Local Community

County Health Rankings: A Breath of Fresh Air

By Donald F. Schwarz

About the Author: Donald F. Schwarz, MD, MPH, MBA is Director, Catalyzing Demand for Healthy Places and Practices at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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Air pollution has long moved on from being a concern reserved for proactive environmentalists. Today, it has become a more visible personal health issue for millions of families and a major and growing public health concern for communities who live in close proximity to pollution sources.

The quality of air that we breathe determines, in part, how long and how well we live. Unfortunately, for residents of predominantly low-income and/or minority counties across the country, the impact of polluted air leads to the biggest concerns. Because many mobile and stationary sources of air pollution tend to be concentrated around the residential areas of low-income and minority communities, certain geographies have a greater threat of damaged health.

That’s why the County Health Rankings, an online tool which uses a variety of indicators to rank public health for almost every county in the nation, includes air pollution as an indicator to measure the health conditions of a county. It recognizes that an important aspect of the health of a community includes factors beyond the control of an individual person. The tool highlights regions by their health quality to help focus local government action.

CountyHealthRankings example

(courtesy County Health Rankings)

Air pollution is not a health concern that exists in a bubble — it has impacts on human health in several realms. For example, we know the links between polluted air and asthma. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about nine people die from asthma in the U.S. every day. The toll on lives is acute, as is the effect on how well people in impacted regions live. Air pollution also causes decreased lung function, chronic bronchitis, and other adverse pulmonary effects. The impact does not end with individual homes and families but over time affects our communities and our economy. In fact, asthma costs us about $56 billion in medical costs, lost workdays, and early deaths each year. These are not expenses that people who are already struggling to make a living are able to comfortably “take on,” nor should they have to.

There are also correlations between air pollution and the quality of life for children, many of whom are low-income or minority, who live, learn, and play in close proximity to pollution sources. There is a strong correlation between birth defect rates and proximity to air pollution, likely because pregnant mothers are a more susceptible population to environmental hazards. For older children, education is a concern based on the fact that more than 10.5 million school days each year are lost among 5- to 17-year-olds due to asthma complications.

Our hopes are that by using the county ranking tool, state and local governments can find ways which to share ideas to improve public health from place to place. For example, a recent study from our home state of New Jersey found that programs like the E-Z Pass open-road tolling (which result in fewer cars idling around toll plazas) have been connected to lower premature birth rate among moms who live nearby. By indicating within states those counties with similar pollution control problems, there is an opportunity for increased collaboration between governments and decision-makers. We hope that knowledge like this can contribute to improved public health for all.

We can hope for brighter futures for marginalized communities by taking direct action in the right areas. Want to know if you are breathing clean air in your county? Check out the 2015 County Health Rankings to see where your county stands in your state for air pollution.

Learn what you can do to improve the air in your community, check out the step-by- step guidance from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps--What Works section or the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps--Action Center where you will find tools, resources, policies, and programs to help you make your community a healthy place to live, learn, work, and play.

Donald F. Schwarz: “Learn what you can do to improve the air in your community. Check out the step-by- step guidance in the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps–What Works section or take a look in the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps–Action Center, where you will find tools, resources, policies, and programs to help you make your community a healthy place to live, learn, work, and play.”

 

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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Clean Water for Everyone!

by Matt Colip

EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin with staff and volunteers from Environment Maryland showing their support of the Clean Water Rule at the National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD.

EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin with staff and volunteers from Environment Maryland showing their support of the Clean Water Rule at the National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD.

Last Tuesday, I woke up to a screaming alarm clock and the aroma of brewed coffee…yes, it was a typical weekday morning for me. However, today, rather than jumping on my bike to go to work downtown, I was traveling to Baltimore, Maryland with EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin for an event to raise public awareness about the Clean Water Rule (CWR).

Working for EPA, which partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop the CWR, I already knew the rule’s purpose: to make sure that waters protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA) are more precisely defined. Clearly defining our nation’s protected waters is not only a benefit for regulators, it also helps businesses and industry understand their role under the CWA.

