water quality

The Real Value of a Penny

by Pamela Lazos

The mighty penny.

The mighty penny.

When I was a kid we used to recite the rhyme “see a penny, pick it up, then all day you’ll have good luck.” There were certain rules, though. The luck was only for the finder if it was heads up. Tails up and you had to give it away immediately or risk bad luck. Apparently, these superstitions morph over time: when my mom was a kid, the penny was only lucky if you put it in your shoe.

But even in 2014, a penny can go a long way, as I learned on a recent tour of Pennsylvania American Water’s Coatesville, Pennsylvania, treatment plant. Customers of this water system pay just a penny for a gallon of water. By comparison, if you purchase a 24 ounce bottle of water at your local convenience store, a conservative estimate says you’d pay about $1.29. Pennsylvania American Water sells 128 ounces of water for one cent. If they charged the same amount as your local convenience store, that gallon of water would cost their customers $9.50, a hefty price tag in any market.

The staff at this treatment plant, as in most water treatment plants across the country, is very knowledgeable and takes pride in their work. The plant itself is state of the art. Aging equipment has been replaced, and new chemical feed systems have been installed. A centralized data-monitoring system keeps track of plant operations, and an electronic read-out in the lab area displays the intake and outflow, constantly monitoring for compliance with drinking water standards.

And you don’t have to leave your house to get a tour of a drinking water treatment plant. You can go on EPA’s Virtual Water Treatment Plant tour any time! This interactive video guides you through the treatment process from source to tap.

As we come up on the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the tour was a great reminder of how exceptionally important tap water, and the water industry professionals that produce it are to our health and our communities.

 

About the author: Pam Lazos is an attorney in the Office of Regional Counsel in EPA Region 3, and focuses on water law. When not in the office, she keeps bees, writes books, and volunteers in her community on various projects that benefit women and children.

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 Bear is in the Igloo

The marine glider ready for deployment.

The marine glider ready for deployment.

By Darvene Adams

It sounds like a story of Arctic homesteading gone awry, but it actually takes place in the coastal waters off of New York and New Jersey. “The Bear is in the Igloo” is a catchphrase used by Rutgers University oceanographers to signify that an “Autonomous Underwater Vehicle” or ocean glider has been successfully retrieved from its mission gathering water quality data in the ocean.

State and federal agencies have long recognized that low dissolved oxygen in the waters off the coast of NY and NJ is a major concern. Fish, clams, crabs, etc. all need a relatively high amount of dissolved oxygen (D.O.) in the water to survive and reproduce. Effectively measuring dissolved oxygen levels in the ocean is a complex task. There is a lot of territory to cover (approximately 375 mi2 just off of NJ) and the D.O. levels change constantly. NJ and EPA have conducted some “grab” sampling which resulted in the entire coastal zone being declared “impaired,” even though the existing sampling didn’t cover the whole area. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection asked EPA for help to address this dilemma.

Glider tracks off the coast of New Jersey.

Glider tracks off the coast of New Jersey.

Enter the glider, better known as RU28, a relatively new technology but one that is being rapidly adopted by the military and water researchers. Part fish, part robot, it “glides” through the water column, using a pump to take in or expel water, allowing displacement to lift or sink the glider. It is programmed to surface approximately every two hours and “phones home” to send some of the water quality data it has collected and its operational status. Parameters include dissolved oxygen, temperature, salinity, chlorophyll a (pigments indicative of algae), CDOM (colored dissolved organic matter), and depth. As the glider moves in a zig-zag pattern down the coast, it is also moving vertically in the water to profile the water column. Each deployment is approximately three weeks in length.

A glider was in the water off of NJ when Hurricane Irene impacted the area in 2011. The data collected by the joint glider mission produced the first water quality data ever collected under a hurricane. The National Weather Service was able to use these data to revise their hurricane modelling to account for the effect of a tropical hurricane entering temperate zone waters.

The second mission of this summer was deployed last month, so click on: http://marine.rutgers.edu/cool/auvs/index.php?did=422&view=imagery and follow the journey.

