drinking water

The Scenic Towpath of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (C&O) National Historical Park

by Andrea Bennett

 

A biker on the C&O towpath. Photo credit: C&O Canal NHP via Flickr.

A biker on the C&O towpath. Photo credit: C&O Canal NHP via Flickr.

Recently I was in the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal National Historical Park, on the towpath that runs between the Potomac River and the canal itself.  The C&O Canal is over 184 miles long and was constructed almost 100 years ago to transport coal, lumber and agricultural products. The families that operated the boats used mules to tow them along the canal, at a rate of 5 cents per mile. Each night, the family would pile into the boat with the cargo – and the mules!

By 1924, goods were moved by trains, and the canal was no longer used as it had been, but people still enjoyed the recreational opportunities of the towpath, which led to its declaration as a National Historical Park in 1971. Over 4 million people visit the park each year, which links Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, D.C.  Bikers and hikers can continue from Cumberland on the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) rail-trail all the way to Pittsburgh; the path also crosses the Appalachian Trail at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. It’s a particularly special place to visit because of the wide variety of recreational opportunities it offers: while I was birding, I saw people biking, hiking, dog walking and jogging and, down the towpath a bit, there were others camping.  The towpath is so popular because it’s in a leafy green cool forest, it’s easy to traverse, and it’s next to the beautiful Potomac River.

Knowing that the Potomac River is a drinking water source for millions, and that it is treasured for its recreation value, how can we keep the river and the park clean and healthy so that it can be enjoyed into the future?

The goal of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) is to protect the land and water resources within the Potomac River Basin. ICPRB and EPA are two members of the Potomac Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership (DWSPP), a coalition focused on protecting the Potomac River as a drinking water source.  Practices that protect this national treasure range from picking up trash and properly disposing of household hazardous waste, to maintaining wastewater treatment plants and managing stormwater runoff through planting vegetated buffers.

Partnerships like this are a valuable way to keep our rivers and watershed healthy, so that they can continue on as great places for vacations as well as important sources of drinking water.

 

About the Author: Andrea Bennett is a biologist with EPA.  Andrea enjoys birding, kayaking and playing the mandolin and she is a member of her local watershed protection team.

 

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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Protecting drinking water is a team effort

Pike Creek, which once had steep, eroded banks, is now restored with willow trees along the edges.

Pike Creek, which once had steep, eroded banks, is now restored with willow trees along the edges.

by Andrea Bennett

In spring time, I always look forward to seeing the flowers blooming, baseball season beginning, and celebrating National Drinking Water Week. Just like in baseball, protecting sources of drinking water takes a team effort. Teams win when all the players work together.

I like to kayak and bird on the White Clay Creek, which runs through Pennsylvania and Delaware, in the Christina River Basin. In addition to being a great place for recreation, this creek provides sources of drinking water to over 500,000 people in 3 states. It’s critical that streams like the White Clay Creek and its watershed are protected; one in three Americans get their water from public systems that rely on seasonal, rain dependent, or headwater streams.

Public agencies, private organizations, and local volunteer groups all work together to protect the waterways by planting shrubs and trees along stream banks to hold soil in place. Reducing the dirt that washes into a stream during a storm keeps the bottom of the creek cleaner so insects in the water can thrive and provide food for fish. Less sediment in the water also makes it easier for drinking water treatment plants to treat the water.

Municipalities, like the Borough of Avondale, Pennsylvania (near the headwater tributaries of White Clay Creek) are also part of the team. One way the Borough protects its water resources is by applying “Dump No Waste – Drains to Stream” notifications on stormwater inlets.

Nonprofit agencies are not sitting on the bench either.  The William Penn Foundation provides funds to the Water Resources Agency of the University of Delaware (UDWRA) and Stroud Water Research Center to plant trees along the small tributaries to White Clay Creek, partnering with the White Clay Creek Steering Committee.

In the Christina River Basin, state agencies such as Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection partner with federal agencies like EPA to help pull together the “game plan” to protect and improve water quality.

Together, the team is working toward the same goal: ensuring that your water is clean and healthy. This week is a particularly good time to celebrate this team effort: National Drinking Water Week (May 4-10) is a great time to learn about your local drinking water source and ways that you can also be a team player in protecting waterways in your community.

About the Author: Andrea Bennett is a biologist with EPA.  Prior to joining EPA, she conducted ornithological research and produced films. Andrea enjoys birding, kayaking and playing the mandolin and is a member of her local watershed protection team – the Lower Merion Conservancy.

 

 

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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Thinking About Technology During Drinking Water Week

By Katie Henderson

This week is national Drinking Water Week, and it’s a good time to highlight drinking water technology, a critical component to safe drinking water in the United States.

