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Environmental Advocates Continue To Push ALCOSAN For More Green Infrastructure

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA

Environmental advocates gathered on Tuesday to discuss how to convince the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority or ALCOSAN that green infrastructure is the best way to significantly reduce sewage overflows in the region.

In September, ALCOSAN presented a new roadmap plan to prevent untreated sewage from flowing into the rivers. Green infrastructure is included under that new agreement with the federal government, but also contains timelines for massive gray infrastructure projects, which focuses on human-engineered design and construction. 

Lois Campbell of the Sierra Club said there are only a few years to prove that building new tree trenches, basins and rain gardens can sufficiently address the region’s issues.

“We just have to get ALCOSAN to invest, quickly, large-scale, in green,” she said.

Design for the first tunnel section will begin in just a couple of years, said Brenda Smith, who heads the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association and is also an ALCOSAN board member.

“It’s really incumbent on those of us who favor green solutions to, as quickly as possible, get the evidence that they will perform,” she said.

In order to do that, Smith says they need to get large green infrastructure projects in service to model that they present a viable alternative.

The agency is happy to consider cost-effective green infrastructure proposals, said Joey Vallarian, ALCOSAN’s director of communications.

“The thing about this plan is it is adaptable,” he said, and added that the $100 million for green infrastructure currently identified in ALCOSAN’s Clean Water Plan is not a hard limit. However, that money can only be accessed through the Green Revitalization of Our Waterways or GROW program.

“We’re saying, ‘You can use other money,’” said Campbell.

To help build a case, the group asked a Philadelphia-based consultant to discuss how that city has tackled overflows. In 2011 the Philadelphia Water Department reached its own agreement with federal authorities and won approval to take a green-first approach. Eight years into a 25-year plan, a consultant’s analysis shows that tools such as tree trenches and rain gardens reduce overflows.

Implementation of green infrastruction projects also results in other economic and social benefits that are “equitably distributed,” said Lee Huang, vice president of Econsult Solutions, Inc., which produced the analysis for the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia.

“They were disproportionately located in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods, and seeing that we consider them as beneficial we think that that’s a good thing,” he said.

Green infrastructure projects created more open space for residents and boosted the local economy. Huang explained that green projects tend to be smaller and more dispersed, which allows local businesses to be contracted as vendors.