About the Author: Darvene Adams is EPA Region 2’s Water Monitoring Coordinator. She provides technical assistance to states and the public regarding ambient monitoring activities in marine, estuarine and freshwater systems. Darvene also designs and implements monitoring programs to address relevant resource management questions in the region. She has coordinated monitoring projects in the NY/NJ Harbor, Barnegat Bay, Delaware Bay, and coastal NJ, as well as the region’s involvement with EPA’s National Aquatic Resource Surveys. Darvene received her Master’s Degree in Environmental Science from Rutgers University and is based in the Edison, NJ field office.

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.

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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Road Tripping Through Watersheds

Road trips are a great way to take in scenery like this.

Road trips are a great way to take in scenery like this.

by Bonnie Turner-Lomax

All across the country Americans enjoy taking to the road to popular vacation spots; visiting family or friends; or on day-trips to favorite destinations. My husband and I recently completed what has been an annual ritual for the last four years…driving my daughter from our home in New Jersey to college, just outside Pittsburgh.

The roughly five hour road trip (each way) covers almost the entire east-west length of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, taking us from one end of the state to the other. The more than 300-mile journey is an experience of spectacular and varied scenery from the densely populated and urbanized Philadelphia suburbs to the rolling hills, mountains and valleys of the western end of the state.

More than half of the trip goes through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. A watershed is an area of land that drains into a particular river, lake, bay or other body of water. Encompassing 64,000 square miles, with more than 17 million people living in its midst, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is one of largest watersheds in the country. It is supported by thousands of smaller creeks, streams and rivers. Each of these smaller waterways has its own watershed, sometimes referred to as sub or local watersheds.

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it didn’t just defend the big mighty waters like the Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River, or the Great Lakes, it also protected the smaller streams and wetlands that flow into rivers and lakes. The law recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need healthy headwaters upstream.

Under the Clean Water Act, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule, in March that strengthens protection for clean water that’s vital to our health and our economy. Science shows what kinds of streams and wetlands impact water downstream – so our proposal says that these waters should be protected.

One in 3 Americans—117 million of us—get our drinking water from streams, creeks, and wetlands currently lacking clear protection. Safeguarding smaller streams is also crucial for our economy in areas like tourism, manufacturing, energy, recreation and agriculture.

So even when “just driving through” an area, be mindful that actions in one place can impact waterways hundreds of miles away.

 

About the author: Bonnie Turner-Lomax is the communications coordinator for the Region’s Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division. She enjoys theater, traveling, and taking long road trips 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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Helping Communities and Water Utilities Address Harmful Algal Blooms

By Darren Lytle, Heath Mash, and Nick Dugan

Satellite image of west end of Lake Erie showing algal bloom.

Algal bloom in the west end of Lake Erie, August 3, 2014. Image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory.

Toxins from harmful algal and cyanobacterial blooms are increasingly contaminating many of our nation’s source waters. We saw this just recently in Toledo, Ohio where toxins, most likely microcystins, made their way through the water treatment facility leaving many people without drinking water.

Many of the drinking water treatment facilities in the Great Lakes region were built before World War II and were designed to filter out particles of a certain size. As a result, removing the much smaller cyanobacterial toxins, such as microcystins, at these facilities can be difficult and expensive. Our research is helping communities confront this challenge.

Close up of hand filling a glass with tap water.

EPA researchers are helping to protect drinking water sources.

For example, recognizing the potential health and economic consequences of disruptions to municipal water supplies, we have partnered with Ohio EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct studies aimed at helping water treatment facilities cope with water quality changes in their water sources, and to optimize treatment to reduce risks associated with harmful algal blooms, also known for the acronym “HABs.”

Preliminary surveys of full-scale treatment facilities have shown that the size of the contaminant is key to the problems it can cause. Cyanobacteria cells are large enough for existing treatment facilities to remove by filters and other methods, as long as the cells remain intact. However, toxins leaking out of damaged or dying cyanobacteria cells can be difficult for existing facilities to treat without expensive additional actions or modifications.

To address this, we are looking for ways to improve the performance of existing drinking water treatment facility operations. Our researchers are looking at how to modify certain treatment operations such as where in the process treatment chemicals are applied, the types and concentrations of chemicals used for treatment and the pH levels at which the processes are operated. We are also conducting research on ways to improve sampling and analysis to more effectively monitor and control cyanobacteria and their toxins, including microcystins.

