Clean Water

A Quarter Century of Clean Water Projects

By Tom Damm

With EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program, there are projects you can see and those you can’t.

But whether it’s adding the latest pollution-reduction technology to a wastewater treatment plant or building underground sewer lines to eliminate leaky septic systems, the projects all have something in common – they improve water quality and give a nice boost to the local economy.

The program – which is marking its 25th anniversary – is impressive in sheer numbers alone.

Since its inception, nearly $8.5 billion has been invested in more than 6,000 clean water infrastructure projects in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region; more than $100 billion nationwide.

But it’s the difference the program is making in communities that’s been the real measure of success.

From every locale, large and small, you can witness the results, from improvements on farms that reduce runoff to nearby streams, to upgrades of treatment plants resulting in significant progress by  the wastewater sector in reducing pollution to local waters and the Chesapeake Bay.  Check out this map and description of projects in Maryland, for example.

We like doing groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting events to celebrate the water and wastewater projects because it allows people to appreciate the benefits of this unique federal-state partnership.

The program works like this: EPA provides grants to the states, and the states in turn, provide affordable financing to communities, non profits and others for needed projects that improve and protect the quality of the local water.  The program is funded with annual federal grants, state contributions, loan repayments and interest.

How the Clean Water SRF Program Works. Click for more information.

Our state partners have the highest praise for the program, perhaps best expressed by Virginia State Revolving Fund Program Manager Walter Gills.  He says the initiative “combines the power of the federal seed funding with the innovation, efficiency, and customization of the various state government delivery systems.”

Keep an eye out for a project near you. And listen to our podcast to hear more about some of the visible impacts in communities in the Mid Atlantic Region from the past 25 years of the Clean Water State Revolving fund. For more information on the program, visit water.epa.gov/grants_funding.

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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Challenging Nutrients: EPA and Partners Launch New Ideation Prize

Effects from excess nutrients in American waterways cost the country more than $2 billion each year.

Activities of daily modern life add small amounts of the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus to our lakes, rivers and estuaries, either directly or indirectly.

We all contribute to the widespread problem. Runoff from our suburban lawns, city streets and rural fields is just one of many ways we introduce more nutrients into the environment.

The partnership for this challenge currently includes: - White House Office of Science and Technology Policy - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - U.S. Department of Agriculture - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  - U.S. Geological Survey - Tulane University - Everglades Foundation

The partnership for this challenge currently includes:
– White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
– U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
– U.S. Department of Agriculture
– National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
– U.S. Geological Survey
– Tulane University
– Everglades Foundation

These excess nutrients end up in our waterways and fuel algae growth that exceeds healthy ecosystem limits. In turn, algal blooms can contaminate drinking water, kill aquatic species and negatively affect water-based recreation and tourism.

A partnership of federal agencies and stakeholders has announced a new prize competition to collect innovative ideas for addressing nutrient overloads.

The challenge aims to identify next-generation solutions from across the world that can help with excess nutrient reduction, mediation and elimination. The total payout will be $15,000, with no award smaller than $5,000. Proposals can range from completely developed ideas to exploratory research projects.

Ideas will be judged on a range of criteria, including technical feasibility and strategic plans for user adoption. Additionally, the challenge entries will inform the partnership members’ broader commitment and vision to find new ways to approach this decades-long problem.

Submit your idea today!

About the Author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

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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Is there a virus in the water? A story of innovation

By Dustin Renwick

Adeno virus. Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Adeno virus. Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Innovation has two parts: the awe-striking changes that generate instant headlines and the long-developing back stories. Products and processes that alter our world don’t happen in a flash. They are the results of years of research and open-minded collaboration that eventually meet in a more famous eureka moment.

Remembering the innovation is easier than remembering the story behind it.

EPA microbiologist Jennifer Cashdollar and her Pathfinder Innovation Project team are working on a fundamental shift in how we test for pathogens in water.

Currently, researchers use two main methods to detect viruses in water samples: culture-based and molecular.

Culture-based tests rely on living cells. If a water sample causes the cell culture to die, there’s a good chance that the sample contains an infectious virus, Cashdollar says. But this testing can be slow, and you’ll have a hard time processing cell cultures in the field.

Molecular tests identify viral genetic signatures in the water—nucleic acids, more commonly known as DNA or RNA. Such tests are less expensive, and could fit in a hand-held device. However, the identification of nucleic acids doesn’t always mean that a potentially infectious virus is in the water.  Virus particles must be whole to be infectious, whereas fragments of floating DNA or RNA might register in the water samples but can’t affect humans.

“We’re trying to figure out how we can fill that gap between the culture and molecular methods,” Cashdollar says.

To do that, Cashdollar and her research partners are applying traditional techniques with an innovative twist.

If the team can show that traditional measurement techniques don’t allow nucleic acid fragments to pass through, any molecular signals in the final water samples would almost certainly originate from whole viral particles—which could be infectious because they’re in one piece.

The scientists have experimented with tap water so far, and they’ll soon test river water, a better real-world proxy. On the horizon, this work could lead to a field-ready device that not only gives the best of both detection methods, but also adheres to a classic story of innovation.

