Monthly Archives: April 2013

Around the Water Cooler: Watersheds and Climate Change

To celebrate Earth Day, all this week and into next we will be highlighting EPA climate change research with Science Matters feature articles. Today’s “Around the Water Cooler” addition illustrates the connection between climate change and water.

Climate Change and Watersheds: Exploring the Links
EPA researchers are using climate models and watershed simulations to better understand how climate change will affect streams and rivers.

A warming climate threatens hotter summers and more extreme storms. We know we may need to upgrade our air conditioning systems and make emergency preparedness kits, but aside from temperatures and storms, what are other ways we will be affected by climate change?

Map showing the 20 watersheds EPA researchers studied. Click on the image for a large version.

EPA water scientists and their partners are studying how climate change may affect watersheds—the network of rivers and streams that feed into larger water bodies such as big rivers, lakes, and oceans. A recent EPA report, referred to as the 20 Watersheds Report, combines climate change models and watershed simulations to develop a better understanding of what changes to streams and rivers we might expect over the next several decades.

“A key thing that’s unique about this work is the scope; we applied a consistent set of methods and models to 20 large watersheds throughout the nation,” says lead scientist Tom Johnson.

Johnson’s team of researchers used different climate change scenarios to model changes in streamflow volume and water quality in the 20 chosen watersheds.

“Climate can be defined loosely as average weather,” Johnson explains. “Climate change scenarios describe potential future changes in climate, like temperature or precipitation.”

For a given climate change scenario, watershed simulations were used to determine changes in streamflow (the actual volume of water running through the streams) and in nutrient and sediment pollution levels.

In addition to climate change scenarios, researchers also took into account urban and residential land development scenarios in their watershed simulations. The ways people use and alter the land (such as building roadways, parking lots, etc) will also have an impact on water resources. The land development scenarios used were based on projected changes in population and housing density in the study watersheds.

Research results show a great variety in watershed responses to climate and urban development scenarios in different parts of the country. Generally, simulations suggest certain trends for streamflow: that flow amount decreases in the Rockies and interior southwest, but increases in the northeast. Results also show higher peaks in streamflow that can increase stream bank erosion and sediment transport, as well as potentially increase nutrient pollutants. Overall, the research shows that the potential changes in streamflow and water quality response in many areas could be very large.

“This information can be used by water managers to better understand if and how things like water quality and aquatic ecosystems might be vulnerable, and to help guide the development of response strategies for managing any potential risk,” says Johnson.

For example, where water is suggested to be scarce, managers can plan alternative water supply methods; where water is expected to become highly polluted from nutrients and sediment, managers can take action now to limit the actual impact of these pollutants on the water resource.

The findings of EPA’s 20 Watersheds Report will help water and resource managers recognize the changing conditions of streams and rivers and identify any future conditions that may need addressing.

Learn More

 

 

EPA Climate Change Research

EPA Water and Climate Research

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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Spring Brings Many Things

By Lina Younes

As temperatures start to warm up during the early spring months, we begin to see flowers blooming and animals awakening from their winter slumber. Yet, there are some things that spring often brings that we don’t eagerly welcome. Bugs. No, I’m not talking about beneficial bugs like lady bugs, bees or butterflies, but household pests.

Recently, I had an ant infestation on the kitchen floor. I resisted the temptation of getting a can of bug spray and emptying it in my kitchen. I searched for the source of the infestation. Voila! I had left some dog food overnight in the dog’s bowl and the ants were having a party! So, I clean the bowls and the entire area and the ants decided to party somewhere else. It was simple.

The basic principles of integrated pest management consist of not providing any food, water or shelter to pests. If the pests don’t find anything that attracts them to your home or creates a cozy environment for them, they will essentially search for more inviting surroundings. So, what are some basic tips to prevent bugs and household pests for setting up shop in your home? Here are some suggestions:

  • Cleanliness is a great bug and pest deterrent.
  • Don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink over night.
  • Don’t leave crumbs and spills on the table or floor. They only serve as bug magnets while you are away.
  • Repair leaks. Don’t let water accumulate around the kitchen, bathroom or flower pots.
  • Clear the clutter of newspapers, bags, and boxes. Clutter becomes a very cozy surrounding for unwanted pests.

