Brenda Lynn Smith is the executive director of the Nine Mile Watershed Association.
Together with nine staff, members and volunteers, Smith is taking a proactive approach to preserving the ecology of the 6.5 square mile area and reducing rainwater runoff from the surrounding communities. Now that the Wilkinsburg-based organization is celebrating its 20th anniversary, it is being renamed UpstreamPgh.
“As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of our organization, we look forward to the impact of our work over the next 20 years and beyond. You could say that we always planned and planned beforehand. Now we’re just formalizing it, ”said Smith, who joined the organization in 2008.
“While the scope of our work has expanded – engagement, advocacy and sustainable solutions to rainwater management across the region – Nine Mile Run is still at the heart of what we do.”
The organization began in 2001 with the restoration of the Nine Mile Run that runs through Frick Park. About two-thirds of the waterway is underground and catches rain that falls on Swissvale, Edgewood, Wilkinsburg, East Hills, Point Breeze, the eastern half of Homewood, and portions of Squirrel Hill.
In 2006, the Nine Mile Run aquatic ecosystem restoration was completed for $ 7.7 million. Since then, the organization has been monitoring water quality at three different points along the stream every month, checking pH, turbidity, dissolved oxygen and bacteria levels – including E-Coli and coliforms throughout the stool. Although water quality has improved, much remains to be done.
Through education and advocacy, UpstreamPgh makes it clear to people that their actions affect water quality.
Problems arise in the upper water catchment areas. The rainwater runoff carries pollutants and garbage through storm sewers to the stream, causing the sewer system to overflow. More than 75 percent of the garbage collected consists of food packaging and bottles. When it rains heavily, the turbulent water damages the banks and disrupts aquatic life.
From 2004 to 2011, the Nine Mile Watershed Association distributed 1,500 133-gallon rain barrels to homes across the watershed. The first 500 were funded through grants; Another 1,000 homeowners paid $ 100 each to install their keg. About 100 barrels have been added since then, along with the installation of native landscaping and rain gardens in and around the watershed. All of these efforts reduce the amount of water that gets into the Nine Mile Run.
With Pittsburgh averaging 38 inches of rain per year, Smith says it takes many barrels to make a measurable difference. UpstreamPgh is therefore concentrating on large projects for a green rainwater infrastructure.
Earlier this year, the organization received a $ 581,589 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Growing Greener Plus program for the Wilkinsburg Stormwater Resiliency Project. Planning and public relations work for the project will be completed this year. Construction is scheduled to take place in 2022. Growing Greener is the largest single government investment in Pennsylvania’s history to address critical environmental issues. This year, more than $ 34 million was awarded nationwide.
Other initiatives include environmental education, community engagement, climate justice, community engagement, data analytics, urban forestry, participating in the Our Water campaign, and continuing to administer Nine Mile Run.
The public can help by buying a rain barrel, becoming an UpstreamPgh member, voluntarily removing trash and invasive plants from Frick Park, and planting native flora. Urban EcoStewards program volunteers take over a specific section of the parkland to care for and train Rose Flowers, UpstreamPgh’s community engagement manager. The stewards commit to at least one on-site visit per year, but most of them at least two or three visits.
Smith, who lives near Frick Park, says most of UpstreamPgh’s income comes from grants, member donations, corporate sponsorships and fees for their service work.
Dancing Gnome, a brewery on Main Street in Sharpsburg, raises money for the organization through its years of Watershed series. A new beer is brought out every month, with part of the proceeds going to UpsteamPgh.
“Our new brand reflects the forward-looking nature of our work,” says Heather Dodson, President of the Board of Directors of UpstreamPgh. “While we recognize the legacy of our past, we are incredibly excited to see the impact we can make tomorrow.”
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