Monthly Archives: November 2012

Aquatic Conservation Focus areas for EPA Region 7

By Holly Mehl

Last month I introduced Big Blue Thread readers to EPA Region 7’s Conservation Focus Area analysis developed in cooperation with the Missouri Resource Assessment Partnership (MoRAP).  In three separate blog entries I summarized how we looked at ecological significance, threats and irreplaceability across terrestrially based ecological sections in order to arrive at conservation focus areas on land.  Since stressors operate on aquatic ecosystems differently than terrestrial, and because watershed boundaries need to be used as aquatic planning regions, an analysis for riverine ecosystems was done separately.

Aquatic Conservation Focus areas for EPA Region 7’s four states (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska) were defined at two resolutions based on data availability (a finer resolution assessment was possible for the state of Missouri because of robust aquatic species distribution modeling).  Today I’ll cover the more refined data analysis for Missouri and carry on with describing the courser methods we used for the other three states in a future blog entry.

Above is the final map showing freshwater Conservation Focus Areas in Missouri. The idea behind this analysis is that taking measures to conserve all of these locations represents an efficient approach to conserving the distinct species, stream types, and watershed types that exist within the state.  As both an ecologist and a Missourian, I find it comforting to know that our state resource managers now have this very exhaustive published research at their fingertips.

How did we do it?  Resource managers and biologists with detailed and extensive knowledge of the stream resources participated in conservation planning sessions in 2004.  Our goal for the aquatic assessment was to ensure the long-term persistence of native aquatic plant and animal communities, by conserving the conditions and processes that sustain them…” and then more specifically to “identify and map a set of aquatic conservation focus areas that holistically represent the full breadth of distinct riverine ecosystems and multiple populations of all native aquatic species.” Using data from the Missouri Aquatic GAP Project and other geospatial data, MoRAP identified and mapped riverine ecosystems that are relatively distinct with regard to ecosystem structure, function, and evolutionary history.  To accomplish this, a classification hierarchy was developed and used, shown below.

The Aquatic Subregions shown at the top are physiographic areas that account for differences in the ecological composition of riverine assemblages of organisms.  Each Subregion (i.e., Central Plains, Ozarks, and Mississippi Alluvial Basin) contains streams with relatively distinct structural features, functional processes, and aquatic assemblages in terms of both taxonomic and ecological composition. 

Embedded within Aquatic Subregions are Ecological Drainage Units (EDUs) which account for the geographic variations in taxonomic composition of fish, crayfish, mussels and snails.  MoRAP found that the EDUs have assemblages of organisms with relatively similar ecological composition within a given Aquatic Subregion, such as reproductive and foraging strategies and also physiological tolerances.  They also found that taxonomic composition of assemblages in any given EDU is relatively distinct due to evolutionary processes such as differences in colonization history.

MoRAP used multivariate cluster analysis of quantitative landscape data to group watersheds into distinct Aquatic Ecological System Types (AES-Types), the next level of the classification hierarchy.  The AES-Types represent finer resolution variations in climatic, geologic, soil, landform, and stream character.  Missouri’s AES-Types comprise 38 smaller subdrainages, which can be thought of as riverine “habitat types.”  Each individual AES is a spatially distinct macrohabitat, however all individual AESs that are structurally and functionally similar fall under the same AES-Type.

Finally, each individual segment of stream from the National Hydrography Dataset is a spatially distinct habitat, but valley segments of the same size, temperature, flow, gradient and geology (through which they flow) all fall under the same Valley Segment Types (VST), the final level shown above.  They account for the linear variation in ecosystem structure and function that is prevalent in riverine environments.  Each distinct combination of variable attributes represents a distinct VST and have been consistently shown to be associated with geographic variation in assemblage (of species) composition.

I know I threw a lot at you and in my next blog I’ll continue explaining the methods behind our development of the Aquatic Conservation Focus Areas.  Stay tuned next month, but in the meantime, visit MoRAP’s website for a more detailed description of everything that went into creating the classification hierarchy that was so inherent in doing the aquatic assessment.

About the Author: Holly Mehl is an ecologist for EPA Region 7 who helps with water monitoring in the field and performs mapping for EPA Region 7’s program offices when in the office.

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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Enjoying the Parade

By Amy Miller

My friend has dubbed her friend who regularly and proudly boasts of seeing the sun rise and hearing the first birds chirp one of those “special early morning people.”