If in spite of your best efforts household pests get into your home, select pesticides for the right pest and follow the instructions on the label closely. By following integrated pest management techniques, you’ll be able to have a healthier home for you and your family. Don’t send pests an open invitation unknowingly.

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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All Aboard for Earth Week

By Tom Damm A group of us got Earth Week off on the right track Monday when we set up EPA information tables at one of the busiest train stations in the country – 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. It was part of the third annual Amtrak-EPA Earth Day Fair, and commuters and school kids cruised the aisles, stopping by to ask questions, pose with mascots like Swampy the Frog, and check out displays on a variety of environmental topics.

A view of the festivities at 30th Street Station on Earth Day 2013

A view of the festivities at 30th Street Station on Earth Day 2013

Water issues were well represented.  We had information on green landscaping, WaterSense products to save water and money, and our Net Zero Energy push to help water and wastewater utilities cut energy costs. At my table, I had fact sheets on the importance of streams and wetlands, particularly small streams that feed bigger ones and play a key role in the quality of water downstream. Visitors were attracted by the sign, “How’s Your Waterway? Check it out Here.” I demonstrated on my laptop how they could determine the health of their local streams, creeks and rivers with EPA’s new app and website, “How’s My Waterway?.”  We just plugged in their zip code and in seconds their nearest waterways showed up on the screen with information on their condition. “I always wanted to know that.  I fish.  Thanks!,” was one response. You still have a few days to get involved in Earth Week activities happening in your area. And if you don’t get a chance to join in this week, remember, Every Day is Earth Day. About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water 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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Alert Child Care Center Staff Save a Young Child and his Family from the Ravages of Bed Bugs

By Marcia Anderson

We visited a local child care center and came back with a heartwarming story. This facility would occasionally find instances of head lice or bed bugs, but by keeping all personal items in individual cubbies, all bedding in separate plastic boxes with lids, and daily cleaning of the nap-time areas along with regular cot sanitization, there is little chance for bed bugs to find a home in this child care facility. The facility is a model for Integrated Pest Management (IPM): pest prevention through eliminating food, water and shelter that bed bugs and other pests thrive on and solid sanitation and maintenance practices.

So what was the problem?

The director  told us about a three-year-old child who recently came to school every day with bite marks. The staff brought this to the attention of the director who recognized that they may be bedbug bites, based on a distinctive, linear bite pattern left on the child’s body. When she questioned the parents, they were reluctant to speak about where they lived and their living conditions, for fear of reprisals from their landlord or the authorities.  The director monitored the child’s condition and noticed that the bites got progressively worse. She felt compelled to confront the parents again.  When she did they told her of the horrific conditions in which they lived. The director soon observed, first hand, the dirt floors of the basement “apartment” that the family called home. The floor was covered in mouse and rat feces, and cockroaches were on the floors, all over the kitchenette. Cockroach feces were on the walls, in dishes and in food containers. Bedbugs were flourishing in the beds, clothing and upholstery, and in cracks and crevices throughout the “living” space. The family was being exploited by an unscrupulous landlord.

The director, co-workers and some caring people  at City Hall  helped the family relocate to a better living space. As all of the family’s belongings were contaminated with pests, feces and mold, they were discarded and replaced by the kind donations of families within the child care community.

Sometimes the young children of the poorest families in our society are the most vulnerable to the dangers of living in squalid conditions. Stories like this are unfortunately all too common, especially in our urban areas. Sometimes the best way to help these children is through their child care providers.

As sad as this story is, bedbugs do not distinguish between classes. Both poor and well-to do families can be equal victims when struck by bed bug infestations. People may not even realize that they have an infestation until bites become obvious and questioned, and quite often this may be by alert child care providers.

The child care providers at this center were prepared with quality literature on how to recognize bedbugs and potential bites in advance of this case, and they provided bi-lingual materials to all parents. Rutgers University, Cornell University, the New York City Department of Health, and the EPA all have quality materials on their bed bug websites. For more information on bed bugs visit http://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/.

