Monthly Archives: July 2009

Saving Some For The Fishes And Rethinking The Future of Our Water Supply

When I first moved to Colorado, I spent my summers hiking streams and collecting aquatic insects. I visited many high mountain streams that were dammed and diverted to provide water to cities along Colorado’s Front Range. In their natural state, these rivers flowed raucously over boulders, watering streamside plants, flooding wetlands, and creating fabulous habitat for fish and other aquatic critters. Downstream of the dams, the streambeds were sometimes completely dry – other times with only a thin trickle of water.

At this very moment, there are thousands of dams in Colorado that are withdrawing water from Rocky Mountain streams. Once diverted, the water moves through networks of ditches and aqueducts, sometimes tunneling through mountains and across the Continental Divide, to distant farms and cities. But the water taken from these streams is not enough to meet growing demands. In the future, water demand will far exceed supply. In response to this need and recent drought conditions, water developers in Colorado are proposing to exercise some of the last remaining water rights – for spring snowmelt peak flows in the wettest of years.

Diverting snowmelt flows from our rivers is a controversial and complex issue, both politically and environmentally. On one hand, cities want this water to support economic growth, including new commercial and residential development. However, these flows are critical to aquatic ecosystems, rearranging sediments for fish habitat, assisting Cottonwood regeneration, recharging groundwater and flooding backwater wetland habitats. Countless plants and animals rely on these flows for their long-term survival. Many of these rivers are already anemic from water withdrawals and we are approaching a tipping point beyond which the resiliency of these ecosystems will be tested.

What are our options?

As scientists, we must apply our knowledge to better balance human needs and the needs of our rivers’ inhabitants. Various water supply and smart growth solutions are available that could maintain natural ecosystems while meeting the needs of communities. Water conservation will play an increasingly critical role in allowing for a sustainable water future. Moving forward, researching and implementing state of the art water conservation technologies is key.

Your perspective on water differs whether you live near the Great Lakes, in the arid west, or by the coast. We must all begin thinking about the sustainability of our water supplies and how we can meet our needs while also protecting our rivers, lakes and wetlands.

What do you think?

About the author: Julia McCarthy is an Environmental Scientist with the EPA Regional Office in Denver, CO. She works in the Clean Water Act regulatory program on rivers and wetlands. Her background is in aquatic ecology and freshwater conservation. She recently worked on a video titled ‘Wetlands and Wonder: Reconnecting Children With Nearby Nature.’ Check it out at http://epa.gov/wetlands/education/wetlandsvideo/

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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E-Cycling

On Sunday night, I saw a computer monitor that had been left near the curb next to the trash cans four houses down from mine. My first thought was that some people are not really aware of the significant damage they cause the environment by tossing electronics along with their trash. I really hoped somebody would pick up this cast-off soon. Unfortunately, on Monday morning, my husband called me to say that he had seen municipal workers literally throwing a computer monitor into a public works pick up truck. The monitor broke into pieces as it landed in the truck’s bed. He was extremely worried about the harmful substances that would leak into the ground along with the regular trash once the monitor was disposed of in the landfill.

Obsolescence, development of new technologies and massive marketing campaigns that make people want to buy the latest models result in a fast-growing surplus of discarded electronic equipment around the world. Electronic equipment has revolutionized the way we communicate, but most of these items contain serious contaminants such as lead, cadmium, beryllium and brominated flame retardants that need to be carefully disposed of.

Many states have “diversion from landfill” legislation that requires electronic equipment to be collected and processed separately form garbage. In April 2000, Massachusetts became the first state in the U.S. to make it illegal to dispose of CRT (cathode ray tubes) in landfills. In Europe, these regulations and bans date to the 1990’s. As of 2008, 17 states in the U.S. had enacted responsibility laws and 35 states were considering electronic recycling laws. Earlier this year, the state of Washington passed legislation requiring manufacturers of electronic goods to pay for recycling and establishing a statewide network of collection points.

EPA has been working to educate consumers on reuse and safe recycling of electronics. This past Earth Day, two bills were passed by the House of Representatives to require EPA to give merit-based grants to universities, government labs and private industries to conduct research on the development of new approaches that would improve recycling and reduction of hazardous materials in electronic devices.

In our household, we throw out our unwanted electronics during an e-cycling drive. Last year, the local Engineers and Surveyors Association held a multi-city e-waste drive during which I not only disposed of an old computer monitor and fax, but also an old TV from my parent’s house. However, there are other options like donating the equipment for refurbishment and resale. The two latter are more common with cellular phones. All of them are much better than throwing electronics into the trash.

