SepticSmart

Helping Communities Plan for Climate Change

image of sunset over water

Before coming to EPA, I had an opportunity to work at Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments, studying climate change in North and South Carolina. These two states have some of the most beautiful beach towns I’ve ever visited, and both enjoy breathtaking mountain views in their upstate areas. Unfortunately, many of these scenic places, and the communities and habitats within them, are threatened by climate change impacts like sea level rise, increasing precipitation and increasing temperatures. The health of people and the environment, and the viability of the local economy are all at stake. When I spoke to people in the area about the situation, they repeatedly told me that they need tools to help them identify specific climate impacts and potential solutions.

As part of EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries (CRE) project, I’ve been able to help develop some of these tools, while working on climate resiliency on a national scale. We recently published, “Being Prepared for Climate Change: A Workbook for Developing Risk-Based Adaptation Plans,” which is intended to help environmental managers and planners identify climate change risks and select adaption actions to address the most pressing ones. The San Juan Bay Estuary Program in Puerto Rico has already successfully used the workbook to identify its climate risks; the report they’ve developed will be used to inform future efforts to develop an adaptation action plan.

The CRE program will feature the workbook and the San Juan Bay pilot project during several webinars and conferences throughout the next year to introduce it to stakeholders and provide technical assistance on the methodology.

I’m pleased that although I no longer work in the southeast, I am still able to support those communities and others across the country through my work with EPA. I encourage you to learn more about what EPA and other federal agencies are doing to help Americans adapt to current and potential climate change risks, and download your copy of the workbook. Maybe you can help your community increase its resiliency to climate change.

About the author: Ashley (Brosius) Stevenson is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education participant working with Climate Ready Estuaries in EPA’s Office of Water. She received her Master’s in International Affairs from American University, as well as a Masters in Natural Resources & Sustainable Development from the University for Peace in Costa Rica. She enjoys spending time with her family at their beach home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

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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Do Your Part, Be SepticSmart!

By Maureen Tooke

When you think of infrastructure, you typically think of roads, right? But there is a hidden infrastructure we all tend to forget about since it’s underground: our drinking water and wastewater systems. Unless there’s a water main break or a septic system failure, people don’t tend to think much about them.

In my eight years working in EPA’s onsite wastewater treatment (aka septic) program, I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about our nation’s water infrastructure. I’ve also learned a great deal about this country’s reliance septic systems, which treat wastewater onsite instead of sending it down the sewer to a treatment plant. About a quarter of U.S. households and a third of all new construction – both domestic and commercial – rely on these kinds of systems.

Today’s onsite systems aren’t like the one I grew up on. These advanced treatment technologies are able to treat wastewater to levels that protect the environment similar to traditional sewer systems. They’re also able to treat large volumes of wastewater from many homes through the use of cluster systems. As the nation’s population continues to grow, and as cash-strapped rural and small communities look for viable, effective methods to treat wastewater, septic systems will continue to play a critical role in our nation’s wastewater infrastructure.

Low-income and rural communities, especially in the South (with 46% of the nation’s septic systems), are particularly disadvantaged in terms of access to adequate wastewater treatment. This creates an environmental justice concern.
For homes with septic systems, proper septic system maintenance is vital to protecting public health and keeping water clean. When homeowners don’t maintain their septic systems, it can lead to system back-ups and overflows. That can mean costly repairs, polluted local waterways, and risks to public health and the environment.

To help raise awareness about the need to properly care for septic systems, and to encourage homeowners to do their part, this week we’re hosting the first SepticSmart Week, September 23-27. By taking small steps to maintain home septic systems, homeowners not only help keep their communities safe, but can save money and protect property values.

About the author: Maureen Tooke is an Environmental Protection Specialist who works in the Office of Wastewater Management at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. She lives across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, where she kayaks and bikes regularly.

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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Growing up SepticSmart in New Jersey

By Maureen Tooke

I grew up in New Jersey, which is the most densely-populated state in the U.S. Most urban and suburban areas—like much of New Jersey—rely on sewer systems to handle their wastewater. But I grew up in northwestern part of the state, which looks more like the rural countryside than the New Jersey most people immediately think of.

The house that I and my family of seven lived in was great, with one exception: it did not have a properly-functioning septic system. But working on EPA’s septic system program, I am not surprised. Our house was built for a family of four in the 1970s, before the rest of the surrounding housing development. When our house was built, the housing development’s sewer lines didn’t exist yet. Our septic system, including the drainfield, was located in the front yard, which is generally not where a septic system should be installed. Our yard was also lined with about a dozen pine trees, which also contributed to the less than ideal scenario for our septic system; tree roots can damage the drain lines and cause them to fail, leaving water with nowhere to go.

My father was an engineer, so he knew enough to know that our septic system was not properly functioning, and he would call the pumpers to service the system on occasion. When the time was approaching for our system to be pumped, we’d have to conserve water, as there would be little room left in the septic tank. (Ever taken a “Navy shower ?” Get in, get wet, turn the water off, shampoo, wash and water back on to rinse. In the winter, this process was a bit brutal.) We also didn’t run all our appliances that used water at the same time so as not to flood the system and avoided putting cooking oil or grease down the drain, per proper septic system maintenance practices.

I now know how important it is for homeowners to be educated consumers about their septic system, just as they are with anything else they own that requires periodic maintenance, like a vehicle. To promote proper septic system use and maintenance, EPA is launching SepticSmart, a national program to help educate homeowners about the need for periodic septic system maintenance and proper system use. For information on SepticSmart or tips on how to properly maintain your septic system, visit www.epa.gov/septicsmart.

About the author: Maureen Tooke is an Environmental Protection Specialist who works in the Office of Wastewater Management at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. She lives on Capitol Hill with her dog, near many friends and colleagues.” You can see other examples on the Greenversations page: http://blog.epa.gov/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.