Groups pool grants to reduce storm water in East End

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The Penn State Center, Pittsburgh Community Services and state Sen. Jim Ferlo have teamed up to combine two Allegheny County grants to leverage foundation support for a green infrastructure project in the East End's 15206 ZIP code area.

Project 15206 and the East End Rain Container Initiative have received $250,000 grants each from the County Infrastructure and Tourism Fund to target 10 sites in five neighborhoods to reduce storm runoff in the Negley Run and Heth's Run watersheds. Rapid runoff in August 2011 contributed to four deaths in floodwaters on Washington Boulevard.

Penn State Center has overall charge of the project and will coordinate site design, construction of wetlands, rain gardens and bioswales and work with TreeVitalize to strategically plant trees through 2015.

Community meetings have begun. The next one is from 5:30 to 8 p.m. May 28 at the Kingsley Association in Larimer.

Pittsburgh Community Services and Mr. Ferlo's staff have begun outreach and already have 250 households committed to having rain containers installed. There are funds for 400 containers that will be supplied by the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association's StormWorks program. Depending on people's incomes, they will be installed for free or at reduced cost.

Consultant Matt Graham of Landbase Systems estimates that 400 rain containers properly installed and drained of two-tenths of a gallon per hour -- a slow drip -- into a backyard or garden can prevent 2 million gallons of water from entering storm sewers each year.

"Whatever we do," said Deno De Ciantis, director of the Penn State Center in Pittsburgh, "our facilities will have to handle peaks. We need to align all the thinking among policy makers, design people, water scientists and residents so we can be as effective as possible in every opportunity to mitigate storm water," he said.

That likely will require changes to municipal regulations that conflict with rain infrastructure, he said.

The city of Pittsburgh will contribute funds and labor and the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority will monitor the sites. Three of the 10 proposed sites are between North Negley and Stanton avenues in Morningside and Highland Park. One is in East Liberty between South Negley and Centre Avenue -- the former Penn Circle South. A cluster of four straddles Washington Boulevard in Larimer and Homewood. One is above Washington Boulevard in Lemington and one is along Negley Run Boulevard in Highland Park.

Lisa Kunst Vavro, a landscape architect and the sustainable environments manager for the Penn State Center, said Negley Run is "the top priority because of the flooding that claimed four lives. By the end of May we should be full force into design."

A variety of water retention features could form an effective daisy chain between Stanton Avenue and Negley Run, she said. Another opportunity to capture runoff is in Lemington, in parking lots at the Veterans Administration Hospital and the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center above Washington Boulevard.

Storm water runoff in Pittsburgh area watersheds is a $4 billion problem that will require all hands on deck, including a daunting need for education of the public, policy makers and developers, Mr. De Ciantis said.

For instance, new paving surfaces that allow water to seep in have to be vacuumed and are destroyed by de-icing salt. Unmanicured bioswales can add value to developments whose principals might otherwise resist the look and call for less effective shrubs.

"Everything has to be maintained," Mr. De Ciantis said. "How is vacuuming permeable pavement any different than running snow plows? We have deferred maintenance on gray infrastructure because you can't see it. Green infrastructure isn't hidden so you can see the maintenance that needs to be done. And green infrastructure is an opportunity to have an economic impact."

The 15206 project is a chance to create a model on a range of topography and grades, on public and private land with multi-neighborhood impacts from which other municipalities could model projects, he said. The group is consulting with earth scientists to learn what green infrastructure design needs to look like to handle weather that is predicted to be increasingly severe.

Gordon Manker, program coordinator for Pittsburgh Community Services, said summer youth workers for the Student Conservation Association will be trained to install rain containers. Most of the interest has come from Highland Park and Morningside, but Knowledge Murphy, an administrative assistant for Mr. Ferlo, said residents in Lemington and Larimer "have been calling about the rain containers because people are talking to each other" about the project. "They're also interested in trees."

Lemington has among the lowest tree canopies in the city, Ms. Vavro said.

"For green infrastructure to work it has to be everywhere," Mr. De Ciantis said. "By fall, we will have the alignment we need and we're going to have some things installed. I want to see things start getting done."


Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.

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