Sediment

Re-connecting the Two Hearted River

A six-year effort has now been completed—using funds from EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and other sources—to re-connect 35 miles of the Two Hearted River. As a result, this waterway is now one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the Great Lakes.

Though the Two Hearted is the only designated wilderness river in the state, that doesn’t mean the watershed hasn’t been beaten up, much of its bruising from sweeping white pine clear-cutting decades ago. More recently, stream crossings over culverts have collapsed, creating jams and resulting in sediment pouring into the waterway. The stream then fractured, with spawning beds smothering from siltation.

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Farm Conservation Practices are Working in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Farmers are implementing conservation practices that are both good for their business and improving water quality

Farmers are implementing conservation practices that are both good for their business and improving water quality

by Kelly Shenk

As the agricultural advisor for EPA’s mid-Atlantic region, I’ve had the opportunity to accompany the EPA mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator in talks with farmers throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed through roundtable discussions and tours of their farms. We’ve observed their successes, challenges, and opportunities.  It’s encouraging to see how engaged farmers are in implementing conservation practices that are both good for their business and improving water quality.

Last month the Chesapeake Bay Program reported that pollution controls put in place over the last four years have resulted in an estimated 7% reduction of nitrogen, 11% reduction of phosphorus, and 6% reduction of sediment in the Bay Watershed.

Agriculture is responsible for about one-third of these reductions because producers have stepped up their conservation practices such as cover crops that take up residual nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil after crops are harvested. Other effective conservation practices include tillage that prevents nutrients and sediment from running off of cropland; and fencing to keep cows out of streams.

While this progress is encouraging, there’s still much that needs doing to restore the Bay.  Using 2009 as a baseline, the Chesapeake Bay TMDL or pollution diet calls for having measures in place by 2017 to achieve at least 60 percent of the pollution reductions necessary for restoring the Bay to water quality standards.  The Bay jurisdictions are in the process of achieving this objective through upgrading of wastewater treatment plants and septic systems, increased implementation of agricultural conservation practices, improving urban stormwater management, and addressing air pollution sources. All sources are tackling their share of the challenge

The pace of the Bay jurisdictions’ pollution reduction efforts will get quicker moving forward.  For agriculture, I think the keys to success are strong state programs, targeted federal and state financial and technical assistance, incentives that engage more producers, and continued innovation.

We’re encouraged by some of the progress that’s already being made.  We are seeing increased financing for high priority practices promoted by the States such as stream exclusion and cover crops.  States are strengthening their programs for addressing water quality concerns from small animal operations.  We’re also seeing incentives such as Ag Certainty programs to engage more producers in conservation practices.

In my time out in the field, I am always inspired at the creativity and innovation of farmers.  With a good knowledge of the States’ pollution reduction goals, targeted financial and technical assistance, and the flexibility to reach water quality goals in a way that works for their business, I’m confident they can get the job done.  But it will take all of us working together in all sectors, building on the progress that we’ve made thus far, and staying on track to reaching our goals of restoring our local waters and the magnificence of the Chesapeake Bay.

Kelly Shenk is EPA Region III’s Agricultural Advisor

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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Cabin Branch: Let the Healing Begin

By Nick DiPasquale

Most of us who live in an urban or suburban setting really don’t know what a healthy stream looks like.  In some cases we can’t even see streams that run under our roads and shopping centers because they’ve been forced into pipes; out of sight, out of mind.

Cabin Branch pre cleanup

In 2005 a major volunteer cleanup removed 40 tons of tires and debris from Cabin Branch. (photo courtesy of Severn Riverkeeper Program)

The remnants of streams we can see have been filled with sediment and other pollution and the ecology of the stream has been altered significantly.  The plants and animals that used to live there have long since departed, their habitat having been destroyed.  This didn’t happen overnight.  The environment is suffering “a death by a thousand cuts.”