Well, I have my own version of “special people” – they are the “special I-don’t-drive-over-the-holidays people.” To them I say “Ha”.

Ha, because I joined some 43.6 million other people on the highway Thanksgiving weekend and never got stuck in traffic. Leaving at 8 pm on both sides of the trip, my family made the 270-mile drive between Maine and New York City in 4.75 hours.

And while the special “I don’t drive over the holidays people” were among the 44 million people watching the parade on the tube, my family was among the elite 3 million who saw the Pillsbury Doughboy, Dora the Explorer AND the entire women’s Olympic gymnastics team in real life.

Even more thrilling than seeing the annual Macy Day Parade, though, was being among the people crowding 10 rows thick but nonetheless keeping their humor. We talked to the Cuban American from Miami, at her first parade; the couple from Rockville, who came for the umpteenth time even as their 20-something boys slept at home, and the 4-foot 10-inch grandmother visiting from Ecuador who waited quietly until someone gave her the same right of way normally afford only to children.

The Macy’s Day Parade has to be one of the most wonderful displays of humanity. Yes, there is some pushing and shoving and frustration. But so little of it. Mostly, whether it is pouring rain or 5 degrees above zero, whether people are in the front of the pack or stuck in back catching little except the helium-filled balloons that have defined the parade since Felix the Cat arrived at the third parade in 1927, the crowd is friendly and festive. Together we share stories, knowledge of passing celebrities and crackers for hungry children.

After several decades of parade attendance, it was the first time I ever went early and staked out a spot along the 2.5-mile route. (No, it was not my idea but with temperatures expected to reach 60 in Central Park, I ceded to my kids’ wishes.)

Two days later, as we rolled into our quiet Maine village at midnight, my husband and I congratulated each other on our peaceful journey through the crowds of a holiday weekend.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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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Eco-Friendly Crafts

By Kelly Siegel

When I was little and had time off from school, my mom always had numerous craft projects ready for me to create!  One of my favorite crafts was recycling old crayons.  How many of you have broken crayons in the bottom of your pencil case and don’t know what to do with them?  Well no worries, we have a project for you – all you need are those old crayons and muffin tins.  Make sure when you are using the oven, to ask an adult for help. 

1) Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
2) Peel all of the paper labels off of your broken crayons and separate the crayons by shades of color (keep like colors together).
3) Spray your muffin tins with cooking spray.

4) Use approximately one cup of broken crayons to make twelve larger crayons.

5) Fill the muffin tins so that they are half full with broken crayons.  Put them in the oven for about 8 minutes. They will melt quickly, so stay close and check on them!
6) Once the crayons have melted, carefully take them out of the oven, and take a toothpick and swirl the wax around.

7) Let them cool – this does take some time. If you would like, you can put them in the freezer to speed up the process.  Once they are hard, pop them out of the muffin tins and they are ready to be used!

This project, and many like it, can double as birthday or holiday gifts for family and friends.  What kind of eco-friendly gifts have you given in the past?  Let us know!

About the author: Kelly Siegel is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for sustainable development, running, and traveling with friends.

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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Around the Water Cooler: What’s In Your Water?

By Lahne Mattas-Curry  

What's in your water?

Recently a friend who knows I work on water issues asked me, “What’s in our water?” Good question, right? The answer is a little more complex than just H2O. The truth is that things we flush, throw away, or pour down the sink all have an impact on “what’s in our water.” 

Toxins, contaminants, sediments, and other pollutants all are things that can affect our water quality. 

But the good news is that EPA researchers are developing a variety of tools that can help water utilities better manage our water and make sure that it not only complies with the Safe Drinking Water Act, but goes beyond to protect public health and make sure we have tasty water to drink. 

One of those tools, a one-stop-shop type of tool, called the Drinking Water Treatability Database, helps users looking for information on water contaminants and water treatment techniques. This information can then inform on-the-job decisions about contamination control and treatment. Researchers, environmental groups, and academics can also use the database to enhance understanding and direct future research of drinking water contaminants and their treatment processes. To learn more about the database, click here

Another model under development helps prioritize chemicals for testing. EPA researchers and their partners are developing user-friendly online tools called Dashboards. These interactive web-based tools will provide accessible, user-friendly chemical exposure data, hazard data, decision rules, and predictive models. This information will then help decision makers prioritize chemicals that warrant further testing and will eventually help predict a chemical’s potential to cause harm to human health and the environment. 

