clean water act

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.

Read 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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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

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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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Discovering Silica Cycling

By Joanna Carey

Rivers draining more forested watersheds contain significantly less silica than those draining more developed watersheds.

I am standing, engrossed in quiet, on a wooden bridge in Northern Massachusetts, with a perfect view of the Ipswich River.  I can see it meander once before it eventually opens up to form a babbling riffle. This river is alive, performing complicated metabolic processes as the water moves downstream.

Thanks to my EPA Science To Achieve Results (STAR) Graduate Research Fellowship, I went to this bridge (among others) weekly for a year, sampling the river for nutrients. While filtering my water samples here, people walking by would often ask, ‘how is the river doing?’

Before answering, I would hesitate; it turns out this is a complicated question!

From a human health perspective, most of the rivers I studied were in fine shape (thanks to the Clean Water Act and EPA), meaning that people could swim in the river without getting sick. However, other aspects of the river condition could use improvement.

Human activities, such as wastewater discharge, use of fertilizers, and fossil fuel combustion, are increasing the amount of nutrients flowing into rivers, which can spark excess algal growth and other negative repercussions on the entire ecosystem.

As an EPA STAR Fellow, I had the opportunity to be one of the first in the world to examine how watershed land use impacts the amount of silica in the rivers. Silica, or SiO2, is a required nutrient for diatoms, a common type of phytoplankton (tiny photosynthetic organisms) in temperate waters.

Why is the amount of silica in the rivers important?

Well, it all goes back to the fact that rivers supply over 80% of the silica that’s found in marine waters. And the amount of silica directly controls the amount and type of phytoplankton that grow in the ocean. Because phytoplankton makes up the base of the marine food chain, their type and abundance directly impacts organisms higher up on the food chain, such as commercial fisheries.

My research resulted in the discovery that land use type is indeed an important driver of the amount of silica in rivers.

I found that rivers draining more forested watersheds contain significantly less silica than those draining more developed watershed, which may be because of the large amount of silica taken up by land plants. It appears that lack of vegetation in urbanized landscapes results in more silica entering river systems. While more silica in rivers is not a bad thing, the research highlights a previously unrecognized way in which human actions are altering the environment.

For the last three years, I have been honored to be an EPA STAR Fellow. The award not only allowed me to perform the research of my dreams, but highlighted for me the importance of these fellowships for training the next generation of scientists. Thanks to the EPA, I can now count myself among the experts in aquatic biogeochemistry!

About the Author: Joanna Carey, a former STAR Fellow, is currently an ORISE post-doctoral fellow with the EPA Atlantic Ecology Division in Narragansett, RI studying the impact of oysters on nitrogen cycling in Southern New England.

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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Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the National Estuary Program, Up Close & Personal

Charlotte Harbor National Estuary program partners tour Matlacha and Pine Islands, just a few miles west of Fort Myers, Florida.

By Nancy Stoner

Last year not only marked the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, but also the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the National Estuary Program, an EPA place-based program to protect and restore the water quality and ecological integrity of estuaries of national significance. Although there have been challenges along the way, we have made significant progress in making our waters fishable and swimmable. The collaborative, partnership-driven—and non-regulatory—efforts at the 28 National Estuary Program sites across the country have had a special role in implementing the Clean Water Act.

For decades, even before the enactment of the Clean Water Act, Americans have made great strides in protecting the environment and clean water because of governments, groups and individuals working together.  The National Estuary Programs have been incredible models of this approach as they have established trust at the local level by promoting a close working relationship among a wide range of partners, and the programs are often recognized as an unbiased broker to achieve commonsense conservation goals.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see some of this remarkable work in person through my time here at EPA through a number of visits to National Estuary Program sites, and got a firsthand look at all the great things that are happening at the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary in Florida last December.

I accompanied state and local officials on a boat tour around the harbor’s Matlacha and Pine Islands, just a few miles west of Fort Myers. Charlotte Harbor is a popular destination for bird and wildlife watching, and now I understand why—we saw bald eagles, osprey, manatees, egrets, herons and several species of pelicans. I was equally impressed with the wide variety of programs our partners have underway, which include efforts to preserve and protect mangroves, aquatic preserves, sea grasses and wetlands.

