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Flush It and Forget It: A Recipe for Disaster

2015 April 16

By Leslie Corcelli

I grew up in a house with a septic system. It was a wonderful home, built by both of my grandfathers. Although that was some years ago, I vividly remember that we, like most folks, flushed it and forgot about it – until it backed up into our basement, which served as our playroom.

Back then, my father’s approach to plumbing and building maintenance issues was to bring a hammer. He is a brilliant attorney and CPA, but not so well versed in plumbing and mechanical systems. My mother was even less versed, but perhaps a bit more practical about hammers. Suffice it to say, had either of them known that septic systems require regular maintenance, the basement would never have backed up with what we kids called “the nasties.”

Even these days, none of us likes to think about what happens to our “stuff” when we flush. Let’s face it, it’s much easier to flush it and forget it. It’s gross to think about and awkward to talk about. You can’t make friends at parties talking about wastewater – believe me, I’ve tried.

It’s more complicated now, too, than when I was a child. There are myriad cleaning supplies, hygiene products and flushable wipes that are detrimental to both septic and sewer systems. But, we can’t ignore it. We need to take action to prevent “the nasties” from entering our homes and yards, and from affecting the environment. It’s a health risk.

Our septic program has several tools and some simple “dos and don’ts” to help us wade through the murky waters of septic maintenance. These tools and tips can save us money and protect our health.

  • Toilets aren’t trash cans: Don’t flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper.
  • Inspect and pump frequently: Have your septic tank professionally inspected at least every three years and pumped every three to five years.
  • Use water efficiently: All the water a household sends down its pipes winds up in its septic system. The more water a household conserves, the less enters the septic system. Water conservation improves the system’s operation and decreases the risk of failure.
  • Maintain your drainfield: Your septic tank has a drainfield to remove contaminants from the liquid in the tank. Never park, drive or plant trees on it, and keep roof drains and other drainage systems away from it.

Please, don’t flush it and forget it! Visit our Proper Care page to learn more about septic maintenance. You’ll be glad you did.

About the author: Leslie Corcelli is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) research participant in the Sustainable Communities Branch of EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. Leslie has a graduate degree in environmental science and policy, and lives in northern Virginia with her partner and a menagerie of rescue animals.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Cherry Blossoms: A Sure Sign of Spring and Maybe Climate Change

2015 April 10

By Krystal Laymon

When I moved to the District of Columbia last spring, I couldn’t wait for the roughly 3,750 cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin and many of our major national monuments to burst into bloom. Tourists and residents flock to the area every year to hurriedly snap a few photos, because these beautiful flowers have a short life cycle with a peak bloom of only a couple of days.

The bloom schedule of the cherry trees, like most plants, is phenological, which means that the timing of their bloom is dependent on the conditions of their environment. While the East Coast has experienced colder-than-normal temperatures and several inches of snow late in the season, it has not deterred this year’s cherry blossoms from blooming.

In fact, over the past 90 years, the cherry blossoms have actually been blooming earlier. The figure below presents data from the National Park Service that shows the annual peak bloom date – when 70% of the blossoms are in full bloom – for these cherry trees from 1921-2014. Look at the black line that helps to show the trajectory of change in that peak bloom date over time. It shows that, since 1921, peak bloom dates have shifted earlier by approximately 5 days. This is due to in part to increasing average seasonal temperatures, particularly in March, over this time period. The Washington Post even performed a local temperature analysis in 2012 which showed that “Washington’s average March temperature has warmed 2.3 degrees in the last 90 years.”

Tracking cherry blossom bloom trends isn’t just important for scheduling the District’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Indicators of the start of spring, like leaf and bloom dates, will become increasingly important for determining how climate change may affect seasonal patterns, and for tracking related impacts on ecosystems and natural resources.

