Conservation in Full Flower: How to Garden with Less Water

By Chrislyn Johnson

I love gardening and the beauty that annual flowers bring to a landscape. I also like to think of myself as being environmentally conscious. However, these two pursuits are not always in harmony when it comes to gardening if I want to conserve water.

Humming Bird and FlowersFlowers in the Heartland take a lot of water, especially annuals (which grow only one season). Once they are established, most annuals need about one inch of water per week, or half a gallon per square foot of garden space. That may not sound like a lot, but it adds up quickly. A typical garden 25 feet long and 4 feet wide along the front of your house will consume at least 25 gallons each week. Over the course of a growing season, that adds up to more than 750 gallons of precious water!

The reason annuals need a lot of water is based on their very nature. They have shallow root systems and spend their time and energy repeatedly blooming all summer. From the annual plants’ point of view, they have one chance to successfully produce viable seeds for the next year, so they don’t waste time in the growing phase. They will instead put their energy into producing big, showy flowers all summer long. Annuals need varying amounts of light and care to produce these beautiful blooms, but most tend to be sensitive to the amount of water they need.

There are four major factors that determine how much to water annuals, according to About.com:

  1. Weather: The heat, wind, rain, and humidity of their location all affect how well your plants will grow without added water. A plant in a hot, windy, and very sunny location will require more water than the same one in a partially shaded spot. The plant in the sunny location may receive rain, but if the soil is hard, it might not soak in. Plants need moisture at least 2-3 inches below the soil’s surface. Watering in the morning or evening provides the most benefit and retention. To keep this moisture from evaporating, many experienced gardeners use mulch, which has the additional advantage of keeping weeds out and making flower beds more attractive. Think about the conditions of where you are putting your plants and what that might mean for their care.
  1. Soil Quality: The type of soil you have – deep and rich loam, sandy, rocky, or clay – will make a difference in the amount of water your plant needs. While sandy soil drains well, it does not hold much water. Soil with a lot of clay can present other problems: it can hold too much water and cause your plants to rot, or it can be so dry that it is impenetrable to rain that just runs off the surface. The solution to most soil problems is adding organic matter such as compost, rotted manure, or aged grass clippings or leaves (leaf mold). Work 2-4 inches of organic matter into the top 8-10 inches of soil. Do this each year, because the organic matter will continue to decompose and is used up by the plants and organisms that live there.
  1. Ground or Container: Where plants are grown makes a difference. Your plants will need lots of water until their root systems are established. Container plants are best used for accents, since they will generally continue to need more water and care than their counterparts in flower beds, but this again depends on the other factors mentioned here.
  1. The Chosen Ones: The plants you choose will go a long way to decreasing the need for extra water usage. Traditional favorites add charm and are more drought-tolerant than many of the newer varieties. The bonus with these tried and true alternatives is that many grow directly from seeds that you can save from one year to another. So not only do you save water, but you also save money!  Below is a list of alternatives to the typical, water-loving garden center choices, many of which also make excellent cut flowers to bring indoors.
Common Name Scientific Name
Ageratum Ageratum houstonianum
Angelonia Angelonia angustifolia
Blanket flower Gaillardia pulchella
Calendula Calendula officianalis
Cockscomb Celosia cristata
Coleus Coleus spp.
Cosmos Cosmos bipinnatus, Cosmos sulphureus
Creeping zinnia Zinnia linearis
Dusty miller Senecio cineraria
Flowering tobacco Nicotiana alata
Foxglove Digitalis pupurea
Gazania Gazania splendens
Geranium Pelargonium x hortorum
Globe amaranth Gomphrena globosa
Madagascar periwinkle Catharanthus roseus
Marigold Tagetes erecta, Tagetes patula
Melampodium Melampodium paludosum
Moss rose Portulaca grandiflora
Ornamental kale Brassica oleracea
Ornamental pepper Capsicum annuum
Pansy Viola x wittrockiana
Petunia Petunia x hybrid
Salvia Salvia slendens, S. facinacea
Snapdragon Antirrhinum spp.
Statice Limonium spp.
Strawflower Helichrysum bracteatum
Sweet alyssum Lobularia maritime
Verbena Verbena spp. and hybrids
Wax begonia Begonia semperflorens-cultorum
Zinnia Zinnia elegans, Z. angustifolia

Does it seem like a big task? You don’t have to give up all of your favorites now. Just try a few of these and see what you think. Lean into the change at a pace that is comfortable for you, and you may find that you appreciate spending less time watering and more time just enjoying your garden.

