Rain garden, courtesy of Green Water Infrastructure

Waterway pollution is not the first thing that comes to people’s minds during a big storm. But as Pittsburghers are learning—due to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s mandate to Pittsburgh to reduce stormwater overflow in sanitary sewers by 85%—stormwater management is a critical issue for the region.

Now, thanks to PennFuture, the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, pollutants and stormwater overflow in Pittsburgh waterways could be dramatically reduced through the enforcement of the city’s stormwater ordinance for major developments. “If we design and build as a sponge,” says Mayor Bill Peduto, “we won’t be making an already-broken system worse. Every project also has the opportunity to be a stormwater project.” Peduto noted that Pittsburgh will be a model for all Alcosan communities. “I don’t think many people understand where the world is when it comes to this issue.  Bakery Square 2, with that development, all the water is retained onsite.  With the Almono site we will not just be mitigating [stormwater] but taking it from the area around it.  We want to be a model for the world showing how a post-industrial site can be reclaimed as a model of good green development.  We are now working with developers that understand that issue.”

We want to be a model for the world showing how a post-industrial site can be reclaimed as a model of good green development. – Mayor Bill Peduto.

Introduced in 2009 by then-City Councilman Peduto, Pittsburgh’s stormwater ordinance requires zero discharge from development sites that meet certain criteria.  Sites that entail more than 10,000 square feet of land disturbance or add 5,000 square feet of impervious surface are currently required to submit a Stormwater Plan for review through City Planning. Any Pittsburgh development that receives substantial public funding ($1 million dollars or more), or redevelopments that result in the creation of 500 or more square feet of impervious surface, are also required to submit a Stormwater Plan.

PennFuture (Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future) brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania prior to Mayor Peduto’s administration, alleging that the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) and the City had not required green infrastructure and low impact development practices to control stormwater on a 50-acre property being developed by the Buncher Company in the Strip District between 11th and 21st Streets.

The suit was recently settled and resulted in an agreement between PennFuture, the City, and PWSA, ensuring that the stormwater ordinance is enforced and that appropriate Stormwater Plans are submitted for review in the development process.

“When I first thought about stormwater, I didn’t appreciate the substantial contribution to polluting our streams that it has,” says George Jugovic, Jr., chief counsel for PennFuture. “There are pollutants and contaminants across our city and whenever it rains the stormwater carries those contaminants into our waterways.”

The agreement is important, says George Jugovic, Jr., chief counsel for PennFuture, because the City ordinance will be federally enforceable, so even under future administrations, stormwater standards for development will be maintained.

Maya Haptas has an M.A. in Historic Preservation Planning from Cornell University and is a freelance writer covering various topics from architecture and urban design to wellness and skateboarding. She is currently the assistant editor of Bigfoot Skateboarding Magazine.