A water source flowing through Frick Park.

In 2020, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy organized and supported five local “watershed task forces” to evaluate the ways green infrastructure improvements in local green spaces can improve the quality of life for all Pittsburghers.

“Pittsburgh’s abundant greenspace and water resources are plagued by outdated infrastructure and fragmented, siloed management of built and natural systems. Water system updates necessitated by federal consent decrees will cost ratepayers more than $1 billion. The City and Parks Conservancy estimate at least a $400 million capital backlog in our parks,” Gavin White, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Community Projects Manager, explains. “Instead of dealing with these extraordinary expenses separately, the Parks Conservancy and watershed task forces are working to ensure we spend our limited dollars wisely. We can accomplish this by investing in green infrastructure in the parks, improving the park system and Pittsburgh’s water system simultaneously.”

The task forces are within the watersheds outlined by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) in the “Green First Plan.” The watershed task forces formed in Four Mile Run, located in Pittsburgh’s Greenfield neighborhood, Heth’s Run, nestled between Highland Park and Stanton Heights, SoHo Run, located in the Hill District and Uptown, S. 21st street, located in the Southside, and Woods Run, found in the Northside of the city. The Negley Run Watershed Task Force was developed in 2017 and served as a model for future task forces. Within these task forces, there are representatives from the City of Pittsburgh, PWSA, ALCOSAN, additional non-profits, community organizations, and city and state agencies. All are working together to plan future park improvement projects. Green infrastructure is at the forefront of the task force projects and is vital to Pittsburghers’ well-being.

“Because of the limitations of our aging infrastructure, every time it rains, sewage overflows into our rivers. At the same time, our forests and other habitats face imperils by poor management, the encroachment of invasive species, and intensified development,” Gavin explained. “Also, climate change is leading to intensified and more frequent storms that cause landslides, flood our homes, and at times endanger our very lives. A holistic, watershed-scale approach to stormwater management, including green infrastructure and habitat restoration, can address our overflow problems while also improving upstream ecologies and bringing benefits to communities, like new spaces for recreation, safer streets, and cleaner air.”

Additionally, having a ‘green first’ mentality attributes to many benefits, such as health improvements, economic well-being, and social advantages. For example, research has found that trees help people feel less depressed and anxious. Additionally, being in a green space is proven to help people recover from mental fatigue more quickly. Immersing oneself in green space is critical as we continue navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and adjusting to our new normal.

Exciting projects, such as a new

strategy for creating a greener corridor in the former Woods Run stream valley and a newly envisioned park in Negley Run, are being planned or built across the city by the task forces. “In addition to these planning efforts, expect to see more large-scale green infrastructure throughout Pittsburgh in the coming years. Four Mile Run, a restored stream in Schenley Park, will be under construction in the not-too-distant future,” Gavin said. “Other projects, like Negley Run and Heth’s Run, are still being planned and could use your input. In addition to these large projects, expect to see smaller installations throughout the city – rain gardens, improved tree pits along streets, park restoration efforts, and more!"

Advocating for green infrastructure can make a significant difference in improving the quality of life for Pittsburghers. And there are many ways for you to get involved!

“If you live in a priority watershed, consider joining a watershed task force by emailing me at gwhite@ pittsburghparks.org. If not, you can still get involved. There are important City-wide processes taking shape that will need your input,” Gavin said. “For instance, PWSA and the City are undergoing efforts to revise the municipal stormwater code, develop a stormwater utility, and create a master plan for future stormwater management efforts. Every Pittsburgher can and should weigh in on these changes to make sure community and environmental benefit are a key part of every consideration.”