clean water act

Infrastructure is Going Green in Communities Across America

When I released the Water Technology Innovation Blueprint last spring, it framed the top ten opportunities to help solve current water resource issues. Green infrastructure is one of my favorites in the top ten, and it is rapidly expanding across the country. Green infrastructure decreases pollution to local waterways by treating rain where it falls and keeping polluted stormwater from entering sewer systems. Green infrastructure tools and techniques include green roofs, permeable materials, alternative designs for streets and buildings, trees, rain gardens and rain harvesting systems.

Green infrastructure is also a critical tool for addressing climate change and mitigating its impacts by making communities more resilient. Green infrastructure can increase the capacity of sewer systems by reducing the flow into them, making the systems more resilient.

This fall I attended the first national Community Summit on Green Infrastructure, co-hosted by the Syracuse Environmental Finance Center and EPA in partnership with Onondaga County, NY  and the City of Syracuse. The summit provided an opportunity for communities across the country to share experiences and innovation in green infrastructure, while also strengthening the EPA Green Infrastructure Community Partnerships.  The pioneering cities who attended this community summit are ahead of the curve, paving the way for more natural stormwater controls through the use of green infrastructure.

Green roof on top of Syracuse University’s LEED Platinum certified Gateway Center. Photo Credit: Caitlin Eger, Syracuse Environmental Finance Center

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Addressing Critical Water Access Issues along the U.S.-Mexico Border

In most parts of the United States, regular access to water is an afterthought. We open our taps or turn on our faucets and out comes all the water we need for cooking, drinking, bathing and cleaning. But some communities, including many along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, lack access to the abundant, clean water that most of us enjoy every day. EPA, through its U.S.-Mexico border water infrastructure program, is working to address critical public health and environmental problems at the source by providing often first-time drinking and wastewater services to underserved communities.

Last month, I traveled to Laredo, Texas, and was able to see firsthand exactly how this program is helping provide communities there, known as colonias, with their first-ever access to drinking water and sewer systems. Many people in the colonias have not had regular access to water and modern sanitation systems because that type of infrastructure was not required to be installed at the time the properties were sold and their houses built.

This small water treatment plant near the U.S.-Mexico border provides about 3,700 people in the Laredo, Texas area with sewer system access, many for the first time. Photo credit: Stephanie Von Feck, EPA.

This small water treatment plant near the U.S.-Mexico border provides about 3,700 people in the Laredo, Texas area with sewer system access, many for the first time. Photo credit: Stephanie Von Feck, EPA.

 

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Clarifying Protection for Streams and Wetlands

In September, we joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in developing a proposed rule that will provide greater consistency, certainty, and predictability nationwide by clarifying where the Clean Water Act applies – and where it doesn’t. These improvements are necessary to reduce costs and minimize delays in the permit process, and protect waters that are vital to public health, the environment, and the economy.

Over the past decade, Supreme Court rulings have caused confusion about which streams and wetlands are protected from pollution and development under the Clean Water Act. As a result, members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, and the public asked EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to clarify jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

In response, we’ve developed a draft rule that takes into account the more narrow reading of the Clean Water Act jurisdiction established by the Supreme Court. This means that EPA’s jurisdiction will only include the protection of the same waters that have historically been covered under the Clean Water Act for the past 40 years – in fact, it will be a smaller set of waters than before the Supreme Court decision.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Big Improvements in Little Rock

Little Rock philanthropist Anita Davis discusses her efforts to revitalize the downtown with senior officials and staff from EPA, HUD, DOT, and USDA. Photo courtesy of the city of Little Rock.

Little Rock philanthropist Anita Davis discusses her efforts to revitalize the downtown with senior officials and staff from EPA, HUD, DOT, and USDA. Photo courtesy of the city of Little Rock.

This Monday and Tuesday, I spent time with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Deputy Secretary Maurice Jones, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, and Department of Transportation (DOT) Acting Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy Beth Osborne touring ongoing redevelopment efforts in Little Rock, Arkansas. Through the HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities, each of our agencies has invested in Little Rock. Our tour gave us the chance to see how these investments are making a real difference.

In 2011, our Greening America’s Capitals program provided support to help the city envision improvements to the Main Street corridor downtown. With additional support from Clean Water Act funds, the city starting putting in place some of the green infrastructure improvement ideas born from that workshop.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Are the Streams that Flow to Your Tap Protected from Pollution?

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Well, this picture tells the story of a much higher number – 117 million.

Map shows the percent of the U.S. population that gets some of its drinking water directly or indirectly from streams that are seasonal, rain-dependent or headwaters.

 

It has to do with types of streams – that are tiny headwaters or only flow after precipitation or in certain seasons – that form the foundation of our nation’s water resources. These often unknown, unnamed and under-appreciated streams have a tremendous impact on everything downstream, including rivers, lakes and coastal waters, as well as people. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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The First 100 Days

Wow, does time fly. It’s already been 100 days since I took the oath of office as EPA Administrator and I couldn’t be more proud of the incredible progress our team has made in such a short time, including proposing commonsense carbon pollution standards under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

Each day my goal is to make EPA’s work relevant and important to every community in the United States. Whether it’s listening to farmers in Iowa, meeting with tribal communities in Alaska, or engaging eager college students in Colorado, there is one constant across all of these communities: everyone wants to ensure that their kids are healthy, that their communities are safe and their economies strong.

