Tag Archives: EPA

Awesome Project: Clean Rivers Campaign

Pittsburgh is about to make the largest public investment in its history. Like hundreds of cities across the country, the Pittsburgh Region’s sanitary authority, ALCOSAN is under a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because it is not in compliance with the Clean Water Act, meaning that when it rains, raw sewage from the city’s overburdened sewer system over flows and pollutes the area’s rivers. ALCOSAN is under a mandate from the EPA to fix the problem, which gives Pittsburgh a tremendous opportunity to make real, long lasting changes.

“I am an outspoken advocate of Pittsburgh’s ability to become a leader of green initiatives and infrastructure in dealing with our stormwater overflow. We need to get this right because what we decide today will shape our future for the next 100 years.”
– Mayor Bill Peduto, July 2013


The Clean Rivers Campaign is leading the way. This coalition of organizations led by Pittsburgh UNITED and including Clean Water Action and Action United was launched as an advocacy and education campaign almost three years ago that was tasked with informing ordinary people and elected officials about the opportunity to create a sustainable and vibrant Pittsburgh by investing in green infrastructure to repair the City’s sewer system. Together, the partner organizations knocked on more than 40,000 doors, hosted speaker series on the benefits of green solutions, and met with elected officials from Pittsburgh and from other municipalities across the region to discuss how investing in green solutions can bring economic, social, and environmental benefits to cities and the people who live there.

Emily Alvarado, age 32, who has worked as the interim director of the Clean Rivers Campaign for the past year explained, “Not many people think about sewage…but when you show people that this sewer investment will be the largest ever public investment in our region’s history (over 2 billion dollars), they agree that we must maximize the benefits of that investment to clean our water and rebuild communities. The Clean Rivers Campaign has been key in creating a public dialogue about our sewer fix and advocating for green solutions as a sustainable approach to our water infrastructure needs that provides many community benefits.”

Using green solutions means investing in infrastructure that uses natural processes to manage stormwater. There are a whole array of strategies to help absorb water into the ground rather than having it run straight into the sewer system, such as rain gardens, bioswales, properly maintained and planted trees, permeable pavements, and green roofs. However, few cities have water management systems that use these techniques. Tom Hoffman, the Western Pennsylvania Director at Clean Water Action, explained that when it rains in Pittsburgh currently the water runs off of the roofs, the parking lots and the streets and the sidewalks and it goes into storm sewers. “Unfortunately, like many cities our ‘storm sewers’ and our ‘sewers sewers’ are the same thing,” meaning that storm water runoff ultimately flows into the same sewers used for raw sewage. This is called a Combined Sewer System (CSS). During heavy rainfalls, the amount of water in the CSS exceeds the system’s capacity, and is ultimately discharged directly into rivers, spilling raw sewage into natural water bodies to relieve overburdened sewers.

Green infrastructure offers a more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative. One of the most vocal advocates for these types of solutions in the City of Pittsburgh has been Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. When the EPA ruled that ALCOSAN’s current plan to fix the sewer system using gray infrastructure was deficient, Alvarado explained that Mayor Peduto responded passionately about the city’s opportunity to use green infrastructure for the City’s sewer fix.

CRC Press Conference
Mayors want the best for their cities, which makes green infrastructure investments an even more positive choice since the benefits go beyond just the environment. Because the sewer repair will be funded by ratepayer increases, it is important that local people can see improvements in their communities. Green solutions will produce more green spaces in communities, increase property values and decrease crime, as well as create good jobs.

“Our vision is to use this investment as one that both solves our water quality problems and meets many community needs at the same time,” said Alvarado. For her, some of the most exciting aspects of this work have been the moments where the strength of civic engagement shines through. “By doing education and organizing work we have brought thousands of ordinary rate payers to meetings and public hearings. Some of these people have never been involved in community advocacy before. But they understand that we must work together to ensure that this massive public investment creates healthy communities and economic opportunities for generations to come. And they get that we have the chance to transform this investment to rebuild the Pittsburgh region in an equitable and sustainable way.”