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 Story of “Less” Stuff

By Ellie M. Kanipe

A couple of weeks ago, I met the coolest person. Stephanie totally inspired me. She’s part of a movement called the “Small House Movement”, and is actually moving into a tiny house.  And, when I say tiny, I mean tiny.  Her house is 130 square feet.  She’s chosen to live simply and in doing so to live sustainably.

This totally inspires me for a ton of reasons, but one that stands out is that by choosing this life style, Stephanie is significantly lowering her carbon footprint. Approximately 42 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are associated with the energy used to produce, process, transport, and dispose of the food we eat and the goods we use.  42 percent! (Learn more.)

At EPA, I work on sustainability – specifically looking at materials and how we can be more sustainable with the materials / stuff we use in our daily lives. The program I work on (Sustainable Materials Management Program) looks at what we use in our daily lives a little differently – to rethink the norm and instead look through a life cycle lens. In other words, when I think about the shirt I’m wearing today, I wonder where and how were all the materials to make this shirt extracted? Is the cotton organic, or is it made of recycled materials?  Where and how was the shirt manufactured, and how and how far was it transported to get to the store where I bought it? The problem is that we don’t think about our stuff’s lives before they come into our life.  Imagine dating a person without sharing life experiences before you met?  That’s what we do with the stuff we use daily!

While we might not feel like we’re able to lower our own carbon footprint by joining Stephanie in the small house movement, we can all rethink how we view our stuff, and take actions to simplify our lives. We can know where our stuff comes from, and in knowing make smart choices about what we choose to have in our lives. We can reuse, repair, and share. We can buy durable goods. We can stop wasting food, recycle and compost. We can use EPA’s iWARM widget. We can reflect on what we really need in our lives to be happy and act on it.

Stephanie inspires me. She reminds me that often less is more.

About the author: Ellie M Kanipe works in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. In her spare time, she helps people to simplify their lives by teaching yoga.

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 Matters Podcast – Climate Change with Dr. Andy Miller

To celebrate Earth Day, all this week and well into next we will be highlighting EPA climate change research with special Science Matters feature articles and podcasts.

Dr. Andy Miller is the Associate Director for the Climate for the Agency’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program, and he is a member of the subcommittee on global change research for the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which coordinates scientific research across 13 Federal departments and agencies to understand changes in the global environment and their implications for society.

Click the play button below to listen to Dr. Miller’s podcast about EPA’s research on climate change. Read the transcript of Dr. Miller’s podcast.

If the embedded podcast above does not work for you, please click here – Science Matters Podcast about Climate Change with Dr. Andy Miller.

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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Happy 43rd

By Jeffery Robichaud

I hope everyone had the opportunity to enjoy the 22nd of April in whatever fashion they saw fit.  The kids and I went for a bike ride Sunday on the new trail along our local stream enjoying the sun and the fresh air.  As much as I had hoped to spend the 22nd outside, this is an incredibly busy week in the office. However, I couldn’t go through Earth Day without doing something, even if it was only a small gesture.

There is a unique website called whatwasthere.com which allows the public to upload pictures taken in the past (a quick screen shot is below).  You can upload photographs and orient them on a map to give the public a sense of now and then.


I uploaded the picture below to the left, which was taken sometime around the first birthday of Earth Day.  It was found in the September, 1971 issue of National Geographic, and depicts a hog carcass floating in the Kansas River.   Over 40 years ago this was typical of waters in metropolitan areas throughout the United States, with poor water quality the norm, and waters that were neither fishable nor swimmable.  Below to the right is a shot of me and my colleagues at the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers not too long after Earth Day’s 39th birthday.  We were assisting our partners at Missouri River Relief in cleaning up trash along the banks of the Kansas River.

My contribution this Earth Day are these two photos, a reminder that tremendous progress has been made in the years since our first Earth Day (and the birth of the Environmental Protection Agency), and a reminder that there is still work to do for those of us who care.  If you have shots that chronicle the improvement from our first Earth Day, upload them to whatwasthere.com or share them below.

