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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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Waste and Materials Tracking Now Available in EPA’s ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager®

By Mathy Stanislaus and Janet McCabe

While you might not think about buildings as polluters, the places where we work, shop and learn offer a significant opportunity to save energy, save water, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce waste. The good news is that for many buildings, measuring and tracking energy and water use has become standard operating procedure.

Waste and materials are another story, however. Materials can include items such as furniture, construction materials, and equipment. Up to this point, there hasn’t been an easy or consistent way to track waste in commercial buildings and manufacturing facilities. That’s a problem since these facilities are responsible for nearly half of the 167 million tons of waste that wind up in incinerators or landfills each year.

Material recovery and waste reduction are essential components to the productive and sustainable use of materials across their entire life cycle to conserve resources, reduce waste, slow climate change and minimize the environmental impacts of the materials we use.  EPA’s 2009 report, Opportunities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Materials and Land Management Practices, shows that approximately 42 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are associated with materials management. Since new and existing buildings include materials such as furniture, construction materials and equipment, buildings represent a good opportunity for improvement and GHG reductions in America.

That’s why two years ago EPA began collaborating with leading building owners, managers, and waste haulers to identify key metrics and waste management options to add to ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, the Agency’s popular online energy and water measurement and tracking tool.

Portfolio Manager is actually the industry standard energy measurement and tracking tool for commercial buildings in the United States and Canada. More than 450,000 U.S. buildings, representing over 45 percent of the nation’s commercial building space, have been benchmarked in Portfolio Manager, as well as more than 10,000 buildings in Canada. These buildings are already using the tool to benchmark and improve performance, prioritize investments, and verify reductions in energy and water use across these tens of thousands of buildings.

We’re proud to debut the result of this collaboration. Portfolio Manager now includes a new waste and materials tracking feature. It’s designed in a way that allows for flexibility and basic comparative analysis, recognizing that the type and quality of available waste and materials management data vary widely.

With the addition of waste and materials tracking in Portfolio Manager, building owners and managers can now apply their successful energy management techniques holistically to reduce not only waste, but also the associated carbon footprint that results from landfill decomposition and incineration, as well as the costs of disposal.

Historically, waste management activities haven’t been well measured and tracked in commercial buildings.  However, as we learned from our experience with energy tracking, standardized measurement is the cornerstone of building management practices that drives improvement.

It’s incredibly rewarding when we can work together with businesses and organizations to offer new tools and capabilities that not only help them save money, but also help their communities remain economically competitive and support a healthy environment. We can’t wait to see what innovations lie ahead as owners and managers tap the same wealth of knowledge and creativity they’ve used to reduce energy, water, and greenhouse gas emissions, and apply it to the important issue of managing and reducing waste and materials. To learn more, visit www.energystar.gov/trackwaste.

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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Join us at WEFTEC in New Orleans Next Week!

By Joel Beauvais

For those of you who work on water issues, you may be headed to New Orleans in late September to attend the annual Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference. The event is one of the world’s largest water events, bringing together thousands of water professionals to network, provide information, and share best practices in water management. If you are planning to go, we hope you can attend one of the presentations, panels, and discussions EPA is involved in. And be sure to swing by our booth!

Here’s how you can connect with us at the conference:

Keynote:  At 10 a.m. Monday, September 26, I will be delivering the keynote to the Great Water Cities: Creating the Future of Water session. This session is part of an ongoing forum allowing water leaders to discuss their experiences and share solutions to challenges faced by water systems of all sizes.

Policy Session: Monday, September 26will feature the Clean Water Policy session starting at 1:30 p.m. This technical session will include presentations from senior management in the Office of Water as well as Jon Capacasa, Water Director from EPA’s Region 3 office in Philadelphia.

EPA Booth: Check out EPA’s booth at the conference, #429 in Hall B1. Please stop by to chat with EPA staff about programs related to water infrastructure finance, climate resiliency, technology and innovation, water quality, and drinking water. Staff will also be handing out flashdrives with information about Agency programs.

