Planning is key to unlock the Lower Chartiers Watershed's potential

The missing piece of this whole puzzle is the tragic lack of a Comprehensive Stormwater Plan that would force communities to consider the effect of development on the communities downstream.  Right now, the fast growing places upstream essentially need only to satisfy their own zoning regulations to build and stormwater dumping into the creek will continue to increase so that soon it won't take a hurricane to do this sort of flood damage.  The County has a responsibility to protect one community from the effects of the actions of another but, although there is now discussion, currently there is no mechanism in place to accomplish that. We need a Comprehensive Plan in Allegheny and Washington Counties, for the watershed, and regionally for southwestern Pennsylvania..

New Report Outlines Regional Approach to Solving Water Quality Problems in Southwestern PA

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 6)  A comprehensive, watershed-based approach is needed to effectively address water quality problems, says the Regional Cooperation for Water Quality Improvement in Southwestern Pennsylvania Report from the National Academies' National Research Council. The report outlines a technical framework called the Three Rivers "Comprehensive Watershed Assessment and Response Plan" (CWARP) to deal with these problems, and suggests ways to better unify and coordinate the region's efforts. Currently, water planning and management in southwestern Pennsylvania is highly fragmented; federal and state governments, 11 counties, hundreds of municipalities, and other entities all play roles, but with little coordination or cooperation.  

"Creating a cooperative regional effort will be challenging, but southwestern Pennsylvania's water planning issues need to be addressed on that scale, using a comprehensive approach that takes into account multiple uses, needs, and impacts, such as water supply, habitat protection, recreation, and future development," said Jerome Gilbert, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and a consulting engineer in Orinda, Calif. "The region's waters have long been an important asset, but for the area to reach its full potential in terms of recreational use of the rivers and riverbank development, it is important to clean up the waters further and meet standards for water quality." The committee was asked to assess the region's water quality problems and recommend ways that multiple jurisdictions could work together to solve them.  

A pervasive lack of adequate data hampered the committee's ability to fully evaluate and prioritize the region's water quality problems and their adverse effects, the report says. For example, there is no evidence that southwestern Pennsylvania has experienced any recent disease outbreaks as a result of poor water quality, but significant gaps in public health monitoring prevented a thorough assessment. Efforts to collect more data on water problems -- and to use it to inform decisions and measure progress -- should be made as the region works to implement solutions, the committee said.  

The report's proposed approach should be used to plan and implement further improvements. CWARP's five-step framework could be used to identify and assess water problems, model their progression, formulate alternative strategies for addressing them, and implement strategies in an adaptive, flexible way. This will ensure that the region will get the most benefit from dollars invested in water quality improvement. The report explains in detail how CWARP could be implemented in southwestern Pennsylvania, but it could also be used as a model for other regions, as many of the problems and challenges addressed in this study can be found around the country.

In southwestern Pennsylvania's case, CWARP should be applied at each of four "scales": the river basin, the metropolitan (multicounty) region, rural areas, and the urban core. For each scale, the report suggests institutional structures to help unify the municipalities' various efforts to improve water quality. The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, for example, is probably the best choice to lead water planning for the metropolitan region. But that commission would need to broaden its representation, the committee said, and should establish a Three Rivers Regional Water Forum to include representatives from local governments, the private sector, academia, and environmental organizations -- in short, any group that would play some role in implementing CWARP.

Financing water quality improvements will not be easy given the magnitude of the problems, the report acknowledges. In choosing among strategies yielded by the CWARP process, organizations should let cost-effectiveness be their primary guide.  

The study was sponsored by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter.Copies of Regional Cooperation for Water Quality Improvement in Southwestern Pennsylvania are available from the National Academies Press