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7’s Environmental Services Division. He encourages everyone to treat everyday like its Earth Day.

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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Q: What do Ancient Rome and New York City have in Common?

Roman Aqueduct

Roman Aqueduct

By Marcia Anderson

A: Aqueducts and Great Water Transport Systems.

The New York City water system is not only a modern engineering feat; it is also a return to the technology of the ancient Romans.

As ancient Rome grew, early Romans drew greater quantities of water from the Tiber and from wells sunk in the city. Similarly, early New Yorkers drew their water from the surrounding rivers and from wells tapping ground water aquifers. The hidden half of Rome’s water system, the sewers, took water overflow and flushed refuse into the river, which damaged the river, but kept Rome clean. The water over time became polluted and insufficient for the population. Inadequate water supply and contaminated wells also plagued New Yorkers in the 1700s and 1800s. The Croton aqueduct system was built in response to the fires and epidemics that repeatedly devastated NYC.

In the Roman Empire, aqueducts were invented to bring pure water from the hills which surround Campania. Neither the Romans, nor New Yorkers could have built their big cities without aqueducts.  Both of our societies would have been very different without fresh imported running water that this system provided.

By 200 BC, Romans developed a highly effective system of bringing water in conduits to their cities from sources many miles away. The conduits were either open channels, or pipes made of clay, bronze or lead laid underground. Because the system relied on gravity, the water source had to be higher than the city served. Roughly 4/5ths of Rome’s aqueducts run underground, in covered trenches which were quick and easy to build as they did not require the construction of arches or the burrowing of tunnels. Romans built underground to hide their water from enemies and to protect the pipes from the stresses of wind and erosion. Covered trenches and tunnels were also less disruptive to life on the surface than walls or arcades.

The channel itself was a trough of brick or stone, lined with cement, and covered with a coping, which was almost always arched. The water either ran directly through this trough, or it was carried through pipes laid along the trough. The pipes were 10 feet or more and were cemented together at the joints. When a channel came to a dip in the landscape, such as a valley, the Romans built an arcade to take the water over it. The water had to be kept at a certain level because if they lost that level, it was hard to get pressure back up again.

In New York, from 1837 to 1842, the Croton River was conveyed through an artificial channel, built with square stones, supported on solid masonry, and carried over valleys, through rivers, under hills, on arches, through tunnels and bridges, for 40 miles, to supply NYC with fresh water. It was arched over to keep it pure and safe and flowed at the rate of 1.5 miles per hour towards NYC.

The Croton Aqueduct brought NYC its first supply of clean, plentiful water and thus contributed to its development as a great metropolis. The first Croton water entered the aqueduct on June 22, 1842 and carried water from the Old Croton Dam in Westchester County to two reservoirs in Manhattan. One was on the present site of the Great Lawn in Central Park, and the other site was where the New York Public Library is on Fifth Avenue from where it was distributed. The New Croton Aqueduct went into service in 1890, with its tunnels running deep underground and currently supplies about 10 percent of NYC’s water.

The Croton Aqueduct is a National Historic Landmark and is considered one of the great engineering achievements of the 19th century. The tunnel was designed on principles dating from Roman times, is gravity fed, and on a steady gradient dropping gently 13 inches per mile. Its builders had to cut the conduit into hillsides of varied terrain, set it level on the ground, tunneled through rock, and carried it on massive stone and earth embankments and across arched bridges.

The next time you drink fresh, clean, NYC water thank the NYC Water authority and adapted Roman ingenuity.

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

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 Federal Green Challenge – Working for a Better Tomorrow

By André Villaseñor

The motto of EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) program is “changing how we think about our resources for a better tomorrow.” One team of federal employees has been doing just that by changing the minds of colleagues through education and outreach.

The Chet Holifield Federal Building is a one-million square foot federal building in Laguna Niguel, California, occupied by 1900 federal employees representing about a dozen government agencies. The building is named after a long-term former member of Congress from California.  Through the creation of a “Green Team,” five of the building’s federal agencies are leading the charge toward moving Chet Holifield’s occupants in the direction of energy efficiency, water-use reductions and increased recycling. The Green Team, consisting of employees from Citizenship & Immigration Services, the Internal Revenue Service, and the General Services Administration was formed to carry out the goals of the Federal Green Challenge (FGC). The FGC is a national initiative of EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Program, challenging EPA and other federal agencies to lead by example in reducing the Federal Government’s environmental impacts around the nation.