With the sunlit water of the Chesapeake Bay as the backdrop for this event, each of the speakers spoke passionately about the need for clean water and how the CWR protects the water they rely on.  It wasn’t until this moment that I fully understood what the CWR means to so many different groups. In addition to EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin, the event featured speakers from such varied groups as Environment Maryland, Baltimore Boating Center, Jailbreak Brewing Company, and the National Aquarium.

The benefits of the CWR add up quickly! For example, think about someone who travels to Baltimore to fish on the Chesapeake Bay from a chartered boat, and enjoys the catch-of-the-day with a cold beer from Jailbreak Brewing Company. That one person benefits from the CWR in four ways!

During the event, I began to count the ways I personally benefit from the rule.  My morning routine alone benefitted in several ways, and over the weekend, I thought of even more benefits: hiking by a protected surface water, using tap water to brush my teeth, brewing coffee, fishing, and turning on a light in my home (power plants need clean water for steam production in the electricity generation process).

How many ways do you benefit from the rule?  One hundred and seventeen million people nationwide benefit from the CWR safeguards for drinking water uses alone, and millions more benefit by having clean water for recreation (hiking, boating, fishing and more); household uses (showering, brushing teeth, and cooking); generating electricity; and meeting the many clean water needs of businesses.

Take a moment to find out more on the Clean Water Rule and leave a comment below to let us know how you benefit from clean water.

 

About the author: Matt Colip is a state and congressional liaison in the region’s Office of Communications and Government Relations. He previously worked in the region’s water programs, enforcing wastewater and stormwater regulations. In addition to SCUBA diving, Matt is an avid bicyclist and enjoys riding with friends and colleagues.

 

 

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 Bottom Line: Why Permeable Pavements are Good for the Environment and Your Pocket

by Jeanna Henry

A Philadelphia Water Department parking lot includes interlocking concrete permeable pavers and other types of permeable pavements

A Philadelphia Water Department parking lot includes interlocking concrete permeable pavers and other types of permeable pavements

Are you looking for ways to reduce your environmental footprint, improve water quality, and save money?  If so, permeable pavements are a great way to green your community – and put some “green” back in your pockets.

We’ve blogged recently about the environmental benefits of permeable pavements, a green infrastructure alternative that can be used for stormwater management in urban areas.  Did you know this technology also provides a host of economic benefits?

Permeable pavements are one way take advantage of financial incentives from many state and local governments for reducing stormwater fees, and they can potentially help developers and property owners qualify for credits under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification program.

Local economies also benefit from the use of permeable pavements because they create “green” jobs. In addition, permeable pavements serve as both a paved surface and a stormwater management system, so they can reduce the need for conventional stormwater management practices such as piping, retention ponds and swales, resulting in overall cost savings.

Permeable paving is being used across the mid-Atlantic, in places like Philadelphia, PA, Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD. But my favorite illustration of cost savings is out of the University of New Hampshire (UNH), which happens to also be one of five recent Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant recipients researching green infrastructure in Philadelphia.

This UNH case study compares the costs of conventional and low impact development (LID) stormwater management designs.  The LID design included the installation of two porous asphalt parking lots covering a total of 4.5 acres.  Although the paving costs for the porous asphalt drainage systems were estimated to cost an additional $884,000, the LID option provided significant cost savings for earthwork ($71,000) and stormwater management ($1,743,000). Total project cost savings were around $930,000, a 26% decrease in the overall cost for stormwater management.

The LID option doesn’t just save money, monitoring results from the case study show that porous asphalt systems are successfully treating stormwater to remove sediment and nutrients to protect local waterways, and meeting durability and permeability expectations for peak flow.

Interested in more on permeable pavements, like porous asphalt and pervious concrete? The National Ready Mix Concrete Association, the National Asphalt Pavement Association, and the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute have information on certified craftsmen, installers and technicians in your area as well as information on how to become certified in these green infrastructure techniques.

