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Pittsburgh’s innovative climate-conscious regulations set a new standard for urban development in the face of increasing rainfall and climate change.

Pittsburgh, once synonymous with industrial pollution, has transformed into a leading example of climate-conscious urban planning. The city's innovative approach to integrating climate change projections into its stormwater control regulations has been recognized in the latest National Climate Assessment. This recognition underscores Pittsburgh's role in preparing for the intensifying rainstorms caused by climate change.

The city's regulations, highlighted for their forward-thinking approach, require developers to implement green infrastructure in new projects. These measures are aimed at mitigating runoff and adapting to the expected increase in rainfall. Pittsburgh has become an early adopter of stormwater rules based on future rainfall projections, setting a precedent for other cities.

The National Climate Assessment notes Pittsburgh's commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. While larger cities like New York and Boston are also making extensive climate preparations, Pittsburgh stands out for its innovative strategies among mid-sized cities. These efforts, though less visible, are crucial for similarly sized cities looking to develop effective climate action plans.

Pittsburgh updated its stormwater rule, Title 13, in April 2022, incorporating rainfall projections from Carnegie Mellon University and the Rand Corporation. These projections, more severe than those of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), anticipate significant increases in rainfall, necessitating robust stormwater management strategies.

Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action, praised Pittsburgh's integration of climate projections into its regulations. This approach, he argues, reflects the reality of the current climate crisis and ensures the effectiveness of stormwater rules.

While bigger cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia are making “extensive” climate preparations, Pittsburgh is an example of an “innovative” approach to climate planning taken by a geographically, economically and politically diverse sampling of mid-sized cities, the climate assessment said.

The National Weather Service, part of NOAA, is working on updating regional precipitation frequency estimates to include climate change information. This effort, encapsulated in the forthcoming NOAA Atlas 15, aims to provide essential data for state and local infrastructure design under changing climatic conditions.

The fifth National Climate Assessment highlights the United States' progress in reducing carbon emissions since 2007 and adapting to climate change effects. However, it calls for stronger action to mitigate severe impacts like flooding, wildfires, heatwaves, and sea-level rise.

Pittsburgh's latest rule addresses the diverse consequences of increased runoff, from erosion to public health risks. Developers are now required to demonstrate that their projects will not exacerbate runoff during rainstorms. According to Inside Climate News, about 50 projects incorporating the new rainfall forecasts have been approved, though none are yet under construction, providing limited evidence of the standard's effectiveness so far.

Despite the inevitable increase in development costs due to these new regulations, the city maintains that this will be less costly than addressing future flooding based on outdated precipitation forecasts. Although some pushback from developers has been noted, the pace of development remains steady.

Pittsburgh's geographical vulnerability to flooding, accentuated by its location at the confluence of three rivers and numerous hillsides, highlights the necessity of these measures. The city's shift from combating water with traditional infrastructure to working with it marks a significant paradigm shift in urban water management. This approach, coupled with other policies, aims to enhance Pittsburgh's resilience in the face of evolving climate challenges.

Eunice is a sustainability writer whose passion is sharing accessible eco-friendly practices with GreenCitizen's global readership. She enjoys birdwatching during her downtime, often deriving inspiration from nature's resilience. An enthusiastic cyclist, she is also an ardent advocate of eco-friendly transport.

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