This series is part of “Think Outside the Pipes”, a local reporting initiative funded by the Park Foundation and sponsored by Penn State Public Media and the "Water Blues Green Solutions" project.
Sen. John Heinz History Center, Thomas and Katherine Detre Library and Archives.
Pennsylvania communities have some new tools to deal with stormwater. The state legislature passed a bill to encourage big property owners to create green infrastructure in exchange for reduction in storm water fees. One town is finding that a particular kind of green infrastructure called a bioswale could be part of the solution.
The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, known as ALCOSAN, plans to spend more than $2 billion to build miles of new underground sewer pipes. People who pay sewer bills will pay for the upgrades. Clean water advocates have pushed for more green infrastructure instead of expensive new pipes.
Abandoned mines leach metals and other pollutants into Pennsylvania’s streams. Could fracking be one way to clean up this water? That’s what some inside the state government and the gas industry are proposing.
Orange-colored streams have been commonplace for decades in Pennsylvania. But slowly, people are cleaning the water, making it healthy for fish, and other wildlife. One innovative project is bringing together watershed advocates, regulators, and a mining company.
The brilliant rust orange iron oxide that’s pulled out of waterways polluted with acid mine drainage is finding its way into the hands of artists and craftsmen. The dried and powdered material is being used to color T-shirts, wood stain, concrete, and even the “burnt sienna” shade of Crayola crayons. Now a nonprofit is helping turn creek contaminants into pottery glaze.
One type of green infrastructure that can help remedy the problems of aging sewer systems is older than any sewage tunnel—it's a tree. To show decision-makers and citizens the value of trees on stormwater, stream flow and pollutant loads, urban tree advocates in Pittsburgh and other cities are using a software application to calculate the value of trees.
Pennsylvania has more than 5,500 miles of streams and rivers polluted with acid mine drainage. Thousands of passive treatment systems around the state use the natural environment to filter water. This year, hydro-geologist Bruce Leavitt introduced a passive system called a trompe. It’s expected to add a new tool to the toolbox, for those wanting to clean up the state’s waterways.
The federal government is toughening limits on how much storm water can enter rivers and lakes. For many cities, it’s proving expensive - especially in older communities, where water pipes are crumbling and in need of repair. To fix those systems, some local governments are starting to charge residents a stormwater utility fee, or "rain tax."
How to handle water problems is big business. Annual revenues in global water services are forecast to hit a trillion dollars by 2020 as companies confront water scarcity. So a new organization called Water Economy Network wants to bring a cut of that financial pie to Pittsburgh.
A changing climate could lead to greater flooding. But already, big disasters like Superstorm Sandy have put the federal flood insurance program in millions of dollars in debt. The U.S. Congress is considering delaying implementation of an amendment to the program that was approved last year. While the amendment was intended to be more affordable for the government, homeowners balked at premium increases.