 

About the author: Jeanna Henry joined EPA in 2000 as an Environmental Scientist. She currently works in the Water Protection Division focusing on stormwater management through the use of Green Infrastructure. Jeanna loves nothing more than spending time outdoors with family and friends hiking, kayaking or spending a day at the beach.

 

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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A “Bridge” to Clean Water

The Natural Bridge and surrounding land in Rockbridge County will be preserved as part of Virginia’s state park system with help from EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

The Natural Bridge and surrounding land in Rockbridge County will be preserved as part of Virginia’s state park system with help from EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

by Bob Chominski

How can a bridge clean water?  Don’t bridges span over the water?  Well, this is no average bridge we are talking about, but a “Natural Bridge” located in Rockbridge County, Virginia, north of Roanoke.

The Natural Bridge, a 215 foot limestone arch, and surrounding property was bought by Thomas Jefferson just before the American Revolution and the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson purchased the property from King George III of England for 20 schillings. Today, that would be about $3.00!  Legend has it that a young George Washington surveyed the site for Lord Fairfax.

So how does this relate to clean water?  The Natural Bridge and the surrounding property are located in the James River Watershed, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay.  The bridge and property were up for sale with the possibility of “developing” the property with homes.  Using EPA funding, a $9.1 million loan was made through the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Clean Water Revolving Loan fund.  It was part of a complex purchase by a newly formed conservation non-profit, the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund, Inc.  The conservation effort will prevent nutrient pollution that could be associated with land development from reaching the Bay.

The Natural Bridge and surrounding land will be preserved as part of Virginia’s state park system.  I recently visited the Natural Bridge and if you enjoy the outdoors and history, which I do, this place is spectacular!  I can see why the bridge has been included in several listings of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.  If you’re in the Roanoke area, don’t miss out on experiencing this natural wonder, the history, and of course, the clean water.

 

About the author: Bob Chominski is the Deputy Associate Director of the Water Protection Division’s Office of Infrastructure and Assistance in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region. Away from work, he enjoys snow skiing and working around his house and yard.

 

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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Water Wednesday: Why It’s More Than Lead Exposure

By Chrislyn Johnson

On a cold winter day in early 2008, when I worked for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), it felt as if snow could fall any minute when my team pulled up to a family’s lot in southwestern Missouri. The sight I took in was depressing. Three dilapidated mobile homes stood on mostly hard-packed and bare soil, with very little vegetation. A pen of about 20 chickens, scrambling over one another, rustled from the far end of the property. In a bare wire cage, a lone rabbit tried to shield itself from the wind by huddling against the edge nearest a post. The occupied mobile homes were held together with makeshift repairs. Scrap cars, piles of recyclables, and two abandoned mobile homes sat toward the back of the lot. This is a common sight in rural Missouri and much of America.

Past and Present Lead Mining, EPA Lead Strategy Paper Maps, 2012. Map by Valerie Wilder, MDNR. (Click to access full-size map.)

Past and Present Lead Mining, EPA Lead Strategy Paper Maps, 2012. Map by Valerie Wilder, MDNR. (Click to access full-size map.)

I took in this bleak picture in a short time, as I worked to test the family’s water and soil for lead. This was part of a joint EPA-MDNR Superfund project team that tested for lead contamination in drinking water and soil. The area was chosen based on locations of historic mining areas in southwestern Missouri. Lead mining has a long history in Missouri, but lead exposure often occurs in areas without any mining.

We sampled the property by first screening the soil with a handheld XRF (X-ray fluorescence) meter. If the readings were above a certain threshold, a sample of the soil was bagged and labeled to be further evaluated under controlled laboratory conditions. Water samples were taken from drinking water faucets and placed in Nalgene containers, also labeled, and then placed on ice in coolers. The entire sampling event at the property took approximately one hour.

Lead is a soft, corrosion-resistant metal used for a host of products and applications from manufacturing glass and paint to joining metallic-like electrical components and pipes. People are often exposed to lead at home from deteriorating lead-based paint. Children are at a higher risk of exposure since they may play with or mouth objects such as windowsills, doors, and stair railings and banisters. If exposed, this can lead to lead poisoning.

