Greenfield rain garden may allay flooding

Installation is part of plan city hopes will alleviate stormwater problems

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A new rain garden in Greenfield should help control stormwater in one of the city's most flood-prone areas and be a model for green infrastructure in other neighborhoods, city officials said while showing off the project during a lull in Friday's storms.

The rain garden, officially called a bioswale, lies on two sides of the Operating Engineers Local 95 property that fronts on Saline Street in the Greenfield neighborhood Four Mile Run.

Known as "the run," the area is a notorious flood zone. The force of rushing water has floated cars, overrun the ballfield, blown away manhole covers and soaked residents' homes. Some residents have had to replace basement appliances multiple times.

"The main purpose of having this is to demonstrate how common-sense stormwater management can be accomplished," said Bill Cagney, union business manager.

The project was a partnership of Operating Engineers, city public works, Bryan Materials Group and The Penn State Center. Councilman Corey O'Connor, who represents the run, provided about $6,000 in Neighborhood Needs money to buy plants.

Deno De Ciantis, director of The Penn State Center, said the region is "woefully behind the times" with a lack of green infrastructure.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said, "We look forward to doing more projects like this throughout our city."

Officials touted the project during a day of intermittent downpours -- and days after the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority's engineering firm estimated that the city, authority and 24 upstream municipalities would have to pay as much as $277 million to control sewage overflows into the region's rivers.

In all, Allegheny County Sanitary Authority and the 83 municipalities in its service area, including Pittsburgh, could have to pay $2 billion to control sewage overflows, which occur when rainwater overwhelms sewer systems. Federal, state and county officials have ordered Alcosan and the municipalities to make corrections by 2026.

The mandate is a challenge for officials and a looming financial burden for taxpayers. While the focus has been on new pipes and storage tanks across the Alcosan system, the bioswale was described as a low-cost way to lessen flooding in --and beautify -- one neighborhood.

About 600 feet long, the garden consists of black-eyed susans, daylilies and other flowers, decorative grasses, sweetbay magnolias and serviceberry trees. Below a layer of mulch is 18 inches of a special soil and, below that, a gravel base. Together, the components are designed to trap 325,000 gallons of water, or more, annually.

The project also included a new permeable sidewalk.

Officials were not able to say how much water the garden could absorb during a single deluge. However, Jill Zankowski, an intern with The Penn State Center, said it had no trouble absorbing water from this week's storms.

The bioswale is not a cure-all for the run's problems. Mike Labanik, who owns a Saline Street house, said Wednesday's storm destroyed the hot water heater and might have damaged the furnace. Last year, he said, he spent more than $900 to repair previous flood damage to the furnace.

While the city plans for the 2026 mandates, it also must step in with quick fixes for chronic flood victims, said Councilman Bill Peduto, who represents several East End neighborhoods with stormwater problems. The water and sewer authority Monday will begin a $607,000 sewer expansion and replacement project designed to address one problem area -- Maryland Avenue and Holden Street in Shadyside.

Authority spokeswoman Melissa Rubin said the project is the first step in alleviating flooding on those streets. Mr. Peduto said he would push the authority to undertake additional projects in Shadyside and other neighborhoods, noting some have spent years cleaning stormwater and sewage from their basements.

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Joe Smydo: or 412-263-1548.


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