I recently got the chance to visit the Cabin Branch stream restoration project, not far from my neighborhood in Annapolis.  The project is being undertaken by the Severn Riverkeeper, and is one of many stream restoration projects taking place throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Keith Underwood outlines the progress of the Cabin Branch Regenerative Stream Conveyance restoration project for members of the Chesapeake Bay Program and Maryland Department of Natural Resources .  The project was initiated by the Severn Riverkeeper Program. (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

Keith Underwood outlines the progress of the Cabin Branch Regenerative Stream Conveyance restoration project for members of the Chesapeake Bay Program and Maryland Department of Natural Resources . The project was initiated by the Severn Riverkeeper Program. (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

Cabin Branch discharges to the streams and wetlands of Saltworks Creek and the Severn River, which carries the polluted runoff into the Bay.  Aerial photos taken after a modest rain are dramatic testament to a severely damaged ecosystem causing the Severn to run the color of chocolate milk. This same phenomenon is repeated in streams and rivers that run through thousands of communities throughout the watershed.

Polluted runoff is a major source of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Severn River and throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Projects like the one at Cabin Branch restore the natural habitat , slows the sediment erosion and allows more nutrients to be absorbed into the soil and plants. (photo courtesy of Severn Riverkeeper Program)

Polluted runoff is a major source of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Severn River and throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Projects like the one at Cabin Branch restore the natural habitat , slows the sediment erosion and allows more nutrients to be absorbed into the soil and plants. (photo courtesy of Severn Riverkeeper Program)

It was gratifying to see the Cabin Branch project first hand – one of many efforts to heal the damage done unknowingly over many decades of development.  Like many projects of this nature, the Severn Riverkeeper Program had to overcome some bureaucratic red tape to get the permits they needed, but their perseverance will be worth the impact in helping clean local waters and the Bay.

The structural features of these projects are designed to safely handle a 100-year storm, while at the same time maximizing baseflow in normal conditions.  The next step will include planting native plants and monitoring the post-restoration flow of nutrients and sediment.  (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

The structural features of these projects are designed to safely handle a 100-year storm, while at the same time maximizing baseflow in normal conditions. The next step will include planting native plants and monitoring the post-restoration flow of nutrients and sediment. (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

Fortunately, we are learning better ways to manage stormwater runoff through low impact development and use of green infrastructure which help to mimic the cleansing functions of nature.   It will take some time before this patient is restored to good health, but we are on the mend.

About the Author: Nick DiPasquale is Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. Nick has nearly 30 years of public policy and environmental management experience in both the public and private sectors.  He previously served as Deputy Secretary in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Director of the Environmental Management Center for the Brandywine Conservancy in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and as Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

You can also see this post and much more Chesapeake Bay content on the Chesapeake Bay Program 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.

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PAHs in Urban Streams of Kansas City

By Laura Webb

The Water Monitoring Team at EPA Region 7 has been collecting samples in the urban streams of Kansas City since 2006 as shown in the map below.  During our non-field sampling season (when the water is generally frozen or near enough to freezing that we don’t want to wade in), we spend a lot of our time evaluating data and trying to figure out what it all means.

Locations of KCWaters urban stream sampling

One particular contaminant of interest of mine has been PAHs (not to be confused with PAW-PAWs  which we also find in streams from time to time). Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are organic molecules found in oil and other fossil fuels which are released when fuels are burned. In my previous job as a bench chemist, I once analyzed samples collected on a filter from a charcoal production facility. The black, sooty residue was comprised of many, many PAH molecules. So, when charcoal is used to grill meat, the smoky flavor and blacked exterior of the meat contains, you guessed it, PAHs. Hopefully not a large concentration, though, because oh how I do love grilled steak! PAHs are found in auto exhaust, tire particles, gas residue, and coal-tar based sealant, such as is used on parking lots and road surfaces. In large enough doses, PAHs are toxic to aquatic species that live in streams. Studies have also shown that higher PAH concentration in urban areas can contribute to human health problems, including asthma, anxiety, and lower IQ scores.

In looking at our data, several things are clear. First, that there is not a clear single source of these compounds to our urban waterways in Kansas City. The ratio of PAH compounds to each other and the total can act as a type of chemical fingerprint of the source. Unfortunately for the urban environment, these prints are smeared and difficult to match up to their source.

