water

From My Lake to All Lakes: EPA’s National Lake Assessment

By Sarah Lehmann

As I do every year, this summer I spent my vacation on my favorite lake – Rainy Lake.  Rainy is a 228,000-acre lake harboring more than 2,200 islands; it straddles the U.S./Canada border between Minnesota and Ontario.  For me, it’s a place for family and friends to get together and fish, swim, watch wildlife, pick wild blueberries and generally relax without the buzz of cell phones, email, or internet.

This year we had an especially large gathering of family and friends.  We all enjoyed fishing for walleye, northern pike and small mouth bass — and then eating our fresh catch within hours; jumping off “High Rock” into the lake below; seeing bald eagles fly overhead; and hearing the haunting sounds of loons call in the evening.

Unfortunately, according to EPA’s recently published National Lakes Assessment, four out of ten lakes in the U.S. suffer from nutrient pollution.  Excess levels of the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen from sources such as fertilizer, stormwater runoff, wastewater and even airborne industrial discharges can cause drops in dissolved oxygen and harmful algal blooms. These conditions pose a threat to fish and wildlife, as well as human health. The assessment also finds an association between excess nutrient levels and degraded communities of biological organisms such as the small aquatic insects that are an important part of the lake food chain.

Here at EPA, we are working with our federal, state and local partners to reduce nutrient pollution through a mix of regulatory and voluntary programs.  Just a few of these actions include working with states to identify waters impacted by nutrient pollution and develop plans to restore waters by limiting nutrient inputs; supporting efforts by landowners to adopt stream and shoreline buffers that slow erosion and protect waters from nutrient overload; and providing funding for the construction and upgrading of municipal wastewater facilities.

My grandparents purchased this rustic Rainy Lake getaway for my family more than 40 years ago.  I know that our ability to enjoy this amazing gift – and to pass it down in the same condition to future generations – depends on maintaining the lake’s clean water and healthy, natural shorelines.  The National Lakes Assessment provides information we can use to protect and restore all the Rainy Lakes around the country that are so precious to us all.  To learn more, please visit the National Lakes Assessment website including our innovative interactive dashboard to delve into additional findings and learn more about your conditions in your region.

About the author:  Sarah Lehmann works in the USEPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds and is the team leader for the National Aquatic Resource Surveys (NARS).  The recently released National Lakes Assessment  is the latest in the NARS series. 

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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Water Challenges Are Actually Opportunities

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

Our nation needs to talk more about the future of water, which I believe is one of the top public health and economic challenges now facing our country. This is a moment of opportunity – to drive smart, equitable, resilient investments to modernize our aging water infrastructure; to invent and build the water technologies of the future; and to protect our precious water resources. To seize this opportunity, we need urgent and sustained action at all levels of government and from all sectors of the economy.

It is time to move away from the narrow 20th century view of water: as a place to dump waste; as something to just treat and send downstream in pipes; as only an expense for cities and a planning burden for communities.

We need to accelerate the move to a 21st century view – where we see water as a finite and valuable asset, as a major economic driver, as essential to urban revitalization, as a centerpiece for innovative technology, and as a key focus of our efforts to build resilience.

This shift presents tremendous opportunities – to revitalize communities, to grow businesses and jobs, to improve public health. But to achieve it, we must make water a top national priority – and we need to be bold and revolutionary.

We need to drive innovation across all dimensions of the water sector: in technology, finance, management, and regulation.

We all see how science, technology, and innovation are opening new frontiers, fueling the economy, and changing our world. We must incubate this change in the water sector as well because both the challenges and the opportunities are vast.

For example, consider that the nation’s wastewater facilities discharge approximately 9.5 trillion gallons of wastewater per year. Utilities are increasingly turning to technologies and approaches that foster greater reuse of water and recovery of resources that were previously discarded as waste.

Look at Orange County, California, where they are generating over 100 million gallons per day of recycled water. Instead of just discharging that water into the Pacific Ocean, that ultrapure water is used to replenish groundwater in Anaheim, injected in wells in Fountain Valley to ward off saltwater intrusion, and as an indirect source of tap water to 2.5 million people in the county.

Another example is the opportunities for energy efficiency and renewable generation, key areas for our planet’s long-term sustainability. The water facilities nationwide account for as much as 4 percent of national electricity consumption, costing about $4 billion a year. Now we see utilities producing energy instead – while slashing costs and carbon emissions at the same time.

Look at Gresham, Oregon, where the wastewater plant has become a net zero facility – using biogas generators and solar panels to produce more energy than it needs. Not only is that saving city taxpayers half a million dollars per year, but last year the city also earned $250,000 from fees local restaurants are paying to drop off fats, oils and grease.

There are similar opportunities to use technology for improving water monitoring, for constructing green infrastructure, for building resilience to climate change, for treating drinking water, and for recovering nutrients before they enter waterways.

These opportunities to harness innovative technology aren’t just good for public health and the environment – they can be enormous economic drivers.

In 2015, the global market for environmental technologies goods and services was more than $1 trillion. The United States environmental technologies industry exported $51.2 billion in goods and services. This same industry supports an estimated 1.6 million jobs here in the U.S.

So the soundbite that protecting the environment is bad for the economy is just patently false. It’s actually the opposite.

As our nation heads into a time of transition, we need to remember that water is a nonpartisan issue. We all depend on clean and reliable water – our families, our communities, our businesses, our society.

So, it should come as no surprise that in a Gallup poll last spring, people were asked about their environmental concerns – pollution of drinking water and pollution of rivers and lakes were the top two concerns… people care about water.

To confront the challenges we face and seize this moment of opportunity, we have to work together – all levels of government, all sectors of the economy, every community. Right now, water is an all-hands-on-deck issue.

P.S.: I’m confident that our country can succeed. Look how far we come. EPA has released an interactive storymap that highlights some of the most significant progress made since 2009. I encourage you to explore the storymap to see where EPA worked near you and to read about some of the biggest steps taken toward clean and reliable water for the American people.

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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EPA is Ready to Launch New Water Finance Program

By Joel Beauvais

There’s a lot of discussion right now about the need to reinvest in America’s infrastructure, and there’s no question that our aging water infrastructure needs to be at the top of the list. EPA’s surveys of communities across the country show that the U.S. needs about $660 billion in investments for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure over the next 20 years.  This infrastructure is critical to the protection of public health and the environment, and to the functioning of every aspect of our national economy.  As a country, we need to invest more in modernizing this infrastructure, we need to make our dollars work smarter and harder, and we need to do it in a way that supports all communities across the country.

Many people don’t know that EPA plays a central role in supporting water infrastructure development in large and small communities nationwide.  We administer the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs which, life-to-date, have supported over$151 billion in low-interest loans and other critical support for water infrastructure. FY 2016 alone accounted for $9.5 billion of such support. We also provide millions of dollars each year in training, technical assistance and direct support for small communities and communities in need.  In 2015, we set up a Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Finance Center, that serves as a “think-and-do” tank to spur innovation in water infrastructure finance and support communities in need.

Now, we’re getting ready to implement an innovative new program that could provide billions of additional dollars to support water infrastructure investment across the country.  The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) of 2014 created a new federal loan and guarantee program at EPA to accelerate investment in our nation’s water infrastructure. It was designed after the proven and highly successful TIFIA infrastructure loan program at the US Department of Transportation. WIFIA authorizes EPA to provide long-term, low-cost rate loans, at U.S. Treasury rates, for up to 49 percent of eligible project costs for projects that will cost at least $20 million for large communities and $5 million for small communities (population of 25,000 or less).  WIFIA is structured to work hand-in-hand with the State Revolving Funds – giving states and prospective borrowers the opportunity to decide which program is best to support a given project, or whether both together should do so.  The President’s FY17 Budget Proposal called for a $20 million investment in this program, which – because of the innovative way in which it’s structured – would be expected to support nearly $1 billion in loans for new water projects.

Over the past two years, EPA has been working hard to lay the foundations for this new program, so that we’re ready to implement it when Congress appropriates funding. We’ve made significant progress.  We’ve brought on new staff with the expertise and background to run the program effectively. This week we’re taking another big step, by issuing two rules to provide the administrative structure for the program.  The WIFIA Implementation Rule outlines the WIFIA program’s administrative framework, including the eligibility requirements, application process, project priorities and federal requirements for borrowers. It also explains the criteria EPA will use to select among project applicants, as well as EPA’s key priorities in this program, including adaptation to extreme weather and climate change, enhanced energy efficiency, green infrastructure, and repair rehabilitation, and replacement of aging infrastructure and conveyance systems.

The second rule we’re announcing today proposes fees to reimburse the agency for the cost of retaining financial, engineering and legal expertise needed to administer the program and underwrite loans effectively.  Congress provided for these fees when it enacted WIFIA, and this rule will ensure the program can be run sustainably. Next, we’ll publish a “Borrower’s Handbook” to help prospective borrowers determine whether WIFIA loans are the right choice for their projects and better understand the application process and program requirements.

WIFIA has the potential to substantially expand available federal funding for water infrastructure, and we at EPA are excited about this new opportunity.  This is about supporting our communities and the safe drinking water and clean water services upon which our public health and economic vitality depends.  We’re ready to get this program off the ground and begin providing low-cost loans for regionally and nationally significant projects.

For more information about the WIFIA program, visit www.epa.gov/wifia or contact WIFIA@EPA.GOV.

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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Working Together to Test Our Resiliency and Protect Our Critical Infrastructure

By Nitin Natarajan

Recently, I attended a full scale exercise hosted by Southern California Edison (SCE) to test their emergency preparedness and resilience in a number of scenarios. As part of this exercise, federal, state, local and industry partners gathered to discuss the potential risks to critical infrastructure due to climate change, such as:

  • increased temperatures,
  • sea level rise,
  • decreased permafrost,
  • increased heavy precipitation events, and the
  • increased frequency of wildfires

We also discussed steps that the energy sector has and will be undertaking to address those risks. Without proper protections and effective restoration, the presence of uncontrolled hazardous substances in surface water, groundwater, air, soil and sediment can cause human health concerns, threaten healthy ecosystems, and inhibit economic opportunities on and adjacent to contaminated properties.

At EPA, we strive to protect the environment from contamination through sustainable materials management and the proper management of waste and petroleum products. We work with our partners to prepare for and respond to environmental emergencies should they occur.  We also work collaboratively with states, tribes, and local governments to clean up communities and create a safer environment for all Americans.

However, climate change is posing new challenges to OLEM’s ability to fulfill its mission to protect human health and the environment. This is why we need to show leadership and take actions to make our programs more resilient now and in the future. We have developed climate change adaptation plans that describe what we’re doing and what we plan to do to address these challenges. We have also developed a climate change training program to make certain that our staff and other stakeholders are aware of the ways that climate change poses challenges to our ability to fulfill our mission.

For example, our Brownfields program has developed checklists to support community efforts to consider climate as part of their cleanup and area-wide planning activities.  And our Superfund program has developed fact sheets on adapting remediation activities to the impacts from climate change.

Additionally, our Office of Land and Emergency Management is working on:

  • incorporating climate change into future flood risks for contaminated sites,
  • linking renewable energy installations sited on contaminated lands with critical infrastructure, and
  • providing guidance on considering the effects of climate change in the land revitalization process.

As we look at investing in the rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure, we need to begin looking at smarter investments that take climate change into account and how we can build to more resilient standards.

I’d like to thank those who set up and participated in the SCE exercise. The exercise and the roundtable discussion among federal, state, local and private sector officials showed me how important these steps are to continue to protect our nation’s lands and people in a collaborative manner and how these steps help protect the nation’s critical infrastructure. While many of these changes are half a century away, improving our nation’s resilience will not occur in months or years. Some efforts, including further enhancements to the electrical grid, will take decades. There is hard work to be done now to help ensure the future protection of human health and the environment.

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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Remembering an Environmental and Public Health Pioneer

By A. Stanley Meiburg

I remember meeting Leon Billings only once—at National Airport in 1984. I was traveling as staff to then-Deputy Administrator Al Alm, when he walked over to a distinguished-looking gentleman and began an animated conversation. I don’t remember the subject of their conversation, but Al told me later who he was and described the tremendous influence Mr. Billings had on the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and other environmental statutes.

Recently, Mr. Billings passed away at age 78. Throughout his life, his trailblazing status was never lost on him.

“We certainly were entrepreneurs,” he said. “And maybe to a degree revolutionaries — because, to use a cliché, we went someplace that Congress has never gone before.”

As Mr. Billings explained in an article a couple of years ago, Congress had debated various versions of legislation on pollution control beginning in the late 1940’s, but provided very limited authority to the federal government. But Mr. Billings supported the intention of the late Senator Edmund Muskie and others to “create a legally defensible structure to assure that public health-based air quality would be achieved as swiftly as possible.” That, as Mr. Billings explained it, would require federal action. Soon, the 1970 Clean Air Act would make history by establishing the protection of public health as the primary basis for America’s air pollution control efforts.

Three examples of this, from the 1970 Clean Air Act, were the creation of national health-based air quality standards, requirements for national performance standards for new stationary sources, and provisions for technology-forcing emissions reductions from motor vehicles. In the course of these accomplishments, Mr. Billings acquired a reputation as “the man who brokered the behind-the-scenes deal making that enabled Muskie to push through his signature achievement.”

The effectiveness of Mr. Billings as staff director for Senator Muskie and advisor to many other members of Congress is well documented in the historical record, and left an enduring legacy in the nation’s principal environmental laws. Even after leaving the Senate staff, Mr. Billings continued to comment on proposals he thought would weaken the health-based focus of the act. For example, during the debate over the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, there was a proposal to set a cost-effectiveness threshold of $5,000 per ton of pollution reduced as a ceiling on what EPA could require. In criticizing the proposal, Mr. Billings said he thought this meant that we were now placing a price on health—clean air, at a cost of $2.50 a pound. The proposal was not enacted.

Some 40 plus years later, we owe a great debt to Mr. Billings and other 1970’s pioneers who crafted the core environmental statutes that continue to guide our work. Their willingness to move forward with new approaches was a remarkable gift. Measured by their results in cleaning up our air and water, our laws have stood the test of time and controversy amazingly well.

Pioneers like Mr. Billings could not have anticipated all the challenges that have emerged since the early 1970’s. The enduring usefulness of our environmental laws only adds to the luster of the legacy he left to us. Mr. Billings’ life work is being honorably carried on by his family—such as his son Paul, who has worked with the American Lung Association for many years to support clean air protections that prevent asthma, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and other consequences of air pollution. All of us at EPA extend our thoughts—and our gratitude—to Mr. Billings’ family and his many friends.

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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Bronx River Greenway Groundbreaking

By Abu Moulta-Ali

“A Tree Grows, A River Flows”

Descending the stairs at the West Farms Sq/E. Tremont Ave stop on the 2 train, I thought I had gotten off at the wrong stop. I was told this was the closest stop to Starlight Park where a groundbreaking event was being held to celebrate a multi-million dollar project to restore the Bronx River. I asked a school crossing guard for directions to Starlight Park but she looked at me like I was crazy, so I asked her “Do you know how I can get to the Bronx River?” She said, “There’s no river around here, but behind the school there’s a stream.” While she didn’t know it, that stream was really a tributary of the Bronx River.

A tree may grow in Brooklyn, but a river flows in the Bronx. The Bronx River is New York City’s only freshwater river.  The Bronx River, once a community amenity and center for recreation, quickly became an open water sewer for industrial and residential wastes as New York City’s population exploded during the 19th and 20th centuries. But, in 1974, a band of community activists formed Bronx River Restoration and began the arduous process of cleaning up and restoring the river. Once a dumping ground for abandoned cars, the Bronx River now attracts 5,000 recreational paddlers and rowers each year and serves as an outdoor laboratory to educate local students and the public about the river, and train volunteers to monitor the river’s conditions.

On October 6, 2016, with over $40 million in planning and building, and significant coordination of federal, state, and city agencies under the Urban Water Federal Partnership, about 75 community members, advocates and elected officials came out to celebrate the groundbreaking of Phase 2 of the Bronx River Greenway. Phase 2 will provide pedestrian access from Starlight Park to Concrete Plant Park in the South Bronx. A pedestrian bridge will be built over the Amtrak Acela line (at 172nd Street and Bronx Avenue) which will provide access to nine acres of improved parkland, as well as the river itself. This will mark the completion of a one-mile bike and pedestrian link in a trail system that will run the full 23 miles of the river from Westchester County to Hunts Point.

After the groundbreaking while walking back to the train station, I ran into the same crossing guard. She asked if I found the “river” (New Yorkers like me can spot sarcasm a mile away).  When I showed her a video of the groundbreaking event I captured on my cell phone, her mouth fell open. In the video you can see kids from Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School canoeing down the river collecting water samples, hundreds of bunker fish swimming, and joggers running along the newly built Bronx River National Water Trail.

She said she lived only 10 blocks from Starlight Park but had never been there. She thanked me and said she would check it out when she got off work. Now if we can spread the word to the other 400,000 South Bronx residents who live, work, and play within walking distance of the river, the Bronx River could be the 2nd biggest attraction in the Bronx. Sorry…nothing will ever top the House that Ruth Built.

Special thanks to NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver,Congressman Jose Serrano, Lisa Pelstring from the US Department of Interior who leads the Urban Water Federal Partnership, Amtrak, Bronx River Alliance, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice and the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality.

About the author: Abu Moulta-Ali is an Environmental Scientist in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds where he works on wetland regulations. When he’s not at work he can be found mountain biking, snowboarding, and camping with his wife and two daughters.

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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Examining Options to Reduce Lead in Drinking Water

By Joel Beauvais

National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week marks a time when EPA and our federal partners promote education and awareness activities that focus on lead and how to prevent its negative health effects.  This year, we focus on the theme, “Lead-Free Kids for a Healthy Future.”  It’s through our joint efforts that we have been able to make significant strides in reducing exposure to lead over the past several decades.

Data show that from 1976 – 1980 the median blood lead level of a child (1-5 years old) was 15 micrograms per deciliter.  Those levels have been dramatically reduced since then, to 1 microgram per deciliter, based on the most recent data. These major improvements were made over the past several decades by removing lead from toys and lead solder in cans, taking lead out of gasoline, reducing exposure to lead in paint and dust in homes and during renovations, greatly reducing the allowable content of lead in plumbing materials in homes and other buildings, and further reducing lead in drinking water through the federal Lead and Copper Rule. Although we have taken significant steps to protect our children from the detrimental effects of lead poisoning, there’s more to do.

To further reduce exposure to lead from drinking water, EPA recognizes the need to strengthen and modernize the Lead and Copper Rule, which is now 25 years old.  EPA has been working intensely to develop proposed revisions to the LCR, and we expect to propose a rule in 2017. With that in mind, EPA is releasing a White Paper on the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions to ensure that stakeholders are informed of the options that EPA is considering as part of the rulemaking process. This paper provides examples of regulatory options that EPA is evaluating and highlights key challenges, opportunities, and analytical issues presented by these options. EPA expects the paper will help facilitate our ongoing engagement with stakeholders and the public as we work to develop a proposed rule.

Topics addressed in the white paper released today include consideration of lead service line replacement, improving optimal corrosion control treatment requirements, consideration of a health-based benchmark for household-level interventions, the potential role of point-of-use filters, clarifications or strengthening of tap sampling requirements, increased transparency, and enhanced public education requirements. Additional information under consideration includes copper requirements and addressing broader lead issues.

Many of the topics and options were developed based on recommendations from EPA’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council, the Science Advisory Board, the national experience in carrying out the requirements of the existing rule, the experience in Flint, Michigan and other cities nationwide, as well as feedback and input from a broad range of stakeholders, experts and concerned citizens.  EPA will continue to engage actively with stakeholders and we expect that this paper will help to inform that engagement as we work to develop a proposed rule for public comment. We also recognize that there may be other considerations that will need to be addressed as we continue our discussion and receive feedback through the rulemaking process.

EPA understands that there is no single answer or simple solution for reducing lead in drinking water. However, EPA is committed to ensuring that we use best available science, carry out the most robust analyses of regulatory options and are informed by stakeholder input as we update the rule to protect the American public from lead in drinking water.

Revising the Lead and Copper Rule is also part of our broader work to improve the safety and reliability of drinking water in America. Earlier this year we announced the development of a national action plan for drinking water, which will outline strategies for issues such as implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, equity in infrastructure funding, and emerging contaminants. We expect to release this plan in the coming weeks.

To learn more visit: https://www.epa.gov/dwstandardsregulations/lead-and-copper-rule-long-term-revisions

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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Celebrating Progress to Improve Public Health and the Environment along the U.S. – Mexico Border

By Naseera Bland

Part of EPA’s mission is to make sure all communities have the opportunity to restore polluted waters or provide reliable water services. When I joined EPA’s Office of Water as an ORISE Fellow in 2015 I knew I wanted to make providing assistance to underserved communities a key aspect of my work. Lucky for me, I was offered the opportunity to support the office’s Border Water Infrastructure Program, which works with communities along with U.S.-Mexico border.

Many communities in this border-area are known as Colonias, which are small, unincorporated, and semi-rural subdivisions used as housing settlements. Most Colonias are economically distressed and often lack basic infrastructure, including access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. Residents often haul drinking water to their homes and rely on outhouses or inadequate septic systems. This lack of proper water infrastructure poses health risks and can result in the discharge of untreated sewage and pollutants such as ammonia and pathogens into nearby rivers. Since our two countries share the Rio Grande and the Tijuana rivers, it’s important that we work together to ensure the quality of shared waters and the protection of public health.

Since 2006 many Colonias homes in the border region have been connected to reliable sources of potable water and wastewater systems through the combined efforts of individuals, communities, and government agencies, including EPA. So far EPA’s Border Water Infrastructure Program has provided the funding for the planning, design, and construction of first-time drinking water access for approximately 69,365 homes and first-time wastewater treatment services 671,631 homes along the U.S.-Mexico border —significantly improving quality of life and public health and environmental protection.

One Colonia community in particular that I provided program support for is the Las Pampas Colonia of Presidio County in Southwest Texas. Community members and leaders of Presidio County worked with my team at EPA to begin construction of an $875,000 project to address some of their infrastructure needs. The completed project will provide a 300,000 gallon water storage tank, new water service lines, and a system to supply water to homes.

Victor Manuel Juarez, a Las Pampas colonia resident filling up his 500-gallon water tank at water pump station in Presidio County, TX

Victor Manuel Juarez, a Las Pampas colonia resident filling up his 500-gallon water tank at water pump station in Presidio County, TX

The continued effort and collaboration of partners in the border area will help us to improve the quality of life and environmental conditions of families and communities along the border.  I am glad my fellowship at EPA enables me to learn more about this important work.

About the author:  Naseera Bland is an ORISE fellow in EPAs Office of Wastewater Management. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland with studies in Environmental Science and Policy. Prior to her fellowship she was a contractor for EPAs 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, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Modernizing Our Country’s Drinking Water Monitoring Data

By Joel Beauvais

We live in a society that allows us to get information through our phones, TVs, and computers from across the world in a matter of seconds. Although we’ve come a long way in the information age, some of our country’s most important public health information is still collected and shared using antiquated methods like manual data entry and even paper reporting.

That’s why I’m excited to announce of the launch of EPA’s  new Compliance Monitoring Data Portal (CMDP), which allows water laboratories and public drinking water systems to electronically share drinking water data with their states and tribal agencies. The portal will allow us to replace the paper-based system, leading to more timely and higher-quality monitoring data. By reducing the hours previously spent manually entering data, identifying data-entry errors, and issuing data resubmittal requests, states and tribes will now be able to free up more time to focus on preventing and responding  to public health issues in their communities. Once fully implemented by all states nationwide, we expect the new portal could reduce state data entry and data management work by work by hundreds of thousands of hours per year.

CMDP’s launch marks the completion of the first phase of our agency’s multi-year Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) modernization project. We are also making improvements in the development of a system called SDWIS Prime.  Prime will improve state decision making by using the sample data received from CMDP to develop new reports and provide automated notifications.  Prime is currently scheduled to be released in 2018.

Together, CMDP and Prime will help increase the timeliness and accuracy of drinking water data transferred between drinking water systems, primacy agencies, and EPA.  Systems like these can help move our country closer to a future where all Americans will have faster and better access to information about the quality of the water that is piped into their homes.

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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Partnering with States to Cut Nutrient Pollution

By Joel Beauvais

Nutrient pollution remains one of America’s most widespread and costly environmental and public health challenges, threatening the prosperity and quality of life of communities across the nation. Over the last 50 years, the amount of excess nitrogen and phosphorus in our waterways has steadily increased, impacting water quality, feeding harmful algal blooms, and affecting drinking water sources. From the Lake Erie algae blooms to the Gulf of Mexico dead zone, nutrient pollution is impacting every corner of our country and economy.

In 2011, EPA urged a renewed emphasis on partnering with the states and key stakeholders to accelerate the reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution through state nutrient load reduction frameworks that included taking action in priority watersheds while developing long-term measures to require nutrient reductions from both point and non-point sources. Many states and communities have stepped up and taken action, supported with EPA financial and technical assistance. States have worked with partners to reduce excess nutrients and achieve state water quality standards in over 60 waterways, leaving nearly 80,000 acres of lakes and ponds and more than 900 miles of rivers and streams cleaner and healthier. And, in the Chesapeake Bay region, more than 470 wastewater treatment plants have reduced their discharges of nitrogen by 57 percent and phosphorus discharges by 75 percent.

We’ve made good progress but this growing challenge demands all hands on deck nationwide. Recent events such as the algae bloom in the St. Lucie Estuary in Florida and high nitrate levels in drinking water in Ohio and Wisconsin tell us we need to do more and do it now.

That’s why I signed a memorandum that asks states to intensify their efforts on making sustained progress on reducing nutrient pollution. EPA will continue to support states with financial and technical assistance as they work with their local agricultural community, watershed protection groups, water utilities, landowners, and municipalities to develop nutrient reduction strategies tailored to their unique set of challenges and opportunities.  Partnerships with USDA and the private sector – for example the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and more efficient fertilizer use on sensitive lands such as in the Maumee River basin in Ohio – are yielding more rapid nutrient reductions in areas most susceptible to the effects of nutrient pollution. Private sector partnerships that engage the power of the food supply chain, such as the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, hold much promise too.  Innovative permitting solutions are driving improvements.  For example, Boise, Idaho’s wastewater treatment plant permit that allows them to meet their nutrient limits in part by treating and reducing phosphorus in agricultural return flow in the nearby Dixie Drain at less cost to the taxpayers.  These examples and others show us that states, in cooperation with federal agencies and the private sector, can drive nutrient reduction actions.

To help states make further immediate progress, this year EPA will provide an additional $600,000 of support for states and tribal nutrient reduction projects that promise near-term, measurable nutrient load reductions.  This assistance will focus on public health threats from nitrate pollution in drinking water sources and harmful algal blooms in recreational waters and reservoirs.

With continued collaboration and partnership, I am confident we will make greater and quicker progress on achieving significant and measurable near-term reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.  In turn, we will support a more vibrant economy and improve public health for all.

Read more about EPA efforts to reduce nutrient pollution.

 

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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