water conservation

The Proof is in the Peppers

by Jennie Saxe

Rain barrel water is great for backyard gardens and saves money, too!

Rain barrel water is great for backyard gardens and saves money, too!

A few months back, I blogged about installing my first rain barrels. With the hot summer nearly in the rear-view mirror, I can report that rain barrels work…and they save money, too!

How do I know that the rain barrels work? Well, the proof is in the peppers. And pansies. And all of the other plants that not just survived, but thrived, on the rain water collected in the barrels. By this point of the summer, I usually have garden beds full of crunchy, brown plants. The rain water has kept my flowers blooming and vegetables growing happily for over 3 months.

I saved some money, too! I water my vegetable garden and flowers about 4 times a week, using about 4 watering cans of rain water each time.  At 2 gallons per can, I avoided using nearly 450 gallons of tap water for my watering needs – enough to fill almost 10 bathtubs. And at about 9 cents per gallon for tap water, that’s a savings of around $40!   pansies

I’ll keep using my rain barrels throughout the fall, to water fall plantings. In the winter, I’ll drain the barrels to avoid any damage. Then next spring, I’ll grab some compost, hook up my rain barrels, and get my garden growing!

For more on sustainable lawn and garden care year-round, check out these tips.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs.

 

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 National Pollinator Week: Choose Native Plants

By Gayle Hubert

I discovered a few years ago that I’m a sixth generation resident of Platte County, Mo. I was living in a house unknowingly within five miles of where my third and second great-grandfathers are buried. It’s funny how we end up going back to our roots. My family’s roots grow best on our native land. So it is with my native plants.

As I was digging one day in my yard in Parkville, I marveled at the plant I was putting into the ground, back into the native Missouri soil it loves so well. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than putting these plants back home where they belong. My plants get their strength from the tan clays of the Midwest.

National Pollinator Week is June 15-21, and I felt compelled to write about one of my greatest passions: native plants. This week was designated to build awareness of the declining pollinator populations in the hope that we’ll begin to choose native plants for our landscapes, as one of many things we can do to help pollinators.

Why pollinators are important

Clockwise from lower right: Indian Pink, Wild Hairy Petunia, Caterpillar, American Beautyberry, Tiger Swallowtail on Purple Coneflower (center)

Clockwise from lower right: Indian Pink, Wild Hairy Petunia, Caterpillar, American Beautyberry, Tiger Swallowtail on Purple Coneflower (center)

Our choice of plants is even more important considering the connection they have to pollinators and to our food supply. Pollinators are responsible for one third of the food we eat, and for pollinating the plants that supply us with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients like antioxidants found in tea, fruit, and vegetables. Pollinators are also responsible for the meat and dairy we eat, because those animals eat the alfalfa, clover, and other plants pollinated by bees and other pollinators.

Many pollinator populations are declining, and one reason is that the number and variety of native plants they evolved with are declining too. Pollinators grow up with native plants, use them for food and shelter, and they often prefer only natives. Some non-native varieties are less hardy and have been genetically altered so much that bees and other pollinators can’t find the pollen because they no longer recognize the structure.

Not only do native plants provide nutrients and homes to pollinators, they also help the environment by thriving without adding expensive fertilizers, chemicals, or sprinkler systems. I believe they are some of the hardiest living things on earth.

The advantages of going native

Gayle’s first native garden in its third year, with her son Nate

Gayle’s first native garden in its third year, with her son Nate

I’ve witnessed their amazing powers to return to full bloom after being mowed down by mistake, eaten by deer and rabbits, and dug up by dogs. They’ve withstood drought, killing frosts, subzero cold, and scorching heat. They wait patiently until floodwaters disappear and stand tall downstream of a raging current. They can be trampled, transplanted, pummeled by hail and still thrive in some of the driest, hardest, and most compact soils on this planet – the clay soil of the Heartland. Their strength is in their roots.

I started gardening with natives at our first home in a corner of the backyard that I had no idea what to do with. The plot sat for a couple of years until I attended an event at a local nursery, where I bought my first native flower seed that began my garden. I was hooked on natives from that day on.