A few years ago, my husband and I went camping in Montana. My husband likes to find ingenious gadgets and gear for outdoor recreation. Right before the trip he had bought a portable water sterilization gadget that uses ultraviolet (UV) light to purify water. We decided to give it a try during our hike. I have to admit, it seemed a little like science fiction! Of course, this little gadget only had to treat a liter of water. The average American household uses about 1100 liters of water every day. Public water systems must meet nearly 100 different standards to deliver safe water using a variety of technologies, including UV treatment.

I continue to marvel at the improvement of water technology over the last century. Public health experts say that water technology improvements – like chlorine treatment and filtration – are some of the most important public health innovations of the last century. One hundred years ago, waterborne diseases like typhoid, cholera, and dysentery were much more common. They are very rare in the U.S. today thanks, in a large part, to drinking water technology.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), which requires EPA to establish national standards for drinking water quality and treatment for all public water systems. Public water systems must comply with SDWA as they treat and monitor your water, maintain the system’s infrastructure and equipment, and keep consumers informed. The little UV gadget we used on our camping trip is a tiny version of the sophisticated processes involved in delivering your drinking water.

About the author: Katie Henderson is an ORISE Participant in the Drinking Water Protection Division of the Office of Water. She received her Master’s degree from Utah State University, where she wrote her thesis on water infrastructure challenges in the west. 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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Recovering from a heavy dose of winter

By Jennie Saxe

Mounds of salt ready to be spread on roads

Mounds of salt ready to be spread on roads

Is this winter over yet? Fortunately, we’ve had a few days in the mid-Atlantic that make me think spring could be just around the corner. Even as we prepare to turn the page weather-wise, some remnants of winter will stick around. This year, one of those remnants is salt…lots of salt.

A couple of years ago, we brought you some information on smart ways to apply salt to keep the roads safe in winter weather and protect water resources at the same time. While that winter was relatively mild, winter 2014 has been another story. Municipal salt supplies are running low, and recently it’s been tough to find “snow melt” of any kind in neighborhood hardware stores.

With the snow now melting, the leftover salt is headed right toward our water supplies. Here are some of the impacts that increased salt can have:

  • Road salt runoff can increase levels of conductivity (a substitute measure of “saltiness”) in streams and cause stress to aquatic life like fish and macroinvertebrates – in high enough concentrations, salt runoff can be toxic to sensitive organisms
  • Salt increases the density of water which impacts the normal turnover processes in waterbodies – this can also affect aquatic life through depleting oxygen levels in deeper water and nutrient supplies in the upper part of the water column
  • Salt has more of an impact on freshwater systems than on those that are brackish or saline already
  • Salty runoff that enters drinking water supplies could cause elevated sodium levels that can have health consequences

If you’d like to see how one of our local waters, the Schuylkill River, responds to road salt runoff, the US Geological Survey (USGS) has some interesting data. Salt runoff from roadways or salt blown by the wind could be responsible for that conductivity spike in mid-February.  Since the chloride from road salt (sodium chloride) is not removed or transformed by natural processes, the only way to bring levels down is through dilution, usually by way of rainfall. Toward the end of February, you can see the conductivity levels decrease.

I’ve used some of our recent spring-like weather to sweep up the salt around our house. This will prevent even more salt from washing down the drain and into the creek near my house. Cities and towns can use street sweeping as a mechanism to remove excess salt from their streets at the end of the winter season.

Did you have any low-salt methods for handling the snow this winter? How are you keeping the left-over salt from getting into our waterways?

Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and is currently a Water Policy Analyst in the Water Protection Division of EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. When not in the office, Jennie enjoys spending time with her husband and 2 children and cheering for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.

 

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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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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Improving Water by Removing Arsenic

By Marguerite Huber

Arsenic removal system, Twentynine Palms, CA.

Arsenic removal system, Twentynine Palms, CA.

If you lead an active and busy life like me, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what is in the water you drink. You just fill up your water bottle and are out the door.

But behind the scene a lot goes into making our water safe to drink. To protect public health, EPA regulates arsenic in drinking water. Arsenic is a semi-metal element that can enter drinking water supplies through natural deposits or from agricultural and industrial practices. Health effects due to prolonged excess exposure can include skin damage, circulatory system problems, and increased risk of cancer.

EPA initiated the Arsenic Removal Technology Demonstration Program to evaluate the performance, reliability, and cost of arsenic removal and the effect on water distribution systems. One type of arsenic removal system consists of a tank of adsorptive media that is similar to a home water softener.