Federal Partners: This year we are joined by several other federal agencies to highlight joint efforts to protect and preserve water quality and quantity. Please stop by our booth for information and to speak with representatives from the Department of State, Department of Energy, and U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation.

Speakers Series at the EPA Booth: Throughout the conference, we will be hosting a series of speakers at our conference booth throughout the three days of the exhibition. The topics will range from the Water-Energy Nexus to integrated permitting to the new Test Bed Network, and more! Please visit our website or EPA booth #429 for the full schedule of speakers and topics.

If you are not in New Orleans, you can follow us on Twitter @EPAwater for posts from WEFTEC. But I hope to see many of you there.

 

 

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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Get Ready! Help Your Water Utility Prepare for An Emergency

By Nushat Thomas, REHS

Can you imagine your life without water?  Probably not because you know you need water to survive. You probably also recognize the importance of making sure that the water you drink is safe, and that without sanitation services, public health in communities would decline at a rapid pace due to increased disease. However, you may not be as familiar with the utilities in your community that deliver clean drinking water to your home and treat the wastewater that goes down your drains. You also may not know that our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure is aging rapidly and at risk to many types of natural and man-made hazards.

As part of National Preparedness Month, today we are stopping to “Imagine A Day without Water.” EPA and water utilities across the country are taking the time today and throughout the month to prepare the types of emergencies that may challenge their ability to deliver safe drinking water and sanitation to their communities.

There are plenty of ways individuals like you or me can help prepare for an water-related emergency too. Here are few easy ways you can get involved:

Find your utility provider’s emergency response number. Know who to call if you are experiencing an interruption in service; keep the number handy along with the contact information of your other utilities.

Store water ahead of an emergency. If you have an emergency kit in your home, make sure that you inventory your emergency water supply. Each person in your household should have at least three gallons of water for use during an emergency—and don’t forget to change the water every few months.

Protect your local water sources. Support watershed protection projects, dispose of trash and animal waste appropriately, and never dump into storm drains. If you see someone doing something strange near any water infrastructure (like fire hydrants, water towers, or restricted access areas), contact your local authorities immediately.

EPA develops tools and resources to help your water and wastewater utilities prepare for all hazards. If you represent a water utility, check out our free resources at https://www.epa.gov/waterresilience. Whether you want to assess risks, conduct training, plan for emergencies, connect with your community, or adapt to climate change impacts, we have something for you. You will also find stories from other utilities who have taken steps to prepare for natural and man-made emergencies.

Don’t wait. Take action today!

About the author: Nushat Thomas has been with EPA since 2009 and serves as the Team Leader for the Active and Effective Team within EPA’s Water Security Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Superfund Investigates Land Pollution from the Past…and Present

By Mathy Stanislaus

On September 7, 2016, we took steps to respond to states, tribes and citizens who asked for our help addressing contaminated sites. In response, we are adding 10 hazardous waste sites to the National Priorities List (NPL). The NPL is our list of more than 1,300 of the most contaminated sites in the country that we are addressing under the Superfund program. Superfund is one of the most important federal programs to improve the health, environment and economy of America’s communities.

As I’ve traveled across the country during my tenure as Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, I’ve seen firsthand how the mismanagement of contamination and hazardous waste can threaten entire communities. According to census data, approximately 53 million people live within three miles of a Superfund site – roughly 17% of the U.S. population, including 18% of all children in the U.S. under the age of five. Some groups, such as children, pregnant women and the elderly, may be at particular risk. During environmental emergencies, health threats — poisoning, injuries from fires and explosions — are often urgent and immediate. At other sites, health effects of contamination — cancer, birth defects — may be more long term. Under the most difficult circumstances, communities reach out to us to use the Superfund program to protect them from these risks.

We continue to find sites where recent operations have resulted in the mismanagement of contamination that warrant our investigation. In addition to adding 10 sites to the NPL, we are proposing the addition of eight more. Nine of these 18 sites were in operation within the last two decades, including several as recently as the late 2000s. Pollution at these 18 sites came from a variety of sources, including manufacturing, mining, battery recycling and dry cleaning.

