clean water act

A Revolutionary Resolution in Philadelphia

by Randy Pomponio

Fairmount Water Works   Randy Pomponio with representatives from: Philadelphia City Council, Clean Water Action, Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership, Sustainable Business Network

EPA’s Randy Pomponio with representatives from: Philadelphia City Council, Clean Water Action, Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership, Sustainable Business Network

One does not have to look far to find history in the City of Philadelphia. Whether it’s the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross House, or America’s first zoo, Philadelphia has played a pivotal role throughout our nation’s history.

Earlier this year, Philadelphia again made history when its City Council unanimously passed a resolution, sponsored by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, supporting EPA’s and the Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed Waters of the U.S. rule clarifying streams and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act. This environmentally historic event gives Philadelphia the distinction of being the first U.S. city to pass such a resolution in support of clean water.

On August 6, I was privileged to be part of an event recognizing this important milestone at Philadelphia’s historic Fairmount Water Works. As I shared the stage with members of Philadelphia City Council; Clean Water Action; the Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership; and the Philadelphia Sustainable Business Network, I was reminded of the type of diverse partnership that called for additional clarity in defining protected waters.

While the Clean Water Act has protected our right to safe and pristine waters for more than 40 years, determining protections under the Act for streams and wetlands became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. Many different entities representing local governments, industry, and environmental groups asked EPA for clarification of what is a “water of the United States.” The proposed rule responds to the request and is designed to clear the confusion and provide a more definitive explanation.

This is critical because the health of our larger water bodies – our rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the network of streams and wetlands where they begin. These streams and wetlands benefit all of us by trapping floodwaters, removing pollution, recharging groundwater supplies and providing habitat for fish and wildlife. They’re also a source for outdoor recreation activities, providing essential economic benefits. One in three Americans and more than 1.5 million Philadelphians get at least some of their drinking water directly or indirectly from seasonal, headwaters, or rain dependent streams.

The City of Philadelphia and its partners made history in promoting clean water. Your input can help ensure that future generations enjoy a history of clean and healthy waters. EPA is accepting public comments through October 20, 2014.

 

About the Author: Randy Pomponio is the Director of the EPA Region 3 Environmental Assessment & Innovation Division. He enjoys learning about our fascinating ecosystems and experiencing them through hiking, fishing, scuba diving, and best of all, sharing them with his children and grandchildren.

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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Improving Access to Environmental Data through ECHO

By Rebecca Kane

I work at the Environmental Protection Agency because I care about protecting communities from pollution. I believe that information is critical to taking action, be it working with stakeholders to affect local policies or empowering citizens with tools to reduce their environmental footprint.

I manage EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online website, known as ECHO, which provides information about environmental inspections, violations and enforcement actions for EPA-regulated facilities, like power plants and factories. As one of our most important and popular resources, ECHO houses information about more than 800,000 facilities nationwide, and last year, it was visited more than 2 million times. I consider it an important tool to staying informed about my community in suburban Washington, DC.

Recent updates to ECHO allow me, and all who want to stay informed about environmental issues in their community, to find information more efficiently and accurately. Here are some examples of how these upgrades help me use the data:

  • We’ve brought back the popular Clean Water Act features, and now it’s easier to find data about water violations and inspections.
  • I can search for Clean Water Act dischargers based on type of pollutants discharged. For example, I can quickly find facilities in the area that discharge metals and check to see whether they are meeting their permitted discharge limits. This matters if my family wants to fish or swim in nearby streams and rivers.
  • When I download data to analyze violations at facilities near my neighborhood, I can see information that’s been updated within the week.
  • I can now encourage web developers to build EPA’s enforcement data directly into their own web pages and apps, because ECHO reports are now built on web services.

I’m proud to be a part of ECHO’s continued development, and there’s more to come as we continue to advance our commitment to inform and empower the public. We’re always working on enhancements to ECHO, and welcome your feedback about the site.

About the author: Rebecca Kane is a program analyst who has worked at EPA for 13 years. She’s spent most of her time in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance and is leading the ECHO modernization effort.

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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Setting the Record Straight on Waters of the US

Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for Water

Updated July 7, 2014

There’s been some confusion about EPA and the Corps’ proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule under the Clean Water Act, especially in the agriculture community, and we want to make sure you know the facts.

We know that we haven’t had the best relationship with the agriculture industry in the past, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t and we can’t do better.  We are committed to listening to farmers and ranchers and in fact, our proposed rule takes their feedback into account.

The rule keeps intact all Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture that farmers count on. But it does more for farmers by actually expanding the list of up-front exemptions. We worked with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Army Corps of Engineers to exempt 56 additional conservation practices. These practices are familiar to many farmers, who know their benefits to business, the land, and water resources.

Farmers and ranchers are on the land every day, and they are our nation’s original conservationists. The American agriculture economy is the envy of the world, and today’s farmers and ranchers are global business professionals—relying on up-to-the minute science to make decisions about when to plant, fertilize, and irrigate crops.

Both EPA and farmers make decisions based on facts—so here are the facts about the proposal.
When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it didn’t just defend the mighty Mississippi or our Great Lakes; it also protected the smaller streams and wetlands that weave together a vast, interconnected system. It recognized that healthy families and farms downstream depend on healthy headwaters upstream.  But two Supreme Court cases over the last 15 years confused things, making it unclear which waters are “in,” and which are “out.”