Compounds can enter the stream water in many ways. For example, there are permitted discharges, storm water runoff, deposition from the air, and even illegal dumping. Some compounds stay dissolved in the water, some combine to form new compounds, some react with sunlight to decompose into other compounds and some, like PAHs, tend to attach to particulates in the water and “sink” down into the sediment (PAHs and many other organic chemicals don’t really like water; they prefer the rich gooey sediments that deposit as water flows around obstacles in the stream). The sediment is a sink, or trap, for these water-phobic compounds. When we collect samples, we obtain a single grab of water at a particular location at a particular time. While it is a single point in time, the flowing water changes every moment, so samples just a few minutes apart could represent completely different pictures of the stream. Sediment samples, on the other hand, are collected throughout the length of the stream site and really represent a depositional history of what was once in the water as it passed a particular spot. That is what causes the smeared chemical  fingerprint, and what causes me headaches when trying to figure out where the PAHs in stream sediment come from.

A prime suspect of urban PAH contamination is coal-tar sealant, and it appears to be a heavy contributor in stream sediments especially those related to large areas of impervious surfaces (roads, parking lots, roof tops, surfaces that water cannot penetrate but runs off of). As a matter of fact, the total concentration of PAHs in sediment is closely correlated with both the percentage of impervious surfaces and the percentage of development in the watershed. The fingerprint ratios of sealant versus many urban sediments, especially those with the highest levels of PAHs, match fairly well, although still keeping in mind that sediment is a collection of many sources.

Along with these sealed surfaces are mobile sources in the form of gasoline and diesel burning vehicles. The pollutants deposit from the exhaust, either in the water itself, on the sediment, or surrounding land and are then washed into the streams during runoff events. Some of the sediment fingerprints have traits from petroleum sources but because the sediment is a sink, there is no clear pattern match for this source (but I know it contributes). Along with vehicle exhaust, there is also power plant exhaust, perhaps smoke from nearby restaurants that grill their meat, fireplaces (although we do collect samples in the summer, the deposits occur all year long), waste water treatment discharge, and other industrial processes.There are plenty of sources, and when concentrated together in the urban core, they combine to increase the PAH concentrations in sediment to levels that may be problematic for aquatic life. So that’s a look at one class of compounds we find in the urban environment. For a more complete look, check out our website at www.kcwaters.org.

Laura Webb is a chemist with EPA Region 7’s Water Monitoring Team.  She spent her first 16 years with EPA in the regional laboratory, analyzing samples for everything from metals to dioxins.  Her current assignment involves ambient water sampling, laboratory analysis, operating the mobile bacteria laboratory, and participating in emergency responses as part of the Response Support Corp.

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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Old-Time Sentiment and Sediment in Lancaster County

Legacy Sediments accumulated to 5 meters tall

Legacy Sediments accumulated to 5 meters tall

By Bonnie Turner-Lomax

I’d encourage you to take a trip through Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County to get a sense for the area’s rich culture and old-world charm, its picturesque farms, covered bridges and quaint towns and villages.  And keep an eye out for the occasional horse and buggy.

One thing you won’t be able to spot, though, is another part of the county’s past – an environmental legacy that has played out for centuries beneath area waters.

During the late 17th through 19th centuries, it was common for communities to build dams on nearby streams to provide water power for various mills that served the communities. Sediment has been accumulating behind these now defunct but still in-place dams since they were first constructed.  Centuries of sediment accumulation (referred to as legacy sediments) have resulted in numerous environmental impacts, including:

  • changes in stream structure,
  • unnaturally high stream bank walls,
  • loss of wetlands,
  • excess sediment scouring during storms,
  • and increased loading of nutrients and sediments downstream.

This historic pollution has present impacts, and affects Lancaster county as well as other communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

Recently, more than 140 environmental professionals converged at Franklin & Marshall College in the heart of Lancaster County for a workshop to deal with this age-old issue.

The group, including federal, state, and local representatives, academics and environmental consultants, held discussions, considered challenges and opportunities, and did field visits to the Big Spruce Run and Banta restoration projects to highlight potential benefits of the sediment fix to water quality and wetlands.

By meeting and establishing a communication forum to share data and information, the group is taking steps to create an environmental legacy of pristine streams, waterways, and wetlands.