The Ubertool, for example, combines different data sources and ecological models to help decision makers estimate the effects of chemicals on aquatic plants and animals. 

Next time you go to your sink and pour a big glass of delicious water, know that EPA researchers are working hard to make sure that it stays cool, refreshing and safe. They are constantly assessing threats to our water and making sure we stay ahead of the game. 

Lahne Mattas-Curry works with EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources research team and a frequent “Around the Water Cooler” contributor.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Consejos para el invierno: Un hogar saludable para las fiestas

Por Lina Younes

A medida que las fiestas se avecinan, muchos de nosotros estamos decorando la casa para recibir a familiares y amigos. No tan solo estamos colocando las decoraciones de la temporada, sino también estamos rediseñando o remodelando la casa en anticipación de las festividades. Una manera sencilla de hacer un cambio en la casa consiste en pintar.

Recientemente decidimos pintar algunas habitaciones en nuestra casa. Dejé que mi esposo e hija seleccionaran los colores. Para mi sorpresa optaron por colores brillantes y llamativos a cambio de los pasteles que antes engalanaban las paredes. Tengo que confesar que tomó algún tiempo habituarme, pero en fin de cuentas, me gusta el nuevo “look.”

Si vive en una casa o apartamento construido antes de 1978, es posible que su residencia tenga pintura a base de plomo. Si la pintura existente no está pelada o agrietada, la pintura a base de plomo no debería ser un problema.  Sin embargo, si no está en buenas condiciones y la pintura se está descascarando, hay pasos que puede tomar para proteger a su familia de los peligros del plomo a fin de prevenir el envenenamiento por plomo. Si decide hacer reparaciones, remodelar o pintar por su cuenta, visite este sitio Web para aprender más acerca de lo que tiene que hacer para hacer su casa segura y libre de plomo.

Además, cuando esté manejando productos caseros como pintura, despintadores, y otros solventes, tenga cuidado porque algunos podrían tener compuestos orgánicos volátiles (COV) que podrían ocasionar reacciones alérgicas, dolores de cabeza y otros efectos a su salud. Cuando vaya a pintar, asegúrese de ventilar bien las habitaciones y seguir las direcciones del fabricante de estos productos al pie de la letra. De hecho, muchas ferreterías y centros para la remodelación del hogar ahora venden pinturas con bajos niveles de COV. Considere comprarlos para asegurar una calidad de aire interior más saludable en su hogar.

Además, cuando haga mejoras en su hogar, considere enseres eléctricos de mayor rendimiento energético con la etiqueta Energy Star para reducir sus facturas de electricidad y calefacción, mejorar el confort en su hogar mientras protege el medio ambiente. Discutiremos esto en mayor detalle en un próximo blog.

¿Tiene algunos consejos para el invierno que quisiera compartir con nosotros? Como siempre, esperamos su insumo con mucho interés. Saludos.

Acerca de la autora: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de EE.UU. desde el 2002 y se desempeña, en la actualidad, como portavoz hispana de la Agencia, así como enlace de asuntos multilingües de EPA. Además, ha laborado como la escritora y editora de los blogs en español de EPA durante los pasados cuatro años. Antes de unirse a la Agencia, dirigió la oficina en Washington, DC de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales a lo largo de su carrera profesional en la Capital Federal.

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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Winter Tips: A Healthy Home for the Holidays

By Lina Younes

With the holidays fast approaching, many of us are trying to decorate our home to receive family and friends. Not only are we putting up holiday decorations to get into the spirit, but many of us are also trying to make some home redesigns or renovations in anticipation of the festivities. A simple way to give the home a new look is by painting. Just recently, we decided to paint some rooms at home.  I let my husband and daughter make the color selection and, boy, was I surprised! The newly painted rooms which were originally painted in light pastels now are fashioned in bright and bold colors. I confess that it took some getting used to, but I really like the new look.

If you live in a house or apartment that was built prior to 1978, there is a chance that the house has lead-based paint.  If the existing paint is not peeling or cracking, lead paint should not be a problem.  But if it is not in good condition and the paint is chipping or damaged, steps need to be taken to protect your family from lead hazards to prevent lead poisoning. If you decide to make the repairs or paint on your own, please visit this website to learn more about how you can make your home lead-safe.