Gayle’s current native garden

Gayle’s current native garden

I was in awe of every bloom because I’d never seen these plants before. Each one had its own unique character and beauty. And then, to my astonishment, came dozens of butterflies, along with hummingbirds, Goldfinches, Cedar Waxwings, Indigo Buntings, and many more winged visitors. Native plants will lure critters you never knew existed.

Ten years later, we moved to a new home that was a challenge because of the strict covenants and neighbors’ preferences to manicured green lawns. However, I wanted to share my knowledge and designed my native flower beds in areas where the grass doesn’t grow. I even incorporated non-natives into the scheme.

It’s been 12 years since I installed that garden. To my amazement, I still get plenty of compliments about my native garden from passers-by. I‘m constantly adding and moving things around, but isn’t that what gardening is all about?

Create your own natural, native garden

I encourage you to incorporate a few native plant species into your own landscape. You can delight in the same wonderful blooms, joy, and diversity these plants have given me, and at the same time, give the pollinators the plants they grew up with. And if you don’t own land, you can still grow them in pots and give them to friends and family to place in their landscapes.

There are many native plant varieties that substitute nicely for the familiar non-natives we see every day, and will offer more value to you and the ecosystem. For example, Serviceberry or Dogwoods will swap for the Bradford Pears, and besides spring blooms, they display additional fall color and are less susceptible to ice damage. Golden Currant can replace your Forsythia, with thousands of yellow blooms and a wonderful clove fragrance! Not only that, it blooms in March when little else does.

Tuck a few new native plants here and there among existing non-natives, like I’ve done. You can use prepared garden designs or design your own hummingbird garden, Monarch waystation, or pollinator garden. Have fun with it!

Choose a native plant as a substitute for a non-native. They’re good for pollinators, the environment, and your wallet!

Helpful links:

About the Author: Gayle Hubert serves as an Environmental Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Air and Waste Management Division. She is currently assigned to the Waste Enforcement and Materials Management Program. Gayle received her bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Missouri.

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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Save the shellfish

by Jennie Saxe

Oysters and other shellfish are at risk due to ocean acidification

Oysters and other shellfish are at risk due to ocean acidification

On a recent visit to Washington D.C., I had the opportunity to try eating raw oysters for the first time. Though I found the first slurp slimy, the texture quickly gave way to amazing taste: some were briny, some were almost sweet. Needless to say, the oysters disappeared quickly. But my beloved shellfish are in peril, according to this recent study. The culprit? Ocean acidification.

What is ocean acidification? Here’s a quick science lesson: gases have the tendency to “dissolve” into liquids until they reach a stable state between the liquid and the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, or CO2, released from power generation, transportation, industry, and other sources, behaves in just this way.

As CO2 levels in the atmosphere increase, a portion of the CO2 enters the oceans, where it creates carbonic acid, increasing acidity. Increased acidity (or, a drop in pH) makes it harder for shellfish to make their shells out of calcium carbonate. If the shellfish can’t thrive, that negatively affects the marine organisms and processes that depend on them, as well as an economy and a way of life that we recently featured in this blog.

We recently described how cleaner air can mean cleaner water. Ocean acidification is another example of how air quality and water quality are closely linked. By reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere, we can reduce the impact of ocean acidification on oysters and other aquatic resources.

So take a look at what you can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – you’ll also help ensure a healthy marine ecosystem, a strong fishing economy, and delicious seafood dinners for generations to come.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She encourages everyone interested in seafood safety to check out the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fact sheet on selecting and serving seafood, as well as this advice from EPA and FDA on fish consumption and mercury.

 

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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Terps Leave Tinier Water Footprints

By Madeleine Raley

The University of Maryland (UMD) is one of the largest consumers of freshwater in the state of Maryland, but it’s making big steps in water conservation across campus. Despite the addition of a new dorm in 2011, which added 640 beds and over 180 bathrooms to campus, water consumption levels have remained relatively steady at about a half a billion gallons annually since 2009. This is thanks to mass implementation of new water saving devices such as low-flow toilets, showers, faucets and moisture sensors on irrigation fields.

Although I’ve been a student at UMD for the past three years, it wasn’t until I came to intern for EPA’s Office of Water this semester that I truly began to appreciate the innovative ways UMD conserves water. During my internship, I learned about WaterSense, a partnership program started by EPA’s Office of Water, which offers people a simple way to use less water with water-efficient products, new homes, and services. Three water efficient products in the program are low-flow toilets, faucets and showerheads. According to EPA, one WaterSense low flow showerhead will save 2,900 gallons of water and $70 a year. To earn the WaterSense label, a showerhead needs to be under a 2.00/gallon per minute flow.