As the water passes through the tank of media, the dissolved arsenic adsorbs on to surface of the media. Adsorption is not to be confused with absorption, which is the process in which a fluid is dissolved by a liquid or solid, such as water being absorbed by a sponge.

Adsorption on the other hand is the process in which atoms, ions or molecules, stick to a surface. Once the media reaches its arsenic removal capacity, the media must be replaced. Many water systems, such as the Twentynine Palms Water District in California, have experienced high operating costs due to frequent replacement of the adsorptive media.

EPA researchers partnered with Battelle to conduct lab and pilot studies to investigate the possibility of these media being reused to reduce costs. The study found that as much as 94% of the arsenic from exhausted media could be removed and the media could be regenerated.

Following the successful results of the laboratory regeneration study, EPA and Battelle demonstrated the efficiency of media regeneration in Twentynine Palms, CA. The testing led to substantial reductions in the operational cost, proving to be successful and that regeneration can work.

The goal of this research was to reduce operating costs, and since starting the regeneration program in 2010, Twentynine Palms Water district has been saving about $20,000 a year.

All in all, there is a lot of science and technology that bring you the clean water in your water bottle.  I’m now going to stop and appreciate that each time I fill up my water bottle.

About the authorMarguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

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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Our Waters Know No Borders

By Allison Martin

On my recent visit to South Texas with our U.S.-Mexico border water infrastructure program, I met with local residents and learned the challenges they face from failing wastewater treatment systems. One person explained how, during heavy rains, she had to wade through thigh-deep water mixed with sewage in her yard. A mother described her children’s skin and stomach problems due to contact with wastewater.  Another showed me a puddle in her yard. Her son stood a few feet away; he must have been well-instructed that this ever-present puddle above the family’s failing septic system was off limits. But as I eyed the small compound, I had a sinking sense that staying away from the puddle was not eliminating the family’s contact with the wastewater.

Many border communities are economically disadvantaged and can’t bear the financial burden to build or repair their water infrastructure. Failing systems can significantly affect the environment, spilling untreated wastewater into streets, rivers and streams. This can seriously affect community health, increasing the risk of water-borne illnesses such as cholera, typhoid, and gastro-intestinal diseases. Unfortunately, these issues are not isolated. The U.S. and Mexico share many rivers, and sewage discharged into them pollutes our shared water resources.

My trip reemphasized to me the importance of our U.S.-Mexico border water infrastructure program. It funds the planning, design, and construction of high-priority drinking water and wastewater treatment systems in border communities. Meeting with border residents gave me a deeper appreciation for the program’s unique technical assistance component, which helps communities select the type of infrastructure that is right for them. The program also emphasizes community participation, empowering residents to get involved in the process. Most importantly, the projects funded by this program help prevent serious health and environmental problems.

To protect the health and environment of those who call the border home, we have to continue to work collaboratively to treat pollution at the source.  Our U.S.-Mexico border water infrastructure program does just that.

About the author: Allison Martin is an ORISE participant in the Sustainable Communities Branch of EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. Allison supports the U.S.-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure Program, Clean Water Indian Set-Aside Program, and Decentralized Program.

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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One Career (of many) Built by the EPA STAR Program

By: David Cwiertny

I wouldn’t be the environmental engineer that I am today without the EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, which funds research grants and graduate fellowships in environmental science and engineering disciplines. The research funded through this program complements EPA’s own, and that of other federal agencies, to help protect human health and the environment.

In 2004, I was entering the fourth year of my doctoral research at Johns Hopkins University.  As often happens near the end of a doctorate, my funding had dried up.  Finding new support was stressful and diverted my attention from research.  The EPA STAR graduate fellowship allowed me the financial and intellectual freedom to pursue my priority: development of new technologies to treat contaminated groundwater.

In addition to funding my research, the EPA STAR program let me interact with other Fellows at the STAR conference, integrating me into a peer network of excellence.  And because the fellowship is very competitive, it helped me secure a tenure-track faculty position at the University of California, Riverside (UCR).  That job ultimately led to my current position at the University of Iowa, where the EPA STAR program remains a vital source of support as I continue to grow my research program.

Environmental Engineer David Cwiertny by the Iowa River.

Environmental Engineer David Cwiertny by the Iowa River.

In December 2011, I was awarded an EPA STAR grant to improve small drinking water systems.  Through this particular grant, my research program is trying to develop more efficient and cost-effect treatment technologies to improve the quantity and quality of drinking water in small, rural communities, many of which often lack adequate resources for a safe and reliable water supply.  The end result will be in-home treatment units that could be of tremendous value to the number of communities, in Iowa and beyond, that rely on private groundwater wells, many of which are compromised by pollutants such as arsenic and nitrate. During my tenure as a STAR grantee, I had the privilege of mentoring an EPA STAR Fellow, Rebekah Oulton, who received the award while working in my laboratory on related work trying to improve water and wastewater treatment technologies.

