polluted water

Celebrating Progress to Improve Public Health and the Environment along the U.S. – Mexico Border

By Naseera Bland

Part of EPA’s mission is to make sure all communities have the opportunity to restore polluted waters or provide reliable water services. When I joined EPA’s Office of Water as an ORISE Fellow in 2015 I knew I wanted to make providing assistance to underserved communities a key aspect of my work. Lucky for me, I was offered the opportunity to support the office’s Border Water Infrastructure Program, which works with communities along with U.S.-Mexico border.

Many communities in this border-area are known as Colonias, which are small, unincorporated, and semi-rural subdivisions used as housing settlements. Most Colonias are economically distressed and often lack basic infrastructure, including access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. Residents often haul drinking water to their homes and rely on outhouses or inadequate septic systems. This lack of proper water infrastructure poses health risks and can result in the discharge of untreated sewage and pollutants such as ammonia and pathogens into nearby rivers. Since our two countries share the Rio Grande and the Tijuana rivers, it’s important that we work together to ensure the quality of shared waters and the protection of public health.

Since 2006 many Colonias homes in the border region have been connected to reliable sources of potable water and wastewater systems through the combined efforts of individuals, communities, and government agencies, including EPA. So far EPA’s Border Water Infrastructure Program has provided the funding for the planning, design, and construction of first-time drinking water access for approximately 69,365 homes and first-time wastewater treatment services 671,631 homes along the U.S.-Mexico border —significantly improving quality of life and public health and environmental protection.

One Colonia community in particular that I provided program support for is the Las Pampas Colonia of Presidio County in Southwest Texas. Community members and leaders of Presidio County worked with my team at EPA to begin construction of an $875,000 project to address some of their infrastructure needs. The completed project will provide a 300,000 gallon water storage tank, new water service lines, and a system to supply water to homes.

Victor Manuel Juarez, a Las Pampas colonia resident filling up his 500-gallon water tank at water pump station in Presidio County, TX

Victor Manuel Juarez, a Las Pampas colonia resident filling up his 500-gallon water tank at water pump station in Presidio County, TX

The continued effort and collaboration of partners in the border area will help us to improve the quality of life and environmental conditions of families and communities along the border.  I am glad my fellowship at EPA enables me to learn more about this important work.

About the author:  Naseera Bland is an ORISE fellow in EPAs Office of Wastewater Management. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland with studies in Environmental Science and Policy. Prior to her fellowship she was a contractor for EPAs 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, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Green Infrastructure in Onondaga County

By Nancy Stoner

Last month, I traveled to Syracuse, New York. Syracuse is located in Onondaga County, which is one of EPA’s “model communities” for green infrastructure because of the county’s “Save the Rain” campaign, which is a unique partnership between the City of Syracuse, Onondaga County and others to build nearly 100 green infrastructure projects over three years. The goal of these projects is to prevent polluted water from entering Onondaga Lake, which historically suffered from high levels of industrial and stormwater toxins.

With assistance from EPA, NY Department of Environmental Conservation, Environmental Finance Center at Syracuse University, Syracuse Center of Excellence and its partners, and many others, green infrastructure is being used to slow the flow of stormwater, allowing it to make its way back into the ground where it can be filtered as part of the water cycle.

During my visit to Syracuse, I was in awe of efforts to quickly introduce widespread green infrastructure. What makes Syracuse and Onondaga County unique is the sheer number of projects that they are simultaneously undertaking. I saw construction everywhere as workers were laying greener sidewalks, planting trees and repaving roads with porous asphalt.

Onondaga County is also taking green infrastructure to the top of local buildings. The roof of the War Memorial Arena now houses rain-capturing cisterns that supply the water for the arena’s minor league hockey rink. I learned that treated rain freezes harder than tap water, so the hockey team prefers to skate on the more durable, rainwater-harvested ice. Also, the roof of the County’s convention center is now green. The building’s 66,000 square-foot roof is covered in plants – making it one of the largest green roofs in the northeast. These two projects alone will prevent over one million gallons of polluted water from entering Onondaga Lake each year.