Find out more about legacy sediment removal and stream restoration.

About the Author: Bonnie Turner-Lomax came to EPA Region’s mid-Atlantic Region in 1987 and has held several positions throughout the Region.  She is currently the Communications Coordinator for the Environmental Assessment & Innovation 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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Green Tracks for Maryland’s Light Rail

By Nancy Grundahl

Read more about green initiatives proposed in, “Design Green! Best Practices for Sustainability, Safe Street Design for the Red Line.”

The Maryland Transit Administration is testing a “Green Track” concept, establishing vegetation between and adjacent to light rail tracks.  Among the positive outcomes is a reduction in polluted stormwater running into local streams.

The question is: will the turf grass and/or sedums planted between the tracks survive in the railway environment and become established well enough to present a dense and attractive growth in Maryland?  If so, green tracks are to be considered for incorporation into portions of the Red Line, a 14-mile light rail transit line proposed in Baltimore City. Additionally, the Green Track concept is being considered for portions of the Purple Line, a 16-mile light rail project in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties. (Read more about green initiatives proposed in, “Design Green! Best Practices for Sustainability, Safe Street Design for the Red Line.”)

Green tracks are not uncommon in Europe, most notably in France and Germany. The benefits are many.  Some stormwater that would otherwise run off will be captured by the vegetation and soil. The temperature in the immediate area will be moderated, being a little cooler in the summer, reducing the urban heat island effect.  And, the noise from the trains will be dampened. Regular monitoring of Maryland’s Green Tracks test areas is currently underway.

Interested in seeing the green track test segments in person?

In mid-town Baltimore go to the Cultural Center Light Rail Station which is near the intersection of North Howard and West Preston Streets. There are two test areas here.

There is another test area in the suburbs near the Ferndale Light Rail Station in Anne Arundel County.  The test area is located between South Broadview Boulevard and Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard south of the station and the firehouse.

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” 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.

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Bay Website Focuses on Action

By Tom Damm

Click here to view a brochure produced by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee featuring examples of local actions to cut nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution.

There’s a new look to EPA’s Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet” website.

The pollution diet, or Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), was established by EPA in December 2010, based largely on action plans provided by the watershed’s six states and the District of Columbia.

The website now has a greater focus on activities at the local level happening around the 64,000-square-mile Bay watershed to reduce pollution impacting the Bay and its vast network of connecting rivers and streams.

One of the new additions is a brochure produced by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee featuring examples of local actions to cut nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution.

Check out those case studies and the other new items on the site, and let us know what you think.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, he held state government public affairs positions in New Jersey and worked as a daily newspaper reporter.  When not in the office, Tom enjoys cycling and volunteer work.  Tom and his family live in Hamilton Township, N.J., near Trenton.

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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Plant a Tree, Save a River!

Riparian Buffer in an agricultural areaBy Christina Catanese

Since this is the Healthy Waters Blog, you might be wondering why we’re concerned about forests.  But unlike Vegas, what happens on the land doesn’t stay on the land – it affects streams and rivers, especially if the land is right next to the water.  It turns out that having forests right next to waterways (as opposed to developed or tilled agricultural land) is highly beneficial to water quality, ecosystems, and humans.  These vegetated strips of land are often referred to as “riparian buffers.”

I have always been astounded at the amazing power of trees and plants to provide so many benefits to our environment and communities.  Forested stream banks act like a sponge, filtering out excessive nutrients, sediment, and other pollutants that run off from the land that would be damaging if they entered a stream.  Shrubs and trees are also able to prevent stream bank erosion by anchoring the soils, keeping the banks stable and excess sediment out of the stream.  Buffers can even help mitigate flooding by absorbing and slowing down surface runoff.

Forested streams also provide enhanced habitat for wildlife.  Leaves, twigs, and other natural plant litter that fall into the stream provide food and habitat for organisms in the water, and the corridors of natural vegetation along stream banks allow land-based mammals and birds to thrive.

