Note: As the Regional Water Management Task Force is not currently an active project, please be aware that some of the links to documents and other sites may no longer be functional. However, it is our hope that community leaders continue to use the resources developed to support the initiative. This page is meant to facilitate that process.
The Regional Water Management Task Force was an 11-county effort between 2006 and 2009 to improve water management and water quality in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Our region is endowed with an abundance of water, but we also face many challenges:
In more urban areas, sewer overflows release billions of gallons of untreated sewage into our rivers every year.
In rural areas, failing septic tanks also release raw sewage into the environment, and minerals from abandoned coal mines leak into nearby waterways, depleting oxygen, killing fish, and leaving Southwestern Pennsylvania with thousands of miles of “dead” or “degraded” streams.
Our region's floods have become more frequent as stormwater management continues to be disconnected from land use planning. Hurricane Ivan in 2004 was an especially dramatic reminder that flooding can affect almost all of us.
The costs of addressing sewage overflows, abandoned mine drainage, and poor stormwater management will be staggering – conservatively estimated at billions of dollars – and these costs will only escalate as time goes on. The goal of the Regional Water Management Task Force was to reduce these costs and protect our region's most valuable asset by promoting increased regional collaboration and efficiency.
After substantial public involvement, the Task Force recommended the creation of a Three Rivers Water Planning District to coordinate and integrate water resources management (water quality, water supply, flooding prevention, sewage disposal, pollution control) throughout our southwestern Pennsylvania region. The full recommendation can be accessed by clicking the link below.
The Task Force was comprised of 18 high-level individuals appointed by their respective county governments. Dr. Jared Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University , served as chair of the Task Force, and Dr. Angelo Armenti, president of California University of Pennsylvania, was the vice chair. The Task Force was supported by several staff members and an extensive technical advisory committee consisting of roughly 90 individuals from environmental groups, utilities, businesses, planning entities, and municipal and state government.
To read the Task Force Framing Paper for a more in-depth discussion of our region's water challenges, click here.
If you would like more information on the Task Force and the problems it sought to solve through collaboration, please read the fact sheets linked below:
The Task Force realized that changes can only occur after substantial public outreach, discussion, and consensus-building. Phase II consisted of extensive stakeholder engagement across the region. Fourteen two-hour public meetings were held across 11 counties in the region. The first half hour of each meeting was devoted to a presentation on the current status of water quality and water management in the region, followed by a half-hour discussion period. The final hour was spent presenting and discussing possible institutional models that might work in Southwestern Pennsylvania . The project team distributed surveys and evaluation criteria, and then listened to public feedback on various alternatives. Anywhere between five and 50 people attended each meeting.
From May through November 2006, as Phase I of its work plan, the Task Force carried out research to fill information gaps in our knowledge about water management in southwestern Pennsylvania. This work focused on five areas:
benchmarking of similar regions
survey of southwestern Pennsylvania 's authorities and municipalities
detailed case studies to depict how various entities in southwestern Pennsylvania are dealing with their water management challenges
assessment of the financial viability of existing entities in the region
institutional analysis to identify possible alternatives that have worked elsewhere and that might be useful in this region.
As part of its Phase I research, the Task Force sent out a voluntary survey to the region's 601 municipalities and 268 authorities to collect information about their water and sewage operations. This survey included information about customer base, billing, facilities, funding, and governance. The Task Force received a substantial response, with 45 percent of the authorities and 38 percent of the municipalities completing the survey.
The Task Force compiled a six-page summary of noteworthy data from the survey, including supplemental data from DEP regarding tap-in restrictions. To view the survey summary, click here.
The Task Force selected four regions for benchmarking based on their quality of performance in addressing issues similar to those that southwestern Pennsylvania faces. An extensive (40 page) summary of what was learned is available below along with two policy briefs on financing and regulation.
The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, or SPC, is the region's forum for collaboration, planning, and public decision-making. Its ten counties, plus Somerset County, were the focus of the Regional Water Management Task Force.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is the state agency largely responsible for administering Pennsylvania's environmental laws and regulations. This includes protecting water quality across the state.
The 3 Rivers Wet Weather Demonstration Program was created in 1998 to help Allegheny County municipalities address the region's aging and deteriorating sewer infrastructure to meet the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act.
These advisories, issued between May 15 and September 30 each year by the Allegheny County Health Department, indicate when combined sewer overflows make the county's rivers unsafe for contact.
This 2005 report, published by the National Research Council, finds that a comprehensive, watershed-based approach is needed to effectively meet water quality standards throughout the 11-county region in the most cost-effective manner. It outlines technical and institutional alternatives to consider in the development and implementation of such an approach.
This 1999 Environmental Law Institute report discusses the relationship between sewage infrastructure decisions in southwestern Pennsylvania and effects on the urban, suburban, and rural landscape of the region. You may download the report for free and are not required to fill out any information in the pop-up window.