About the Author: Chrislyn Johnson is a Life Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. She holds degrees in biology and photography from the University of Central Missouri and loves all things nature. She is frustrated by clay soil.

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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Protecting Clean Water

By Robert Goo

Clean water is important to me because understanding how to protect water resources is my job and enjoying water activities is my favorite hobby. As an environmental protection specialist for the EPA, my work centers on how to change the way we design our cities and manage our water resources.  In my personal life, I love being on the water, whether I’m swimming, surfing or paddling my large fleet of canoes, kayaks or paddleboards. I also volunteer for local water conservation organizations such as the Friends of Sligo Creek and Team River Runner which helps active duty and veteran service members heal through water paddle sports.  Since I spend so much time in the water I will be glad when the Clean Water Rule is finalized because it protects the streams and wetlands that flow down into the rivers where I paddle.

All my life I’ve been drawn to water — first as an explorer of streams as a child and then as an adolescent fisherman. As an adult, I spend much of my free time pursuing aquatic sports. Having clean water is very important to me as a diver, kayaker, surfer and paddle boarder since I am frequently immersed or under water. My daughter Kira often paddles and surfs with me and I don’t want her to get sick from sharing these activities with me.

Since I am in or on the river all year round,except when it’s frozen solid, I see how the seasons affect water quality and the flow of the Potomac River as it flows through Washington, D.C.  In the winter, the river is usually very clear and you can see its bottom. During spring and fall the creeks swell and the rains wash construction- and development-related sediment into the river.  As a result the water is often muddy and filled with debris, trash and plastic containers and pieces of polystyrene. When it’s 100 degrees outside, the river level drops and often turns green from algae growth that is stimulated by an excess of nutrients that wash into the river from lawns and farmlands.

I’m constantly reminded of how important clean water is because I’m in the water several times a week.  My passion for water motivates me to promote solutions that can protect and restore water resources while also achieving other societal goals. As I glide down the river or sit on a swell looking at the beach, it’s clear to me that forests and beaches represent natural design principles that can be incorporated into the way we build our cities and transportation systems. I see opportunities on almost every urban surface, whether  it’s a street, roof, lawn or sidewalk to put down  permeable pavement, plant a rain garden, add a green roof or a street tree that can filter pollutants and keep them from polluting the waters I swim and paddle in. I’m thankful for the opportunity to work on our agency solutions that I believe will become standard procedures in the future. The solutions will produce beautiful and multi-functional landscapes and buildings that simultaneously provide for our transportation needs, reduce energy use, increase our resilience to climate change and promote economic development and healthy communities.

About the author:  Robert Goo is an environmental protection specialist in the Office of Water in Washington, D.C. and his focus is promoting water sensitive designs using green infrastructure and low impact development approaches. Before coming to EPA, Robert worked as a programmer analyst at the University of Michigan’s Kresge Hearing Research Institute and at Washington University in Saint Louis, MO for the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. He lives in Takoma Park, Maryland with his daughter Kira who shares his love of snowboarding, mountain biking and surfing. He is also an avid community gardener and bikes to work year round.

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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Rain Barrels of Savings

by Jennie Saxe

As I spent a recent weekend doing springtime yard work, I noticed that the side yard of my house seems to have washed away over the past few years. After a short investigation, I realized that three downspouts on my home pointed at this exact location. I wondered…could I use green infrastructure to help slow the flow of rainwater?

I decided to install a rain barrel to direct some of the rain water to storage instead of letting it flow as run-off across the ground. Reducing the amount of run-off from my roof will keep the soil from washing away. As an added benefit, the stored rain water will be perfect for watering our flowers and vegetable garden.