Efforts to improve water quality go well beyond the city’s infrastructure and infiltrate the community. To complete many of their green infrastructure projects, officials support neighborhood businesses by hiring local contractors and manufacturers. Projects also span into the suburbs where households can receive free rain barrels and water-harvesting training. Officials are also working to connect students with their surroundings. Through the Onondaga Earth Corps, students participate in environmental service projects that teach them about their relationship with the environment. This program prepares local youth to become the next generation of innovative thinkers who develop the latest technologies and trends in green infrastructure.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the 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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Underwater Taking Samples with EPA Divers

by Sean Sheldrake, EPA Region 10 Dive Team and Alan Humphrey, EPA-Environmental Response Team (ERT)

In our last segment, I had just rehearsed with the diver their underwater “dance” of careful movements to safely get the data we need to support our Willamette River cleanup. Now with the diver descending into the murky depths, they are focusing on that rehearsal. The diver will next install the sampling devices and talk to me (the dive supervisor) shipboard the entire time via a communications cable between the boat and the diver—and we will continue to stick with the choreographed maneuvers we have rehearsed. Each movement is calculated. If there is any increase in her/his breathing rate that we can’t control by talking through the causes, the dive will be called off immediately. Once the diver has placed the devices, I’ll ask her/him to back away –downcurrent– carefully from the instrumentation before they come up. “Have you backed off the sampler about 3 feet? Great, ok, let’s start bringing you up nice and slow. We don’t want any of your gear to catch on that sampling equipment.” While we’re doing this, we’re looking for debris, vessel traffic, and anything else that might concern the diver on the surface.

EPA Diver with Carp (?) Eggs, Williamette Cove, Portland Harbor, OR

“Diver—um, surface would like to inform you that we have a large armchair inbound.”

“Surface, an armchair?”

“Diver– that’s correct—must have fallen off someone’s dock—we’ll direct you around it.”

Sometimes dancing in polluted water takes various forms.

Once the diver is back on the surface they undergo at least an extensive clean water rinse to ensure that all bottom sediments they may have picked up on their gear is rinsed back into the River, and not brought onto the boat deck to get mixed up in someone’s lunch. Soaps may be used and collected if needed, such as on a diver covered with oil—luckily those were not necessary today.

EPA DiverOnce decontamination is completed, the diver is brought back into the clean zone in the cabin for some water and light food. “One more sample completed, 2 dozen down, 2 dozen to go,” I say. Good science done safely, one sample at a time. The project managers at EPA and ODEQ will later make multimillion dollar cleanup decisions with that data, impacting a host of Willamette River users—a small “sampling” of what EPA divers do.

Read more about the latest in EPA scientific diving at www.facebook.com/EPADivers.

EPA video: Sean Sheldrake talks about his job.

About the authors: Sean Sheldrake and Alan Humphrey both serve on the EPA diving safety board, responsible for setting EPA diving policy requirements. In addition, they both work to share contaminated water diving expertise with first responders and others.

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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Science Wednesday: Why Research Matters at Breakfast Time

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Tarlie Townsend

I cover breakfast cereal halfway with unsweetened almond milk, then add an ice cube and fill the bowl the rest of the way with cold water.

My flat mates think it’s pretty odd. What doesn’t strike them as odd, though, is that I consume water from the tap. Why would it? These days we can be confident that, when we turn on the tap, clear, potable water will flow out.

But maybe that shouldn’t be such a given. It’s not like we create pure water by combining two hydrogens and an oxygen in some giant combustion chamber. No, the water I put on my cereal has made it through the earth’s complex recycling system, and may have spent time on land, in the ocean, and in the air—so it’s actually pretty impressive that it comes out so clean.

But that wasn’t always the case.

Years ago, rivers and streams—common sources of drinking water—were also dumping grounds for human and industrial waste. Sure, people knew polluted water was unsafe to consume, but the details weren’t well understood. Before water could be clean enough to pour on my cereal, and before environmental laws (such as the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act) could be created to keep it that way, scientists had to tackle several important questions:

  1. What about polluted water makes it unsafe? What are its biological, chemical, and physical properties?
  2. How do we detect and measure a given pollutant?
  3. How much can be in the water without creating health concerns?
  4. How do we remove pollutants to actually get the water clean?

These were big questions, and answering them required several decades and the development of innovative technologies and analytical methods. I’m certainly grateful: without EPA research, I might have to eat my cereal with unsweetened almond milk!

Of course, continued research is necessary to keep up with our changing society. EPA researchers play a big role in this, working to update water infrastructure for the growing population, to protect our drinking water from terrorist threats, combat nutrient pollution and, ultimately, ensure the availability of safe and sustainable water resources for future generations.

About the Author: Tarlie Townsend is a communications intern in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She’s also a senior at Indiana University, and would point out that, while almond milk is great in cereal, cow’s milk is really the superior coffee ingredient.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.