As we move forward, EPA will continue working with states, local communities and tribes to focus on the things that really matter to people – from cleaning up Superfund sites to modernizing our water infrastructure to addressing one of our nation’s greatest challenges: climate change.

A special thanks to our great team at EPA whose hard work and dedication make a difference each and every day. Take a look at just some of what we’ve made possible in the past 100 days:

  1. We proposed carbon pollution standards for new power plants
  2. We’re addressing environmental justice issues nationwide
  3. We strengthened EPA’s chemical assessment process
  4. We’re modernizing Clean Water Act reporting
  5. We’re initiating efforts to update fuel-economy labeling procedures
  6. We’re encouraging sustainable technology development for small businesses
  7. We expanded citizen access to scientific information on chemicals

A fact sheet outlining our work in more detail is available here.

Time does fly, and although we’ve been able to accomplish a lot in 100 days – we know there’s much more to do.  And I’m excited to see what we can accomplish together.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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EPA Science: Supporting the Waters of the U.S.

Reposted from EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA’s Leadership

By Nancy Stoner and Lek Kadeli

One of the great environmental success stories of our time is the Clean Water Act. Forty years ago, the condition of U.S. rivers, streams, lakes, coastal areas and other water resources was a national concern.

Things started to improve after the newly-established U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was given direction “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” through major revisions to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (now the Clean Water Act).

But over the past decade, court decisions have created uncertainty about the Clean Water Act’s protection of certain streams and wetlands from pollution and development. In particular, the confusion centers on questions surrounding small streams and wetlands—some of which only flow after precipitation or dry up during parts of the year—and what role they play in the health of larger water bodies nearby or downstream.

This week, EPA’s Science Advisory Board released for public comment a draft scientific report, “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence.” This draft report synthesizes more than 1,000 peer-reviewed pieces of scientific literature about how smaller, isolated water bodies are connected to larger ones and represents the state-of-the-science on the connectivity and isolation of waters in the United States.

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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.

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EPA Science: Supporting the Waters of the U.S.

One of the great environmental success stories of our time is the Clean Water Act. Forty years ago, the condition of U.S. rivers, streams, lakes, coastal areas and other water resources was a national concern.

Things started to improve after the newly-established U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was given direction “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” through major revisions to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (now the Clean Water Act).

But over the past decade, court decisions have created uncertainty about the Clean Water Act’s protection of certain streams and wetlands from pollution and development. In particular, the confusion centers on questions surrounding small streams and wetlands—some of which only flow after precipitation or dry up during parts of the year—and what role they play in the health of larger water bodies nearby or downstream.

This week, EPA’s Science Advisory Board released for public comment a draft scientific report, “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence.” This draft report synthesizes more than 1,000 peer-reviewed pieces of scientific literature about how smaller, isolated water bodies are connected to larger ones and represents the state-of-the-science on the connectivity and isolation of waters in the United States. The draft report makes three main conclusions:  More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Helping to Protect Wild Salmon

To expand the conversation on climate change, we are highlighting EPA climate change research with Science Matters articles. Below, we share an article about how EPA researchers and partners are working to help protect wild salmon from warming water.

Helping to Protect Wild Salmon More

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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Think at the Sink during Drinking Water Week

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer
By Katie Henderson

This week is national drinking water week, and the theme is “What do you know about H2O?” Have you ever considered how water travels from its source and ends up in your kitchen sink?

In 2006, I worked as a volunteer in South Africa. One day I drove across the province to visit a game preserve, leaving the city where I spent most of my time. The contrast between the city and the country was always jarring, and this day I drove farther into the countryside than I’d ever been. Gradually towns dissipated and were replaced by clusters of domed huts. Off to one side of the road, I spotted a woman and her daughter carrying buckets of water into their village. It is hard to describe the dissonance that I felt during this recreational outing to look at elephants with a liter of bottled water tucked into my seat. I’d never had to haul water into my home; I just turned on the tap and safe, clean water poured out. UNICEF estimates that many people in developing countries, particularly women and girls, walk six kilometers a day for water.

The Safe Drinking Water Act authorizes the EPA to set drinking water standards, protect drinking water sources, and work with states and water systems to deliver safe drinking water some 300 million Americans. In the U.S., the last century has seen amazing improvements to drinking water quality. Mortality rates have plummeted and life expectancy has climbed as a result of better science and engineering, public investment in drinking water infrastructure, and the establishment of landmark environmental laws like the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. Some historians claim that clean water technologies are likely the most important public health intervention of the 20th century.

Today, we can celebrate the fact that the vast majority of people living in the United States have access to safe drinking water. Ninety-two percent of Americans receive clean, safe drinking water every day, and EPA is working to make that number even higher by partnering with states to reduce pollution and improve our drinking water systems. However, we should be aware of new challenges to our drinking water systems like climate change, aging infrastructure and nutrient pollution.

For drinking water week this year, stop and think about how far we’ve come by paying attention each time you turn on your tap.

About the author: Katie Henderson is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Participant in the Drinking Water Protection Division of EPA’s Office of Water. She likes to travel, bake cookies, and promote environmental justice.

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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