One area we are listing on the NPL is the Bonita Peak Mining District in San Juan County, Colorado. Mining began there in the 1870s and continued into the 1990s. The Bonita Peak Superfund site includes 48 sources, comprised of 35 mines (including Gold King Mine) and 13 other mining-related areas. We have drainage data on 32 of these sources and we estimate that they collectively contribute an average of 5.4 million gallons of mine-influenced water per day to the Upper Animas River watershed. This water includes metals such as cadmium, copper, manganese and zinc that threaten the health of the watershed and downstream communities.

More broadly, the addition of the sites to the NPL continues a 35-year history of EPA improving the lives of those who reside on or near Superfund sites. Academic research has shown the cleanup of Superfund sites reduces birth defects of those close to a site by as much as 25 percent. Cleanups involving lead-contaminated soil have contributed to documented reductions in children’s blood-lead levels.

In addition, Superfund cleanups have a positive impact on local economies by enabling the reuse of previously unusable land. More than 850 Superfund sites nationwide have some type of actual or planned reuse underway. Last year, we reviewed 454 Superfund sites supporting use or reuse activities and found they had approximately 3,900 businesses with 108,000 employees and annual sales of more than $29 billion.

As our recent listing demonstrates, land pollution continues to occur from a variety of sources. It is not only an issue at abandoned industrial sites riddled with buried hazardous material, or at waste sites that operated before our nation’s environmental laws were enacted. Land pollution is still an issue — often due to the mismanagement of contaminants from more recent operations. Unfortunately, the Superfund program is needed as much today as in the past to clean up communities from such mismanagement.

Our Superfund program will continue to respond to requests from states, tribes and citizens to investigate all eras of pollution — past and present — to protect communities and hold polluters accountable. I am proud of the work our Superfund program has completed to date, and I encourage you to read more about its 35-year history and its highlights.

More information about the September 2016 NPL listing can be found here. http://go.usa.gov/xZ9nP.

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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Citizen scientists test Warwick, RI, water

By Amy Miller

It’s not every day you can get your training as a citizen scientist with the regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency standing beside you. So residents of Warwick were pretty excited when Curt Spalding, administrator for EPA’s New England office, showed up for their one-day session on how to join professional scientists in keeping their region’s ponds healthy.

EPA scientist Hillary Snook, Regional Administrator Curt Spalding and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian participate in day of training for citizen scientists.

EPA scientist Hilary Snook, Regional Administrator Curt Spalding and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian participate in day of training for citizen scientists.

Spalding was pretty happy himself to be out there in the field, watching the work citizens are doing so they too can help out in reducing the amount of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, in local waterways. Curt is a big advocate of the program and loves the idea of hands-on citizens involvement, noted Hilary Snook, EPA New England’s lead scientist on this project.

Hilary and other EPA scientists have been traveling around New England this summer in a shiny white mobile lab, teaching citizens how they can play a part in monitoring for this bacteria, which is clogging our region’s and nation’s waterways. The team has already been to several locations around New England including White Pond in Concord, Mass. whose town beach was shut down for the entire 2015 season due to cyanobacteria.

Curt decided to tag along on the trip to Warwick, where a handful of citizens joined local, state and federal representatives for what turned out to be a rainy day of training at Gorton Pond, just behind the Warwick police station.

Warwickvisit2EPA’s new mobile laboratory was outfitted with the computers, microscopes and monitors that provide the on-site training. The mobile lab is designed to take people through all of the main parts of the program, with hands-on experience right at their local body of water.

A video presentation introduced the program to the group, with a so-called “Mi-Fi system” providing direct connection to webpages used for the program. Microscopes inside the vehicle let citizens identify samples taken from Gorton Pond and then upload them to citizen science databases.

Hilary showed volunteers how they could upload EPA’s bloomWatch app to their own devices then and there to submit photos of blooms.

The data collected by volunteers is useful for EPA and other environmental agencies trying to clean waterways and reduce bacteria levels. The system is simple enough that everyone from middle school students to academics and lake associations can participate.

