Storm Drains

Evaporation: friend or foe?

Vegetation in stormwater swales and other green infrastructure allow natural processes - like evapotranspiration and infiltration – to manage stormwater where it lands.

Vegetation in stormwater swales and other green infrastructure allow natural processes – like evapotranspiration and infiltration – to manage stormwater where it lands.

by Jennie Saxe

I was mulching my garden recently, trying to remember why I had decided to spend my weekend this way, and I thought about how much mulch helps out plants during the hot, often dry summer.

In addition to keeping weeds at bay without chemicals, mulch provides the additional benefits of holding moisture in soil and preventing wide fluctuations in soil temperature. I also recently read about how evaporation can affect water supplies by causing significant losses during storage and transmission of drinking water supplies.

So, does that make evaporation the enemy?

Not necessarily: evaporation can also be a good thing. The process of transpiration by the plants is another key ingredient in and keeping our waters clean. Plants transpire by drawing water up from the soil, through roots, throughout the plant, and eventually releasing water to the air through the leaves.

Using green infrastructure mimics natural processes like infiltration and allows communities to reap the benefits of evapotranspiration, the combination of evaporation and transpiration processes in plants.

Green infrastructure utilizes plants for intercepting, capturing and reusing rainwater. For example, water that lands in the canopy of trees may evaporate before it comes in contact with pollutants which reduces the amount of water and pollution that would otherwise end up in sewers and streams.

Although trees can clearly make a huge impact, all types of vegetation in curb bump-outs, stormwater planters, green roofs, and rain gardens can use evapotranspiration to help keep stormwater and pollutants out of our sewer systems and waterways.

This is important because a heavy storm, especially in an urbanized area, can result in rapid runoff of stormwater from roofs, across sidewalks and streets, and many times into combined sewer systems, where it can contribute to sewer overflows – or directly into waterways where it can load streams with pollutants and sediment.

Rapid stormwater runoff can also lead to flooding and property damage. Green infrastructure techniques are one way to slow the flow of stormwater runoff, keeping huge volumes of stormwater out of sewer systems, reducing flooding, and preventing pollution from entering waterways.

So, while evaporation can be a friend or a foe, understanding when it can be helpful is critical to protecting our water resources.

 

About the author: 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 tending to a vegetable garden.

 

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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Bringing Back Broad Branch

 

Daylighting streams to restore them to a more natural condition can improve removal of nutrient and sediment pollution

Daylighting streams to restore them to a more natural condition can improve removal of nutrient and sediment pollution

by Fred Suffian

As you drive around your community, have you noticed people cleaning up roadside litter, groups planting trees, or even working construction equipment near a stream?  These folks may be your neighbors or township staff; working to reduce stormwater runoff or stabilize stream banks to restore water quality.

Why do they need to do this? Any activity that disturbs the natural land cover of trees and fields increases the amount of runoff that flows into a stream. This rapidly moving runoff causes stream banks to erode.  Litter and chemicals get carried in runoff from the land, adding fertilizers, pesticides, heavy metals and sediment that can clog our streams, kill aquatic organisms, and increase the cost of treating drinking water.

There’s one project underway in the Broad Branch Watershed in the District of Columbia, which reminded me of another reason for stream restoration. In the past, buried pipes were used to disguise unwanted or inconvenient streams.  Years ago, a stream of the Broad Branch was buried in a pipe and is now being daylighted (uncovered) by the District Department of the Environment in conjunction with the National Park Service.  This article has a great description of the project and the benefits that this daylighted stream will bring to the community.

Researchers are finding that daylighting streams improves nutrient and sediment removal, and can even help with flooding and community revitalization, restoring a healthy and beautiful urban waterway to be enjoyed by all. Do you know of streams in your community that were buried in the past, or were recently daylighted and restored? Let us know in the comments.

About the author: Fred Suffian is the regional Nonpoint Source Program Manager of Section 319 of the Clean Water Act, which provides funding to states to develop and implement watershed based plans to restore local water quality.  He is also involved in his community’s environmental advisory council. 

 

 

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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Getting Creative with Communications

By Christina Catanese

 During my time at EPA, I’ve learned so much about water protection, from permits to enforcement, from regulations to partnerships, from large national actions to things anyone can do to protect their waters.  Managing the Healthy Waters Blog, along with other digital communications, ­­I’ve also thought a lot about how best to communicate the work EPA does in water protection outside our agency’s boundaries.  I’ve found that, consistently, our most effective communications have been those that make visible the real impacts of our work, those that connect environmental actions to the things that are most important to all of us, and those that engage people on a deep emotional level, not necessarily a scientific one.  And often, it also takes a touch of creativity.