Full disclosure: DIY is not my strong suit. Even though it’s fairly simple to build your own rain barrel, I purchased mine. All that was left was to follow the directions for connecting it to a downspout.  Here’s the finished product:

A recent, brief rain shower filled about one-third of this rain barrel.

A recent, brief rain shower filled about one-third of this rain barrel.

The rain barrel was installed in a couple of hours, but I did make some rookie mistakes. If you’re thinking about installing your first rain barrel, here are some helpful hints:

  • Location: I knew which downspout to connect to, but I also had to be sure I was able to connect a hose. I also had to consider where excess water would drain once the barrel was filled. Excess water can be directed to overflow, to another rain barrel, or to a rain garden.
  • Safety: A 60-gallon rain barrel will weigh 500 pounds when full, so it’s a good idea to make sure that little ones won’t be tempted to play around it. I used a bed of stones to make sure the base of the rain barrel was sturdy in all weather and able to support the weight of the barrel. To protect against mosquitos using your rain water as a breeding ground, be sure to have screening over all openings.
  • Level: This was the hardest part. Since you won’t want to move the rain barrel once it’s installed, take all the time you need on this step.
  • Have the right tools: If you purchase your rain barrel, follow the instructions. Common tools will include a level, a hacksaw, and a tape measure. Be sure you also have gloves and eye protection – a cut aluminum gutter can be sharp!

Now, if it would just rain! The conditions in my area have just been declared “abnormally dry” (designated “D0” on the U.S. Drought Monitor map). But with my rain barrel installed, I’ll be ready to save the rain when it does arrive.


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 thanks fellow Healthy Waters bloggers Steve Donohue and Ken Hendrickson for their helpful hints on rain barrel installation.



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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Wetlands Wednesday: Share My Surprising Trip Across Iowa

By Cynthia Cassel

The third leg of our journey to the fascinating wetlands of the four Region 7 states has surprises in store, as we continue our May series to celebrate the 25th anniversary of National Wetlands Month. After my trip to Kansas’ wet meadows and farmed wetlands in last week’s blog, we now travel northeast to inviting Iowa.

In search of something to do that was slightly goofy while on a trip to the state, I planned a visit to the Amana Colonies in an effort to recreate Grant Wood’s famous American Gothic painting. We brought our own pitchfork and steel-rimmed glasses, and made complete fools of ourselves. Maybe not such a great idea, after all.

However, the rest of the trip all around Iowa was one of the best road trips we ever took. While admiring more of the beautiful green and gold croplands of the Heartland to be sure, we beheld a wonderful surprise: prairie potholes and fens.

Prairie Potholes and Fens

Washington State has an entire state park created around its potholes, but I never knew they existed in the Midwest until that trip. Seeming otherworldly, potholes look like craters created by shrapnel from a cosmic shotgun. We also marveled at the multitude of fens – rare, groundwater-fed places that feel like walking on a water bed. Think of peat bogs.

Prairie potholes and fens

Prairie potholes and fens

So here’s a tip: Go see the Grant Wood home, but be sure to make time to visit the potholes and fens, and take note of the rare plants and animals support by these wetlands. And then go ahead and visit the rest of the state. There’s much to do and see in the beautiful state of Iowa!

Prairie potholes are wetlands (primarily freshwater marshes) that develop when snowmelt and rain fill the pockmarks left on the landscape by land-scouring glaciers. Groundwater input is also important. Submerged and floating aquatic plants take over the deeper water in the middle of the pothole, while bulrushes and cattails grow closer to shore. Wet, sedgy marshes lie next to the uplands. In addition, many species of migratory waterfowl are dependent on the potholes for breeding and feeding.

Flowering plants in Iowa wetland

Flowering plants in Iowa wetland

Fens are alkaline (slightly acidic) wetlands less than 10 acres in size that are groundwater-fed and peat-forming. Their water supply is by surface water runoff and/or seepage from mineral soils. Fens are important sources of groundwater discharge and indicators of shallow aquifers. Most are found along stream terraces or at the base of slopes. Fens in headwater streams are difficult, if not impossible, to replace due to their unique hydrology. They’re often called “quakers” because the ground beneath them is saturated and spongy. A good jump on a fen will cause the ground to ripple for many feet.

These Iowa wetlands are important for environmental sustainability. Prairie potholes absorb surges of rain, snowmelt and floodwaters, thereby reducing the risk and severity of downstream flooding.


Cynthia Cassel has worked as a Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) Program grantee with EPA Region 7’s Wetlands and Streams Protection Team for 5½ years. She received her Bachelor of Science from Park University. Cynthia lives in Overland Park, Kan.

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 Importance of Education and Outreach

Every day at EPA we are focused on two things: protecting public health and improving the environment for all Americans. As part of that effort we have the responsibility to explain this work to every American and make clear why it is relevant to their lives and the lives of their families.

Like almost every government, business or non-profit organization these days, we use social media like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, to stay connected and to inform people across the country about our work.

It lets us communicate directly with the public and to get their feedback. We also use these platforms to correct the record and clarify misinformation that is often injected in the discussion about important policies, rules and regulations.

One recent example has been around the development of our Clean Water Rule. The issue itself is a complicated one, admittedly. It involves science, complicated decisions from the Supreme Court, and very strong opinions on all sides. To ensure Americans had the facts directly from us about the proposed rule, the value of protecting streams and wetlands, and the need for clearly defined protections under the Clean Water Act, we used social media.

Our goal is to inform and educate. We encourage folks from all perspectives to participate so we can understand more, learn more and finalize a stronger rule. Every stakeholder — whether they supported or opposed the rule — were provided the same link to our Clean Water Rule webpage in education and outreach materials, emails, and presentations, and were told the deadline for submitting public comments and how to do so.

A public outreach effort to increase awareness and support of EPA’s proposed Clean Water Rule is well within the appropriate bounds of the agency’s mission to educate and engage Americans. As noted in a recent Comptroller General opinion, “agency officials have broad authority to educate the public on their policies and views, and this includes the authority to be persuasive in their materials.”

Because that is a fundamental step in developing smart, pragmatic regulations that allow us to protect public health and the environment while at the same time allowing the economy to continue to grow.

After releasing the proposed Clean Water Rule in March 2014, EPA conducted an unprecedented outreach effort that included holding more than 400 meetings across the country and visiting farms in nine states. The input helped us understand the genuine concerns and interests of a wide range of stakeholders and think through options to address them. As outlined in a recent blog by Administrator McCarthy, the key changes made to the proposed rule were actually driven in large part by outreach to agriculture, local government, states, and utilities.

About the author: Liz Purchia is the Deputy Associate Administrator for EPA’s Office of Public Affairs.

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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Invasive Species Alert: Zebras on the Loose!

By Angela Sena

I don’t mean the four-legged variety, but zebra mussels! They are an invasive mollusk species (Dreissena polymorpha) that have been found in many lakes and rivers across the Heartland. Zebra mussels have been discovered in scattered locations along the Missouri River, Lake Lotawana, Smithville Lake, Lake of the Ozarks in the Osage River, Bull Shoals Lake, and Lake Taneycomo in the White River, just to name a few. For those who are water recreationists – boaters, anglers, water skiers, sailors or canoeists – we all need to keep our eyes open for this species and help prevent their spread since there is no known way to stop them once they get a foothold.

Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha)

Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha)

Zebra mussels are a group of freshwater mussels with triangular shells and dark bands with prominent ridges. A concavity (or hollow) about midway allows the animal to secrete byssal threads, which allow it to attach to almost any solid surface. They often clump together, and adults are generally ¼ to 1 inch in length. Zebra mussels are native to the Caspian Sea region of Asia, and were accidentally introduced to North America from ballast water of an international ship. They have tremendous reproductive capabilities: a female zebra mussel can produce more than a million eggs during spawning season. The eggs hatch into a larval form (veligers), which are not visible to the human eye, making their detection and eradication difficult. At three weeks, the sand grain-sized larvae start to settle and attach, and feel like sandpaper on solid surfaces.

This invasive species can hitchhike by attaching to boat, canoe and watercraft hulls, lower units and propellers, axles, engine drive units, trolling motors, hitches, and anchor chains. They can also survive in boat bilge water, livewells, bait buckets, and engine cooling water systems. Aside from being an inconvenience for your water craft equipment, they negatively impact the economy by clogging power plant intakes and industrial and public drinking water intakes, and damaging boat hulls and motors. Zebra mussels also harm native ecosystems, and decimate native freshwater mussels and other aquatic animals.

If you enjoy spending your summers on a lake, just like my family, then we all need to do our part. Water recreationalists can help by preventing the spread of the species with a few simple steps:

  • Clean – Remove all plants, animals and mud, and thoroughly wash all equipment with hot water spray (104 degrees), especially in small crevices or hidden areas. Most car washes will suffice. If you can’t wash at that temperature, a 10-percent solution of bleach will do.
  • Drain – Eliminate all water before leaving the lake, including livewells and transom
  • Dry – Allow sufficient time for drying between water events – at least 48 hours.
  • Dispose – Dispose of unused bait in a trash receptacle.
  • Report – Report any sitings of these species. The U.S. Geological Survey maintains a Nonindigenous Aquatic Species (NAS) website for zebra mussels that shows an up-to-date map of recorded occurrences, and includes a “Report a Sighting” link that allows you to submit a report if you find them.

USGS Where Are the Mussels

However, if you do spot a mussel when you’re out enjoying a lake or stream, don’t worry. Not all mussels are unwelcome. In fact, most mussels here in the Heartland are a good thing. Check out these previous Big Blue Thread blogs by EPA’s Craig Thompson: Mussels in the Blue, Mussels in the Blue II: Relative Abundance of Species in the Blue, and Mussels in the Blue III: Water Quality and Threats.


Angela Sena serves as an Environmental Protection Specialist with the Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division at EPA Region 7. She has a degree in environmental science and management, and is a native New Mexican and avid outdoorswoman.

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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Environmental Education is for Everyone….

By Wendy Dew

As the Outreach and Education Coordinator for Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, North Dakota, and Sound Dakota, I’ve attended and hosted many environmental education events for numerous students. I love spending time with the kids and teachers while they learn about the environment. I recently encountered a program unlike others I’ve seen before. The students of this amazing program are senior citizens who are interested in learning more about the environment and the local park they love.

The Senior Naturalist Program at Bear Creek Lake Park in Morrison, Colorado has started reaching out to its senior community to continue learning about the world around them. I recently attended one of these environmental education sessions and was enthralled with the enthusiasm and interest these students of the environment had.

Seniors learned all about the watershed and the water quality of the park they enjoy so much. A guest speaker from the local water board demonstrated how water testing equipment is used and explained how the local tributaries feed the parks lakes and streams. He also explained what they can do at home to help conserve and protect water resources such as:

  • Turn the water off when you brush your teeth or wash your dishes
  • Water the yard only when it needs it
  • Wash your car at a green car wash
  • Use plants that are native to the area for landscaping
  • Use only the water that you need

Seniors got to observe fish, snails, and insects that are typically found year round in the local lakes, wetlands and streams. They also played a game where participants had to guess what the object they were holding had to do with wetlands. After more fun classroom activities, the group went out for a hike to examine the watershed first hand.

I was very inspired by the dedication these folks had to learning, the park and the environment. It provides for a great learning environment, creates a fun social interaction and they even get in exercise with a hike. I have seen many “young” students learn about the environment, but these students were truly young at heart!

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for EPA’s Region 8 Office (Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, North Dakota, and Sound Dakota).

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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Acid rain, toxic leaded gas, and widespread air pollution? Not anymore. Thanks to EPA.

Acid rain. Dangerous DDT. Toxic leaded gas fumes. Rampant air pollution. These environmental challenges once seemed impossible to meet, and they put our nation’s air, water, and land at risk—not to mention our families’ health. The dangers they posed were real, but you probably haven’t heard about them in a while. There’s a good reason for that.

We put smart policies in place to fix them.

So this Earth Day, here’s a reminder of a few of the environmental challenges our nation has conquered with EPA leading the way, and where we’re headed next.

Acid Rain

Caused by air pollution mixing with water vapor in the atmosphere, acid rain was once poisoning our rivers and lakes, killing fish, forests, and wildlife, and even eroding our buildings.

The 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act gave EPA the authority to regulate sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the pollutants causing acid rain, from power plants. The EPA developed the first market-based cap-and-trade pollution reduction program, and guess what—it worked.

Despite the doomsday warnings from some in the power industry that the regulations would cause electricity prices to spike and lead to blackouts, over the last 25 years, acid rain levels are down 60%—while electricity prices have stayed stable, and the lights have stayed on. Thanks to hard work by EPA, states, and industry, our nation has put policies in place to solve the problem over the long haul.

Leaded Gasoline

For decades, leaded gasoline threatened the air our kids breathed. Lead from polluted air was absorbed into their bloodstreams, endangering their brain development and risking consequences like permanent nerve damage, anemia, and mental retardation. So EPA phased out leaded gas. Back in the late 1970s, 88 percent of American children had elevated levels of lead in their blood. By the mid-2000s, that number had dropped to less than 1 percent.


The bald eagle once faced extinction. The culprit was DDT, a powerful pesticide that made birds’ eggshells too weak for the chicks to survive, and also caused liver cancer and reproductive problems in humans. EPA banned the use of DDT in 1972, and since then, bald eagles have made a huge comeback—they were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007—and our families are safer from harmful chemicals.

Air Pollution

A newspaper headline once called the smog shrouding Los Angeles “a dirty gray blanket flung across the city.” L.A. and many other cities like this one were choked by severe air pollution—leading to asthma, respiratory illness, and certain cancers. But over the last 45 years, we’ve cut air pollution 70 percent, while our nation’s economy has tripled. It goes to show that a strong economy and a safe environment go hand in hand.

Breathing Easier

Every day, EPA works toward cleaner air. One recent study found that thanks to the strides we’ve made in cutting air pollution in just the last 2 decades, children’s lungs in Southern California are 10% bigger and stronger today than they were in children 20 years ago.

Last fall, we built on that success by proposing stricter standards for ozone pollution to protect those most vulnerable—children, the elderly, and those already suffering from respiratory illnesses like asthma. For our kids, that means avoiding up to a million missed school days, thousands of cases of acute bronchitis, and nearly a million asthma attacks. Adults could avoid hundreds of emergency room visits for cardiovascular reasons, up to 180,000 missed work days, and 4 million days where people have to deal with pollution-related symptoms. Every dollar we invest in these standards would return $3 in health benefits.

Looking Ahead

And now, EPA is taking action on another major environmental challenge—climate change. The carbon pollution driving it comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants like smog and soot that can cause asthma and certain cancers, especially for those living in the shadow of polluting industries.

When we finalize our Clean Power Plan this summer, we’ll not only cut carbon pollution from power plants, our nation’s largest source, but we’ll also reduce those other dangerous pollutants and protect our families’ health. When we act, we also help safeguard communities from the impacts of climate change—like more severe droughts, storms, fires, and floods.

Time after time, when science has pointed to health risks, EPA has obeyed the law, followed the science, protected public health, and fortified a strong American economy. We’re doing the same thing today. Our track record proves that when EPA leads the way, there’s no environmental challenge our nation can’t meet.


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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This Earth Day, let’s commit ourselves, our families, and our communities to work toward a brighter environmental future. I’ll be taking part in a service learning project tomorrow with Washington, DC’s Earth Conservation Corps to help clean up the Anacostia River, and I encourage you to serve at an Earth Day event in your community.

But there’s no need to wait until Earth Day—there’s a lot we can do every day to help protect the environment and the climate, while keeping our families healthy and saving money.

Here are just a few ideas:

Reduce food waste. The average family throws away $1,600 a year on wasted food, and rotting food in landfills releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This toolkit can help your family save money and reduce their climate impact with some basic planning and organizing. And by composting food scraps, you can help feed the soil and keep your plants and gardens healthy.