EPA hopes added information will help determine where cyanobacterial blooms exist, whether they contain potential toxin producing species, and whether the existing blooms are toxic.

Through the Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program, volunteers were invited to get involved at three different levels. Besides the bloomWatch app, they can learn how to take water samples and then study them under a microscope. Some volunteers took home a kit that includes a microscope. Finally, volunteers can collect samples and then send them to EPA for further study using the program’s established protocols.

Citizen scientists in New England join volunteers around the country and world who are helping in this effort. Cyanobacteria blooms are caused mainly by nutrients, particularly phosphorus. With climate change and heavier rainstorms, more nutrients are running off the land into freshwater lakes and ponds. The toxins that can be produced by these bacteria can cause skin rashes and liver damage.

All of which means it’s important to Curt, it’s important to EPA and it’s important to all of us to address the increasing occurrences of harmful cyanobacteria blooms in our nation’s and region’s lakes and ponds.

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Amy Miller works in the office of public affairs at EPA New England

 

More information is available at: https://blog.epa.gov/blog/tag/citizen-science/

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 Rural Alaskan Native Village’s Journey for Safe Drinking Water

By Joel Beauvais

Here, Joel Beauvais peeks into the settling chamber of the package water treatment system

Here, Joel Beauvais peeks into the settling chamber of the package water treatment system

I recently returned from a work trip to Alaska, where I met with colleagues from EPA’s Alaska Operations Office and Alaska’s Department of Conservation to discuss a variety of water-related  issues and tour a few facilities, communities, and projects. I expected to be to be wowed by the good work Alaskans are doing to protect their waters while strengthening their communities, but what I didn’t expect was to be so moved by one native village’s journey to provide their families with in-home piped water and sewer lines for the first time.

Kwethluk is one of Alaska’s oldest, rural, and remote villages. It’s located in southwest Alaska and accessible only by air or water. Most in the nearly 800-person community still practice a subsistence lifestyle, relying on the nearby and bountiful Kwethluk River. Due to the surrounding challenging environment and perceived high costs to construct, operate, and maintain a drinking water and wastewater system, the village did not have access to community water and wastewater infrastructure. Villagers self-hauled potable water to their homes from a central distribution point and disposed of human waste in open buckets that were transferred in collection containers to a lagoon outside of town. These conditions presented not only quality of life issues but health and safety risks, too. Exposure to life-threatening bacteria and parasites spills was common and contamination quickly spread throughout the community by rain and airborne dust.

Kwethluk was the perfect candidate for EPA’s Alaska Native Village (ANV) program funding. Since 1996, the ANV program has distributed nearly $520 million in funds for sustainable and affordable in-home water and sanitation services in 240 Alaskan native villages and 60 non-native underserved communities. Funds are used for the planning, design, construction and/or repair of new or improved water and wastewater systems.

In 2009 EPA’s ANV program, in cooperation with U.S. Department of Agriculture, the State of Alaska, and the Indian Health Service, initiated the funding for the construction for Kwethluk’s first-ever drinking water and wastewater community facilities as well as the plumbing to every Kwethluk home.

Construction of sewer collection piping in the Kwethluk, Alaska community.

Construction of sewer collection piping in the Kwethluk, Alaska community.

After years of studying, planning, and hard work, today, more than 150 Kwethluk families are experiencing their first warm showers and flushing toilets in their bathrooms and clean, safe drinking water from their kitchen faucets. My EPA and Alaskan state colleagues gave me a tour of the community where I got to see the final phases of this monumental effort.

I also got to see the community’s new sewage disposal lagoon, water treatment plant, and a huge,318,000-gallon water storage tank, which were also built with support from the ANV program.

Here is an image of the inside workings of the Kwethluk water treatment plant.

Here is an image of the inside workings of the Kwethluk water treatment plant.