Harmful algal blooms aren’t just a major concern for drinking water. Fish, birds, and other animals can come in contact with or ingest these toxins, and suffer adverse effects. There have even been incidences of pet and livestock fatalities from drinking water contaminated with algal toxins.

Blooms can also affect recreational activities. For example, people swimming, waterskiing, or fishing in contaminated water can be exposed to algal toxins.

Some of our colleagues are working to better define the environmental factors controlling the development, persistence, and toxin production related to harmful algal blooms. Collaborative research efforts are focusing on controlling nutrient runoff, remote sensing and monitoring of such blooms, as well as developing early warning systems that would alert recreationists and drinking water treatment plant operators alike to their presence and the potential of toxin formation, to help eliminate exposure risk. Other researchers are exploring the human health effects related to microcystin exposures, with an eye toward developing a health advisory in the near future.

Our goal is to develop tools and methods that communities can use to manage potential impacts of harmful algal blooms. We want to ensure our water is clean for generations to come and protect the environment and the health of people, pets, and livestock across the country.

Learn more about EPA’s research on Harmful Algal Blooms and Cyanobacteria.

For more information on harmful algal blooms and our research, please share your questions in the Comment section below, or contact us directly at sswr@epa.gov.

About the Authors

Darren Lytle is an environmental engineer who focuses his research on drinking water contaminants and treatment technologies. He investigates corrosion control and water quality; lead and copper corrosion control; and filtration with an emphasis on removal of microbial pathogens.

Heath Mash is a chemist who studies the efficacy of hormone-like contaminant removal during water treatment, the occurrence and treatability of harmful algal bloom toxins, and identification of disinfection byproducts from hormones and algal bloom toxins material during treatment.

Nick Dugan is an environmental engineer currently focused on bench-scale trials evaluating the impact of common drinking water treatment oxidants on intact, toxin-producing cyanobacterial cells over a range of water quality conditions.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Recreating Pennsylvania’s Past Along the Lehigh River

Whether you prefer biking or kayaking, there are lots of great places for recreation on mid-Atlantic waterways.

Whether you prefer biking or kayaking, there are lots of great places for recreation on mid-Atlantic waterways.

by Virginia Thompson

On a beautiful mid-July day, my husband and I biked the 25-mile Lehigh Gorge Trail along the Lehigh River in the Lehigh Gorge State Park. Donning our helmets and supplied with, food and drinking water, we started at White Haven and traveled downstream through the Pocono Mountains to Jim Thorpe, PA – following the same ground as the “Iron Horse” that pulled logs and coal for fueling America’s industrial growth.

Along the way, we saw remnants of the canals and locks dating back to the nineteenth century that helped move goods to large urban areas, such as Philadelphia. While the area was mostly known for lumbering and coal, it was also widely recognized for its scenic beauty. Wildlife was so abundant in this area that John Audubon visited Jim Thorpe in 1829 to sketch.

Biking along, I imagined what scenery folks riding the rails might have seen in those days. Just then, I saw several railroad tracks tucked between a wall of rock of Mount Pisgah and the river. Unbeknown to me, one of the tracks was still active and I was startled by a train coming around the bend, demonstrating the power of “rails with trails.”

Though over-logging and catastrophic fires have reduced many of the communities that relied on lumber and shipping to distant memories, the beauty, history and recreational opportunities offered by some of these towns have granted them a kind of twenty-first century rebirth.

For example, the economy of Jim Thorpe, formerly Mauch Chunk (“sleeping bear” to the Leni Lenape Indians, who resided there), is now based largely on its water-oriented recreational resources. In addition to bicycling like we did, white-water rafting down the Lehigh River is also a popular option.

But, while we’ve seen significant improvement in the quality of our rivers and streams in the four-plus decades since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, many of our waterways remain impaired by pollution. Whether you are white-water rafting, kayaking, or enjoying our rivers and streams in other ways, there are resources to help you find out about water quality in the area you plan to visit.

You can check the lists of impaired waters prepared by your state, or put technology to use by downloading apps that tell you what, if any impairments, impact a particular body of water.

Do you check on water quality before you head out for water-related recreation? Let us know what tools you find most useful!