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

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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BASURA ELECTRONICA

Vi el monitor de computadora un domingo en la noche al lado de los contenedores de basura de una casa a cuatro residencias de la nuestra. De inmediato constaté que, aún con todos los esfuerzos de educación ambiental que hacemos, hay algunas personas que no entienden el daño que causan al ambiente tirando enseres electrónicos a la basura regular. Pensé que quizás alguien se lo llevaría antes que llegase el camión de basura. Sin embargo mi esposo me llamó el lunes en la mañana para indicarme como los trabajadores de recogido de desperdicios habían dispuesto del monitor tirandolo al camión de la basura y como este se hizo añicos ante sus ojos. Y fue así como nuestra mayor preocupación se tornó realidad. Este monitor que desprendía componentes y sustancias químicas peligrosas terminaría junto a la basura regular en el vertedero.

El advenimiento de nuevas tecnologías, la obsolencia de équipos electrónicos junto a campañas publicitarias que destacan las virtudes de tal o más cual equipo han creado a nivel mundial un exceso de electrónicos que son descartados cada año por un modelo más eficiente. Si bien han revolucionado la manera en la que nos comunicamos, no podemos perder de vista que muchos de estos equipos también contienen contaminantes como plomo, cadmio y berilio, entre otros, que necesitan ser dispuestos adecuadamente.

Muchos estados tienen legislación que prohibe de su disposición en los vertederos. Estos equipos deben ser recogidos y procesados fuera de la corriente regular. El estado de Massachussets fue el primero en hacer ilegal la disposición de tubos de rayo catódico (CTR, por sus siglas en inglés) en abril del 2000. En Europa muchas de estas leyes y estatutos de prohibición datan de los años 1990’s. En el 2008 17 estados de Estados Unidos habían creado leyes de responsabilidad y 35 estaban considerando establecer leyes de reciclaje de electrónicos. Al presente, el estado de Washington pasó legislación requiriendo a los manufactureros de equipos de este tipo pagar por el reciclaje de estos y establecer puntos de recogido a través del estado.

La EPA ha trabajado arduamente para educar a la ciudadanía sobre el reuso y el reciclaje seguro de estos equipos. Durante la conmemoración del Día Internacional de la Tierra este año la Legislatura aprobó dos medidas que le dan a la EPA la facultad de otorgar subvenciones a universidades, laboratorios del gobierno y la industria privada para llevar a cabo investigaciones sobre el desarrollo de nuevas formas de mejorar el reciclaje de electrónicos y reducir los componentes peligrosos en estos equipos.

En nuestro hogar llevamos nuestros equipos electrónicos al recogido anual que hace el Colegio de Ingenieros y Agrimensores. El año pasado llevé una computadora vieja y un fax junto a un televisor viejo de la casa de mis padres. Sin mebargo hay otras opciones como donar el equipo, revenderlo o arreglarlo. Las últimas dos son muy comunes con equipos como teléfonos. Cualquiera de estas opciones es mejor que tirarlo a la basura.

Sobre la autor: Brenda Reyes Tomassini se unió a la EPA en el 2002. Labora como especialista de relaciones públicas en la oficina de EPA en San Juan, Puerto Rico donde también maneja asuntos comunitarios para la División de Protección Ambiental del Caribe.

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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Science Notebook: Childhood Dreams Really Do Come True

About the author: Jeanne Voorhees is an environmental scientist at EPA in Boston, Massachusetts. She began working at EPA (1997) helping to protect and restore water quality in rivers and streams, and continues this with her focus now on doing her Dream Job in wetlands.

image of author with white dog squatting in woodsI was raised on Long Island (New York) and enjoyed hours playing in woods behind our home, never realizing the muck I tromped through or the hummocks of tussock sedge I hopped upon were considered part of a wetland. I just knew I loved watching waterbugs, catching turtles, frogs, and salamanders, and getting muddy. I even enjoyed peering through a microscope looking at smaller forms of life found in muddy ponds and remember the first Paramicieum I saw. It was that moment, 38 years ago, I dreamed of becoming a “scientist.” Now I’m at EPA doing my Dream Job helping to protect and understand the biology, ecology and health of our wetlands in New England. What better job could I possibly ask for?

