How to make progress for Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers

In late 2018, the Heinz Endowment invited the Water Center at Penn (WCP) out to Southwest Pennsylvania to undertake a high-level study exploring the challenges and opportunities for water resource management in the Three Rivers region. This region, named for the important presence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers, which meet in the center of Pittsburgh, possesses a wealth of water. 

Evening view of Pittsburgh skyline along one of its rivers

The Phase 1 study, “Accelerating Transformational Change in Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers,” recognizes that Pittsburgh’s wealth of water also presents a unique set of challenges for the region, including sewer overflows, flooding, indus­trial and agricultural pollutants, emerging contaminants, aging infrastructure, poorly coordinat­ed land use, and an upstream resource boom.

Interviews with over 50 stakeholder organizations and an in-depth literature review revealed that some progress has been made across the watersheds to identify and address some of these issues—the region is on the cusp of unprecedented invest­ment in both gray and green infrastructure in response to a federal consent decree. But the consensus from all interviews was that this will only partially address the list of evolving and interconnected challenges. Changing climate will strain aging infrastructure, despite investments. Growth in the region and associated land use changes will impact water quality, quantity and affordability. These challenges affect populations differently across urban and rural watersheds, often with inequitable outcomes based on socioeconomic disparities.

WCP’s report concluded that only through taking a systematic and integrated approach can the current water system chal­lenges in Southwest Pennsylvania be effectively and efficiently addressed, with full realization of the many benefits the Three Rivers have to offer.

Read more at The Water Center at Penn.