 

About the author: Virginia Thompson hails from northeastern Pennsylvania and is the EPA Region 3 Coordinator for the Exchange Network, a partnership of federal and state governments providing improved access to environmental data to make better and more timely decisions.

 

 

 

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 Revolutionary Resolution in Philadelphia

by Randy Pomponio

Fairmount Water Works   Randy Pomponio with representatives from: Philadelphia City Council, Clean Water Action, Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership, Sustainable Business Network

EPA’s Randy Pomponio with representatives from: Philadelphia City Council, Clean Water Action, Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership, Sustainable Business Network

One does not have to look far to find history in the City of Philadelphia. Whether it’s the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross House, or America’s first zoo, Philadelphia has played a pivotal role throughout our nation’s history.

Earlier this year, Philadelphia again made history when its City Council unanimously passed a resolution, sponsored by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, supporting EPA’s and the Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed Waters of the U.S. rule clarifying streams and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act. This environmentally historic event gives Philadelphia the distinction of being the first U.S. city to pass such a resolution in support of clean water.

On August 6, I was privileged to be part of an event recognizing this important milestone at Philadelphia’s historic Fairmount Water Works. As I shared the stage with members of Philadelphia City Council; Clean Water Action; the Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership; and the Philadelphia Sustainable Business Network, I was reminded of the type of diverse partnership that called for additional clarity in defining protected waters.

While the Clean Water Act has protected our right to safe and pristine waters for more than 40 years, determining protections under the Act for streams and wetlands became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. Many different entities representing local governments, industry, and environmental groups asked EPA for clarification of what is a “water of the United States.” The proposed rule responds to the request and is designed to clear the confusion and provide a more definitive explanation.

This is critical because the health of our larger water bodies – our rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the network of streams and wetlands where they begin. These streams and wetlands benefit all of us by trapping floodwaters, removing pollution, recharging groundwater supplies and providing habitat for fish and wildlife. They’re also a source for outdoor recreation activities, providing essential economic benefits. One in three Americans and more than 1.5 million Philadelphians get at least some of their drinking water directly or indirectly from seasonal, headwaters, or rain dependent streams.

The City of Philadelphia and its partners made history in promoting clean water. Your input can help ensure that future generations enjoy a history of clean and healthy waters. EPA is accepting public comments through October 20, 2014.

 

About the Author: Randy Pomponio is the Director of the EPA Region 3 Environmental Assessment & Innovation Division. He enjoys learning about our fascinating ecosystems and experiencing them through hiking, fishing, scuba diving, and best of all, sharing them with his children and grandchildren.

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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EPA: Protecting Water: A Precious, Limited Resource

Summer is when many families head to our oceans, lakes, and streams to fish, swim, and enjoy our nation’s waters—bringing water quality and safety to the top of our minds. EPA has a critical mission to make sure our nation’s water resources are safe for drinking, for recreation, and for aquatic life.

Earlier this summer, I asked EPA employees to share the innovative work they’re doing to protect our nation’s water resources. I’d like to share some of their great stories with you.
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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Protecting Americans’ Health at the Beach

You may have read my post on July 3 about EPA’s work to protect swimmers at America’s beaches. Protecting public health is a top priority for EPA, and I want to let you know about an updated guidance document we recently published to support this priority. We developed the National Beach Guidance and Required Performance Criteria for Grants, 2014 Edition to help state, territorial and tribal governments do a better job at keeping beaches safe for swimming. We worked with these partners to make sure that the guidance included workable requirements while also better protecting the health of beachgoers.

Putting in Place Safer Standards for Recreational Waters

There are 38 states, territories, and tribes on our coasts or around the Great Lakes that are eligible for federal grants under the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act). Since 2001, EPA has made available nearly $130 million to help those governments monitor recreational waters and notify the public of beach advisories or closures. In order to receive the grants, eligible governments must meet the performance criteria we establish.
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Monitoring Harmful Algal Blooms? There’s an App for That!

By Annie Zwerneman

Algal bloom covers a lake.

Algal bloom covers a lake.

I was recently on my favorite hiking trail, which passes by a beautiful lake. But this time hiking past it, I noticed a strange, dark scum creeping along the shoreline of the water. I learned later that this scum was actually an algal bloom: a population of algae increasing quickly over a short period of time.

