Centre and Herron Green Stormwater Infrastructure project. Image courtesy of PWSA.

A new and environmentally-friendly green infrastructure system in the Upper Hill District is now ready to capture more than one million gallons of stormwater annually.

The recently completed Centre and Herron Green Stormwater Infrastructure project is another piece of Pittsburgh’s ongoing effort to control flooding and improve the health of its waterways through better stormwater management.

Partially funded by ALCOSAN’s GROW grant program, this new site run by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) includes a 585-linear-foot bioswale, underground storage and other components designed to capture and slowly release stormwater into the sewer system. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy will maintain the area’s landscaping and rain garden.

The project comes at a time when Pittsburgh has been experiencing months of intense storms and increased flooding. Last April, the National Weather Service in Moon determined that the season got off to an unusually wet start with double the typical amount of precipitation — 16.18 inches compared to the normal 8.86 inches. By June, a record-breaking 24.31 inches of rain had fallen on Pittsburgh.

But even normal rainfall can lead to problems.

“On average we’ll get about 40 inches of rain per year,” says PWSA Communications Project Manager, Rebecca Zito. “That winds up being quite a bit of rain to manage and it’s resulting in basement backups, localized street flooding, overflows into rivers and overburdening the sewer system. Green infrastructure is one of the solutions and ways in which we can better manage it.”

The Centre and Herron site is the second of four projects PWSA pursued as part of the City-Wide Green First Plan, an effort launched in 2016 to find a more holistic approach to stormwater management.

The Red Oak and Hayson project in Banksville was completed last summer. And PWSA Associate Project Manager Megan Zeigler confirms that the Hillcrest project in Garfield is close to completion. That leaves the Melwood and Finland project in Polish Hill, which is now roughly 60 percent constructed and should be finished this fall.

Several other projects throughout Pittsburgh — in the North Side, Shadyside, South Side, Squirrel Hill and Carrick and Overbrook — are in the design or planning phases.

The City-Wide Green First Plan is the first phase in PWSA’s efforts to tackle Pittsburgh’s flooding problems. The organization is also establishing a division that would be committed to overseeing all the green stormwater management projects.

“We have the expertise and the resources to do that,” says Zito, “and it will really help to streamline things when it’s all under one roof.”

Centre and Herron Green Stormwater Infrastructure project. Image courtesy of PWSA.

Zeigler and Zito emphasize that green infrastructure projects like the one on Centre and Herron boast numerous benefits beyond preventing floods.

“They’re also adding to the character of the neighborhoods,” says Zito. “With Centre and Herron, we took a vacant lot and were able to transform it into this beautiful rain garden that helps to beautify that area. It creates a stronger sense of place for the neighborhood; in some places, it can spur economic development activity.”

But even with those visible benefits, they believe it’s crucial to help community groups and residents understand the mission of these projects. Zito says PWSA reaches out to neighborhoods to receive input on projects during various stages of design and during construction.

“This is new for a lot of people,” says Zeigler. “A lot of times they might not have an issue but their neighbor next door or down the street is, so we’re educating people on how a watershed or a system works or is integrated.”

As they talk with residents, they also suggest small things people can do to combat flooding, such as installing a rain barrel or rain garden on their property or not running the dishwasher, taking showers or washing clothes during storms.

“We have very engaged residents in Pittsburgh,” says Zeigler. “To give them those little tangible things can have an impact for sure.”

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.