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Wetlands Wednesday: Beyond Your Typical Ozarks Excursion

By Cynthia Cassel

Missouri is the fourth and final destination on our May tour of Region 7’s intriguing wetlands as we mark the 25th anniversary of National Wetlands Month. Following my journey to the prairie potholes and fens of Iowa in last week’s blog, we go down south to the breathtaking Show-Me State.

Since we had honeymooned in St. Louis (Paris was full), my husband and I decided to reenact the event on our fifth anniversary. Of course, my family doesn’t just “go somewhere.” It had to be a road trip through Missouri to arrive at a location four hours away. But I was pleased to take the long way ‘round after investigating the distinctive wetlands of the state: sinkhole ponds and hardwood swamps.

Sinkhole Ponds

Although we can easily appreciate the bounty of water and habitat the Ozarks provide, the rarer sinkhole pond is typical of a Missouri wetland. Sinkholes are natural depressions formed by the dissolution of underlying limestone layers or the collapse of a cavern roof. Since there are so many caves in the state, sinkholes form naturally.

Sinkhole PondsSinkhole wetlands are usually isolated and form in karst topography, which is caused when soluble rocks dissolve, such as limestone. Karst may form when rainwater, reacting with carbon dioxide from the air and forming carbonic acid, seeps through the soil into the rock. Drainage to a sinkhole is underground.

Wetter types of sinkhole wetlands can have non-woody plants, while the drier ones can be vegetated by trees or shrubs. These areas can provide habitat for amphibian and reptile breeding, depending on the amount and timing of the water supplied to them.

Hardwood Swamps

Hardwood SwampsThese beautiful bottomlands in southeast Missouri are truly an example of forest primeval, found along rivers and streams, generally in broad floodplains. Such ecosystems are commonly found wherever waterways at least occasionally cause flooding beyond the confines of their channels. They are deciduous forested wetlands, made up of different species of Gum, Oak and Bald Cypress trees, which have the ability to survive in areas that are either seasonally flooded or covered with water much of the year. Identifying features of these wetland systems are the fluted or flaring trunks that develop in several species, and the presence of knees, or aerial roots.

Hardwood swamps serve a critical role in the watershed by reducing the risk and severity of flooding to downstream communities by storing floodwater. In addition, these wetlands improve water quality by filtering and flushing nutrients, processing organic wastes, and reducing sediment before it reaches open water.

I hope you enjoyed our four-part journey to the wonderful wetlands of Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Missouri. There’s so much more to see here in the Heartland. You could start by taking your own trip to Kansas’ two internationally recognized wetlands: Cheyenne Bottoms in Great Bend and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Stafford County. And if you’d like to continue your mini-education in wetland ecology, let me know!

About the Author: 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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Protecting Regional Waters

Water bodies come in many shapes and sizes. As EPA and the U.S. Army developed the Clean Water Rule, the agencies relied on the latest science to determine what water bodies should be protected. Streams and their wetlands that clearly have an impact on the health of downstream waters are protected by the rule. In particular regions of the country, there are unique water bodies that are also scientifically shown to influence the health of downstream waters and therefore may be protected under the Clean Water Rule. These unique water bodies are critical resources for the surrounding communities – for fishing, hunting, and recreation; for their ability to filter pollution to streams and rivers; and reduce flooding.

PRAIRIE POTHOLES
Newprairie-potholesPrairie potholes are a complex of glacially formed wetlands, found from central Iowa through western Minnesota, eastern South Dakota, and North Dakota. Potholes accumulate and retain water, reducing floodwaters and filtering pollution before it goes downstream into nearby streams and rivers. Prairie potholes are also rich habitat for plants and wildlife. In particular they are vital to hunting in America, as they play host to 18 species of waterfowl. They are also are popular for birdwatching, with 96 species of songbirds, 36 species of waterbirds, 17 species of raptors and 5 species of upland game birds.

CAROLINA AND DELMARVA BAYS
NEWdelmarva-bayCarolina and Delmarva bays are ponded wetlands along the Atlantic coastal plain from northern Florida to New Jersey. Carolina bays are most abundant in North Carolina and South Carolina, while those found in the Delmarva Peninsula are commonly referred to as Delmarva bays. Bays typically are close to each other or to streams, and connect to each other and to downstream waters in large rain events. Carolina bays and Delmarva bays filter out nitrogen, which reduces the pollution entering groundwater and flowing downstream. These bays are important nursery grounds for amphibians and reptiles.

POCOSINS
NEWpocosinPocosins are evergreen shrub and tree-dominated landscapes that are found from Virginia to northern Florida, but mainly in North Carolina. Typically, there is no standing water present in these peat-accumulating wetlands, but a shallow water table leaves the soil saturated for much of the year. The slow movement of water through pocosins removes nutrient pollution and acidifies the water. This water is slowly released to downstream waters and estuaries, where it helps to maintain the proper salinity, nutrients, and acidity.

VERNAL POOLS
NewVernal-PoolsVernal pools are shallow, seasonal wetlands that accumulate water during colder, wetter months and gradually dry up during warmer, drier months. In California they typically occur as complexes of pools, connected to each other and to seasonal streams. Vernal pools are rich in biodiversity and wildlife moves between the pool complexes and streams and other downstream waters. With climate change increasing the severity of drought in the West and specifically California, the protection of upstream water resources is even more essential.