Residential facilities at UMD says that every single shower on campus (1,236 to be exact) has a 1.5/gallon per minute flow. They even have an entire residence hall that utilizes showers with 1.25/gallon per minute flow. The campus also boasts 1,370 toilets equipped with low-flow flush valves, and 1,370 sinks equipped with low flow aerators. To illustrate how effective this is, let’s consider the case of Washington Hall. In 2011-2012 Washington Hall used an average of 65,750 gallons of water annually. However, after the installation of low-flow products, the building used an average of 34,250 gallons of water annually in 2013-2014, saving over 30,000 gallons a year.

When organizations buy WaterSense products, they empower the individual to make a difference without even realizing it, simply by using the WaterSense products offered. Recruiting larger organizations and companies – or even universities — could be an effective solution to curb the immense amount of water wasted by toilets, faucets and showerheads, like at the University of Maryland.

About the author: Madeleine Raley is a Spring Intern for the Office of Water Communications Team. She is a senior Government and Politics Major and Sustainability Minor at the University of Maryland and is expecting to graduate in May.

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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Take a Second to Fix a Leak

Water-Sense - 2015by Kimberly Scharl

 

 

One trillion gallons.

That’s how much clean drinking water American households waste each year due to leaky pipes, toilets, showerheads and other fixtures. That’s enough water to fill 1,515 Olympic-sized swimming pools!

The good news: fixing these leaks can be easy, inexpensive, and can save you nearly 10 percent on your water bills. EPA’s WaterSense program encourages everyone to “chase down” plumbing leaks during next week’s 7th annual Fix a Leak Week, because leaks can run, but they can’t hide!

Fix a Leak Week is the perfect time to find and stop water leaks in your home. When it comes to repairing leaky fixtures, and you don’t need to be a home repair expert. Some common types of leaks found in the home, like worn toilet flappers and dripping faucets, are often easy to fix. You might only need a few tools and hardware, and these fixes can pay for themselves in water savings.

To kick off the week, EPA is hosting a Twitter Chat on Monday March 16th from 2-3 pm (eastern). Join the conversation by using the hashtag #FixALeak.

The celebration of savings lasts all week: the WaterSense Facebook page has a map of events happening all over the country to celebrate Fix a Leak Week. Here are two in the Mid-Atlantic Region:

On March 16, EPA will be on hand at the South Philadelphia store of The Home Depot – a WaterSense partner – to demonstrate water-saving improvement projects. Stop by to find out about water-saving projects and products.

On March 22, the City of Charlottesville, the University of Virginia, and the Albemarle County Service Authority will host a Fix a Leak 5K, an event where runners will chase a “running” toilet along the city’s main rivers and natural areas. The family-friendly event will also feature local vendors and non-profits sharing information on water and energy savings.

Share the savings

When you take the plunge to find and fix a leak in your home, share the news!

How do you save water during Fix a Leak Week and every day? Let us know in the comments!

About the Author: Kimberly Scharl joined EPA in 2010, after moving to the mid-Atlantic region from Mississippi. She is a financial analyst and project officer in the Office of Infrastructure and Assistance, and is the Regional Liaison for the WaterSense Program. Kim enjoys bowling and spending time with her family.

 

 

 

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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Head toward savings

by Jennie Saxe

The water-efficient “waste collection system” from the space shuttle, at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

The water-efficient “waste collection system” from the space shuttle, at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

As I’ve watched news reports of wild winter weather across the country, I’ve been truly impressed by the resourcefulness and creativity inspired by the snow: amateur MacGyvers have engineered everything from homemade roof clearing devices to custom-designed sleds. But, in my humble opinion, this motorized combination snow plow/toilet created by a Maryland man during the President’s Day snowstorm might just take the cake.

Just as you can depend on snow to spur innovation, you can depend on the word “toilet” to grab attention. Although lots of toilet-related stories in the news are silly or gimmicky, I think it’s time to take the toilet more seriously.

