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$350,000 grant to aid Westmoreland Conservation District’s integrated water resource plan

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Submitted photo
Above, a badly flooded intersection along Rimel Lane in Donegal. Westmoreland Conservation District officials are using part of a $350,000 grant to address flooding and other water-related issues in the county.
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Erica Dietz | Tribune-Review
Cars struggle through a flooded roadway at the intersection of Stevenson Boulevard and Greensburg Road in New Kensington in April 2015. Westmoreland Conservation District officials are developing an integrated water resource plan to identify and find ways to address flooding, runoff and other water-related issues in the county.

A plan for managing stormwater runoff, flooding and other issues is being developed by the Westmoreland Conservation District with the help of a $350,000 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

The two-year process to develop the integrated water resource plan began with a series of meetings in April hosted by the district and attended by government officials and the public with a goal to start identifying areas throughout the county where storm water runoff and flooding issues consistently crop up.

Kathy Hamilton of the conservation district said more than 120 people attended the four meetings.

“We got a really good cross-section from municipal authorities, government and private citizens,” Hamilton said. “We’re currently populating a map with all of the comments we received so we can see the pinpoints and say, ‘We have a cluster of issues here or there.’ As we make our way through this plan, we’ll have some direction as to what areas need addressed.”

As the work progresses, members of the district’s development committee — which Hamilton said anyone is welcome to join — will begin looking at high-development watersheds where runoff issues occur.

“The county has identified this sort of growth triangle between New Kensington, Rostraver and Latrobe, where you have aging infrastructure, flooding issues and that type of thing, along with the most commercial, industrial and residential development,” Hamilton said.

The integrated water resource plan, when completed, will become part of the county’s update of its overall comprehensive plan, which sets out goals and serves as a vision for development and land use.

In Murrysville, municipal engineer Joe Dietrick already has stormwater runoff reduction in his sights, and the borough recently adopted his recommended regulations requiring developers to follow best management practices to curb the problem.

“Our old ordinance had encouraged the use of best management practices, but people weren’t using it,” Dietrick said. “They’d always come up with some reason (not to). But I’m an engineer. I do site development. I know you can do it, and I was able to convince council … to let’s not give them a choice.”

The regulations require the use of runoff-reducing elements, including pervious pavement that allows storm water to filter through it into the soil, rain gardens and plans for storm water re-use.

Dietrick is in the midst of a study on flood plains — naturally occurring areas that flood when a stream or river overflows — in Murrysville, which he will present this year at a national conference.

“If you look on a map, you can see Turtle Creek and all its little tributaries, and you can see these small floodplains, many of which have been filled in,” he said. “By themselves, they don’t result in that much flooding, but taken together, it really adds up: it works its way downstream and maybe floods out someone in Ohio or further down.”

Dietrick said business owners and developers need to look into over-retention of water to make up for the loss of some of these flood plains.

Hamilton said that is the type of information that could also be rolled into the integrated water resource plan, which she envisions as a guide to aid developers and those looking to address runoff issues. The plan will help curb problems from runoff in places like the Gulf of Mexico or Chesapeake Bay, where Hamilton said Western Pennsylvania waters ultimately flow.

“We’re not going to be writing any new regulations, but anyone who’s doing any development will be able to look at this plan, and it will tell them who to go to, what organizations they can contact,” Hamilton said. “It will be a one-stop shop for folks who want to do development.”

Patrick Varine is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at 724-850-2862 or [email protected].

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