Some algal blooms are merely an eyesore, but others fall into a more serious category called “harmful algal blooms” (HABs): algae and cyanobacteria (formerly known as blue-green algae) that remove oxygen from the water, crowding their way along the surface and producing toxins that are harmful to animals. The toxins that HABs produce can affect peoples’ health, too.

EPA has been working to monitor HABs, including taking water samples to see where and how algal blooms may affect you. Unfortunately, taking such water samples is time-intensive, so EPA has been working alongside scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to find new ways to monitor the quality of inland water bodies, such as lakes and reservoirs. EPA hopes to monitor estuaries and coastal waters in the future as well.

A new Android app is being developed that displays imagery of cyanobacterial cell counts in freshwater systems, which can indicate the presence of HABs. Expected to be in beta testing this fall, the app will provide information necessary for locating and monitoring HABs. It’s primarily aimed toward stakeholders like health departments and municipalities (such as water treatment plants).

The app will display data from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite. In the near future, EPA researchers hope to incorporate the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-3 and potentially the Landsat-8 satellite as well. They will work with their NOAA, USGS, and NASA partners to pull all these capabilities together once the app is ready for public use.

The way the app will work is a bit like the weather station. At the beginning of each week, the cell count will be updated based on the satellite information gathered the previous week. There may even be a prediction of the cell count for the upcoming week available. For example, you can get a cell count in Lake Erie for the current week, and then get a prediction of what the cell count may be next week.

Thanks to the collaborative effort of multiple federal agencies, those looking for information about freshwater quality and HABs won’t have to look far: there will be an app for that!

About the Author: Annie Zwerneman is a 2014 summer intern working for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Our Friends, the Freshwater Mussels

Freshwater mussels found the Brandywine River

Freshwater mussels found in the Brandywine River

by Andrea Bennett

No, we can’t eat them, but they are kind of cute – as far as mussels go. And these little bivalves do something that we could only do if we spent millions of dollars constructing a filtration plant: they filter out pollution from our drinking water sources. In fact, one adult mussel can filter up to 15 gallons of water per day; a 6-mile stretch of mussel beds can filter out over 25 tons of particulates per year!

Mussels are sometimes referred to as “biosentinels” – a living indicator of the presence of chemical contaminants or microbial pathogens. Because the presence of freshwater mussels means that a watershed is healthy, they provide a low-cost way to monitor water quality.

I was lucky enough to go on a mussel monitoring outreach event in the Brandywine River with The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary. We visited a land-locked pond near the Brandywine, where we found adult eastern floater mussels, which can live to over 70 years old! We also found younger mussels – about 8 years old – but no “babies.” We then went to the Brandywine River, where we found eastern elliptio, but unfortunately, no young mussels. At both places, we found corroded and disintegrating shells.

Back in the early 1900s, there were about 14 species of native freshwater mussels in the Delaware River Basin. Now, it’s difficult to find anything but eastern elliptio in the Delaware watershed. Most importantly, you can’t find juveniles. Mussels reproduce by releasing larvae, called glochidia, which attach to the gills or fins of fish (the fish don’t know they are there). In about 3 weeks, the glochidia fall off the fish to grow into juvenile mussels. Research shows that mussels are still releasing the glochidia, but the juveniles are not surviving.

Scientists from the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, with support from EPA and other agencies, are looking into what’s making it difficult for freshwater mussels to reproduce and survive. In 2013, EPA published new recommendations for how much ammonia can be in surface water. These recommendations will help states work with dischargers and sources of non-point source pollution to better protect aquatic life, especially freshwater mussels.

You can get involved too! The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary has freshwater mussel volunteer monitoring activities. If you’re in southwestern Virginia, you might be interested in projects in the Clinch River, which has more freshwater mussel species than any other river in North America.

Protecting these small, barely noticeable aquatic animals – so they can live, reproduce, and filter the water – also protects us, by improving the quality of our waterways.

 

About the author: Andrea Bennett is a biologist with EPA. Andrea enjoys birding, kayaking and playing the mandolin and she is a member of her local watershed protection 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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