Most of these programs are on track to achieve their goals, all while population and development in the watershed are on the rise, a sign that the protecting the environment and growing the economy can compliment one another. Some challenges still remain in the Charlotte Harbor area— like stormwater discharges, nutrient pollution and pathogens affecting water quality—but the strength of the partnerships I witnessed last month made me confident that these issues can be addressed collaboratively and with sustainable outcomes.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water.

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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Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act

By Nancy Stoner

I am proud to be at EPA in 2012 for the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s foremost law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource. I often think about how a generation ago, the American people faced health and environmental threats in their waters that are almost unimaginable today.

Municipal and household wastes flowed untreated into our rivers, lakes and streams. Harmful chemicals were poured into the water from factories, chemical manufacturers, power plants and other facilities. Two-thirds of waterways were unsafe for swimming or fishing. Polluters weren’t held responsible. We lacked the science, technology and funding to address the problems.

Then on October 18, 1972, the Clean Water Act became law.

In the 40 years since, the Clean Water Act has kept tens of billions of pounds of sewage, chemicals and trash out of our waterways. Urban waterways have gone from wastelands to centers of redevelopment and activity, and we have doubled the number of American waters that meet standards for swimming and fishing. We’ve developed incredible science and spurred countless innovations in technology.

But I realize that despite the progress, there is still much, much more work to be done. And there are many challenges to clean water.

Today one-third of America’s assessed waterways still don’t meet water quality standards. Our nation’s water infrastructure is in tremendous need of improvement – the American Society of Civil Engineers gave it a D-, the lowest grade given to any public infrastructure. The population will grow 55 percent from 2000 and 2050, which will put added strain on water resources. Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution is increasingly harming streams, rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters. Climate change is predicted to bring warmer temperatures, sea level rise, stronger storms, more droughts and changes to water chemistry. And we face less conventional pollutants – so-called emerging contaminants – that we’ve only recently had the science to detect.

The absolute best path forward is partnership – among all levels of government, the private sector, non-profits and the public. It is only because of partnership that we made so much progress during the past 40 years, and it is partnership that will lead to more progress over the next 40 years.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone who has been part of protecting water and for working to ensure that this vital resource our families, communities and economy depends on is safeguarded for generations to come.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water

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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Make Some Noise: the Clean Water Act Turns 40!

By Jon Capacasa

There are all sorts of noises being made in celebration of today’s 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

Fire on Cuyahoga River Jun 29, 1969

Fire on Cuyahoga River Jun 29, 1969: The Cuyahoga River in Ohio becomes so polluted that it catches on fire. The fire helped spur an avalanche of water pollution control activities like the Clean Water Act by bringing national attention to water pollution issues.

Not the blaring type you typically hear on New Year’s Eve, but rather the noises associated with cleaner water – the squeals of young fishermen hauling in a fish from a local creek… the hum of a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant… the crunch of shovels clearing ground for rain gardens and streamside tree buffers… the clang of a cash register ringing up a marine sale… the buzz of a family picnicking along the river.

That’s music to the ears of those of us who remember when we faced health and environmental threats in our waters that are almost unimaginable by our standards today.

Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has kept tens of billions of pounds of raw sewage, chemicals and trash out of our waterways, and we’ve doubled the number of waters that meet safety standards for swimming and fishing.

In my travels around the Mid-Atlantic Region, I’ve seen the impressive work we’ve done with watershed groups and many of our other partners to improve the quality of our waters. The number of folks engaged in cleanup efforts for their local waterway is at an all-time high.  And the results have been overwhelming.

Black Water Falls, West Virginia

Black Water Falls, West Virginia

Migratory fish can now travel the full length of the Delaware River due to major increases in oxygen levels.   A major interstate program is now place for restoring the Chesapeake Bay, including a landmark pollution budgetGreen infrastructure techniques are sprouting up in our major cities and small communities as a cost-effective way to control stormwater pollution and improve community livability.  And economic development along urban waterfronts has burgeoned, like the famous Baltimore Inner Harbor and along the Anacostia River in Washington D.C., driven by commitments to cleaner water.

In every corner of the region, we have initiatives underway to protect our most irreplaceable resource, producing environmental, economic, community and public health benefits.

We’ve come a long way.  But there’s much more to do.  And we need your help to continue the progress and take the next steps.

So what does clean water mean to you?  Let us know.

Author’s Note:  Jon Capacasa is director of the Water Protection Division in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region.

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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