Riparian forest buffers also aid greatly in maintaining cool stream temperatures.  You know how much better it feels to stand in the shade of a tree on a hot day rather than out in the hot sun?  Well, stream organisms prefer their streams to be shaded as well.  Studies have shown that removing the canopy can cause the stream’s temperature to rise by as much as 15 degrees.  Warmer streams can’t carry as much dissolved oxygen, and some organisms can’t survive in these conditions.

That’s all nice for the fish, but what about people?  Riparian buffers also benefit human communities.  Wouldn’t you rather fish and swim in a healthy, forested, shady stream?  I know I would.  Forested streams stimulate local economies by enhancing fisheries and recreational opportunities.  The presence of riparian buffers can also result in higher property values in communities and add aesthetic value.  The water quality improvements from buffers also enhance the quality of our drinking water, so by preserving forests, we actually protect our water supply.The Delaware River Basin, for example, provides high quality drinking water to nearly 15 million people from New York to Delaware, largely because of the mature forest canopy that has been maintained upstream.  Preserving forests in the headwaters contributes to water quality both upstream and downstream water quality.  Another plus: buffer preservation and restoration are pretty cost-effective strategies for managing nonpoint source pollution.

Seems almost common sense given all the benefits, doesn’t it?  But there can be obstacles to implementation, like funding, competing land-use practices, political will, or lack of awareness of the benefits.  EPA encourages buffers as a best management practice through its Nonpoint Source Program,with tools and resources to incorporate buffer restoration in regional planning.

Reforesting streams in the Chesapeake Bay is also an important strategy for the basin’s nutrient pollution diet.  Learn how the Bay program and the basin states are working to restore 10,000 miles of riparian forest in the Bay’s watershed, and see how the states have incorporated riparian reforestation into their Watershed Implementation Plans. Watch a video by the Chesapeake Bay Program Office to hear more about how forests and the Chesapeake Bay are related, and what makes a forest healthy.

What do you think about forested versus unforested streams?  Have you noticed if streams and rivers in your area have trees or not?  Do you know of any initiatives to create and preserve riparian buffers?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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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Not Quite Trading Cards

How much do you know about the Clean Water Act? Take the Quiz! By Trey Cody

I don’t know about you, but when I think of trading I think of cards, coins, stamps, and other collectable items. I’m here to tell you about a different kind of trading going on in our Mid-Atlantic Region. It’s called water quality trading. You might ask, “How can you trade the quality of your water?” Water quality trading programs are fairly new, and are being implemented throughout the United States under the Clean Water Act. How Water quality trading works is, within a watershed there are sources of pollution (in many cases treatment plants and industrial manufacturing plants). When one source has a greater pollutant reduction need than another, a trade can be made allowing both sources to achieve the best possible water quality goals set for their specific watershed.

In the Mid Atlantic Region, there are currently 4 established trading programs. These are:

  • The Pennsylvania Trading of Nutrient & Sediment Credits
  • The Maryland Nutrient Trading Program
  • The Virginia Chesapeake Bay Nutrient Credit Exchange
  • The West Virginia Potomac Water Quality Bank and Trade Program
  • These programs are put in place to control the pollutants nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.

    What are the benefits of trading?

    1. Cost-effective way to reduce pollution without compromising environmental protection
    2. Faster way to achieve pollutant reductions
    3. Use of trading as a tool may enable a watershed to achieve its water quality goals

    So…What do you think are other potential benefits to such a program being created?

    Learn more about EPA’s policy in their first “how-to” manual on designing and implementing water quality trading programs, or Take the Fact or Fiction Quiz.

    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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    Isle’s Well that Ends Well

    Presque Isle Bay Area of ConcernAn AOR is good. An AOC, not so much.

    Presque Isle Bay, on the southern shore of Lake Erie, was once declared by Pennsylvania to be an AOC – an Area of Concern, indicating contamination.

    But through major improvements to the local wastewater treatment system, a change in Bay-front use from industrial to commercial and recreational uses, and some good hard work by local environmental groups, Presque Isle Bay is now an AOR – an Area of Recovery. (click on picture for more info)

    But the Bay is still not AOK.

    There are lingering concerns about contaminated sediment and fish tumors. We’re following the work of researchers to monitor these issues, and we’ll report back to you.

    If you’re interested in learning more about this initiative, contact us.

    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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