In the developing world, toilets are key to improved public health. Here in the US, they present another opportunity: significant water savings. According to EPA’s WaterSense program, toilets account for nearly 30% of indoor water use in an average home. If the toilets are leaking, they could be using even more. And if you’re wasting water, you’re wasting money, too.

I checked out the WaterSense website to see just how many toilets have been certified to achieve the WaterSense standard of 1.28 gallons per flush and achieve a high level of performance. I was amazed to find 2,396 models of toilets certified to meet the WaterSense standard. If you lined up that many toilets side-by-side, this line of loos would stretch for over half a mile! With this many models to choose from, you’re certain to find a WaterSense-certified toilet in a style and at a price that meets your needs. I was also surprised to learn that that toilet installation is now so simple, that you may not even need any tools!

So the next time you see a story in the news that uses the toilet as a punchline, just remember that the toilet is more than comic relief – it’s a chance for some serious savings.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs.

 

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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Slowing the Spinning Wheel

electric meterby Ken Pantuck

Whether we live in houses or apartments, we all probably share the same sense of hesitation when we open our monthly electric bill…especially after some frigid winter months.

Keeping the environment and our household budgets in mind, it makes sense to consider ways to reduce these bills with more efficient appliances, and conservation measures to use less energy whenever possible.

Just like homeowners and renters, most operators of large water and wastewater treatment plants are always looking for ways of lowering energy consumption and the costs that come with it, and reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in the process. The difference is that their power requirements are enormous.

Did you know that nationally, electricity accounts for 25 to 40 percent of the operating budgets for wastewater utilities and approximately 80 percent of drinking water processing and distribution costs? In fact, drinking water and wastewater systems account for nearly four percent of all the energy use in the United States.

EPA’s Net Zero Energy team is helping utilities to lower their costs by reducing waste, conserving water, and lowering power demand.

I recently attended a meeting at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the regional planning group for in the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia where energy conservation and reductions were the chief topics. Each authority had used experts in the field to assist them in examining energy saving actions, and estimating the costs of implementing them.

While many of these energy projects involved little or no cost, others carried a more significant price tag. Each authority selected what actions would get them the biggest “bang for the buck” within their capital improvement budgets, and would pay for themselves within one to 10 years in energy savings.

While many large water and wastewater authorities are already benefiting from these energy saving measures, some of the smaller ones are just starting to learn about them. A couple of EPA publications entitled “Energy Efficiency in Water and Wastewater Facilities” and “Planning for Sustainability: A Handbook for Water and Wastewater Utilities” can provide the necessary first steps for a community or authority to begin such an effort.

Why not encourage your local utility to check out the savings?

About the Author: Ken Pantuck is the team leader for the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Innovative Technologies Team.

 

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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Who will win the big game?

by Steve Donohue

"Green" up for the big game!

“Green” up for the big game!

Sadly, my beloved Philadelphia Eagles will not be in the big game this year – again! But we can all be winners by conserving resources and saving money on game day and every other day.

Last year 111.5 million viewers watched the game. If all these fans used WaterSense toilets (which use 1.28 gallons per flush, gpf, or less) instead of the old 3.5 gpf models we could save enough water to fill Lincoln Financial Field up to the Club Box level with just one flush!

If you’re thirsty during the game you can drink bottled water at 50 cents or more each, or thanks to the Safe Drinking Water Act, your local utility, and other partners, you can simply turn on the tap and get safe, clean water delivered right to your kitchen for about ½ cent a gallon. That’s hundreds of times cheaper and you don’t have to carry the bottles home or dispose of them after they are used.

Game day savings aren’t limited to water, though. If all the households that watched the game got rid of their old beer refrigerator in the garage they would not only save about $150 a year but collectively enough electricity to power over 1.6 million homes!

And, speaking of drinking, if everyone who watched the big game recycled just 1 can we could save a weight of aluminum equal to 260 times the weight of the entire Eagles roster and save enough electricity to power a television for over 2,500 years!

Finally, everyone loves a party but the cleanup…not so much. If you’re hosting a large gathering and have left over, unspoiled food, please consider donating it to a local charity and helping the over 48 million Americans who live in food-insecure households.

Greening your party for the big game is a win for your wallet and for the environment. Try out these tips on Sunday and every day!