The heart of any arctic or subarctic water system like the one in Kwethluk is the water treatment plant.  Not only does the water treatment plant treat the water from the Kwethluk River to meet EPA drinking water standards, the water treatment plant also heats and circulates the water throughout town so the water mains do not freeze. This circulation requires twice as many water mains as a conventional system as well as additional heat, which substantially increases operational costs. To help reduce costs, the Kwethluk water treatment plant is exploring the use of an innovative remote monitoring system that would send automatic alerts via wireless system to the local maintenance employee of imminent issues such as freezing pipes, water quality problems, or excessive energy use. These alerts help prevent costly maintenance fixes that require labor and materials to be flown in, offset the plant’s technical and management support costs, as well as could ensure high quality drinking water.

While it was moving to learn about Kwethluk’s long journey to have its first in-home water and sewer access, there are still over 35  communities in Alaska that don’t have access to a safe, modern drinking water and sanitation system—which is unacceptable. EPA remains committed more than ever to working with our state, federal, local, and tribal partners to ensure that every American, no matter where they live, has access to safe drinking water and modern wastewater management where and when they need it.

 

 

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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Taking Back the Beachhead

By Cameron Davis

Part of what makes our cities and towns around the Great Lakes so important is our beaches. During the seasonable months—and even in the not-so-seasonable months, when a growing cadre of surfers shred the waves —big cities like Chicago get tens of millions of visits to their lakefronts. Great Lakes towns have some of the best beaches in the world…some with legendary “singing sands” (sand that makes noise when it is walked on), fresh water that doesn’t burn your eyes, and of course, no sharks or stinging jellyfish. Just ask organizations like the Great Lakes Beach Association that work to keep our beaches great.

But, from time to time, swimming advisories go into effect because of high pathogen levels. Nearby runoff drains, parking lots, and attractions for birds and wildlife (leftover picnics, overflowing garbage from trash cans, intentional wildlife feeding, wastewater overflows, the list goes on…) result in microbial pollution that can turn a day at the beach from a blast to a bummer.

This week in Sandusky, Ohio, I joined U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur and several mayors to announce more than $2 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding to protect beaches and shoreline areas by using green infrastructure. That is the use of nature—green roofs, wetlands, rain gardens, bioswales and other plants to capture polluted runoff—to protect and improve nearby water quality.

As  Dave Ullrich, executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative said at the time of the announcement, “Cities all along the Great Lakes are working hard to connect with the water in ways that are good for the Lakes and good for the quality of life and economic well-being of the people who live there.  These investments are yet another example of how the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is making a huge difference on the shores and in the Lakes.”

These projects won’t rescue all the beaches around the Great Lakes in every way. However, little by little, thanks to the GLRI—the largest Great Lakes-only investment in ecosystem health in U.S. history—the beachhead assaults we experience will be about fewer swimming advisories and instead, result in cleaner water for recreation.

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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Three Ways Climate Change is Harming Marine Species

By Brittany Whited

Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.5°F over the past century. EPA’s Climate Change Indicator project tracks changes in our environment related to this warming, including observable changes on land like wildfire severity, snowfall, and heavy precipitation. A new indicator on marine species released in the 4th Edition of EPA’s Climate Change Indicators in the US report shows that marine ecosystems are also feeling the heat. We may not be able to “sea” it, but climate change is also affecting our oceans. What does this mean for fish and other marine species?

1. Oceans are getting hotter. Changes in water temperature can affect the environments where fish, shellfish, and other marine species live. As climate change causes the oceans to become warmer year-round, populations of some species may adapt by shifting toward cooler areas.

According to the fourth edition of EPA’s Climate Change Indicators in the United States report, American lobster, black sea bass, red hake, and over a hundred other populations of marine species have already shifted north to cooler waters. And we’re not talking a mile or two – in fact, these three economically important species have shifted their average center of biomass northward by an average of 109 miles over just 32 years. For all 105 marine species studied, the average center of biomass along U.S. coasts shifted northward by about 12 miles between 1982 and 2014. At the same time, these 105 species moved an average of 18 feet deeper.

