Understanding the Woods Run Sewershed


By Lydia Yoder

Our lives as Pittsburghers are deeply connected with the three rivers, though it’s sometimes easy to forget. When we turn on a faucet or flush a toilet, we rarely think about where the wastewater goes as it swirls down the drain.

In Pittsburgh on dry day that water will flow through the sewer system to ALCOSAN (Allegheny County Sanitary Authority) where it will be purified and released into the river. On rainy days, the process isn’t as effective since Pittsburgh has a combined sewer system. Rainwater washes down the streets into storm drains which lead to the same sewer system that treats wastewater from our homes. When it rains more than 1/10 of an inch, this combined flow of sewage and stormwater backs up the sewer system, causing raw sewage and polluted stormwater to drain directly into the three rivers and smaller waterways such as Saw Mill Run.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Organizations across the county have been working to implement solutions to this issue for decades. There are a number of interventions which mimic nature’s way of purifying and managing stormwater before it enters storm drains. These interventions are called green stormwater infrastructure. The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) has committed to using green stormwater infrastructure in its Green First Plan.

How does all of this affect the Northside? The Woods Run Sewershed, which includes parts of Marshall-Shadeland, Brighton Heights, Observatory Hill, and Perry Hilltop, has been marked as a priority by PWSA and ALCOSAN because of the high volume of stormwater that flows into the sewer system from the area.

In addition to the harm that combined sewer overflows can bring to the rivers, it is often problematic within neighborhoods as well. Many living in the Woods Run Sewershed have experienced flooded basements, eroding hillsides, or localized flooding. These issues abound when stormwater runs off of water-tight surfaces like streets, roof-tops, and parking lots rather than soaking into the ground.
In collaboration with PWSA’s Green First Planning efforts, GTECH is working to collect information from neighbors in the Woods Run Sewershed about their experiences with stormwater. GTECH is collecting these surveys to share with PWSA, community groups, and other organizations working to improve the health of our rivers and communities.

If you live in Brighton Heights, Marshall-Shadeland, Perry Hilltop, or Observatory Hill and would like to contribute to this effort, please fill out a survey either on the web at www.gtechstrategies.org/stormwater-survey or by calling GTECH at 412-361-2099 ext. 3. To learn more about the project, visit www.gtechstrategies.org/projects/gsi.

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