As a child I didn’t know the wetlands behind my parent’s house were acting like a sponge to absorb water that would have otherwise flooded our basement. I didn’t know wetlands help clean the ponds and rivers we swam and fished in. Although I didn’t know these and other wetland functions, I did know they were home to unique and beautiful plants and animals worth protecting. I encourage you to discover more about wetlands and the benefits they serve at EPA’s wetlands website.

I am privileged to work with wetland scientists across New England exploring such questions as, “How do we know a wetland is healthy?” We may monitor it using computer models with maps, algae (one celled organisms), soils, water chemistry, and other measures to help answer our questions. We might find a wetland is missing bugs and plants that belong in a healthy wetland, and then begin identifying the potential source(s) of the problem so it can be restored to a healthier system. The source could be a failing septic system, or polluted runoff from a parking lot. This is only one issue that monitoring wetlands can help identify.

I encourage you to visit a wetland this week, maybe it’s in your own backyard, to discover its unique qualities and report your findings here. Ask yourself, “What do I see, hear and smell? Is this wetland healthy and how do I know?”

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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Climate for Action: Conserve Energy Through Water Conservation

The average family in the United States uses 400 gallons of water every day. We use it to cook, clean, drink, garden and for many other indoor and outdoor activities. Water is definitely an important resource to us all and is essential to our everyday lives. Unfortunately, to get this water to our homes it takes a lot of energy. Two to three percent of the world’s energy consumption is used to treat and pump water to our homes. And, the percent of energy that we need to treat and pump our water changes from region to region depending on how much the region consumes. In California, for example, about 20 percent of the state’s energy is used to treat and pump its water. Therefore, in order to conserve energy, it is important to conserve our water use within our homes. The EPA estimates that by practicing water conserving techniques, you can reduce your water use by 20–30 percent. By reducing your water use, you will be able to reduce your homes energy use and also be able to save some money and reduce your carbon footprint. And, it’s very simple to reduce your water use!!! Some simple things that you can do include:

  • Listen for dripping faucets and running toilets. Fixing a leak can save 300 gallons a month or more.
  • Turn off the water while brushing your teeth and save 25 gallons a month.
  • Run your clothes washer and dishwasher only when they are full. You can save up to 1,000 gallons a month.
  • Find out more ways you can conserve water

Can you think of other things we can all do to conserve water? Be sure to let us know so we can all save energy by practicing water conservation.

About the author: Michelle Gugger graduated from Rutgers University in 2008. She is currently spending a year of service at EPA’s Region 3 Office in Philadelphia, PA as an AmeriCorps VISTA.

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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Building Green and Affordable Homes

Hurricane season started on June 1 and I thought it would be interesting to see how at least one non-profit organization is incorporating energy efficiency and green design as it re-builds a neighborhood in New Orleans, almost 4 years after Hurricane Katrina.

Jericho Road Housing Initiative was founded with support from the Episcopal Relief and Development organization and is a neighborhood-based non-profit home builder of healthy and energy efficient housing. One of the fundamental missions of Jericho Road is not only to replace housing units lost during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but to build a neighborhood in the Central City area of New Orleans. The organization is working with 56 lots in the vicinity of the Saratoga Street Brownfield site. To date, 21 homes have been sold and another 20 have been constructed or are under construction.

Located almost at the center of the neighborhood is the Saratoga Street Brownfield site, once a municipal hazardous waste incinerator. Working with community members, local landscape architects and Jericho Road staff plan to convert the vacant land into a community park. In addition to ridding the area of an environmental and aesthetic eyesore, the new park will provide residents and families with a healthy outdoor area for exercise and enjoyment.

There have been 3 design criteria that have guided the design and construction of the homes. First, Jericho Road has used traditional architectural designs found in the neighborhood. To folks that grew up in south Louisiana, these homes are referred to as “shotgun” houses and include tall ceilings, deep front porches and unique structural details. Next, the homes incorporate the concept of universal design so that residents of differing physical abilities can move easily throughout the home, including doorways and hall widths that accommodate wheelchair use. The third design criterion is to build green and energy efficient.

Brad Powers, Jericho Road’s executive director, recently outlined the group’s energy efficiency emphasis in the organization’s newsletter. “Green building is not a luxury – it is part and parcel with our commitment to providing families with not just a house but a home. Long-term housing affordability and energy efficiency are interconnected and must be acknowledged by all that provide or help fund homes. This is especially true for low income families.”

About the author: Rob Lawrence joined EPA in 1990 and is Senior Policy Advisor on Energy Issues in the Dallas, TX regional office. As an economist, he works to insure that both supply and demand components are addressed as the Region develops its Clean Energy and Climate Change Strategy.