2. Oceans are becoming more acidic. The acidity of seawater is increasing as a direct result of increasing carbon dioxide levels in the air from human activities, like burning fossil fuels. Concentrations of carbon dioxide are higher than in the last 800,000 years. Carbon dioxide dissolves in water, changing seawater chemistry and decreasing pH (making seawater more acidic). The ocean’s increased acidity results in thinner shells and more shellfish die as they become easier for predators to eat.

Corals are also very sensitive to rising acidity, as it is difficult for them to create and maintain the skeletal structures needed for their support and protection. Corals provide vital fish spawning habitat and support for thousands of marine species. EPA’s Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Action states that without action on climate change, dramatic loss of shallow coral cover is predicted to occur. For example, coral cover in Hawaii is projected to decline from 38% (current coral cover) to approximately 5% by 2050 without significant global action on climate change.

3. More severe storms and precipitation can pollute coastal waters. Warmer oceans increase the amount of water that evaporates into the air. When more moisture-laden air moves over land or converges into a storm system, it can produce more intense precipitation—for example, heavier rain storms. Heavy rain in coastal areas can lead to increases in runoff and flooding, impairing water quality as pollutants on land wash into water bodies. Some coastal areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay, are already experiencing “dead zones” – areas where water is depleted of oxygen because of pollution from agricultural fertilizers, delivered by runoff. The phrase “dead zone” comes from the lack of life – including fish – in these waters.

Click to learn what EPA is doing to mitigate climate change and protect ocean water quality and marine species.

About the Author: Brittany Whited is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) participant hosted by the Climate Science and Impacts Branch in the EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs. She recently completed her Master’s degree in Public Health from George Washington University and is wicked excited to spend less time studying and more time outside.

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 Reflection on the Gold King Mine Incident

By Mathy Stanislaus

Today, we are releasing a new publication, One Year After the Gold King Mine Incident: A Retrospective of EPA’s Efforts to Restore and Protect Communities. The report details our efforts — including the projects and groups we have funded — to protect the areas around the Gold King Mine (GKM) and prevent another spill like this from happening at other EPA work sites at mines across the country.

We continue to be accountable for the release, which occurred as a result of our work to investigate the mine. Since the accident, we have dedicated more than $29 million to respond to the release and to provide for continued monitoring in the area. Over the past year, we have remained committed to distilling important lessons from the incident, and are working on a more permanent solution to acid mine drainage in the Upper Animas Watershed. We have improved and tested stakeholder notification lists, instituted a headquarters review and state consultation process for all mine work plans prior to starting work at a site, provided grant assistance to foster collaboration and help support state and tribal water quality management programs,  and are developing a national report on best practices for hardrock mine remediation. We have worked with communities within the Bonita Peak Mining District area for many years on long-term solutions to address the estimated discharge of more than 5 million gallons per day of acidic mine influenced water to the Upper Animas River watershed. In April, we proposed a Superfund National Priorities Listing for the Bonita Peak Mining District (which includes Gold King Mine) and are working to finalize the listing this fall.

As Assistant Administrator for our Office of Land and Emergency Management, I can say that tackling the national environmental issue of abandoned mines is one of the toughest challenges we face. There are no overarching federal statutes or regulations for addressing the environmental contamination from abandoned hardrock mines. When requested by state or tribal partners, our Superfund program has been used to investigate and remediate abandoned mines that present a high risk to human and environmental health.  A 2015 Government Accountability Office report estimates that we spend anywhere from 7 to 52 times more at mining sites than at other types of Superfund sites.

Overall, the scale of this problem is striking. There are at least 161,000 abandoned hardrock mines in the western U.S. states and Alaska. Water draining from these types of mines and mine tailings are often highly acidic and release heavy metals such as zinc, lead, cadmium, copper and aluminum into the groundwater and surface waters the public relies on for drinking, agricultural irrigation and recreation.

The legacy of abandoned hardrock mines continues to be a source of complex challenges for our and the other federal and state agencies working to address this impact over the long-term. We thank all of our federal, tribal, state and local partners for their contributions to this first year of work following the GKM incident. We are strongly committed to working together to achieve long-term solutions to prevent future releases and protect our vital water resources. For more information, please visit: https://www.epa.gov/goldkingmine.

 

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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