In the weeks leading up to the Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council will feature each of this year’s five awardees, along with a local group receiving special recognition. The Connoquenessing Watershed Alliance, Crawford County Riparian Restoration Program, Green Building Alliance, Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, and Edward Schroth will be honored as this year’s award recipients, while the Garden Club of Allegheny County will be presented with special recognition at the May 26 ceremony at Pittsburgh’s Westin Hotel and Convention Center. The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is featured in this week’s installment.
Pittsburgh Botanic Garden
In 1988 a group of garden enthusiasts and community leaders began a grassroots, volunteer-driven effort to build a botanic garden in the Pittsburgh area. Today, the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is transforming 460 acres of abandoned mining land just ten miles west of the city into a world-class botanic garden. Once completed, it will be one of the largest botanic gardens in America.
The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden will be comprised of 18 distinct gardens, five diverse woodland experiences, a visitor’s center, a celebration center to accommodate weddings and corporate events, and a center for botanic research.
Like so much of Western Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden sits atop acres of abandoned coal mines and is a world class example of coal mine restoration and remediation. The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden will be the only botanic garden in the United States built on such reclaimed land.
Four streams on the site were seriously polluted with acid mine discharge from the mines. When Hurricane Ivan dumped six inches of rain on Pittsburgh in September 2004, the site was overwhelmed and the flow of acid mine drainage from the underground mines increased substantially. It became clear that major costly rehabilitation of the property was necessary before the vision of a botanic garden could be realized.
An innovative plan was developed to remove the mines and reclaim the site. Removing the mines stabilized the land, protecting future buildings from mine subsidence. It also cleans the water for irrigation and reduces pollution entering the streams. Additionally, the project included building an intelligent rainwater system that will provide for future irrigation needs.
The Garden’s passive abandoned mine discharge treatment system removes 912 pounds of pollutants per year as it treats 4.2 million gallons annually. The pH of this treated water has improved from 3 to 7.
There are now 111 different species of birds that can be observed at the Garden as a result of the remediation and restoration work.
In addition to creating a vibrant and thriving ecosystem on the Garden’s property, these efforts have provided social benefits for local residents and other communities that must address similar challenges, and has also enabled the Garden to become an economic engine for the region.