Every time it rains sewage flows into our rivers and our streets. This mess is not only unhealthy, it is also illegal.
Currently, the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) is working on a plan to fix the problem. However, local groups are worried about the direction the authority is heading.
"The plan ALCOSAN laid out in their community meetings last year is to build huge tunnels underneath the rivers that will store storm water until it can slowly be filtered through their system," said Tom Hoffman, Western PA Director for Clean Water Action. "That plan will cost more than our region can afford and do nothing to benefit our communities."
To deal with their concerns, Clean Water Action joined forces with other local environmental, faith and community groups to form the Clean Rivers Campaign. Mr. Hoffman says the goal of the campaign is to engage citizens who are concerned about the environment, community revitalization and the need for good jobs. With this grassroots effort, they aim to change ALCOSAN's plan.
"Instead of building giant storage tanks for storm water, we need to catch it where it falls," continued Mr. Hoffman.
Catching storm water where it falls can be done with "green solutions" such as pavement that allows water to soak through, roof-top gardens, street trees and rain gardens, just to name a few.
"Using green solutions to catch rain where it falls would provide the most benefits to our communities," said Natalia Rudiak, City Council representative for District 4. "Using natural methods to fix our storm water issues would create permanent jobs, beautify our communities and be the affordable fix."
Other cities have already made the choice to use natural, green solutions to fix their storm water problems. Philadelphia is one of the most recent. They will be planting many trees over the next few years and repaving streets and alleys using porous pavement that allows water to soak through.
"By using porous pavement, Philly will be able to use funds they have already allocated to fixing their streets and solve two problems at once," said Brenda Smith from the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association. "We could do the same sort of thing here in Pittsburgh, start the improvements right away, and not have to take on huge new debt."
In addition to being the affordable solution, the Clean Rivers Campaign believes this project is the key to revitalizing neighborhoods all over the region.
"Research shows business districts with pleasant landscaping bring in more shoppers," said Mr. Hoffman. "Using green solutions also measurably raise property values."
For those who are interested learning more about the issue and the solution, the Clean Rivers Campaign will hold a local workshop on Wednesday, May 23 at 7 p.m. at the Fairhaven United Methodist Church, 2415 Saw Mill Run Blvd.