With more than 140 years of experience, the Pittsburgh District has developed expertise to accomplish its varied civil works missions in the areas of navigation, flood-damage reduction, recreation, environmental restoration, hydropower, storm-damage reduction, regulatory, water supply and emergency response. Our jurisdiction includes more than 328 miles of navigable waterways, 23 navigation locks and dams, 16 multi-purpose flood-damage reduction reservoirs, 42 local-flood damage-reduction projects and other projects to protect and enhance water resources and wetlands.  

Like all corps' civil works districts, the Pittsburgh District’s boundaries are defined by the watershed basins for which we are responsible. Pittsburgh’s 26,000 square miles include portions of western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, eastern Ohio, western Maryland and southwestern New York.  

The Pittsburgh District is known as the Headwaters District because it includes the upper 127 miles of the Ohio River and the drainage basins of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers which join at the Point in Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River. Additionally, “headwaters” acknowledges Pittsburgh’s role as a district of 'engineering firsts' within the Corps of Engineers.

When a storm hits, multi-purpose flood-control reservoirs built and maintained by the Corps of Engineers retain excess water upstream of the dam. Controlled releases of this excess water prevent or reduce downstream flooding. Without the corps' reservoirs, the Flood of January 1996 would have raised the crest at the Point in Pittsburgh by 9.7 feet, and during the September 2004 flooding from Hurricane Ivan, the crest at the Point of 31.1 feet would have been 7.7 feet higher.

As the Headwaters District, Pittsburgh has played a key role in the evolvement of the Corps of Engineers’ flood damage reduction mission. Part of that role is directly related to the region’s history of major floods. Local and state efforts to find solutions to local and regional flooding prompted Congressional debate on a national flood control role. Devastation from the 1936 St. Patrick’s Day Flood provided the impetus to pass the Omnibus Flood Control Act of 1936 assigning that mission to the Corps of Engineers.

Since then, the Pittsburgh District has constructed a system of 16 flood control reservoirs and 42 local protection projects that have returned more than $20 in flood damages prevented for every $1 invested. Regional sources estimate that the district’s flood control reservoirs prevented more than $14 billion of damages and 42 of its local flood protection projects prevented more than $2.6 billion of damages since their construction.

Navigation systems across the United States significantly contributed to the growth and economic prosperity of our Nation. For centuries, settlers in the upper Ohio River basin used the system of rivers in the Pittsburgh region to expand commerce and industrial enterprise. In 1824, Congress tasked the Corps of Engineers with improving navigation on the Ohio River. 

Dedicated in 1885, Davis Island Lock and Dam, was the first of 53 Ohio River locks and dams, built over a 44 year period, descending from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois. In 1893, the corps opened a permanent office in Pittsburgh with the mission of improving navigation on the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. Today, Pittsburgh District’s navigation system includes 23 locks and dams on the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers. 

To support this system, the district also operates a major warehouse and repair facility located on Neville Island, housing a repair fleet responsible for major maintenance work on the locks and dams. Eight locks and dams on the Allegheny River provide 72 miles of slack-water navigation from the Point at Pittsburgh to above East Brady, Pennsylvania. Nine locks and dams on the Monongahela River maintain navigable waters for the entire 128.7 miles of the river from just above Fairmont, West Virginia to the Point at Pittsburgh. Six locks and dams on the Ohio River provide navigable waters from the Point at Pittsburgh for 127.2 miles of the river downstream to New Martinsville, West Virginia.

The three rivers that make up the Port of Pittsburgh are used to carry raw materials, bulk and manufactured goods for many industries in the region. The Port of Pittsburgh is the second-busiest inland port and the second-busiest port of any kind in the nation.

The Corps of Engineers provides emergency assistance under Public Law 84-99 to save lives and protect improved property (i.e., public facilities and services, residential or commercial developments) during flooding or coastal storms. The corps also reconstructs levees damaged in flood events. Assistance to individual homeowners and businesses is not permitted. Corps operations are federally funded, but the Corps has no authority to reimburse states or local communities for their efforts. The corps provides support to other agencies, particularly the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), under Public Law 93-288.

Types of assistance provided by the corps:

  • Assistance in search and rescue operations.
  • Emergency construction of, or repairs to, levees or other flood protection projects.
  • Hiring of contractors and equipment for flood fighting, construction of levees, etc.
  • Providing flood fighting materials (i.e. sandbags, sandbag machines, plastic sheeting, pumps, etc.)
  • Technical advice and assistance on flood fighting.
  • Removal of stream obstructions or bridge opening blockages.


Criteria for Corps of Engineers assistance:

  • Flooding must be occurring. Urban or residential areas only.
  • A declaration of a state of emergency or a written request from the governor of the state or from a local official is required. The request must detail state and local commitments and identify the specific needs and types of assistance requested.
  • Emergency Operations assistance is meant to be temporary in nature and will be in support of state and local ongoing or planned efforts. Non-federal interests must commit all available resources (i.e., manpower, supplies, equipment, funds, etc.)
  • The request must be technically feasible and economically justified.
  • The state must agree to furnish all assurances of local cooperation and indemnification of the United States.
  • Local interests must sign a cooperative agreement, unless only Technical Assistance and/or Rescue Operations are provided, and to remove all temporary works.
  • Corps efforts cease when the floodwaters have receded to bank-full conditions.

Water quality management is an integral part of corps' civil works missions. The Pittsburgh District, as stewards of federal lands and the environment, complies with the mandates of the Clean Water Act and other laws and regulations to enhance the physical, biological and chemical integrity of our nation’s waters. We conduct field surveys and operate a real-time monitoring network to assess existing water quality conditions at our reservoirs and navigation locks and dams, track trends, operate reservoirs for optimum downstream benefits and identify and implement aquatic ecosystem restoration initiatives.

Although specific for each site, the primary purposes for our reservoirs include flood control, low flow augmentation, water supply, water quality, navigation, recreation and conservation of fish and wildlife. Approximately 90 percent of our total reservoir storage is dedicated to water quality. By manipulating flows, we can substantially benefit downstream water quality.

The Corps of Engineers has been involved in regulating certain activities in the nation’s waters since 1899. Initially, the primary driver of the corps’ regulatory program was the protection of navigation.  Passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, greatly broadened this role. Today, work in navigable waters ,or depositing dredge or fill materials in waters of the United States, including wetlands, requires a permit from the Corps of Engineers.

In making decisions on whether to grant, deny or set conditions on permits, the Pittsburgh District considers the full range of environmental and socio-economic factors.

The permit process varies depending on the project’s complexity, location and effect on the environment. Anyone who is planning work related environments such as lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, and ponds within the Pittsburgh District’s regulatory boundaries should contact our regulatory department to determine federal jurisdiction, ask questions or submit a permit application.

Find a Lake, Lock or Reservoir

Jump to...



Pittsburgh District's Latest

District Videos

Krista Kutzner: National Engineers Week
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District
Video by Michel Sauret
Feb. 22, 2024 | 0:57
Krista Kutzner is a geotechnical engineer currently working a developmental assignment in our construction section for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District. She became interested in engineering ever since she was a young girl because she loves math, science and problem solving. Kutzner encourages other young girls to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math because of the challenges and the rewards they offer. Promotional message during National Engineers Week and Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.

(U.S. Army Corps of Engineers video by Michel Sauret)