 

About the author: Steve Donohue has been an environmental scientist at EPA for over 25 years. Currently, he works in the Office of Environmental Innovation in Philadelphia where he is focused on greening EPA and other government facilities.

 

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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Dreaming of a Better Bathroom? Retrofit with WaterSense!

by Kimberly Scharl

With WaterSense-labeled products, you can save water, energy, and money.

With WaterSense-labeled products, you can save water, energy, and money.

Bathrooms are by far the largest water users in the home, accounting for more than half of all the water that families use indoors. But advances in plumbing technology and design mean that there is a wide variety of faucets, showers, and toilets that use significantly less water than standard models while still delivering the rinse, spray, and flush you expect. So, if you are planning to remodel your bathroom, you have a great opportunity to also save water and money.

Why save water? Because it’s our most precious natural resource, and because at least two-thirds of the United States have experienced or are bracing for local, regional, or statewide water shortages. Even after recent rains in the mid-Atlantic, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows areas in the region that are abnormally dry.

WaterSense labeled products are backed by independent third party certification that meet EPA’s specifications for water efficiency and performance. So, when you use WaterSense labeled products in your home or business, you can be confident you’ll be saving water without sacrifice.

Changes we make at home will add up quickly in neighborhoods across the country. If one in every 10 American homes upgrades a full bathroom with WaterSense-labeled fixtures, we could save about 74 billion gallons of water and about $1.6 billion on our utility bills nationwide per year.

Giving your bathroom a high-efficiency makeover by replacing older, inefficient bathroom fixtures with a WaterSense-labeled toilet, faucet, and showerhead can help your household save in more ways than one. Use this simple water savings calculator to estimate how much water, energy, and money you can save by installing WaterSense-labeled products in your home or apartment.

 

About the Author: Kimberly Scharl joined EPA in 2010, after moving to Pennsylvania from Mississippi. She is a financial analyst and project officer in the Office of Infrastructure and Assistance, and is the Regional Liaison for the WaterSense Program. Kim enjoys bowling and spending time with her family.

 

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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Make Purple Your Favorite Color!

Purple pipes offer an easy way to distinguish recycled water from the potable water distribution system.

Purple pipes offer an easy way to distinguish recycled water from the potable water distribution system.

by Alysa Suero

What comes to mind when you think of purple? Likely you conjure images of grapes, flowers, or your favorite socks. How about a purple pipe? Most states require pipes to be colored purple if they carry reclaimed water. Reclaimed water is an important component in water conservation and one that is rapidly gaining in popularity for many uses.

Reclaimed, or recycled, water is highly treated wastewater that’s used again for a variety of purposes such as irrigation, industrial processes, and cooling towers. Often the treated water flows through purple pipes to the end user. Purple pipes offer an easy way to distinguish recycled water from the potable water distribution system.

There are many benefits to using reclaimed water. Using it for golf course irrigation or toilet flushing, for example, reduces the demand on our fresh water resources, reduces the nitrogen loading to the watershed from the wastewater treatment plant, and offers the end user a financial savings since it’s often cheaper to use reclaimed water than to operate a ground water well or purchase potable water from the local water supplier. It also saves energy that would otherwise be used to treat raw water at a drinking water treatment plant.

Reclaimed water in those purple pipes isn’t just for physical processes, either. Highly treated reclaimed water can be used to indirectly augment drinking water sources. In the mid-Atlantic, the Upper Occoquan Sewage Authority has been discharging recycled water into a stream above the Occoquan Reservoir since 1978. The sewage authority can send as much as 54 million gallons per day to the reservoir ensuring that a potable water supply source is consistently ready to serve Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria, Virginia.

As an individual, you don’t need a purple pipe to recycle water in your own home. Try watering your garden with rain water collected in a barrel. Feed your houseplants with water from your half-full water glass instead of pouring it down the drain. Every time we reuse water, whether through purple pipes from a wastewater treatment plant or even in our own home, we’re taking another step to conserve our precious water resources, and that’s a “plum” reward we can all appreciate.

About the author: Alysa Suero is a licensed professional geologist in the Water Protection Division’s Drinking Water Branch. When not in the office, Alysa, who was recently married, enjoys cooking, family game night, organizing closets, and caring for her two rabbits.

 

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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