combined sewer overflows

Join us to Chat About Green Infrastructure

By Aaron Ferster

Rain + pavement = stormwater runoff.

Rain + pavement = stormwater runoff.

Rain can fall as a drizzle, a steady patter, or a deluge. It can bring life to crops, recharge aquifers, and douse wildfires. But in many instances and places, it can also bring trouble.

Stormwater—particularly flowing over urban and suburban landscapes with their abundance of pavement, roofs, and other impermeable surfaces—is a major source of pollution reaching the nation’s waterways. As it flows from the land and into storm drains, such runoff absorbs excess nutrients, oils, and other contaminants. Large storms and Spring melt events can also overwhelm municipal sewer systems, leading to overflows that include not only tainted runoff, but raw sewage as well.

The end result can mean impaired water bodies locally as well as far downstream.

EPA scientists and engineers are helping. Their research is advancing low-cost, innovative solutions, “green infrastructure,” that communities can tap to improve stormwater management and protect the health of their waterways.

Green infrastructure refers to techniques that enhance or mimic nature to absorb, pool, slow, and cleanse stormwater where it falls. It can take many forms, from rain barrels and local rain gardens to watershed-scale strategic plans that identify collective actions of “best practices” to employ across communities.

EPA researchers are providing the data, knowledge, and tools needed to advance green infrastructure for healthier, more sustainable communities. They are leading the effort to identify and quantify the beneficial impacts of green infrastructure and share what they learn with Agency partners.

Rain garden

EPA researchers are studying green infrastructure, such as rain gardens.

To learn more about green infrastructure and ask questions, please join our researchers tomorrow (October 29, 2014) from 2:00-3:00pm ET on twitter. Questions should be sent to #EnvSciChat.

You can also read more in our latest EPA Science Matters Newsletter: Green Infrastructure Research.

About the Author: EPA science writer Aaron Ferster is the editor of It All Starts with Science.

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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Water Monitoring Innovation Thrives in Clusters

By Ryan Connair

close up of waterfallThis year’s National Water Quality Monitoring Conference is being held this week in Cincinnati, Ohio. The conference will bring together hundreds of professionals from the water industry to talk about water quality monitoring and share information about new monitoring approaches and technologies.

Cincinnati is a perfect venue for a conference on water monitoring. Not only is it home to the largest federal water research facility, it also serves as the hub of the water technology cluster Confluence. Covering the Ohio River Valley (southwest Ohio, northern Kentucky, and southeast Indiana), Confluence “stems from an EPA initiative that recognizes the importance of harnessing regional expertise to encourage economic development, and environmental and human health protection,” according to its website.

Confluence’s goal is to connect water researchers, businesses, universities, and others in the region to exchange ideas and forge partnerships. The result is more innovative water technologies, including new monitoring technologies.

Here are a few of the water quality monitoring projects flowing from Confluence members:

  • The University of Cincinnati is working to establish a Miami Valley Groundwater Observatory. The Observatory would consist of a series of monitoring wells in the Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer System. The wells will serve as a testbed for real-time, wireless water quality sensors. The data collected by the sensors will be useful for modeling groundwater conditions in aquifers and similar water sources across the country.
  • EPA is working with local startup Urbanalta Technologies and the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSDGC) to develop novel sewer flow sensors that can measure flow during heavy rains, helping to pinpoint the locations of combined sewer overflows.
  • MSDGC, Northern Kentucky Sanitation District 1 (NKSD1), and the consulting firm Stantec worked with EPA on an InnoCentive challenge on sensors for combined sewer overflows. Both sewer districts have expressed interest in testing the winning technologies—which will be featured in our next blog post tomorrow morning.
  • University of Cincinnati graduate student Jacob Shidler has started a company, Liquid, to continue developing an app that will let scientists enter water quality data on the spot and upload it to the cloud. His app will make it easier for many people to contribute to a single data set, empowering citizen scientists.

These are only a few examples of the innovative water quality monitoring work coming out of Confluence—and it isn’t the only water technology cluster in the United States. EPA is currently working with more than a dozen water cluster initiatives across the country. We’re excited to see what else they come up with!

About the Author: Ryan Connair supports EPA’s Environmental Technology Innovation Clusters program and works closely with Cincinnati’s Confluence.

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 Releases Resource to Help Guide Green Infrastructure

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

Rain barrel captures roof runoff in Santa Monica, CA. (Copyright Abby Hall, US EPA)

Rain barrel captures roof runoff in Santa Monica, CA. (Copyright Abby Hall, US EPA)

Imagine you are a municipal sewer system operator in an urban area. You probably would be well aware of the millions of gallons of untreated water that enter your combined sewer systems creating a big old mess in your local water bodies. But what if there was a cost effective solution available? And even better than low-cost, what if the solution made your community pretty and created a great community for people to live, work and play? You would jump on it, right?

Well, many communities with combined sewer overflows have been using green infrastructure – rain barrels, rain gardens, greenways, green roofs etc. – as an attractive way to reduce the stormwater runoff that goes into a sewer system. (We have blogged about it many times before.)  Green infrastructure helps reduce capital costs – traditional grey infrastructure made of pipes and other systems is often cost prohibitive – and has been shown to also reduce operational costs at publicly owned treatment works.

EPA scientists helped develop a resource guide to help more communities manage stormwater and wastewater with green infrastructure. The resource, released Greening CSO Plans: Planning and Modeling Green Infrastructure for Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Control (pdf),” will help communities make cost-effective decisions to maximize water quality benefits. The resource explains how to use modeling tools such as EPA’s Stormwater Management Model to optimize different combinations of green and grey infrastructure to reduce both sewer overflow volume and total number of overflow events.  The guide also has relevant case studies to showcase how different communities are using green infrastructure.

