Sister Donna Zwigart leads the ribbon cutting ceremony at the Mount Alvernia bioswale adjacent to Hawthorne Road.



Rain garden located adjacent to the front parking lots at Mount Alvernia.



Blessing of Bioswale and Rain Garden at Mount Alvernia

One of the largest bioswales in the country was blessed on Wednesday, Oct. 9 on the campus of Mount Alvernia in Millvale, Pa. This bioswale spans 400 feet along the Hawthorne Road side of the campus, is six feet deep and 15 feet wide. A bioswale is a sunken portion of land engineered to divert storm water and absorb it or slow its movement toward eventual absorption in the ground. This captured storm water from the campus and the roadway will help to mitigate some of the local flooding in Millvale such as the eight feet of water Millvale experienced as a result of Hurricane Ivan in 2004. A second bioswale or rain garden is designed to collect water from a parking lot and hillside on campus. Both sites enable the water to be absorbed back into the ground naturally rather than having it run off and collect in the sewer system. Flowering perennials, trees and plants native to the area help create the look of a natural stream bed.

The bioswales are part of a larger storm water mitigation project. The borough of Millvale, with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and TreeVitalize Pittsburgh, received a grant of more than $700,000 through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) to plant 850 trees in the Borough of Millvale and build the two bioswales at Mount Alvernia. Of the 850 trees planted, 24 were planted at Mount Alvernia. Another grant was received through the Allegheny County Conservation District to monitor the water flow of the bioswales for up to one year to determine the efficacy of the bioswales. In addition, two structures called weirs are on the Hawthorne Road bioswale to monitor the flow and volume of the water as well as the sediments in the water.

Neighbors living along Hawthorne Road were present for the blessing of the bioswalses as well as representatives from various entities of Millvale, the City of Pittsburgh, environmental organizations, project managers and sisters. Following the blessing, short presentations were given on the design and monitoring of the bioswales. S. Pat O’Donnell, WPA minister, connected St. Francis’ love of all created things with our responsibility to nature. “… we are called to recognize our responsibility to treasure and care for the gifts of the earth so that all living creatures benefit from their presence. Today, we are celebrating a sense of universal responsibility, identifying ourselves with the whole earth community as well as our local communities.”

The Millvale Green Infrastructure is a joint project of Allegheny County, the City of Pittsburgh, Tree Vitalize Pittsburgh, Pa. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy along with the borough of Millvale and the Sisters of St. Francis. In addition, Best Feeds, a local outdoor design company completed landscaping.