A view of Philadelphia from Camden

A view of Philadelphia from Camden

In a digital age, there are more ways than ever for us to reach out and connect with the many audiences interested in what EPA does, and more ways to have a presence in communities.  Social media and blogs are some of the newest tools in our communication toolboxes – we’re still honing our craft to figure out the best way to use these tools to build the most engagement with our work.

One of the best tools I know of to help make these meaningful connections is art.  How many times have you felt your spirit soar while watching a powerful performance, or your mind fill with awe gazing upon a work of art (or, for that matter, a work of nature)?   For many of us, just reading about science and large, sometimes overwhelming environmental problems doesn’t always inspire the same excitement.  But what if the complementary powers of art and science could be combined?  Can environmental science and art be integrated to educate and inspire people to change their perspective and behavior on environmental issues?  I think the answer is yes.  I think art has amazing potential to connect people with the natural world and their environments in a way that typical presentations of scientific information cannot.  From storm drain art to artfully managed stormwater and beyond, the possibilities are endless to use art as an avenue into environmental issues, and an inspiration to get involved.

With the challenges we face in water protection and other environmental issues, it’s more important than ever to communicate about these issues and engage everyone in the solutions.  What other creative ways can you think of to communicate about environmental challenges and the possibilities to address them?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, managing the Healthy Waters Blog and other digital communications in the Mid Atlantic Region’s Water Protection Division.  She is parting ways from the agency this week to explore more deeply the connections of environmental science, art, and communication as the Director of Environmental Art at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.

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 Chance to Walk the Walk When it Comes to Green Infrastructure

By Tom Damm

What happens in my hometown doesn’t stay in my hometown.

Actions on the land and in the waters of Hamilton Township, N.J. have an effect on the Delaware River, which is a major focus of our cleanup work in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region.

As a possible blog idea, I wanted to look into the pollution impacts of stormwater that enters the sewer drain across from my house.  When I accessed my township website for a contact number, I found something even more interesting.

Class is in session with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program.

Class is in session with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program. Photo courtesy of Jess Brown, Rutgers.

I learned that Hamilton is Ground Zero for a new initiative by Rutgers University to promote green infrastructure techniques that soak up stormwater before it reaches the sewer system and creates nasty problems in our streams and streets.

Better yet, Rutgers was recruiting volunteers to be part of the action in Hamilton and elsewhere.

Green infrastructure is one of the hottest topics I write about at EPA.  We’ve helped communities in our region become national leaders in using green strategies to slow the flow of stormwater.

Now I had the chance to get directly involved.  So I signed up for the training offered by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program.

The course was designed to develop a corps of paraprofessionals to help Rutgers engineers and scientists identify sites ripe for rain gardens and other green techniques to “keep the rain from the drain.”  The classroom training took place at Duke Farms, a model of environmental stewardship, and at Rutgers, where we also stepped outside to examine how a parking lot could be fitted with green features.

Instructor Chris Obropta described the problems posed by stormwater, the solutions offered by green infrastructure, and the role we would play initially in scouting out potential locations through aerial maps, photos, site visits and other analysis, and then writing up our findings.

I have a head start in Hamilton.  Our town officials are supportive of the initiative and the program already has found 72 candidate sites in our six sub-watersheds, including hard surfaces at my local Little League field and firehouse.  Large rain gardens have been installed at two of our high schools, providing real life lessons for students.

With certificate in hand, I’m looking forward to taking the next steps with the folks from Rutgers.

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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The Clean Water Act’s Big 4-0

By Tom Damm

Clean Water Act 40th Anniversary Banner

The Clean Water Act is celebrating its 40th anniversary next week.  Can’t think of the perfect gift?  We’ve got some ideas.

  • Save water around the home.   Save water and protect the environment by choosing WaterSense labeled products and taking simple steps to conserve.
  • Dig a rain garden or install a rain barrel. With a rain garden or a rain barrel, capture stormwater before it carries yard and street pollutants into sewer systems and out to local rivers and streams.
  • Volunteer in your community.  Find a watershed organization and volunteer to help. Use EPA’s Adopt Your Watershed to locate groups in your community.  If you can’t find a group to join or want to organize your own activity, check out the Watershed Stewardship Toolkit with eight things you can do to make a difference in your watershed.
  • Pick up after your pet.  Pet waste contains nutrients and bacteria that can wash into local waterways if left on the ground.
  • Do a stormwater stencil projectStencil a message next to the street drain reminding people “Dump No Waste – Drains to River” with the image of a fish. Stencils are also available for lakes, streams, bays, ground water and oceans, as well as the simple “Protect Your Water” logo with the image of a glass and faucet.

