Tuesday evening, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) issued a precautionary water advisory to tens of thousands of city ratepayers, cautioning them to flush pipes and boil water before consumption. Read the full advisory here.
PWSA states that there is no evidence of any bacteria in the system or that our water is unsafe, but the advisory is required by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) due to tests showing low chlorine levels. The primary purpose of chlorine is to destroy bacteria and viruses that can enter our water system; tap water is required to have detectable levels of chlorine to help prevent contamination. We thank PWSA for their quick, thorough response, and for their dedication to keeping our water safe.
While it's estimated that this advisory will last only a few days, our concern for the health and safety of our water should continue. During heavy rain storms, water rushes from our hillsides and paved surfaces into storm drains. Because of Pittsburgh's dated infrastructure, this rush of stormwater overwhelms our city's combined sewers pipes, mixing stormwater with raw sewage that eventually empties into our rivers.
As you can imagine, this combined sewer overflow, as it's called, is unhealthy for humans and animals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, water (drinking and recreational) is the most common mode of transmission for microscopic parasites such as Giardia.
So how can we keep our water clean? We must keep stormwater out of our sewers in the first place.
At the Parks Conservancy, we are working to do just that with green infrastructure. Green infrastructure builds community assets (think: meadows that soak up stormwater and attract butterflies) while curbing combined sewer overflow. Green infrastructure also reduces flooding, combats erosion, and adds wildlife habitat.
Parks play a key role in the City of Pittsburgh and PWSA’s Green First plan, an innovative, cost-effective, and green infrastructure approach to managing stormwater. Choosing green solutions like rain gardens, meadows, and tree plantings first over grey solutions like sewer expansions keeps our water clean and benefits our parks and neighborhoods. Click here to read more about the Green First Plan, and to voice your support.