At all stages of my career, the EPA STAR program has been instrumental to my development as an environmental scientist and engineer.  EPA’s support has afforded me the flexibility and continuity to pursue my research, directly addressing current environmental challenges to our nation. I’ll forever be grateful to the investment EPA has made in me, as it has allowed me to fulfill my professional dreams and aspirations, and help protect our nation’s water resources and the health of the general public that rely on them.

About the Author:

David Cwiertny is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa. He is a former EPA STAR Graduate Fellowship recipient and conducts research currently funded by the EPA STAR program. At the University of Iowa, he is a member of the campus-wide Water Sustainability Initiative, developing interdisciplinary research, outreach and education programs intended to increase water awareness at the university, within Iowa, and across the United States.

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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Environmental Issues Know No Boundaries

By Salimatou Pratt

If you’re like me, talking about environmental issues is normal, especially around the dinner table with family and friends. Coming from Conakry, Guinea, and learning about how I may have been exposed to toxicity from local industries while growing up, has intensified my desire to be part of the bigger environmental discussion. Interning in EPA’s Office of Public Engagement has given me a unique perspective on how the agency connects with communities, both nationally and internationally.

When I visited my family in Guinea two years ago, I paid attention to things I hadn’t thought about before, such as lead-based paintpesticides, and contaminants in drinking water.  In my community, these are things that directly affect the homes we live in, the food we eat, and the water we drink. I have seen firsthand how the lack of oversight of these basic needs has taken a devastating toll on people, families and communities. While pursuing my liberal arts degree at The Evergreen State College, I’ve concentrated on environmental studies to learn more about health hazards, both here in the US and in my home country.

I constantly ask myself what I can do to help the most vulnerable people, like children, pregnant moms and seniors. The first step towards addressing these issues is to raise awareness, so I’ve been helping to support the current conversation about EPA’s proposed standards on carbon pollution for existing power plants in the US. It’s exciting to know that everyone in this country has the opportunity to comment on rules like this and that their voices are an important part of the rule making process.

I’m committed to applying my knowledge of public health and lessons learned during my coursework and internship to help educate those around me, especially the most vulnerable in my local community in Guinea.

About the author: Salimatou Pratt is a fall intern with EPA’s Office of Public Engagement and is graduating from The Evergreen State College in Tacoma, Washington. She is planning to further the conversation about the environment in her home town of Conakry, Guinea.

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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My Confidence in Future Young Scientists

By Thabit Pulak

EPA guest blogger Thabit and friends

The students were taking part in “enrichment clusters,” sessions in which they learn about one important public issue in depth. I was invited by 2nd-grade teacher Ms. Claborn to visit her cluster on water purification and to present a real-life example of a water filter.

I had recently worked to develop an affordable filter that removed not only bacteria and contaminants from water, but also arsenic, a poisonous substance that affects nearly 150 million people across the world today. I had the opportunity to present my water filter at the 2012 Intel International Science Fair, where I won 3rd place and EPA’s Patrick J. Hurd Sustainability Award. The Hurd Award included an invitation to present my project at the annual National Sustainable Design Expo, which showcases EPA’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) program.

STEM in the classroomI presented the filter to the class and answered questions, learning just as much from them as they did from me.  I was invited to stay for the remainder of the cluster, where the students were putting final touches on their own water filters. Ms. Claborn gave each of the students some muddy water to run through the filters. It was exciting for me to see the children’s smiles as they looked at the clean water slowly trickling out of the open edge of the soda bottle after traveling through the sand and rocks. The filters were based on a water filtration activity that EPA designed specifically for students.

Afterwards, I was invited to attend the upcoming STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) exhibit that the school was hosting. The students’ mini filters would be on display, and I was invited to display my filter alongside theirs. As the stream of curious parents and students came in, I gladly talked about both what the students did and my own filter, and what this means for the future of environmental sustainability issues like water.

This was my first opportunity to present my work outside of my school and science fairs. I felt very honored and happy to be able to give something back to the community. I hope to find ways to keep doing so!

 

About the Author: Guest blogger Thabit Pulak of Richardson, Texas was the winner of the Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2012. As part of this award, he was invited to attend and exhibit at the National Sustainable Design Expo, home of the P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability in Washington, DC. He was also the recipient of the 2013 Davidson Fellows Award

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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