To celebrate this big milestone in the life of the Clean Water Act, get involved.  We can all do something to build on the remarkable strides made in water protection over the past four decades.

You can check out more items on the Clean Water Act’s “gift registry” here. And let us know of other steps you’ve taken to further clean and safe water.

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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The Storm Drain Cat

By Amy Miller

Truth be told I could not have told you if there was a drain at the end of our driveway or not. They are generally just there, little windows into the earth below that we avoid without even noticing them. Sometimes when the leaves pile up and create a dam, I mindlessly push them out of the way and experience an inexplicable thrill at watching the new river gushing through the channel I constructed with the toes of my boot.

But one day this winter, as I was walking my 10yearold to school, I found the drain just down from the fence where the lilac bush grows had become the focus of the fire department, public works and the neighborhood.

A kitty cat had found its way into a storm drain and subsequently managed to get only its head above the grate. Now it was stuck with its little face peering out from one of the two by two inch holes in the metal and its legs dangling below. After 15 minutes of trying to get it through, the fire department decided to pry off the heavy metal grating. Unfortunately, this did not help as the cat was frozen to the earth below. This was not a pretty picture and unsure that the cat hadn’t used up all nine lives, I rushed my son off to school.

The end of the story is that the cat lived. It had been missing from a neighbor’s for days, and the town officials really got to play old fashioned heroes. But the moral of the story is that you never know what could get into a storm drain and where it will end up.

Our town officials concluded the cat crawled in through an open culvert, got lost and then tried to climb its way out through a grate. Apparently that was not a success.

But the cat took the same trail as oil, gum wrappers, napkins, food, cigarette butts, dog poop and any other refuse we leave near or on our roads –purposely or through our daily farming and transportation activities. Unlike the cat, however, our refuse goes through the system and into our waterways. Unlike the cat, the pollution that ends up in our storm drains joins with stormwater and makes its way to the lakes, ponds and rivers around us.

About the author:  Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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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Encouraging Design Thinking to Develop Integrated Green Infrastructure Solutions

By Ken Hendrickson

Campus Rainworks Challenge - click for more information!When you hear the words “design” or “designer”, what comes to mind?  The latest couture on the runway?  Swiss furniture with names that are hard to pronounce?   While you may envision the products of design, I tend to think about design thinking – the process of working through a complex problem. In many cases, I believe the understanding gained during this process is more important than the product or end result.  Design can result in beautiful or interesting things, but design thinking can help to integrate multiple disciplines, create positive change and advance our understanding of the world.

We’ve all heard the phrase “thinking outside the box” – to be creative and not use the same old thinking to solve complex problems.  Design thinking takes that a step further.  It helps to reframe the problem, consider information from several fields and test possible solutions.  It’s a perfect vehicle for advancing ideas in new and unexpected ways.  This explains the popularity of design competitions as a way to encourage creative thinking around a particular set of environmental problems.

One example is the use of design competitions to explore the possibilities of green infrastructure to address urban stormwater. These green techniques use vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage stormwater close to its source.  They also have the potential to provide additional social and environmental benefits.  Design competitions are helping to build an interdisciplinary discussion around the potential of green infrastructure – thinking outside the pipe.

Region 3’s Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns (G3) Initiative did a webcast this spring exploring how design competitions can be powerful tools to spur innovation and adoption of green infrastructure communities. View the archived webcast by visiting http://www.epa.gov/reg3wapd/watersheds.htm#g3academy and clicking “G3 Academy Studio.”

The Community Design Collaborative, Philadelphia Water Department, and EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office are partnering to host Infill Philadelphia: Soak it up!, an exhibition of best practices in green stormwater infrastructure.  The goal of the exhibition is to showcase projects that soak up stormwater while creating healthy, engaging, and visually-appealing urban places.  Selected entries will be on display at Philadelphia’s Center for Architecture this fall. The exhibition is also a build up to a national design competition.

Design competitions can also engage and educate students.  The EPA’s Campus RainWorks Challenge seeks to engage college and university students from multiple disciplines to develop green infrastructure solutions.  This design competition is an exciting opportunity for college and university students to be on the cutting edge of a real-world issue and contribute to the discussion.  Students must form teams and register to participate.  Registration for the competition is open from September 4 to October 5, 2012, and entries will be due on December 14, 2012.   Visit the Campus RainWorks website for more information about the competition.

Have you ever thought about designing something to solve a problem?  How did your thinking change from when you started designing to when you developed your solution?  What kinds of things did you have to consider?  How would you design green infrastructure for your neighborhood?