This March in DC, we’ve experienced some cold sweeps, and as a result this year’s projected peak bloom date of April 11-14 is later than expected. However, this short-term blip belies the longer-term pattern of longer growing seasons and earlier bloom times – which is a key concept to understand when it comes to climate change. Year-to-year, seasonal occurrences such as bloom times or thaws may vary widely, but the long term trends tell the real story — and this national treasure is telling us by opening its petals, and blooming.

 Peak Bloom Date for Cherry Trees Around Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin, 1921–2014
Data source: National Park Service, 2014

About the author: Krystal Laymon is a former ORISE Fellow in EPA’s Climate Change Division. She has a background in environmental policy and communications. Krystal received her Master in Environmental Science and Policy at Columbia University and currently resides in Washington, DC with a turtle named Ollie.

 

National Park Service. 2013. Bloom schedule. Accessed December 6, 2013. www.nps.gov/cherry/cherry-blossom-bloom.htm.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Tell Us Why #CleanWaterRules

2015 April 7

By Travis Loop

I’m lucky to work every day for clean water. It’s vital to everyone’s life and an important issue for our country. But, it’s especially fulfilling to work for clean water because it’s central to who I am as a person.

I’m a father. I have two young boys and their health and well-being is my top priority. They need clean water to drink at home, in school, and around the community. We live in Annapolis, Maryland, and spend plenty of time by the Chesapeake Bay and the streams, creeks, and rivers that feed into it. We want that water to be clean as we splash along the shoreline, kayak on the bay, or pitch a tent in camping areas.

1BoysInWater

I am a surfer. When I’m catching waves off places like Assateague Island in Maryland or Cape Fear in North Carolina I don’t want to get sick from pollution. Some of my surfing friends have had bad experiences in polluted waters because surfers spend more time in the water than regular beach goers, swimmers, and divers. Surfers know that even though the ocean is massive, the water along the coast can be impacted by pollution from rivers or bays, or  runoff from city streets after a storm. Not cool.

2Surfing

I’m a dog owner. I have a chocolate lab who loves to jump in the water, whether it’s the heat of the summer or when there’s ice on the shoreline. Dogs can be vulnerable to certain pollutants also and they need to swim in clean water to protect their health. It’s awesome watching my sons delight in their dog charging in and out of the water, and then showering them as he shakes off.

3DogInWater

I’m a beer drinker. I enjoy sampling the amazing selection of microbrews produced in the U.S., from lagers and ales to porters and stouts. Beer is more than 90 percent water and brewers depend on a reliable supply of clean water to craft their products. But you don’t have to take my word for it – there is an alliance of brewers speaking out for clean water.

4Beer

So for all these reasons and more, I say that clean water rules.

My daily duties at my job have taught me so much about the protection of clean water. Despite the advanced knowledge gained at  our agency, it still comes back to what I learned in elementary school – water flows downhill. We need clean water upstream to have clean water downstream. We can’t protect our rivers, lakes, and coastal waters if we don’t protect our streams and wetlands.

That’s why we’re finalizing the Clean Water Rule. Right now 60 percent of streams and millions of acres of wetlands aren’t clearly protected. We all live downstream and need that water to be clean.

People often ask me about the best thing they can do for clean water. I say to spread the word about how much it matters to you and your family and friends. Here is an easy way to do that:

  • Take a photo holding this #CleanWaterRules sign.
  • Post it to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with #CleanWaterRules and give your reason why.
  • Encourage family and friends to do the same.

#CleanWaterRules

I look forward to seeing how many of you agree that clean water rules.

About the author: Travis Loop is the Communications Director for EPA’s Office of Water in Washington, D.C. He previously worked on Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts at EPA’s Annapolis office and covered environmental issues as a newspaper reporter and editor in North Carolina and Hawaii.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Terps Leave Tinier Water Footprints

2015 March 31

By Madeleine Raley

The University of Maryland (UMD) is one of the largest consumers of freshwater in the state of Maryland, but it’s making big steps in water conservation across campus. Despite the addition of a new dorm in 2011, which added 640 beds and over 180 bathrooms to campus, water consumption levels have remained relatively steady at about a half a billion gallons annually since 2009. This is thanks to mass implementation of new water saving devices such as low-flow toilets, showers, faucets and moisture sensors on irrigation fields.

Although I’ve been a student at UMD for the past three years, it wasn’t until I came to intern for EPA’s Office of Water this semester that I truly began to appreciate the innovative ways UMD conserves water. During my internship, I learned about WaterSense, a partnership program started by EPA’s Office of Water, which offers people a simple way to use less water with water-efficient products, new homes, and services. Three water efficient products in the program are low-flow toilets, faucets and showerheads. According to EPA, one WaterSense low flow showerhead will save 2,900 gallons of water and $70 a year. To earn the WaterSense label, a showerhead needs to be under a 2.00/gallon per minute flow.

Residential facilities at UMD says that every single shower on campus (1,236 to be exact) has a 1.5/gallon per minute flow. They even have an entire residence hall that utilizes showers with 1.25/gallon per minute flow. The campus also boasts 1,370 toilets equipped with low-flow flush valves, and 1,370 sinks equipped with low flow aerators. To illustrate how effective this is, let’s consider the case of Washington Hall. In 2011-2012 Washington Hall used an average of 65,750 gallons of water annually. However, after the installation of low-flow products, the building used an average of 34,250 gallons of water annually in 2013-2014, saving over 30,000 gallons a year.

When organizations buy WaterSense products, they empower the individual to make a difference without even realizing it, simply by using the WaterSense products offered. Recruiting larger organizations and companies – or even universities — could be an effective solution to curb the immense amount of water wasted by toilets, faucets and showerheads, like at the University of Maryland.

About the author: Madeleine Raley is a Spring Intern for the Office of Water Communications Team. She is a senior Government and Politics Major and Sustainability Minor at the University of Maryland and is expecting to graduate in May.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Calming Fears and Dealing with Bed Bugs in Schools

2015 March 30

By Marcia Anderson

NEWbedbugs.on.thumbParents, teachers and students all worry when bed bugs are spotted at school because they are a public health concern.  No bigger than an apple seed, bed bugs can hide in tiny cracks or hitch a ride to school or home on coats, shoes, clothing, backpacks and books. A bed bug sighting might mean that there is an infestation.  Here are a couple of examples of bed bug fears teachers and students have shared with me:

  • “Today every student on my school team received a letter about inspectors spotting a bed bug in one of our classrooms.…I don’t want to go to school until they’re gone. What can I do to keep these bugs out of my house?!”
  • “…I found a bed bug crawling on the desk….What can I do? I already talked to my teacher, friends, and principal but (they) have not done anything? What should I do?”

The common question in these examples and so many others I see or read, is: What should schools do to prevent and stop the spread of bed bugs?

Safety First. Administrators need to be cautious about applying pesticides in school. Although it’s important to keep schools free of pests, it’s also essential to use pesticides only when necessary. This thoughtful approach is important because students may be affected by pesticide use.

Action. Schools need to investigate the extent of the pest problem, then use an approach called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The IPM approach involves inspecting for pests, properly identifying what’s found, and taking steps like cleaning and daily maintenance to prevent pests. Vacuuming, steam cleaning, using hot dryers and plastic storage bins, and removing clutter are the preferred actions when a single bed bug is sighted in a school.

Prevention. There are things students and teachers can do to prevent the spread of bed bugs, like placing coats and book bags into individual plastic containers or bags, and carrying as few items as possible from home to school. Never throw coats or book bags on the floor, bed or couch. Book bags and jackets should be treated in a hot dryer for 30 minutes once a week, especially if the school has had a recent bed bug sighting.

placement of bookbag into plastic bin

Just because bed bugs are tiny doesn’t mean they don’t pose a big threat. Following these tips, educating staff and parents, and having an effective pest management plan can go a long way in reducing the number and intensity of bed bug infestations. It also will certainly reduce the spread of bed bug hysteria when an incident does occur.

About the author: Marcia Anderson is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA New York Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Just Released: Top 25 U.S. Cities with Most Energy Star Buildings

2015 March 25

By Jean Lupinacci

Did you know energy use in commercial buildings accounts for 17 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change, at a cost of more than $100 billion per year? That’s significant. That’s why EPA’s new Energy Star Top 25 Cities List, which ranks cities with the most Energy Star certified buildings, is so important.

Energy Star certified buildings are verified to perform better than 75 percent of similar buildings nationwide. They use an average of 35 percent less energy and are responsible for 35 percent fewer emissions than typical buildings. Many common building types can earn the Energy Star, including office buildings, K-12 schools, hotels and retail stores.

The cities on this list demonstrate that when facility owners and managers apply EPA’s Energy Star guidelines for energy management to the buildings where we all work, shop and learn, they save energy, save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This work is vital because in most cities, commercial buildings are the largest source of carbon emissions.

Since 1999, more than 25,000 buildings across America have earned EPA’s Energy Star certification, saving nearly $3.4 billion on utility bills and preventing greenhouse gas emissions equal to the emissions from the annual electricity use of nearly 2.4 million homes.

Did your city make the cut? If so, use the hashtag #EnergyStar and share this year’s Energy Star Top 25 Cities List with everyone you know.

About the author: Jean Lupinacci is the acting director of the Climate Protection Partnerships Division at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  She has been with EPA for 20 years with primary responsibilities for developing and managing voluntary energy efficiency programs.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Protecting our Drinking Water for Everyone

2015 March 23

By Dr. Peter Grevatt

Like families in almost every city and town across the U.S., everyone in my house counts on the idea that we can just reach for the tap any time we’re thirsty or need some water to cook dinner.  And, there hasn’t been a single day when safe drinking water wasn’t readily available to me or my family at a remarkably low cost.

While most Americans enjoy this same luxury every day, this past year two major drinking water systems were shut down when harmful toxins contaminated their drinking water systems.  These incidents in Toledo, OH, and Charleston, WV, resulted in over 800,000 residents having to find an alternative supply of safe drinking water for as long as five days.  And, in both cases, this led to National Guard deployment to provide emergency drinking water to long lines of residents.

Unfortunately, Charleston and Toledo are not the only places in the United States where this occurred in the last year, reminding us of the critical importance of protecting the sources of our drinking water.

While today’s drinking water treatment systems can remove most contaminants, in some cases, they’ve been overwhelmed by contaminants introduced upstream from the customers they serve.  In these instances, many lower income residents bear the greatest burden of losing access to safe drinking water. Without effective source water protection programs, the cost of providing safe drinking water is placed solely on the downstream drinking water plants and their customers, many of whom can’t afford to shoulder this extra treatment cost, let alone the economic losses of closing businesses and schools during a drinking water emergency.

All Americans should have access to safe drinking water.  We can all help to make sure this is the case by helping to protect our source waters where we live and for our downstream neighbors.

About the author: Peter Grevatt is the Director of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. The Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water in collaboration with states, tribes and its many stakeholders, is responsible for safeguarding America’s drinking water.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Farmers Using Special Crops in Holtwood, PA to Protect Soil & Help Their Farms Thrive

2015 March 17

By Kate Pinkerton and Erika Larsen

It is hard to imagine anything growing in fields during winter, but last fall, we visited a farm in Pennsylvania that was covered in thriving, green crops. This farm showcases crop research and water quality conservation practices on agricultural lands. One of its practices is planting  “cover crops” – or crops planted specifically to help replenish the soil and protect our waters outside of the typical farming season.

We are two coworkers in the Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education (ORISE) program in the EPA Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. We come from two different backgrounds – agriculture and water quality – to help farmers ensure that nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen stay on the farm where they help crops grow, rather than getting washed into our rivers and streams where they can build up and become nutrient pollution, or the excess of the vital nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen.

Farmers plant cover crops to improve and protect their soil and keep these nutrients from washing away in runoff, especially when they’re not growing crops they can sell. A variety of plants can be used as cover crops, including grasses, grains, legumes or broadleaf plants. By planting cover crops, farmers help the environment and themselves by increasing their soil’s health and water retention, potentially increasing crop yields and creating more habitat for wildlife.

The 200-acre farm we visited in Holtwood, PA – owned by Steve and Cheri Groff – produces corn, alfalfa, soybeans, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers and pumpkins. Annual cover crops help the farm be productive by maintaining a permanent cover on the soil surface at all times. During the tour, we talked with the Groffs about how cover crops store nutrients for the next crop and impact yields, what cover crop mixtures to use and the benefits of having multiple species. We also watched demonstrations on cover crop rooting depths, and how cover crops help soil health and water/nutrient cycling.

We were joined by other local farmers, agricultural conservation NGO staff, and representatives from other government agencies, including USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Risk Management Agency. Rob Myers, Regional Director of the North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, said, “When you compare fields that are normally bare in the fall with a cover crop field capturing sunlight and protecting soil and water, it’s a pretty striking comparison.”

We enjoyed checking out the Groffs’ farm and seeing the wonderful progress that has been made on cover crop use and research, and we’re excited by the opportunities to collaborate to improve soil health and water quality. We hope to see this field continue to grow!
To learn more about cover crops please visit our website: http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/agriculture/covercrops.cfm.

 

ORISE program participant Kate Pinkerton, Chief of the Rural Branch in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management Allison Wiedeman, and ORISE program participant Erika Larsen stand in front of a cover crop research plot at Steve and Cheri Groff’s farm in Holtwood, PA.

ORISE program participant Kate Pinkerton, Chief of the Rural Branch in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management Allison Wiedeman, and ORISE program participant Erika Larsen stand in front of a cover crop research plot at Steve and Cheri Groff’s farm in Holtwood, PA.

 

About the authors:

Erika Larsen is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) research participant in the Nonpoint Source Control Branch in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. Erika is a soil scientist from Florida and currently works on agriculture and water quality issues.

Kate Pinkerton is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) program participant on the Hypoxia Team in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. Kate is originally from Kentucky and studied environmental science at American University. She currently works on nutrient pollution and hypoxia issues in the Mississippi River Basin and the Gulf of Mexico.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Reducing Mercury Use for Your Family and Our Global Community

2015 March 17

By Marianne Bailey and Karissa Kovner

At EPA, we work every day to reduce the use of mercury in products and processes, making them safer for you and your family. Lowering levels of mercury in our environment is important because at high levels, mercury can harm the brains, hearts, kidneys, lungs and immune systems of people of all ages. In the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children, high levels of methylmercury may harm the developing nervous system, making the child less able to think and learn.

We’ve been making great strides in the United States – over the last 30 years, our domestic use of mercury in products has declined more than 97 percent. The use of mercury in industrial processes has also fallen drastically.  Unfortunately, large amounts of mercury are still used in products and manufacturing processes worldwide, even though there are effective alternatives available. This is important to us both personally and professionally, since we want to make sure that children at home and around the world are not exposed.

Since mercury pollution has no boundaries, the United States joined the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global environmental agreement designed to curb the production, use, and emissions of mercury around the world. In addition to provisions to reduce and eliminate mercury use in a wide range of products and processes, the Convention calls for control of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and boilers, waste incineration, cement production, and non-ferrous metals production.

Worldwide, one of the largest man-made sources of mercury pollution is artisanal and small scale gold mining. Although many of these miners use mercury, it is possible to safely and economically recover gold without it. Many are achieving high rates of gold recovery without mercury, benefitting their health, the health of their communities, and the environment.