Lead poisoning in children can cause many issues, including behavioral problems, developmental delays, hyperactivity, hearing loss, and organ damage. Adult symptoms can include persistent fatigue, insomnia, irritability, and loss of appetite to name a few. A simple blood test can determine if you are at risk. Without the right resources, people may suffer from many problems.

Because of privacy protections, I never found out if that Missouri family received aid in the form of soil removal or public drinking water access, but I often think of them when I reflect about why I do the kind of work I do. They were a family with limited resources and information to protect themselves and their children’s health. They were not unlike others in the area, in need of assistance and education about how to protect themselves from lead exposure and the vital difference that uncontaminated water can make in their lives.

On that winter’s day in 2008, our sampling team provided only one piece of the puzzle, but every contribution was important. We helped educate and improve the health of the residents and their environment by performing work with care and respect for those we were assisting.

Local governments and EPA provide many services to help minimize environmental threats and health problems. I’m relatively new at EPA and I look forward to coming to work every day. By working here, I get to help others live healthier and more enjoyable lives.

About the Author: Chrislyn Johnson is a Life Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. She holds degrees in biology and photography from the University of Central Missouri. Chrislyn loves all things nature.

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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Making a Difference through Green Streets Funding

 EPA, the Chesapeake Bay Trust and MD DNR announced $727,500 in grants to 15 organizations via the Green Streets, Green Towns, Green Jobs Grant Initiative

EPA, the Chesapeake Bay Trust and MD DNR announced $727,500 in grants to 15 organizations via the Green Streets, Green Towns, Green Jobs Grant Initiative

by Tom Damm

Transforming lives is something Sarah’s Hope in Baltimore does every day as an emergency homeless shelter for families.

But this week, the focus at the safe haven was on a different type of transformation: replacing the asphalt and concrete on the property with an environmentally friendly community green space and outdoor playground area.

Earlier this week, EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin was at Sarah’s Hope to join partners in announcing funding for a key phase of the project.

A $75,000 grant from the Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns (G3) program will be used to tear up the hard surfaces in front of the property that during storms send rain water rushing into the street and drains, leading to flooding and pollution problems.   The surfaces will be replaced with lawn, shade trees, native plants, and other green features that will let the rain soak in and provide a welcome lift to this troubled neighborhood.

The atmosphere at the event was upbeat as the project partners, Parks & People Foundation, the City of Baltimore and St. Vincent de Paul, described their plans for the facility.

The G3 grant will tie into a larger Baltimore City project to create public open space, a playground area and a community garden at the site, which is now almost fully covered with impervious surface.  The work will improve the property for shelter residents and the community at large, and transform the appearance of the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood.

Many of the other grantees were also on hand at the event to talk about how the G3 funds will help expand urban tree canopies, create bioretention cells to capture stormwater, and install other types of green infrastructure in neighborhoods in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

By keeping rain water from coming into contact with pollution in the first place, green infrastructure improves the health of our waters, while effectively reducing flooding, and helping our communities adapt to the very real challenges of climate change.

The G3 program – sponsored by EPA, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, with assistance from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources – is in its fifth year. In this latest round of grants, 15 recipients will share in more than $727,000 in funding –  bringing the total aggregate investment in G3 grants to more than $11 million when matching funds are included over the five-years that the program has been in existence.

 

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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Fun on the Urban Waterfronts

by Virginia Thompson

Spruce Street Harbor Park. Photo credit: Matt Stanley/Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

Spruce Street Harbor Park, Philadelphia,  PA                                 Photo credit: Matt Stanley/Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

Just in time for summer fun and relaxation, the Delaware River in Philadelphia is again the setting for a unique riverside attraction.  Spruce Street Harbor Park, a pop-up park near the city’s historic area, reflects the attraction that rivers and water—even in an urban setting—hold for us.  The paradise-like park, in its second summer, boasts a somewhat tropical theme with hammocks, large board games, gourmet food, floating gardens with native plants, a planted meadow, and a boardwalk with even more attractions.  Visitors can hang over the river in suspended nets, dip toes in the fountains, rent kayaks and swan boats, or sail remote-controlled sailboats.  There will even be a giant “rubber” duck, weighing 11 tons and standing 6 stories high, as part of the Tall Ships Philadelphia Camden festival, scheduled for late June.