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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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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Pregunta de la Semana: ¿Qué hace con los desechos de alimentos?

En lugar echarlos a la basura, los desechos de alimentos pueden ser utilizados para hacer compostaje y reutilizarlos en el césped y jardines. Los desechos de alimentos continúan siendo el componente singular de mayor cuantía en el volumen de basura por su peso en Estados Unidos.

¿Qué hace con los desechos de alimentos?

Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

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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The City of Tucson Goes Gray

On September 23, 2008 I was touring the Upper Santa Cruz River with Amy McCoy of the Sonoran Institute as my watershed tour guide. The trip was awesome; I never knew that the southeast corner of Arizona was so beautiful.

Towards the end of our day trip Amy was anxious to get back to Tucson to attend an important City Council meeting, I didn’t know it until later that it was the vote on the Grey Water Ordinance that Amy was trying to make it to. The Sonoran Institute, using EPA Targeted Watershed Grant funds, helped to put together the ordinances for the City Council vote.

Because there’s so little surface water in the Tucson area, the city’s major water source has always been groundwater. The Grey Water Ordinance is aimed at reducing the use of scarce drinking water to irrigate desert landscapes. The city estimates that 45 percent of water use is for landscaping, and using rainwater and gray water would greatly reduce this.

image of green rain barrell under downspoutThe ordinance requires rainwater harvesting plans and capturing systems for any new commercial building built after June 1, 2010. The Ordinance requires that new homes built after that date be plumbed for gray water irrigation systems. This means having a drain for sinks, showers, bathtubs, and washing machines separate from drains for all other plumbing, to allow for future installation of a gray water system.

A key factor contributing to the success of this ordinance was the involvement from the entire community, from plumbers and landscapers to the Friends of the Santa Cruz River, they all added their support for the ordinances success. In addition to the community support, an EPA grant helped finance some of the work towards creating the ordinance language.

The City of Tucson was selected for a Pacific Southwest Regional Environmental Award and on the day of the awards ceremony, I had no idea who was coming to accept the award, but had heard that Councilman Rodney Glassman was coming. He was the driving force behind the ordinances, but I had no idea what he looked like. Well, Rodney is about 6’8”, and super energetic, really hard to miss. Once we connected it was great to sit and chat with him, he is very passionate about the ordinances, Tucson, and Arizona. Way to go Councilman Rodney Glassman and the City of Tucson!

About the author: Jared Vollmer works in the Watersheds Office at the EPA, Region 9 office. His work is primarily with the State of Arizona, Department of Environmental Quality, on reducing nonpoint source pollution in Arizona’s impaired watersheds. In addition, Jared works directly with the Sonoran Institute, a recipient of EPA’s Targeted Watershed Grant, located in Tucson in the Santa Cruz Watershed.

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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Keep a Level Head at the Wheel…and Save Money

image of traffic on a highwayA recent survey on aggressive driving habits across the United States pointed to a wide variety of activities in which drivers vented their rage at the wheel. Some of these bad driving habits include tail-gating, honking horns, making obscene gestures, and speeding, to name a few. Large metropolitan areas have consistently been featured among the top offenders in the road rage arena. Nonetheless, many of us have encountered these aggressive drivers whether we live in the city, suburbia or rural areas. While I hope no one will challenge that many of these bad habits are dangerous, offensive and even illegal, keeping a level head at the wheel will allow you to save money and ultimately protect the environment.

Here are some tips that will help you use fuel more efficiently while driving. Try to keep a steady pace while driving. Sudden acceleration and heavy braking may reduce the fuel efficiency of your economy by up to 33 percent. By keeping distractions to a minimum, you can gauge your pace even in heavy traffic. Another piece of advice—observe the speed limit. Seems like a no brainer, but did you know that fuel efficiency decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph?

Furthermore, keep your car in shape. It’s important to keep your engine properly tuned to improve gas mileage. Plus we often forget to keep our tires properly inflated. Inflating tires at the proper pressure will improve your gas mileage and the life of your tires. Using the proper octane level at the pump also improves your mileage. Check your owner’s manual to see the most effective octane level for your car. Unless it’s recommended by the manufacturer, buying a higher octane gas might be a waste of your hard-earned money.

Since we’re approaching the 4th of July weekend, there are many who will hit the road to visit family and friends or relax in the great outdoors. Consider these tips so you can enjoy your drive and protect the Planet at the same time.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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