Look for EPA labels when you shop. EPA’s Energy Star, WaterSense, and Safer Choice labels help Americans choose products that save them money, reduce energy and water use, and keep their homes safer from harmful chemicals. Products that carry these labels are backed by trusted EPA science.


Wash your clothes in cold water. 90 percent of your washing machine’s energy goes toward heating water, while just 10 percent goes toward running the motor. Consider switching to cold water—along with cold-water detergent—and save your family money on your electric bill.


Make your home more energy efficient. EPA’s ENERGY STAR program goes beyond labeling energy efficient products. Our new Home Advisor tool can help you create a prioritized list of energy efficient home improvement projects tailored specifically to your home.



Learn how to fix water leaks. The average family loses over 10,000 gallons of water each year to leaks. This guide will show you how to find and fix leaks in your home so you can conserve water and save on your water bill.




E-cycle your electronic waste. Spring is a great time to clean and de-clutter. If you’re looking to finally get rid of that old TV, computer or mobile device, this guide can help you find safe ways to recycle it in your state.




Green your commute. To get exercise and limit your carbon footprint, walk, bike, or take public transportation whenever you can. Leaving your car at home just 2 days a week can prevent 2 tons of carbon pollution every year.

When you drive, look for gas containing biofuel to help reduce carbon pollution from your vehicle. To maximize gas mileage, get regular tune-ups, and keep your tires fully inflated. And if you’re in the market for a new car, consider making your next vehicle a fuel-efficient, low greenhouse-gas model and save money on fuel.

EPA is taking national action to fight climate change and protect the environment, but we can all take small steps to keep our families healthy, make our homes safer, and save money. When we do, we help protect the one planet we’ve got.

What will you do? Let us know at #EarthDayEveryday

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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Flush It and Forget It: A Recipe for Disaster

By Leslie Corcelli

I grew up in a house with a septic system. It was a wonderful home, built by both of my grandfathers. Although that was some years ago, I vividly remember that we, like most folks, flushed it and forgot about it – until it backed up into our basement, which served as our playroom.

Back then, my father’s approach to plumbing and building maintenance issues was to bring a hammer. He is a brilliant attorney and CPA, but not so well versed in plumbing and mechanical systems. My mother was even less versed, but perhaps a bit more practical about hammers. Suffice it to say, had either of them known that septic systems require regular maintenance, the basement would never have backed up with what we kids called “the nasties.”

Even these days, none of us likes to think about what happens to our “stuff” when we flush. Let’s face it, it’s much easier to flush it and forget it. It’s gross to think about and awkward to talk about. You can’t make friends at parties talking about wastewater – believe me, I’ve tried.

It’s more complicated now, too, than when I was a child. There are myriad cleaning supplies, hygiene products and flushable wipes that are detrimental to both septic and sewer systems. But, we can’t ignore it. We need to take action to prevent “the nasties” from entering our homes and yards, and from affecting the environment. It’s a health risk.

Our septic program has several tools and some simple “dos and don’ts” to help us wade through the murky waters of septic maintenance. These tools and tips can save us money and protect our health.

  • Toilets aren’t trash cans: Don’t flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper.
  • Inspect and pump frequently: Have your septic tank professionally inspected at least every three years and pumped every three to five years.
  • Use water efficiently: All the water a household sends down its pipes winds up in its septic system. The more water a household conserves, the less enters the septic system. Water conservation improves the system’s operation and decreases the risk of failure.
  • Maintain your drainfield: Your septic tank has a drainfield to remove contaminants from the liquid in the tank. Never park, drive or plant trees on it, and keep roof drains and other drainage systems away from it.

Please, don’t flush it and forget it! Visit our Proper Care page to learn more about septic maintenance. You’ll be glad you did.

About the author: Leslie Corcelli is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) research participant in the Sustainable Communities Branch of EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. Leslie has a graduate degree in environmental science and policy, and lives in northern Virginia with her partner and a menagerie of rescue animals.

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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