On Wednesday, July 26, 2017, a group of community leaders representing more than a dozen area municipalities came together at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont to learn about Sustainable Wet Weather Solutions and network with their peers. Organized by the Sustainable Community Development Network, a professional group facilitated by Sustainable Pittsburgh, the event featured local experts hailing from a range of organizations including stormwater and sewer authorities, watershed associations, and universities. In sharing their expertise with an audience comprised of municipal personnel, elected leaders, and community development organizers, a consistent theme emerged.
Consensus is solid that green infrastructure planning and implementation be the priority when working to mitigate the negative effects of our combined sewer system and the increasing intensity of wet weather caused by climate change. Inadequately designed stormwater infrastructure causes poor regional water quality, combined sewer overflows, surface flooding, and basement sewage flooding. By utilizing green infrastructure to address these problems, a community gains the additional benefits of increased property and recreational value, reduction of air and carbon pollution, and reduced heat island effects. The City of Pittsburgh estimates that by managing 1,800 impervious acres with green stormwater infrastructure, 1 billion gallons of sewage overflowing into the rivers can be avoided annually (1/3 of the city’s total) and additional benefits valued at least $430 million over the project’s lifetime can be reaped.
Implementing these types of approaches requires watershed-wide or regional planning; collaboration across communities and sectors; on-going public engagement with residents, businesses and elected leaders; and a concerted effort to protect those who are most susceptible to the dangers of wet weather events. As was oft-repeated during the event, our local elected officials lead hundreds of local governments, and every two years a sizable cohort of new public servants are elected who require education to understand the complexity of the wet weather problem and the necessarily regional nature of the solutions.