Hopefully using this resource can help you plan green infrastructure solutions and provide a variety of tools that can help you measure and reduce stormwater runoff.

For more information about green infrastructure at EPA, please visit: http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/greeninfrastructure/index.cfm

You can also learn more about green infrastructure research and science here:

http://www2.epa.gov/water-research/green-infrastructure-research

 

About the author: Lahne Mattas-Curry works with EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources team, drinks a lot of water and  communicates water research to anyone who will listen.

 

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: Surf’s Up?

By Maggie Sauerhage

When it comes to reading waves, surfers are the experts. But many surfers in Los Angeles won’t even put a foot in the water on rainy days for fear of getting sick from the pollution that flows into the ocean.

Communities in southern California have been looking for ways to stop polluted stormwater from reaching their coasts. Los Angeles is looking at tapping green infrastructure practices as a solution. They hope such practices will not only prevent tainted runoff from reaching popular surfing sites, but provide a new source of water clean enough to drink.

Such an innovative approach shows the growing concern about drinking water across the country. That’s why EPA researchers are studying a variety of approaches—including green infrastructure—to determine cost-effective and sustainable solutions.

Green infrastructure refers to sustainable practices, such as porous paving materials, rain gardens, and cisterns, that reduce pollution by either retaining stormwater–which keeps it out of sewers and prevents overflow—or redirects water into the ground where it can be filtered by plants and soil.

In Omaha, EPA scientists are working with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and city officials to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs), which threaten human and environmental health through water contamination. The scientists are identifying sites where green infrastructure installations such as rain gardens, rain barrels, and cisterns will have the greatest impact in reducing stormwater runoff and preventing sewers from overflowing.

EPA researchers are also developing a tool the will soon be publically available for use by individuals, developers, landscapers, and city planners to help manage stormwater runoff on their properties. The EPA’s desktop Stormwater Calculator application will provide information on how various green infrastructure practices can reduce runoff based on local soil conditions, average yearly rainfall, and the surrounding environment. Users simply need to enter their zip code to compare different green infrastructure scenarios and see how they change the runoff volume from their location.

The variety of innovative green infrastructure research aimed at cleaning up our water and creating more drinking water resources makes me hopeful that communities will be able to respond to their unique challenges with smart and sustainable solutions. They will also help keep our beaches clean, so that even when it rains: Surf’s up!

About the Author: Maggie Sauerhage is a student services contractor working on the Science Communications Team in EPA’s 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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Scientist at Work: Bill Shuster

EPA Scientist Bill ShusterAs a research hydrologist, EPA’s Dr. Bill Shuster conducts interdisciplinary studies that integrate elements of hydrology, soil science, ecology, economics, and law to develop stormwater and wastewater management techniques.

His current work involves the design and testing of “green infrastructure” approaches to urban stormwater management, exploring residential and neighborhood-based technologies such as rain gardens and rain barrels, and how they may impart sustainability through social equity, economic stabilization, and environmental quality.

How does your science matter?

We have a tremendous problem with wastewater management in this country. During wet-weather events, our older combined sewer systems tend to overflow, sending polluted septic flows into our nation’s rivers and streams.

My work matters because it is seeking solutions to that problem by helping us better understand what role green infrastructure—rain gardens, rain barrels, cisterns, urban soils in vacant lots, etc.—can play by absorbing and holding stormwater, reducing polluted runoff, and reduce sewer system overflows.

If you could have dinner with any scientist, past or present, who would it be and what would you like to ask them about?

I would have dinner with Linus Pauling Exit EPA Disclaimer or E.O. Wilson Exit EPA Disclaimer – I can’t decide. I would love to get some insight into how they take their ideas and frame them into research questions, as well as how they would each approach a research problem. I use the word “consilience” Exit EPA Disclaimer with some frequency, and so I tip my hat to E.O. Wilson, and his great book by the same name.

Click here to keep reading Bill’s profile.

For more Scientist at Work profiles, go to www.epa.gov/research/scientistsatwork.

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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New App Advises When to Let it Mellow

By Elizabeth Myer

At EPA, we’re not tired of talking about Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) and apparently, most New Yorkers aren’t over the subject, either. And why should we be? Our waterfronts are home to an abundance of parks, fancy restaurants, and nightlife. As a matter of fact, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, real estate prices have actually risen in the Gowanus neighborhood ever since the Canal was deemed hazardous enough to be added to the National Priorities List (NPL). Despite the fact that severe contamination of New York waterways doesn’t necessarily seem to be a deterrent, we are certainly psyched to learn about the Parson’s Graduate student, Leif Percifield, and his ambitious startup called DontFlushMe. DontFlushMe aims to teach New Yorkers that we all play a vital role in reducing wastewater production before and during an overflow event.

Drainage in the Gowanus Canal (via Jessica Dailey)

According to Percifield, CSOs account for the nearly 27 billion gallons of raw sewage that are dumped into New York’s harbors each year. As a means of reducing wastewater, Percifield designed a prototype proximity sensor in hopes that it will eventually be used to measure water levels in sewer systems across New York. The proximity sensor operates in conjunction with a cell phone to transmit data to a database that contains various modes of contact information for DontFlushMe participants. When water levels appear higher than average, participants are alerted via text message, Twitter, or by checking a call-in number, should they wish to opt out of providing contact info. If interested, New York residents can register to receive these alerts on the DontFlushMe blog. In summary, when sewer systems are overloaded, it seems appropriate to apply the old adage: If it’s yellow, let it mellow…well, we all know the rest.

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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