About the Author: Ken Hendrickson has worked at the EPA since 2010 and is the Green Infrastructure staff lead in the Office of State and Watershed Partnerships.  Ken has a background in landscape architecture, geology, and watershed management.  He enjoys working to empower communities to improve their environment and finding solutions that create more resilient social, environmental, and economic systems. When not in the office, Ken enjoys challenging and rewarding outdoor activities and creative indoor hobbies.

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource.  Throughout the year, EPA will be highlighting different aspects of the history and successes of the Clean Water Act in reducing pollution in the past 40 years.  The month of August will focus on Science and Innovation.

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 Plants and Fat Wallets: Water Conservation Tips for the Summer

By Elisa Hyder

After all the hard work during the spring, proper watering can help relieve some of summer’s challenges to a flourishing outdoor lawn and garden.  However, outdoor watering can easily turn into wasted watering if not done properly. Residential outdoor water use in the United States accounts for more than 7 billion gallons of water each day, and it is estimated that up to 50% of this water is wasted due to overwatering. That is 3.5 billion gallons of water down the drain every day, along with money spent for the water bill.

Overwatering draws down our water resources and your wallet, and it may also affect your beautiful plants. Overwatering may also lead to drooping or wilting plants and stunted growth.  Plants need a very specific amount of water for the best growth results, depending on weather and soil conditions.

There are lots of ways to save money and water when using water outside.  Always make sure that the water you are using is going towards the plants, not your house walls or sidewalks. Also, water your plants earlier in the morning or later in the evening; if done in the early afternoon, most of the water is lost to evaporation.  You can also think about rainwater harvesting like rain barrels as a source of water for your plants.  Check out our new video about rain barrels on youtube!

[youtube width=”400″ height=”300″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSBKqFrxoZA[/youtube]

Do you know just how much water to give your plants? It can be hard to track what’s going on with the weather and soil. But, now it can be a lot easier. There are technologies out there that can handle all of the effort.

Some of these technologies include irrigation controllers that, with proper programming, can do wonders for your garden and your water bill. Instead of using a clock or preset schedule, they work like a thermostat for your sprinkler system. There are access points that can be plugged into either an Internet router or personal computer which communicates wirelessly with the controllers.

Click for more about WaterSense Labeled Irrigation Controllers

Click for more about WaterSense Labeled Irrigation Controllers

So, the controllers are able to use the Internet to check local weather and landscape conditions to adjust the watering schedule. These controllers are designed to make sprinkler systems more efficient. With them, you can enjoy a beautiful outdoor lawn and garden while keeping some money in your pocket. In fact, it is estimated that they can help you save up to 40% on your water bills.

How are you watering your garden efficiently this summer?  For more tips on more efficient outdoor water use and technologies, visit http://www.epa.gov/watersense/ and check out WaterSense on Facebook and Twitter.

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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Spongier Surfaces Reducing Stormwater Runoff

By Trey Cody

Think about the sponge on your kitchen sink.  When you hold it under the running faucet, it absorbs a surprising amount of water.  But what if the sponge was covered in plastic wrap?  The water would hit the surface and flow right off.  We can see this same concept at work in our urbanized watersheds where, in many areas, green space that once absorbed rainfall has been replaced by hard surfaces that water can’t penetrate.

There are lots of ways that cities and towns are trying to get closer to their original, spongy state.  Having a surface that is porous and permeable reduces the effects of stormwater runoff on receiving streams, like stream bank erosion and negative effects on aquatic plant and animal life.

That’s why porous paving projects are popping up all over the place.  Permeable paving refers to a different way of mixing or constructing concrete or asphalt that allows water to flow through the pavement and into the ground instead of over it.

One project can be found in our neighboring EPA Region 2’s Laboratory in Edison, New Jersey (above), where three permeable surfaces are being tested on the site of a former concrete parking lot. The performance and capabilities of these systems are being documented as part of a long term project to study the effects of paving materials such as porous asphalt, porous concrete, and interlocking concrete paver blocks. The parking lot will be monitored for its ability to accept, store, and infiltrate stormwater, water quality performance, urban heat island mitigation, maintenance effects, and parking behavior.

Closer to our regional office home, the first porous street in Philadelphia was recently unveiled.   And Washington D.C. has done a number of Green Alley Projects using permeable pavement for the street surfaces.  Have you seen other examples of pervious pavement near you?

To learn more about permeable pavement and other green infrastructure techniques, and how it benefits water quality, check out EPA’s Green Infrastructure Page.

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource.  Throughout the year, EPA will be highlighting different aspects of the history and successes of the Clean Water Act in reducing pollution in the past 40 years.  The month of August will focus on Science and Innovation.

About the Author: Trey Cody has been an intern with EPA’s Water Protection Division since graduation from high school in 2010. He is currently attending the Pennsylvania State University.

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.