About the author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

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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Around the Water Cooler: Wastewater Treatment (nothing to scream about…)

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

I came across this little gem the other day while working to promote EPA’s water science research.  A sci-fi novel set in a wastewater treatment plant? Brilliant. And the tagline: Where no one cares when you scream? Clearly author Dodge Winston has a lot to think about while at work as a wastewater plant operator in the San Francisco Bay area. I’ll bet, though, that most of us haven’t given the wastewater treatment plant in our communities much thought, yet wastewater treatment is a key contributor to keeping us healthy and the environment clean.

Do you know what happens to the wastewater when you flush the toilet or run the disposal, or even finish a load of laundry? The wastewater collection system consists of a network of pipes, pumps, and tunnels that connect our household plumbing to sewer lines and pump stations.  Eventually the wastewater is sent to the treatment plant for cleaning and distribution.

There are approximately 800,000 miles of public sewer lines in the United States, most installed after World War II. There are also close to 20,000 wastewater treatment pipe systems and 15,000 wastewater treatment facilities in the United States, most of them aging and certainly many that can’t handle a large storm without sending overflows of untreated wastewater into our waterways.

With this in mind, EPA engineers and scientists are developing tools, rehabilitation technologies and methods to increase long-term effectiveness of wastewater treatment systems. They also help municipalities and wastewater treatment plant staff keep our water clean, contributing to healthier people and a cleaner environment. EPA researchers are working  to keep our water sources free from chemical, biological, and radiological contaminants, too.

Here are a few of the tools and models our researchers have developed:

While these technologies and tools are targeted to wastewater treatment plant operators, there are things you can do at home to help keep our water clean and reduce the cost of cleaning our water at the wastewater treatment plant. Learn more about what you can do in your community here.

And for fun, check out this innovative tool the city of Oberlin, Ohio is using. You can see real-time use of electricity and water.

As an aside, this tool was developed by Lucid Design Group, which was founded by members of Oberlin College’s P3 team that organized a two-week “Dorm Energy Competition” where dorm residents competed to reduce their energy and water use and used the dashboards to monitor success back in 2005. Today, Lucid has customers around the country, including towns, building owners, corporations – and even Google – who want to monitor and reduce energy and water consumption.

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry is a frequent contributor to Around the Water Cooler, and she also helps promote the great work of EPA researchers in the Safe and Sustainable Water Resources program. And at lunch today she will drink about a gallon of clean, treated tap water.

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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Innovative Technology for Water

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By Nancy Stoner

In March, I released a Water Technology Innovation Blueprint while visiting the University of South Florida’s (USF) College of Global Sustainability in partnership with the Water Environment Federation (WEF).  This Blueprint promotes technology innovation across the national water program as a means to speed progress toward clean and safe water.

Why is technology innovation so important?  With the challenges facing our water resources, it presents opportunities to fix these challenges faster, with significantly less cost and energy consumption. During this visit I toured USF laboratories where new technologies are already addressing some of the top ten issues mentioned in the Blueprint.  It is easy to see a paradigm shift is occurring across the water sector.

In May, I visited Clemson University’s Water Institute to learn about the Intelligent River project, which was awarded $3 million in 2011 by the National Science Foundation. Clemson is developing methods of harnessing information technology to improve decision making for river systems, like the Savannah River Basin, into which the streams near Clemson flow. Clemson is focused on collecting data from all kinds of water monitoring equipment and developing programs that will analyze all of that data to assist in river management.  It can be used not only to provide continual feedback on water pollution, flow levels, aquatic life issues and temperature, but also predict how those water quality and quantity conditions will change based on the decisions made by government, utilities, industry, and watershed groups.  This information could potentially be available to all of those groups to achieve goals like ensuring that there is more water to use during a drought, or better habitat for fish, and cleaner source water for drinking.

Next I went to Oakland, California to the East Bay Municipal Utilities District.  This wastewater facility has implemented a series of projects to produce energy, including generation of methane from waste that in turn powers generators to run a renewable energy system. This is the first of its kind in North America to be a net-energy producer. With 150,000 drinking water and 15,000 wastewater facilities nationwide accounting for 4% of the national electricity consumption, equivalent to about 56 billion kilowatt hours and costing around $4 billion dollars, a facility that not only conserves energy but generates it holds significant promise.

I plan to continue visiting innovative technology projects around the country to show their tremendous potential for solving our water challenges

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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Think at the Sink during Drinking Water Week

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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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Black History Month: Generation Green

By Kuae Kelch Mattox
National President, Mocha Moms, Inc.

When I was growing up, I don’t remember being concerned much about the environment. We didn’t scrutinize labels, all our trash went into one can and we never considered buying “organic.” But now I’m mother to three children who remind me every day what I should be doing to be a kinder, gentler friend to this world in which we live.

My nine year-old daughter tells me I waste water when I let it run while brushing my teeth. My thirteen year old son regularly reminds me he can’t bring anything but a reusable water bottle onto the lacrosse field. He’s also the resident scholar on which plastic is recyclable, and which is not. My teenage environmentally conscious daughter chastises me for putting groceries in plastic bags and points out suspicious chemical key words on cosmetic labels. At our local elementary school, Waste Wednesday is a school tradition. Classes compete to see whose lunchroom trash weighs the least.