Also, when dealing with household products like paint, paint strippers and other solvents, there may be some with volatile organic compounds which may cause allergic reactions, headaches and other health effects. So anytime you’re painting, make sure that you increase the ventilation and follow the manufacturer’s directions closely. In fact, all major hardware stores and home repair centers now sell low-VOC paints.  Consider them when purchasing paint to ensure a healthier indoor air quality in your home.

Furthermore, when making home improvements, consider energy efficient appliances with the Energy Star label to reduce your energy bills, improve the comfort in your home while protecting the environment. I’ll discuss this further in an upcoming blog.

Do you have any winter tips you would like to share with us? Looking forward to your input.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. 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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Building a Bridge between Environment and Equity

By Lydia Hooper

Even those of us familiar with environmental justice often cannot see this issue in our own communities without taking an in-depth look. The more I have learned about Westerly Creek in the Denver Metro Area, the more I have come to understand how the quality of this waterway is not just about public and environmental health, it’s about fairness. I have also been delightfully surprised to find that it is young people who are leading the way to change.

Westerly Creek

Most of the Westerly Creek disappears underground but it is also much nearer to homes, both factors which increase the risk of flooding damage in this neighborhood during Denver’s annual flash flood season. Moreover, the people most affected by such floods are the least protected. Flash floods often may have a dangerous wall of roaring water carrying rocks, mud and other debris that can damage property and possibly endanger lives. The area has become a resting place for refugees and immigrants, and due to numerous language and cultural barriers as well as preoccupation with the day-to-day concerns of low-income living, the majority of local residents remain unaware of these flooding dangers.

So far there have been at least three plans drawn up for a greenwayalongthecreek, but since such a major re-engineering project would cost about $1 million per block, it has been very difficult to secure funding. But the good news is that there are some who are working to fight this injustice right now – like my colleague Donny Roush at EarthForce, an organization that empowers youth to become leaders in their communities. Roush hopes to cultivate community-based solutions through facilitation of the EarthForceProcess, six-steps that use scientific inquiry, service-learning and civic action tools to engage students in taking action on environmental issues.

This past summer Roush explored Westerly Creek’s issues with a group of students from the neighborhood’s Fletcher Middle School. Earth Force helped students to conduct experiments to locate nearly 100 homes that are in areas most vulnerable to flooding. The students then decided to make and distribute brochures to educate their neighbors about local flooding dangers. “I do think we made a difference,” ninth-grader Cynthia Casillas told theDenverPost. “I think we spread awareness.”

These students will continue to work with their schools and Earth Force, and have expressed interest in not only sharing their research with residents, but with the local government as well. And as the City of Denver continues to hold meetings with the public to find ways to address the dangers from the flooding season, I won’t be surprised if community youth are the first ones to take a seat.

About the author: LydiaHooper is the “KeepItClean” Communications Liaison for DenverPublicWorksWastewaterManagementWaterQualityDivision and EarthForce, a non-profit that focuses on community partnership and facilitation of environmental service-learning projects for youth nationwide.

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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I Speak for the Trees…and the Stormwater

By Jenny Molloy

Most people have a vague recollection, perhaps from a brief fourth grade poetry unit, of the opening lines to Joyce Kilmer’s poem Trees: “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” Less well remembered is Kilmer’s characterization of a tree as one “who intimately lives with rain.”

An often overlooked fact about trees is that they also do a great job of preventing and reducing stormwater runoff.  Depending on the type of tree and the intensity of rain events, trees can intercept as much as 30% of total annual rainfall before it even reaches the ground.

When precipitation does reach the ground, trees’ extensive root systems drink it up. The transpiration rates of trees (or how much water evaporates from the trees) vary notably, but some of the thirstier species can transpire dozens or even hundreds of gallons per day.

That adds up. A New York City study estimated that one tree reduces stormwater runoff by 13,000 gallons per year. That means the 500,000 existing trees in the city reduce runoff by 6.5 billion gallons per year, and 300,000 new trees could remove another 3.9 billion gallons from the overburdened NYC sewer systems.

In Washington, D.C. a similar study estimated that simply using larger tree boxes could reduce annual stormwater runoff by 23 million gallons, and that increasing the use of trees could provide reductions of 269 million gallons per year.

Trees also provide other benefits: shading and cooling that ultimately provide energy savings; carbon sequestration; wildlife habitat; enhanced property values; air quality improvements; community health and safety. And of course, as Kilmer noted, there are aesthetic advantages as well.