Being at the forefront of cities making a green-first sewer fix isn’t always easy. While there is research from around the country, Pittsburgh needs more local data to demonstrate the kinds of impacts created by investments in green infrastructure. Using ioby, the Clean River Campaign has begun to generate the revenue to get the local data they need to show the sanitary authority that green solutions are really a cost effective way of maximizing benefits. Alvarado explained, “The technical analysis resulting from this study will show the potential for green infrastructure, paired with right sized gray infrastructure to address our region’s water quality problems. The study will provide a data-driven, technical framework to assist the region’s decision makers, in making informed decisions about this infrastructure investment.” They can continue to conduct this important research with your support.

Awesome Project: Memphis Civic Solar

In 2013, the Brookings Institution, a leading liberal think tank, published The Metropolitan Revolution, which argues that, in light of the Great Recession and ensuing federal cutbacks, cities and metropolitan areas are leading the nation in creating economic prosperity through innovation and collaboration. No one understands this better than Memphis Bioworks, founded in 2001 to foster workforce development in Memphis’s bioscience sector. Together with the City of Memphis, the organization has been working to incorporate job creation and environmental improvement in one of the largest municipal solar panel installations in the nation, paving the way for a sustainable future for Memphis one rooftop at a time.


The Memphis Civic Solar Project will install 50 kilowatts of solar energy on top of thirty municipal buildings in Memphis, the equivalent of about 200 solar panels per building. Memphis Civic Solar is part of larger mission to reduce energy costs, provide new revenues to the city, and reduce its impact on the environment. Specifically, this project will bring new revenues to the city without any capital outlay and offset over 2,000,000 lbs carbon dioxide emissions each year.

While Memphis isn’t the first city to take advantage of solar energy, the project is unique for several reasons. Because of their financial feasibility, many cities across the country use brownfields as locations for solar energy panels, sites defined by the EPA as previously developed urban areas whose reuse may be complicated by pollutants or contaminants. Under the leadership of Memphis Bioworks, Memphis is able to aggregate its thirty different project sites into one financial transaction, creating the size and scope necessary to entice private investment to get involved. This private third party will own and operate the systems, while the City collects rent by leasing its rooftops for twenty years.

“We’re trying to prove that projects can develop the economy while retaining and leveraging environmental benefits,” Kirk Williamson, sustainability projects manager at Memphis Bioworks explained. Kirk was hired by the organization in 2011 to manage their first largescale solar installation on top of the office’s parking garage. “By us doing this project, we can show to the private sector that this is something we can take on as Memphians in private businesses and in our residential homes that can be a source of progress for our city.”

But there is more to progress than what is currently happening on the ground.

The incredible thing about the impact of Memphis Civic Solar is that it goes beyond its tangible and quantitative benefits. Bryan Marinez, project manager LightWave Solar, the company contracted to perform the solar panel installations, described the importance of education in the project’s design. About half of the project sites are community centers and libraries located in neighborhoods all over Memphis. In many cases, installing solar panels will expose individuals using those spaces to technologies they have never seen before. “Everyone is interested,” Bryan said. His initial site assessments out in the field have only been greeted with curious people who are eager to learn about the benefits solar energy can bring to their communities.

Kirk further emphasized that this educational piece is where the project workers can connect with the local community to change everyone’s thinking on what’s possible. “Who knows? It might be what that one kid who sees that installation in that neighborhood needs to say ‘I want to be an engineer and I want to go work in an industry that is treating the environment better, and I want to make that my life’s work. At the end of the day, we as a country need to change our perspective and our understanding of what our impact is on the environment and this project really offers that piece.” By offering jobs to Memphians in the sustainability sector, and by exposing younger generations to better energy alternatives, the Memphis Civic Solar Project is creating a strong foundation for a sustainable future. They can continue their important work with your support.

The Memphis Civic Solar Project has reached a number of important milestones throughout its ioby campaign. Because of this success, the campaign has been extended to June 3rd, when the project is set to reach its final milestone, City Council approval for the project. Donations and support will be important over the next two months to reach the team’s final goal for project approval.