The Chet Holifield Green Team was pleasantly surprised to learn just how much they could reduce their building’s environmental impact through a series of cost-effective behavior change strategies. The Green Team pursued a multi-pronged strategy of engaging all 1900 building employees in a variety of educational activities designed to raise environmental awareness, including e-waste collection programs, informational posters, Earth Day/Week events, and training workshops. The ‘green’ education and outreach provided by the Green Team motivated and enabled employees to act more sustainably. The Green Team carefully measured the results of its progress on a monthly basis for a period of one year, both by tracking actual data on metrics such as electricity consumption and recycling, and collecting anecdotal information using employee surveys about activities such as commuting. I witnessed this diligence first-hand by participating in a series of Green Team phone calls with the employees of the Chet Holifield Federal Building.

Clearly, the Chet Holifield Green Team put into practice a winning equation of inspiration and cooperation that adds up to a better tomorrow. Chet Holifield’s end-of-year results for 2012 include a 21% increase in recycling, a water-use decrease of 7.4%, and a fuel decrease of 2.5%. Not only did the Green Team get the environmental results it was aiming for; Chet Holifield employees have changed the way they think about their use of resources, which holds great promise for a better tomorrow for Laguna Niguel and beyond.

About the author: André Villaseñor, a Waste Division employee, fulfills EPA’s mission from Region 9’s Southern CA Field Office in Los Angeles. He is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

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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Earth Day 2013, and Beyond

 

By Aaron Ferster

Around EPA, we like to say that “everyday is Earth Day.” So what does that mean for us when it actually is Earth Day—like today? It will be a busy. Across the Agency, from our world class scientists and engineers to my fellow bloggers and science communicators, we are marking the 43rd Earth Day by making extra efforts to expand the conversation on climate change.

All this week and well into next, we’ll be highlighting EPA climate change research here on the It All Starts with Science blog, kicking it off with a Science Matters podcast/interview with our own Dr. Andrew Miller, the Associate Director for Climate for the Agency’s Air, Climate, and Energy research program and a member of the subcommittee on global change research for the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

Anyone who wants to pose their own question to an EPA expert about what they can do at home, in the office, and on the road to save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help protect the planet, is invited to join our Twitter chat today at 2:00 pm (@EPALive, follow #AskEPA). Dr. Miller will join the effort and field questions related to EPA climate research (@EPAresearch, also follow #AskEPA).

Other research highlights we will be posting include efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions during clean up operations on Superfund sites (which often involve the use of heavy equipment), innovative ways to assess and evaluate potential low- and zero-carbon “breakthrough” technologies, efforts to protect wild salmon populations from a warming river in important spawning habitat, and explorations of the effects of climate change on watersheds and estuaries.

Be sure to check back throughout the week as we post these features, and more.

Coming into to work this morning, I began to think of what it might have been like to be part of the original Earth Day activities (although I’m not sure where I would have been heading, since EPA had not been established yet). It’s a pretty sure bet that the stream under the bridge I cross over to get out of my neighborhood would have been significantly dirtier, the car I drove to the metro would have been fueled with leaded gas, and whatever office I arrived at would likely be ripe with second-hand tobacco smoke.

I’m grateful to the work that has been done over the past 43 years to make our home, local, and work environments cleaner and healthier, and am thrilled to have the privilege of working to further those efforts today. But the lessons of the past have taught us that no single government agency or individual can tackle today’s environmental challenges—climate change especially—alone.

That’s why EPA is expanding the conversation to engage everyone’s help and to spur greater action to reduce the impacts of climate change, such as warmer temperatures, sea level rise, and an increase in strong storms and droughts. Join us today and for the next 40 years or so to make every day Earth Day.

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is the editor of It All Starts with Science, and a frequent 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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