Water Connects Us All

May 30, 2008 by Laurie Anderson

We recently submitted a grant application to the Department of Environmental Protection for funds to help us reduce the amount of sediment in Panther Hollow Stream. All streams have some sediment, of course, but the amount and rate that sediment Aerial view of Panther Hollow Lakegets into this stream is bad for several reasons: sediment is washing away from slopes where plants and trees need the soil, sediment in the stream disrupts fish reproductive activity, and vegetation growth in the receiving body of water -- in this case, Panther Hollow Lake -- is degraded. This photo shows how sediment building up in Panther Hollow Lake has distorted its original shape.

Panther Hollow Stream and Lake are part of the 780-acre Panther Hollow Watershed, which encompasses part of Schenley Park, as well as parts of the adjacent neighborhoods of Squirrel Hill and Greenfield. The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy wants to restore the watershed to better ecological health -- an effort that takes time, money, and expertise in watershed managment.

The real culprit in all this is storm water runoff. Our urban environment has so many impervious surfaces - roads, parking lots, driveways -- that much of our rainfall doesn't soak into the ground. the water just flows to some lower place. Some of the water flows over streets, lawns, etc., all the while picking up nasty stuff from fertilizer, doggy doo, and other junk on the ground. The rest of the water goes into the sewers, making the sewer pipes overflow, and we get not just water runoff, but sewage runoff. Yuk! ALCOSAN is working on installing separate pipes for storm water and sewage, but that is a long and costly process.

In addition to improving the quality of the water in Panther Hollow Watershed, we are also working to reduce the amount of water that flows through Panther Hollow Stream and Phipps Run so that there's less water that flows into Panther Hollow Lake. From the Lake, water flows into Four Mile Run (which is inside one those combined sewer and storm water pipes), and from there into the Monongahela.

Check dam built by volunteersSome of our responses to the stormwater problem (I've learned that these solutions are referred to as BMPs for "Best Management Practices") are rather simple, and volunteers have often helped. Cross-sloping - placing logs, branches, and brush on a slope perpendicular to the flow of water -- is perhaps the simplest technique. "Check dams" (shown at left) require more effort and are used when water has already carved out a gully in the hillside. Planting more trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers also helps to slow down storm water runoff -- and helps to keep soil from washing away, too. Installing other BMPs, such as infiltration basins, may require special equipment and expertise.

It really is true that everything is connected, so each of us can do our bit to help. You may not live in the Panther Hollow Watershed, but trust me, you do live in a watershed. My husband and I have been talking about getting a rain barrel, but haven't done it yet. But after mouthing off here about what each of us can do, I better do something myself. You can purchase a rain barrel locally from the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association. To learn more about the problem of storm water runoff locally and to get more tips on what you as an individual can do, check out the web site for 3 Rivers Wet Weather.

Ecological Restoration, Parks Management, Panther Hollow and Four Mile Run Watersheds, Stormwater and Green Infrastructure