That the park is such a popular attraction and respite for residents and visitors alike serves as a testament to the success of the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA).  The CWA established pollution control programs and water quality standards, and requires permits to discharge pollutants into rivers and streams.  Prior to the CWA, the Delaware River, like many urban rivers, failed to meet the Act’s goals of “fishable and swimmable.”  Fortunately, there are encouraging signs that the river is on the rebound.

Another popular urban park experience in Philadelphia is offered on the banks of the Schuylkill River, which now boasts a trail for thousands of walkers, bikers, and skaters.  The trail includes a segment leading from Center City to the Philadelphia Art Museum and Fairmount Water Works, even extending to Valley Forge National Historical Park and beyond.

The enthusiasm for these urban water-related recreational experiences demonstrates the value we all place on clean water.  Look for me hanging out in one of the Spruce Street Harbor Park hammocks!

 

About the Author:  Virginia Thompson has worked at EPA for nearly 29 years and enjoys gardening, swimming, and biking in her spare time.

 

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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A Big Step for Clean Water

by Tom Damm

View of the Schuylkill River into Philadelphia

View of the Schuylkill River into Philadelphia

A few times a week, I take a lunchtime walk along the nearby Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, keeping a pace somewhere between those out for a stroll and others who seem like they’re late for an appointment.

Though I often think about what’s on my work plate when I get back to the office or my dinner plate when I get home, I do take the time to look out on the Schuylkill and consider the efforts of EPA and its partners to make the river cleaner.

Last week, the river and its sister waterways around the country got another lift – this time from the new Clean Water Rule finalized by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers.  In their recent blog, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy highlighted a number of reasons we need the new rule.

We need clean water upstream to have healthy communities downstream. The Clean Water Rule protects streams and wetlands that form the foundation of our nation’s water resources. They feed the rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal waters that our health and economy depend on – rivers like the Schuylkill, a source of drinking water for 1.5 million people.

One of every three Americans get their drinking water from streams lacking clear protection from pollution – the Clean Water Rule changes that.

The rule helps clear up confusion caused by two Supreme Court cases about what waters are – and are not – protected under the Clean Water Act.  Drafters of the rule relied on the latest science and extensive public input.

The EPA and Army Corps leaders noted the benefits of the rule in countering the impacts of climate change, supporting the economy and agriculture, and protecting public health.

Something more to consider as I dodge the mid-day cyclists and joggers along the Schuylkill.

 

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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Celebrating the 45th Earth Day

by Jennie Saxe

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was held as a national “teach-in” on environmental issues. That day, rallies and conferences were held across the country to get Americans engaged in environmental protection. For a look at the first Earth Day rallies in Philadelphia, check out the history and videos compiled by the Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia, including footage from news reports on the first Earth Week.

As we celebrate the 45th Earth Day, staff in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office are participating in many events that honor the environmental education focus of the day. Even though the Healthy Waters blog is all about water, our Earth Day outreach featured much, much more!

Last Saturday, dozens of EPA employees took advantage of the beautiful weather to lace up their sneakers for the Clean Air Council’s Run for Clean Air. This race, beginning near the iconic steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, follows the Schuylkill River – a source of drinking water for the City of Philadelphia – for much of its route.

EPA staff shared information on sustainability at the Philadelphia Phillies' Red Goes Green game.

EPA staff shared information on sustainability at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Red Goes Green game.

Yesterday, EPA celebrated Earth Day all across the region. Employees shared tips to protect the environment with rail commuters at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, with students at the National Constitution Center, with sports fans at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Red Goes Green game, and with everyone working and living at Fort Meade in Maryland.

