On November 18th, the Clean Rivers Campaign testified in front of Pittsburgh City Council in a Post-Agenda hearing. CRC supporters filled every seat in the City Council chambers. They listened as experts from local and national organizations explained how families, workers, and the environment can benefit from Pittsburgh’s largest-ever public investment to stop water pollution while solving multiple community needs at the same time through the use of large-scale green infrastructure.
The panel included George Hawkins, the General Manager of DC Water, Karen Abrams from the URA, Robert McCulloch National Director of Infrastructure Programs from the Blue Green Alliance, Jim Good, Interim Director of PWSA, Anne Thomas, Engineer and EPA Consultant with Tetra Tech, Heather Sage of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, and Jennifer Rafanan Kennedy, Director of the Clean Rivers Campaign.
Rafanan Kennedy was the first to testify and painted a broad vision for how the Pittsburgh region can tackle the challenge of cleaning our waterways while doing what is best for our communities by investing in green infrastructure first. “We all want to live in a clean, vibrant Pittsburgh with good jobs and healthy neighborhoods and we have the opportunity to invest in that future now.” Rafanan Kennedy spoke about the importance and urgency of changing our region’s sewer infrastructure investment and added, “It’s our responsibility to ensure that public investments in infrastructure create economic opportunities and healthy communities for generations to come”.
Next, Anne Thomas, Engineer and EPA consultant for Tetra Tech, introduced a series of
white papers and fact sheets that she produced for the Clean Rivers Campaign through an EPA Community Partners Grant. She explained that the Pittsburgh region has many opportunities, even with topographical and other challenges, to implement green infrastructure. Thomas noted that steep slopes, clay soils, space constraints, and Pittsburgh weather patterns presented opportunities for green infrastructure, rather than barriers. She shared examples from other cities as she made a strong case for Pittsburgh’s ability to go green.
Following Anne Thomas, Jim Good, Interim Executive Director of Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), spoke of the green infrastructure study that PWSA will conduct and the investments they have planned. He noted that they have allocated a “down payment” on green infrastructure of almost $10 million and will focus on a large scale demonstration project in Saw Mill Run. Good stated their goal is, “3 rivers for 365 days”. He emphasized the need to protect our drinking water and to make it fishable and swimmable year-round. PWSA aims to be a green infrastructure leader in the region, and Good said he hopes that their demonstration project will prove that a much larger investment in green solutions is warranted.
Robert McCulloch, Director of Infrastructure Programs at the Blue Green Alliance, offered another example of a green infrastructure success story. Philadelphia has created 8,000 jobs with the green infrastructure that has been implemented. In turn, Karen Abrams, Community Affairs Specialist for Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority, spoke about the various green infrastructure elements that Pittsburgh could adopt and how they will positively affect our urban areas, especially vacant and blighted properties. She cited urban agriculture as a way to eliminate runoff but also provide food opportunities for communities. Abrams summed up her testimony by explaining that in a time of various pressing community needs and limited resources, green infrastructure can help to solve multiple problems at once.
Heather Sage, Director of Community Projects for Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, spoke about the importance of the partnerships that exist in Pittsburgh. Sage pointed out that strong partnerships will be the key to moving from demonstration projects to large scale green infrastructure installation throughout the region. She noted many of the successful projects accomplished through partnerships in City Council districts and outlined some of the Conservancy’s most exciting plans going forward.
Finally, George Hawkins, General Manager of DC Water, spoke. Hawkins previously traveled to Pittsburgh as a speaker for our Beyond Tunnel Vision Speaker Series. Hawkins explained how he has managed the consent decree in DC and how he hopes to utilize green infrastructure to mitigate runoff. Hawkins praised Pittsburgh, the partnerships we have, and the progress we have already made. Listing 11 questions that cities with combined sewer overflows face, Hawkins explained that green infrastructure can solve every one. The list included water quality issues, air quality issues, climate change, revitalizing urban neighborhoods, supporting job creation and maintenance, supporting local businesses, connecting to customers better, and justifying rates as people will spend money on what they believe in and can see in their neighborhoods.
Hawkins ended by saying, “The DC combined sewer system was built in 1890. They still use that system. The infrastructure investments we make today are the decisions we’re going to make for people not yet born” he continued with, “Pittsburgh is at the plate, and I just hope you hit it out of the ballpark, which is so possible”. The packed City Council chambers responded to Hawkins with unanimous applause.
City Council members responded with positive comments and questions including Mayor-elect Bill Peduto who thanked everyone for coming and said, “Stay vigilant, I promise to work with you every step of the way.”
Through this Post Agenda hearing, Pittsburgh showed that we are ready for strong leaders who make smart and fair investments that benefit local people and create healthy, safe communities.
The Clean Rivers Campaign greatly appreciates all who attended the City Council Post-Agenda including ratepayers and council members. Below is the press release from the event and several links to media coverage.
If you missed the post agenda, video coverage of the event will be available on the city council’s website soon.
Press Release & Media Coverage: