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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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Celebrating National Groundwater Awareness Week

2015 March 11

By Dr. Peter Grevatt

One of my favorite ways to travel is by bicycle. So, when I visited southern California last month, I jumped at the chance to ride along the San Gabriel River to see how Los Angeles County sustainably manages their drinking water supplies to support their growing population.

A recent defining experience for communities in California, and many other regions of the county, has been drought of an intensity that hasn’t been seen in generations.  The severity of this drought has forced communities to address questions about their ability to meet their basic water needs.  A common theme for many has been the critical role of a reliable supply of ground water in their ability to survive and thrive into the future.

I followed my ride along the San Gabriel with a visit to the extraordinary treatment facility operated by the Orange County Water District. Through a partnership with the Orange County Sanitation District, this facility takes highly treated wastewater and purifies it with a three-step advanced treatment process. This water is used to replenish their groundwater basin, preventing seawater intrusion and helping to supply drinking water to over 600,000 people.

I also visited the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel in San Diego County, a small tribal community that is facing a diminished ground water supply. Chairman Perez and members of the Tribal leadership described their efforts toward water conservation, leak detection and repair, and identifying new drinking water supplies to support the needs of their Tribal members.

Communities large and small are taking on the challenge of ensuring a reliable water supply.  Clean ground water will play a vital role in their long term solution, as it currently does every day for over 100 million Americans.

These communities make clear that effective groundwater management will play a central role in keeping our communities healthy. During National Groundwater Awareness Week (March 8-14, 2015) let’s take time to celebrate all the great work across the country that is being done to protect our nation’s groundwater, so that communities can rely on this precious, limited resource now and in the future.

About the author: Peter Grevatt, Ph.D. is the director of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and 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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Preparing Students for the Future Through Environmental Education

2015 March 4

One of the best parts of my job here in the Office of Environmental Education is meeting creative, committed environmental educators- and getting to recognize them for their work. Until March 13, we’re accepting applications for the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators(PIAEE). We recently reached out to Nathaniel Thayer Wight, who teaches about sustainable energy at the Bronx Design & Construction Academy in the South Bronx. He shared his passion for environmental education and how the award is impacting his work and school.

Why did you become interested in environmental education (EE)? My early exposure to environmental sustainability evolved into to my interest in EE. I grew up on an island where residents use renewable energy to meet their electricity needs.  After college, while in the United States Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, I worked on sustainable community development, focusing on agriculture and identifying solutions to soil erosion.  Finally, I ended up in NYC; I’ve now been teaching in the same high school for over 10 years. Over this time, I’ve developed a passion for bringing environmental and energy literacy into urban education. I’m deeply interested in teaching our students about the interaction between energy and our urban environment, how to identify environmental problems, and most importantly, how to solve these problems in a sustainable way.

What role does EE play at your school? I work in a Career & Technical Education school, the Bronx Design & Construction Academy and have always been motivated to teach our youth about sustainable technologies through the lens of EE. My students are learning about economics and the environment, and how this relates to the building trades (electrical, plumbing, carpentry, heating, ventilating, and air conditioning and pre-engineering).  Focusing our vision around environmental issues, such as climate change, reflects our school’s mission to provide 21st century Career & Technical Education.

How has winning the PIAEE award impacted your work and your school? The PIAEE Award – the result of my last 10 years of environmental work in the South Bronx – has really allowed me to strengthen and solidify the environmental projects I’ve always been working on at my school.

The award helped highlight and recognize our next big project: building the Energy-Environment Research Center. This center will:

  • Provide a model educational center where both students and community members can study renewable energy systems
  • Showcase cutting-edge renewable energy systems at street level for students, professionals, academics, engineers, and visitors to learn from
  • Provide an off-grid emergency power facility that can be used by the community during power outages and times of need
  • Power an off-grid greenhouse to grow organic produce for sale to the community

This award also allowed me to meet a group of incredible teachers working tirelessly in the field of EE. It’s very powerful to share our experiences; we definitely learned a lot from each other.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about teaching EE or any helpful advice you can offer to your fellow environmental educators?

EE helps our students make connections between human health and the earth’s health, identify anthropogenic factors that affect the earth’s ecosystems, and recognize symbiotic relationships that connect us with other organisms on our planet. Understanding these connections motivates them to action. To everyone teaching environmental education – keep up the great, vitally important work!

If you’re a K-12 teacher combining enthusiasm for environmental protection with a passion for teaching, consider applying for the PIAEE. Applications are due March 13, 2015. Thanks to Nathaniel and all our previous winners for their dedication. Keep up the good work!

About the author: Nathaniel Thayer Wight grew up on the San Juan Islands, located in the northwestern corner of Washington State’s Puget Sound.  After completing college and a 2-year Peace Corps service, Nathaniel moved to NYC and completed an M.S. degree from Teachers College, Columbia University.  Nathaniel has worked in the same high school building in the South Bronx, NYC for the last 10 years.  A passionate environmental, energy and sustainability educator, Nathaniel enjoys helping students make connections between environmental problems and sustainable technologies.  When Nathaniel isn’t teaching about sustainable energy, he can be found traveling with his family, playing guitar, working in his urban garden, and spending as much time as he can with his wife and baby daughter Sol.

Emily Selia works on communications and outreach for the Office of Environmental Education at EPA. In her free time, she’s doing her best to get outdoors as a volunteer naturalist, engaging children in learning about their local ecosystems.

Nathaniels installs a green roof with students on a Saturday morning

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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Advancing Sustainable Development in the United States

2015 March 3

By Apple Loveless and Leslie Corcelli

A United Nations summit to adopt sustainable development goals will take place this September. Among these is a proposed goal to “ ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all,” which expresses global intent to provide adequate water and sanitation to everyone.

When we think about inadequate drinking water and wastewater treatment, it usually brings to mind developing countries. But in our work in the  Office of Wastewater Management, we see examples in rural Alaska, Appalachia, the U.S.-Mexico border,  as well as smaller communities like Willisville and Lowndes County.

Willisville is a small minority community in southwestern Loudoun County, Virginia. In the late 1990s, the Loudoun County Health Department surveyed Willisville to determine its water and wastewater needs. It found that the majority of residences had inadequate drinking water supplies and failing or non-existent sewage systems. Most residents used privies and outhouses.

Simply providing indoor plumbing to existing homes would have driven up property values so much that the average resident wouldn’t have been able to afford the taxes. However, Willisville was able to work with the county and nonprofit organizations to increase taxes incrementally, enabling owners to afford the payments.

In the end, the residences and an area church got indoor plumbing, a cluster system was installed to treat wastewater, and private land was purchased to build a drainfield.

In Lowndes County, Alabama, inadequate wastewater management had become a public health hazard and environmental issue that could no longer be ignored. Mostly rural and primarily African-American, Lowndes County did not have a centralized wastewater management system, and is built on impermeable clay soils that made septic systems cost prohibitive. The county also has a 27 percent poverty rate. Many of the county’s residents disposed of raw sewage in fields, yards and ditches. It was estimated that 40 to 90 percent of households had either no septic system or an inadequate one.

Beginning in 2010,  we entered into a four-year financial assistance agreement with the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise to develop a decentralized wastewater management approach for rural Lowndes County. This grant is an important first step towards improving basic sanitation services in Lowndes County.

There are many communities like Willisville and Lowndes County in the United States. Funding and technical assistance can help them improve inadequate water and wastewater services. It takes collaboration by local, state and federal government to achieve environmental justice for those in underserved communities.

About the authors: Apple Loveless has a graduate degree in environmental management with a focus on water resource planning and management, and is adapting to life in the Mid-Atlantic region. Leslie Corcelli has a graduate degree in environmental science and policy, and lives in northern Virginia with her partner and a menagerie of rescue animals. Apple and Leslie are Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education research participants in the Sustainable Communities Branch of EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management.

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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