Example output from the National Tree Benefit Calculator

Example output from the National Tree Benefit Calculator

Communities who do the math now see trees as a win-win in wet weather management. While trees require capital investment and maintenance, compared to other stormwater controls (which are costly to build and maintain but don’t provide benefits beyond stormwater), trees are often an obvious component of the solution.

The U.S. Forest Service public domain i-Tree family of tools now provides now standard approaches to quantifying the benefits. So for municipal planners, utility managers, regulators and anyone else with a role in controlling the consequences of wet weather, trees no longer need be considered supplemental or boutique elements. They are on the A-list of options.

You too can estimate the value of that oak or poplar in your yard with the National Tree Benefit Calculator: Enter your zip code, choose from a drop-down list of over 200 species, enter the tree diameter and voila! The calculator provides an estimate of overall annual value in dollars, and also breaks that down into specific benefits: stormwater, property value, electricity, natural gas, air quality and carbon dioxide.

Which brings to mind another childhood standard: Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, an allegory illustrating not only the multiple benefits of trees, but also conveying that with a little care those benefits can be realized for a very long time.

Jenny Molloy has been working in Clean Water Act wet weather programs at the state and federal level for nearly 20 years, and has been at EPA for the last 9. She was EPA’s first Green Infrastructure coordinator, and just completed a 2-1/2 year detail to Region III and the Chesapeake Bay Program Office focusing on the stormwater permitting program. She’s an active member of her son’s high school band program just so she can fulfill a life-long dream of being able to say “I’m with the band”.

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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Recycling as Ritual – Part II

By David Stone

[Continued from yesterday…] Over the past year or so, I was introduced to the tension between the cultures, Native and white, on the basic issue of knowledge. Whose knowledge? To some traditionalist Native intellectuals the standard American education can be seen as an extension of colonization. As a scientific consultant from Tucson, I worked with the administration of the Tohono O’odham Community College to bring green technologies to the Nation, assumed to be a good thing. But my sensitivity was being sharpened as to the exact nature of what I brought and how it would be implemented. Was it a beneficial gift? Would it really help over the long run? Certainly if it involved collaboration then we were at least starting off in a positive way. There are many problems to deal with including the effects of global warming.

From these desert-tempered, mountain-wise people we can learn how to begin facing our daunting array of challenges. From them we learn where to go to find our way again. Go to the land. That is the O’odham way. So we begin with a simple and humble act of paying respect to the land. We begin by cleaning the desert. We stop and stoop and pick up an old liquor bottle half-buried in the sand. Then we repeat this act thousands of times. Others join us. The communities participate. Soon we are processing tons of glass, crushing the discarded bottles with hand tools into aggregate for building. We combine the glass aggregate with waste steel dust and dirty water and an exhaust gas, CO2. We build a bench of this reactive mix and we “sit down on carbon.” We lay a sidewalk and we “step down on global warming.”

In these small symbolic acts, we take a step toward a new, more ecological culture beyond the industrial Iron Age. Through the ritual of picking up bottles, of cleaning the desert, we build a space for a new and strong spirit. That is our simple vision. But it will come in its own way and time. We know only that by healing the land we heal ourselves. This is a good path and will bind us and the land together.

It is the time for the ritual.
To dance, to sing…
so that the earth may be fixed one more time.

Ofelia Zepeda,
Tohono O’odham linguist and poet

About the author: David Stone is an instructor and EPA’s Tribal ecoAmbassador at Tohono O’odham Community College in Sells, Arizona. He has a PhD in Environmental Science.

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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Fall Funtivities

For many of us across the United States, this is the last time of year that the weather is nice enough to enjoy the outdoors.  Make the most of it, while staying green!  Try these three green fall funtivities!

 1.   Turn off that TV or those video games!  Get outside and enjoy the weather.  The fall is filled with farmer’s markets and pumpkin farms to visit.  Ride your bike there or get your family to carpool with friends to be extra green. 

2.   Do you have a big tree outside your house?  Help out your mom and dad and rake the leaves up.  Jumping in the giant leaf pile is your reward. 

3.   Do your clothes from last fall not fit anymore?  Donate them to a charity group or local community organization.  This will help a lot of people out during the holidays.

What are some of your favorite green fall activities? 

About the author: Kelly Siegel is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for sustainable development, running, and traveling with friends.

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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