Our children are growing up in an era of unprecedented environmental consciousness. The environment is an important part of science and social studies curriculum, science fairs are hot ticket events and extracurricular programs remind our children how their actions impact the environment.

I have always seen myself as my children’s first teacher, but when it comes to the environment, I find that my children are often the ones teaching me. It is a source of great pride that they see taking care of the environment as a serious matter. I see it as my role, particularly as an African American mother, to guide them along the way, to serve as a reminder that it does feel good to treat the place that we call home with honor and respect. Each moment that they teach me is an opportunity for me to show them that I am listening and I, too, care. I also want them to understand the unique needs of the African American community, and that in many communities people of color suffer from disproportionate levels of environmental risk.

For my son, who has asthma, he needs to understand in particular the importance of breathing clean air. For all children, we must be ever vigilant, making sure that their natural curiosity and desire to do good for the earth continues as they grow into adulthood. Let’s talk about the issues – dirty water, polluted air, leaking pesticides, dangerous toxins, health disparities, and let’s explore solutions. Let’s teach our children to be environmental advocates and help this generation to “green” the next one. Let them know, it isn’t just about recycling plastic bottles and paper products. It’s about giving love to the planet – the grass, the trees, the birds and yes, the bees. It’s about planting vegetable gardens, beautifying the landscape outside your school and leaving that odd shaped stinkbug on your wall alone. It’s also about understanding the environmental justice battles of our African American forefathers, knowing how far we have come, and how far we still have to go.

The baby steps we take with our young environmental stewards today will help the next generation to take even bigger steps in the future.

About the author: Kuae Kelch Mattox is the National President of Mocha Moms, Inc., a non-profit organization that supports stay at home mothers of color with 100 chapters in 29 states.

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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The Clean Water Act’s Big 4-0

By Tom Damm

Clean Water Act 40th Anniversary Banner

The Clean Water Act is celebrating its 40th anniversary next week.  Can’t think of the perfect gift?  We’ve got some ideas.

  • Save water around the home.   Save water and protect the environment by choosing WaterSense labeled products and taking simple steps to conserve.
  • Dig a rain garden or install a rain barrel. With a rain garden or a rain barrel, capture stormwater before it carries yard and street pollutants into sewer systems and out to local rivers and streams.
  • Volunteer in your community.  Find a watershed organization and volunteer to help. Use EPA’s Adopt Your Watershed to locate groups in your community.  If you can’t find a group to join or want to organize your own activity, check out the Watershed Stewardship Toolkit with eight things you can do to make a difference in your watershed.
  • Pick up after your pet.  Pet waste contains nutrients and bacteria that can wash into local waterways if left on the ground.
  • Do a stormwater stencil projectStencil a message next to the street drain reminding people “Dump No Waste – Drains to River” with the image of a fish. Stencils are also available for lakes, streams, bays, ground water and oceans, as well as the simple “Protect Your Water” logo with the image of a glass and faucet.

To celebrate this big milestone in the life of the Clean Water Act, get involved.  We can all do something to build on the remarkable strides made in water protection over the past four decades.

You can check out more items on the Clean Water Act’s “gift registry” here. And let us know of other steps you’ve taken to further clean and safe water.

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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High School and College Students Introduced to Waste Water Treatment in New York City

By Raymond Kvalheim

What did you do this past summer?

I know 23 students who worked in NYC wastewater treatment plants for the experience of a lifetime.
A century ago New York City had animal carcasses and garbage floating in the harbor, rivers and canals that were essentially open sewers. People were dying of cholera and diphtheria from wastewater discharges.

How times have changed! Today the New York City sewer system is an engineering marvel – an underground labyrinth of more than 6,000 miles of water mains and pipes that handles more than a billion gallons of waste every day.

During the last 10 summers nearly 200 city students have participated in the very successful Youth-in-the-Environment program.

The Youth-in-the-Environment Program in NYC is a cooperative between Bronx Community College, Woodycrest Human Development Center, Inc. and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and EPA. These agencies have contributed to the success of the program along with in-kind contributions. Each year the NYCDEP has improved and expanded their support from all the established partners by adding a variety of jobs for participation by the students. Our success can be verified by the testimonials provided by both the youth and the New York City DEP host site supervisors.

Some of the areas of interest include:

  • Working in a Pump House – Learning about warehousing, conducting inventory control, sorting supplies, storehouse operation and maintenance.
  • Working in Water Registry – Learning about customer service, cashier, processing payments, processing, validating and data entry of tap orders, engineering department office support.
  • Working in North River – Learning about warehouse, conducting inventory control, sorting supplies, storehouse operation and maintenance.
  • Working in Marine Services – Performing office support, clerical, payroll prep and data entry.

Students have gained laboratory skills in process, metals, biological, chemistry labs and research labs that reinforce STEM skills. These youth acquired exceptional skills in sample preparation, pH, temperature, conductivity analysis, sample distillation and sample evaporation.

Youth assigned to the Water Registry have assisted in: More

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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