The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District hosted a board of national environmental experts from academia and non-profit organizations on a tour of the district's infrastructure and aquatic ecosystem restoration efforts, Oct. 17-19.

The Environmental Advisory Board provides expert and independent advice and recommendations on environmental issues the Corps is facing.

The board, which can have between five and 10 members usually meets once or twice a year for deliberation. Its members are eminent authorities in their fields and include disciplines such as biology, ecology, anthropology, as well as community planners and other related sciences.

This year, they chose Pittsburgh District for its meeting because it provided the opportunity to focus on the environmental challenges and opportunities associated with managing aging inland navigation infrastructures.

"It is highly appropriate for the EAB to select Pittsburgh District and the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division for its meeting," Brig. Gen. Mark Toy, Great Lakes and Ohio River Division commander said. "This region provides examples of aging inland navigation infrastructures, areas that demonstrate the Corps dedication to environmental stewardship, and examples of programs designed to make reservoir operations and navigation more environmentally sustainable."

The Pittsburgh District boundaries formed by the headwaters of the Upper Ohio River Basin which covers 26,000 square miles throughout five states. It manages 16 multi-purpose reservoirs and 23 locks and dams with the Upper Ohio River Basin.

During the visit, the district provided the board with an opportunity to tour Locks and Dam 7 on the upper Allegheny River. The Allegheny River facilities represent some of the oldest locks and dams in the Corps' national inland navigation system, averaging more than 86 years old.

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commanding general and chief of engineers, chaired and presided over the public meeting. While addressing the board, Semonite emphasized the importance of working together to find the best environmentally sound solutions to the challenges facing the region.

"What I want from this board is for us to really take on the hard ones, and be able to figure those out," Semonite said during the public meeting held Oct. 17 about the challenges facing the nation. "Collaboration really has to be instrumental out there. We have to figure out how we lean on each other, back and forth."

Col. John Lloyd, Pittsburgh District commander, spoke to the board about the district's efforts to study how it can continue improving aquatic ecosystems downstream of its reservoirs through operational or structural modifications.

"Can we pulse releases after small storms to mimic natural flows, or make structural modifications, such as installing additional control tower gates at varying elevations to better mix water for downstream temperature objectives," Lloyd asked during his presentation.

As an example of environmental stewardship, the board and Semonite toured a future district project on the north shore. The project is designed to look at approximately 13 acres of degraded aquatic and riverfront habitat.

By touring the North Shore Ecosystem Restoration project, the board was able to see first-hand how partnering with other agencies can not only improve the environment, but improve the community.

The board also toured Nine Mile Watershed, a successful urban aquatic ecosystem restoration project undertaken in 2006 by the district and its partner the city of Pittsburgh. The habitat along Nine Mile Run had been severely degraded. The restoration work used a variety of techniques allow the stream to function better in high volume situations.

"In the future, the question we need to ask ourselves is how do we continue to improve the environment while making smart decisions regarding the operations and maintenance of the system and reinvestment in our aging infrastructure?," Lloyd said.