That confusion added red tape, time, and expense to the permitting process under the Clean Water Act. The Army Corps of Engineers had to make case-by-case decisions about which waters were protected, and decisions in different parts of the country became inconsistent.

So EPA and the Corps are bringing clarity and consistency to the process, cutting red tape and saving money. The proposed Waters of the U.S. rule does not regulate new types of ditches, does not regulate activities on land, and does not apply to groundwater. The proposal does not change the exemption for stock ponds, does not require permits for normal farming activities like moving cattle, and does not regulate puddles.

The agencies’ goals align with those of farmers: clean water fuels agriculture—and we all depend on the food, fuel, and fiber that our farmers produce. We at EPA and the Corps welcome input on the proposed rule to make sure we get it right.

Here are clarifications on a few points of confusion about the proposed rule. For further information, check out:

http://www2.epa.gov/uswaters/questions-and-answers-about-waters-us-pdf

The EPA and the Army Corps are NOT going to have greater power over water on farms and ranches.

  • The Clean Water Act and its regulations have multiple exclusions and exemptions from jurisdiction and permit requirements.  The proposed rule does not change or limit any of them.
  • The agencies also worked with USDA to develop and publish through an interpretive rule, a list of NRCS agricultural conservation practices that will not be subject to CWA permitting requirements.  These practices encourage conservation while protecting and improving water quality.

The proposed rule will NOT bring all ditches on farms under federal jurisdiction.

  • Some ditches have been regulated under the Clean Water Act since the 1970s.
  • The proposed rule does not expand jurisdiction.
  • For the first time, the agencies are clarifying that all ditches that are constructed in dry lands, that drain only dry lands, and don’t flow all year, are not “waters of the U.S.” This includes many roadside ditches, and many ditches collecting runoff or drainage from crop fields.
    • Ditches that are IN are generally those that are essentially human-altered streams, which feed the health and quality of larger downstream waters. The agencies have always regulated these types of ditches.
    • Ditches that are OUT are those that are dug in dry lands and don’t flow all the time, or don’t flow into a jurisdictional water.
  • Farmers, ranchers and foresters continue to receive their exemptions from Clean Water Act Section 404 permitting requirements when they construct and maintain their ditches, even if ditches are jurisdictional.

The proposed rule does NOT mean permits are needed for walking cows across a wet field or stream.

  • Normal farming and ranching activities are not regulated under the Clean Water Act.

The proposed rule will NOT apply to wet areas on fields or erosional features on fields.

  • Wet areas on crop fields are not jurisdictional.
  • The proposal specifically excludes erosional features from being “waters of the U.S.”

EPA and the Corps are NOT taking control of ponds in the middle of the farm.

  • The proposed rule does not change existing practice regarding farm ponds.
  • The rule does not affect the existing exemption Congress created under section 404 for construction and maintenance of farm or stock ponds.
  • The proposed rule would for the first time specifically exclude stock watering ponds from jurisdiction in rule language.

http://www2.epa.gov/uswaters/questions-and-answers-about-waters-us-pdf

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 L.A. River: A Winding, Twisting Tale of Survival

By Jessica Werber

I spent most of my formative years in Los Angeles, taking walks down a concrete pathway that I didn’t even realize was part of the LA River. I would jump from side to side, run back and forth, and slide along the warm sun-baked cement. I wasn’t splashing in puddles because there was no water that I could see, feel, or hear. It was all concrete.

The story of the LA River began long before I was born. In 1913, the city increased in density and the LA Aqueduct was built. The river’s historic flow pattern led to winter flooding, which resulted in millions of dollars in property damage and dozens of deaths. By the mid-1930s, local municipalities started flood control efforts to abate winter flood flows, and the Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with designing a flood risk management system. The end result was the river that I would later come to know as my concrete playground.

More than 70 years later, in 2007, LA took steps to restore the river to a more natural state. The city drafted the LA River Revitalization Master Plan, with a long-term vision benefiting water quality, flood protection, and community revitalization. Congress directed the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a feasibility study covering different restoration options, which was released for public comment in September 2013. Non-government organizations engaged in local activism and you, the American public, sent in your opinions and ideas.

In 2010, right before I started my fellowship at EPA, the agency took an active role in protecting the LA River by designating all 51 miles a “traditional navigable water” under the Clean Water Act.  In 2013, EPA commented on the Corps’ feasibility study and explained that the principles guiding the effort are part of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, which promotes clean urban waters, water conservation, connecting people and their waterways, encouraging community involvement, and promoting economic prosperity. I believe the restoration of the LA River will help to fulfill these goals for the communities in LA, and I hope people in LA recognize how much effort it takes to restore a river as large as this one.

Look at the two pictures below:

Existing view of Taylor Yard in Los Angeles, CA

Existing view of Taylor Yard in Los Angeles, CA

 

Proposed restoration of Taylor Yard in Los Angeles, CA

Proposed restoration of Taylor Yard in Los Angeles, CA

They are of Taylor Yard, a 247 acre former railroad site near downtown LA. They show the difference between the existing site and a proposed alternative, which replaces the old railroad yard with lush vegetation.

Viewing these contrasting images, I’m transported back to my former life in LA. Adjacent to my bedroom window was a concrete channel that echoed the voices of directors screaming “ACTION!” at the studio across the way. It seems as if action will indeed be taken. By the time my future children visit the LA River, I hope they can appreciate it for what it really is: a river full of life and spirit…and, of, course rushing water.

About the author: Jessica Werber is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Participant in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. She is also a licensed attorney.

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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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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