The most successful projects are by and for the people in a community. UpstreamPgh works with communities to co-solve problems and co-develop solutions. Through community engagement initiatives large and small, we facilitate programs that help neighbors work to better their neighborhoods and, in the end, the ecology and health of the community.
Nine Mile Run is a small stream that flows through Pittsburgh’s East End, mostly underground. The 7 square mile Nine Mile Run watershed is home to the largest urban stream restoration in the United States, completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2006. Today, UpstreamPgh’s work on this project continues the stream’s urban location causes challenges like excessive stormwater runoff, bank erosion, non-point source pollution, sewage overflows and more.
Education is at the heart of our work. This is why we work with children, community groups and other local nonprofits to create awareness of a wide variety of environmental issues. We believe that the more people understand the impact of their actions on the environment, the harder they work to protect our region’s ecosystems.
Our environment impacts the health and safety of our communities. Even in our seven square mile watershed, there are stark differences in prosperity, opportunity, health and safety for residents only a few blocks from each other.
To us, equity is not just about reducing the number and scope of environmental hazards such as flooding, air pollution and poor water quality, but also about a more equitable distribution of environmental benefits. We achieve this by providing access to nature, as well as promoting and maintaining a robust tree canopy, native landscapes and aesthetic value, along with other co-benefits of stormwater runoff reduction.
Minimizing the impact of stormwater is embedded in the DNA of our organization since our earliest days in the Nine Mile Run stream, and at homes throughout the watershed. Large Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) projects – such as institutional rain gardens, stormwater tree pits, bioswales and large-scale tree plantings – allow us to intercept large quantities of water, redirect it for useful purposes, and contribute to placemaking through beautiful, identifiable assets in a community. UpstreamPgh will continue to identify opportunities, through our equity and suitability study, to initiate targeted projects that will do the most good for those residents of our watershed who are most in need of a healthier community.
Every neighborhood in a watershed has its own policies and practices. By collaborating with each municipality, embracing each unique facet of community tradition, we’re able to introduce innovative strategies for watershed management. By engaging beyond boundaries – working with local, county and state government – we’re able to make a larger impact across the region.
For two decades, our team of staff, volunteers, scientists and researchers has been monitoring Nine Mile Run, providing critical data for the restoration work and beyond. Now we’ve expanded monitoring upstream, measuring the impact of green stormwater infrastructure across the watershed.
UpstreamPgh joined five other organizations in 2011 to create the Clean Rivers Campaign, driving public pressure on ALCOSAN to make the Clean Water Plan, the largest infrastructure investment in our region’s history, more sustainable by investing above ground in green stormwater solutions with multiple co-benefits. In 2014, an even larger coalition of organizations created the Our Water Campaign to advocate for safe, clean, affordable, publicly-owned drinking water in Pittsburgh and the region. The two campaigns have now merged under the Our Water Campaign name, and UpstreamPgh continues to play a key role in this important work.
Our Plan/Build program started by providing simple solutions to East End-area property owners to reduce stormwater damage to our water supply. While this remains core to our work, we have expanded over the years to help customers achieve more aspects of sustainable land care and habitat creation. In addition to planting rain gardens and installing rain barrels, key tools in stormwater runoff reduction, we also design pollinator gardens, native landscapes, planter gardens, and sell our own proprietary blend of birdseed. We strive to balance beauty and function in every project.
Over the past two decades, UpstreamPgh has planted more than 1,000 trees, which serve to clean our air, intercept water, cool our community, add beauty and reduce noise on busy streets. Through education, outreach, advocacy, tree planting and care, we are working to improve the health of our ecology by improving our urban canopy.