EPA educated students on native plants and more at the National Constitution Center's Earth Day event.

EPA educated students on native plants and more at the National Constitution Center’s Earth Day event.

But wait…the week isn’t over yet! Look for EPA at Temple-Ambler’s EarthFest on Friday, April 24, and at Core Creek Park for the Bucks County Earth Day celebration on Saturday, April 25.

In case EPA’s Earth Day outreach didn’t make it to your neighborhood this year, check out these links for a “virtual Earth Day” experience:

  • Save water and money with WaterSense labeled products
  • Protect local waterways by disposing of expired medication properly
  • Use less water in your landscaping by planting species native to the mid-Atlantic – they’re easy to grow and create habitat for birds and butterflies
  • Keep pollution out of our streams by using green infrastructure to soak up rainwater in your yard

Earth Day doesn’t have to come just once a year! Let us know how you plan to make #EarthDayEveryDay.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. For Earth Day, she’s installing rain barrels to slow the flow of rainwater across her yard.

 

 

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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Progress Toward Cleaner Water Isn’t Just Pass-Fail

by Jon Capacasa
Imagine your child brings home a test with a failing grade. With time, her grades improve to a solid “C” or a “B.” Before the year is over, she earns an occasional “A.” Though she hasn’t achieved “straight A” performance, you celebrate her improvement with hopes it will motivate her toward future successes.

Looking back over 42 years of the federal Clean Water Act, there have been similar, incredibly positive improvements in the quality of our nation’s waters which deserve attention. No longer are rivers on fire or are streams serving as open sewers. Visible pollution is way down. However, the job of sharing the news about these improvements has been difficult.

Capturing progress is complicated by a “pass or fail” approach to declaring “attainment” – or full achievement – of water quality standards. In the world of water quality standards, waterbodies are either in non-attainment (an “F” grade) or full attainment (an “A”). Adding complexity, a waterway can be in attainment for some activities (like swimming, recreational use, and fish consumption) and not others. Telling the story of water quality improvements can be complicated; however, EPA is committed to telling more stories of incremental progress using hard data and good science.

One tale of improvement is the story of the Delaware River. In the 1970s, its water quality was so bad that the spring and summer dissolved oxygen (DO) levels in the Philadelphia-Camden stretch bottomed out to “zero” during many weeks. The lack of oxygen was a roadblock to migratory fish who could not navigate the river for spawning. Building on decades of work by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), basin states, and municipal wastewater treatment plants, EPA’s Clean Water Act construction funding and enforcement of proper discharge permits spurred a tremendous rebound for the river. Now, according to DRBC, there is less of a summertime drop in DO levels and the current standard is met much of the time. Shad can now run in the spring to spawn, without being blocked by a low-oxygen zone. However, achievement of the current DO standard is still only a milestone of progress, and not the final goal; protection of aquatic life may require additional protective criteria. Regardless, everyone involved in bringing this great turnaround deserves recognition. The Delaware River waterfront now attracts many visitors to it every year – a huge benefit to local businesses. In fact, the University of Delaware estimated the economic benefit of a healthy Delaware River to be over $10 billion a year.

There is less of a summertime drop in DO levels near the Ben Franklin Bridge and the current standard is met much of the time. Graphic courtesy of DRBC.

There is less of a summertime drop in DO levels near the Ben Franklin Bridge, (Philadelphia to New Jersey), and the current standard is met much of the time. Graphic courtesy of DRBC.

There is progress on another front, too: legacy contaminants in river sediments. Legacy contaminants, such as PCBs are remnants of past activities that remain in the environment and affect fish health. While they last for a long time, DRBC reports that PCB loadings are down significantly and a fish consumption advisory in Delaware was eased in late 2013.

The Delaware River is improving, but the job is far from done. In some ways, the job may be getting harder as we deal with new types of contaminants. Recognizing progress as it happens, without the constraints of a pass-fail approach, is a win for everyone: watershed groups gain support for their efforts and public and private groups realize early returns on their investments as water quality improves.

 

About the author: Jon Capacasa is the 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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