Facebook page here.