To help miners reduce their mercury use, last week we launched a new website describing techniques for gold mining not requiring mercury. With the Argonne National Laboratory, we have also developed and field tested a mercury vapor capture system for gold processing shops, which can be used to reduce a significant source of mercury emissions. EPA also leads the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership Products Area, which aims to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of mercury in products. The partnership has completed numerous global projects to improve and monitor data baselines, and to demonstrate mercury-free alternatives. For example, we have worked with Health Care without Harm and the World Health Organization to reduce the use of mercury-added instruments in health care facilities worldwide.

We also want to address the remaining uses of mercury in the United States. To get started, EPA recently released the EPA Strategy to Address Mercury‐Containing Products. We will gather and analyze data about how mercury is used in products and certain processes in the United States, plan and prioritize additional mercury reduction activities, and take action to further reduce mercury use.

Mercury can cause serious health challenges in the United States and around the world. Our efforts are leading to safer products and a cleaner environment for you, and for all the members of our global community.

About the authors:

Marianne Bailey is the Senior Advisor for the Environmental Media Program in EPA’s Office of Global Affairs and Policy, Office of International and Tribal Affairs.  She serves as the agency staff lead for EPA’s involvement in the Minamata Convention on Mercury and the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership, and was the lead U.S. negotiator for the convention’s provisions on artisanal gold mining.

Karissa Taylor Kovner is a Senior Policy Advisor for International Affairs in EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.  She was the lead U.S. negotiator for the United States in the areas of products and storage for the Minamata Convention on Mercury and contributed to a number of other areas, including trade and supply.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Puerto Rico Shows the Power of Community Involvement in Protecting Waterways

2015 March 16

Deputy Assistance Administrator Mike Shapiro talking with Harvey Minnigh, Cristina Maldonado (CEPD), and Graciela Ramirez (CECIA-InterAmericana) about the progress of the construction of a filter for the community of Mulas Jagual in Patillas, Puerto Rico.

 

By Mike Shapiro

Growing up, I remember playing along the mud flats by Newark Bay and pondering why the water nearby was so dark and sticky. I later learned that the water and mud flats were contaminated with oil and other substances. While Newark Bay is still far from clean by our current standards, today when I return to my home town I can see progress from the cleanup and restoration that is taking place.

Our work with communities to improve water quality makes a big difference. I flew to Puerto Rico in February to visit two projects that have made tremendous strides in improving the health of communities there – thanks to dedicated project leaders who empower local people and collaborate with local and federal government agencies to protect their waterways.

My first visit was to Mulas Jagual in Patillas, where the city and its residents are building a filter to treat water that will serve 200 households. This is an incredible accomplishment for a community that only a few years ago was taking water from a local river and piping it directly to their homes without any treatment. Through an EPA grant, they received training and technical assistance from a university in Puerto Rico. They learned about chlorination and formed a board to help manage their community water system.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Mike Shapiro stands with Jose Font from the EPA Caribbean Environmental Protection Division, community leaders and members of Project ENLACE, a government organization whose mission is to implement the $744 million land use and development plan for Cano Martin Pena.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Mike Shapiro stands with Jose Font from the EPA Caribbean Environmental Protection Division, community leaders and members of Project ENLACE, a government organization whose mission is to implement the $744 million land use and development plan for Cano Martin Pena.

My second visit was to the Martin Pena Channel, a 3.75-mile tidal channel located within San Juan Bay. During the early 20th century, substandard dwellings were built within the wetlands bordering the channel, using debris as fill material. Over 3,000 structures now discharge raw sewage into the remains of the channel. Poorly maintained sewer systems result in flooding, regularly exposing 27,000 residents to polluted waters. In 2014, we awarded a grant of $60,000 to design a new stormwater drainage system. We’re currently working with our federal partners on a major dredging project that would restore water flow within the channel.

Administrator Gina McCarthy declared February to be Environmental Justice Month. It’s important to provide minority and low-income communities with access to information and an opportunity to better protect their health. Clean water is a vital piece of the puzzle for the health and safety of all Americans.

About the author: Mike Shapiro is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water where he performs a variety of policy and operational functions to ensure the effective implementation of the National Water Program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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