One Water: An Introduction and Guide to Action


Water is dynamic. It takes on many forms: from raindrops to oceans, from snowflakes to steam. We drink it, swim in it, sail upon it; we use it to produce and transport goods, generate energy, and so much more. Water makes up a majority of our bodies and our planet’s surface area, and is critical to life on earth.

Cities, Pittsburgh included, manage water in a fragmented way. We treat drinking water, river water, groundwater, sewage, and stormwater separately. But stormwater recharges groundwater. Stormwater overflows, carrying sewage into our rivers. River water is treated to become drinking water, which in turn becomes sewage, which is treated again before returning to the river, which evaporates to become clouds, which drop stormwater, and so the cycle goes.

Despite all the shapes and names, there is only one water cycle. No matter how it appears, water is water in all of its forms: a single, connected resource, from the ice caps to the equator. We need to plan accordingly. 

For the past year, the Parks Conservancy has been injecting these “One Water” principles into planning efforts in Highland Park and the watershed it is part of—Negley Run. These initiatives have been made possible by the support of the JPB Foundation and a grant from the Pisces Foundation.

Highland Park is rich in water heritage and resources. Negley Run is Pittsburgh’s largest and most problematic watershed. This was the perfect place to develop projects exploring the One Water concept. Over the past year, the Parks Conservancy has led four unique but connected planning and design processes in partnership with the Negley Run Watershed Task Force, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, Alcosan, and the City agencies. These efforts aim to improve understanding of this essential resource and to promote interrelated plans to manage it. A unified approach will deliver the greatest benefits to the park, the environment, and the surrounding communities.

Here are the work products that came out of these efforts:

1. One Water: Pittsburgh’s Guide to Action
This booklet offers a crash course on how water works in our urban environment. It explains the major challenges, and lays out how you can address them on a variety of scales through an all-hands-on-deck approach.

One Water: Pittsburgh's Guide to Action

2. One Water Trail: A Concept Plan for Highland Park
Highland Park is full of water resources: hillside seeps and springs, a manmade stream and lake, a fountain, a swimming pool, two reservoirs, a treatment plant,  views of the Allegheny River, and more. Local residents, stakeholders, and design professionals worked together to develop a concept for a “One Water Trail” that can link, expose, and express these resources in creative ways. A series of trail loops have been identified that, with future investment in wayfinding and capital improvements, will lead visitors from one instance of water to the next, illuminating the value of each and the interconnectedness of all.

One Water Trail: A Concept Plan for Highland Park

3. A Vision Plan for the Mouth of Negley Run
PWSA is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to design a system to more safely convey stormwater along Washington Boulevard to the Allegheny River. To inspire a holistic treatment of the stream valley and Highland Park, community members and design professionals took part in a hike and workshop. They developed a concept plan for the park’s lower stream valley that comprehensively solves sewage overflow and flooding problems while advancing park goals to enhance natural habitat, provide rewarding recreational experiences, and improve connections for pedestrians and cyclists.

A Vision Plan for the Mouth of Negley Run

4. Meadow Street Microshed Concept Plan
The system for moving stormwater through Negley Run, currently under design by PWSA and the Army Corps of Engineers, will be most effective if stormwater can be redirected from neighborhood drains into the new system. Every neighborhood contains multiple “microsheds,” where all water flows to one drainage point, and then into the larger system. Larimer residents and local hydrologists, engineers, and landscape architects worked together to develop a replicable concept for how this could work in a portion of the neighborhood around Meadow Street.

Meadow Street Microshed Concept Plan

All of us are a part of the One Water cycle and could benefit from an integrated approach to water management. But this united approach requires the Many—the City, agencies, water experts, community leaders, and individual residents—to work together as One.

Please explore the ideas in the documents attached and share your own. Email Gavin White at with comments or questions, or if you’d simply like to be more involved.