COASTAL PRAIRIE WETLANDS
NEWMatagorda-potholesAlong the Gulf of Mexico from western Louisiana to south Texas, freshwater wetlands occur as a mosaic of depressions, ridges, flats, and mounds on the landscape. Texas coastal prairie wetlands are locally abundant and function together to impact the health of downstream water bodies. Collectively as a complex, Texas coastal prairie wetlands can be connected to each other and contribute flow to downstream waters. Cumulatively, these wetlands control nutrient release levels and rates to downstream waters, as they capture, store, transform, and pulse releases of nutrients to those waters.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Protecting Clean Water While Respecting Agriculture

Rule does not create any new permitting requirements, maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions

By Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy

Today, EPA and the Army finalized a rule under the Clean Water Act to protect the streams and wetlands we depend on for our health, our economy, and our way of life.

The Clean Water Act has protected our health for more than 40 years—and helped our nation clean up hundreds of thousands of miles of waterways that were choked by industrial pollution, untreated sewage, and garbage for decades.

But Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006 put protection of 60 percent of our nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands into question. At the same time, we understand much more today about how waters connect to each other than we did in decades past. Scientists, water quality experts, and local water managers are better able than ever before to pinpoint the waters that impact our health and the environment the most.

Members of Congress, farmers, ranchers, small business owners, hunters, anglers, and the public have called on EPA and the Army to make a rule to clarify where the Clean Water Act applies, and bring it in line with the law and the latest science. Today, we’re answering that call.

Every lake and every river depends on the streams and wetlands that feed it—and we can’t have healthy communities downstream without healthy headwaters upstream. The Clean Water Rule will protect streams and wetlands and provide greater clarity and certainty to farmers, all without creating any new permitting requirements for agriculture and while maintaining all existing exemptions and exclusions.

The agencies did extensive outreach on the Clean Water Rule, hosting more than 400 meetings across the country and receiving more than a million public comments. EPA officials visited farms in Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Vermont.

Our nation’s original conservationists—our farmers, ranchers, and foresters—were among the most crucial voices who weighed in during this process. Farmers have a critical job to do; our nation depends on them for food, fiber, and fuel, and they depend on clean water for their livelihoods.

Normal farming and ranching—including planting, harvesting, and moving livestock—have long been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation, and the Clean Water Rule doesn’t change that. It respects producers’ crucial role in our economy and respects the law. We’d like give a few more specifics on our final rule, starting with what it doesn’t do.

  • The rule doesn’t add any new permitting requirements for agriculture.
  • It doesn’t protect new kinds of waters that the Clean Water Act didn’t historically cover. It doesn’t regulate most ditches and excludes groundwater, shallow subsurface flows, and tile drains. And it doesn’t change policy on irrigation or water transfers.
  • It doesn’t touch land use or private property rights. The Clean Water Rule only deals with the pollution and destruction of waterways.
  • Again, our rule doesn’t touch long-standing Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. It specifically recognizes the crucial role farmers play and actually adds exclusions for features like artificial lakes and ponds, water-filled depressions from construction, and grass swales.

What the rule does is simple: it protects clean water, and it provides clarity on which waters are covered by the Clean Water Act so they can be protected from pollution and destruction.

Feedback from the agricultural community led us to define tributaries more clearly. The rule is precise about the streams being protected so that it can’t be interpreted to pick up erosion in a farmer’s field. The rule says a tributary has to show physical features of flowing water to warrant protection.

We also got feedback that our proposed definition of ditches was confusing. We’re only interested in the ones that act like tributaries and could carry pollution downstream—so we changed the definition in the final rule to focus on tributaries. So ditches that are not constructed in streams and that flow only when it rains are not covered.

We’ve also provided certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters—the rule sets physical, measurable limits for the first time. For example, an adjacent water is protected if it’s within the 100-year floodplain and within 1,500 feet of a covered waterway. By setting bright lines, agricultural producers and others will know exactly where the Clean Water Act applies, and where it doesn’t.

Farmers and ranchers work hard every day to feed America and the world. In this final rule, we’ve provided additional certainty that they’ll retain all of their Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions—so they can continue to do their jobs, and continue to be conservation leaders.
We appreciate everyone’s input as we’ve worked together to finalize a Clean Water Rule that keeps pollution out of our water, while providing the additional clarity our economy needs. Learn more here.

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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Reasons We Need the Clean Water Rule

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy

Today, EPA and the Army are finalizing a Clean Water Rule to protect the streams and wetlands we rely on for our health, our economy, and our way of life.

As summer kicks off, many of us plan to be outside with our friends and families fishing, paddling, surfing, and swimming. And for the lakes and rivers we love to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them have to be clean, too. That’s just one of many reasons why this rule is so important. Here are several more:

Clean water is vital to our health. One in three Americans get drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection from pollution without the Clean Water Rule. Finalizing the rule helps protect 117 million Americans’ health.

Our economy depends on clean water. Major economic sectors—from manufacturing and energy production to agriculture, food service, tourism, and recreation—depend on clean water to function and flourish. Without clean water, business grinds to a halt—a reality too many local small business owners faced in Toledo last year when drinking water became contaminated for several days.

Clean water helps farms thrive, and the rule preserves commonsense agriculture exemptions. Farms across America depend on clean and reliable water for livestock, crops, and irrigation. Activities like planting, harvesting, and moving livestock across streams have long been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation; the Clean Water Rule doesn’t change that. The final rule doesn’t create any new permitting requirements for agriculture, maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions, and even adds exclusions for features like artificial lakes and ponds, water-filled depressions from construction, and grass swales—all to make clear our goal is to stay out of agriculture’s way. Just like before, a Clean Water Act permit is only needed if a water is going to be polluted or destroyed—and all exemptions for agriculture stay in place.

Climate change makes protection of water resources even more essential. Impacts from climate change like more intense droughts, storms, fires, and floods—not to mention warmer temperatures and sea level rise—threaten our water supplies. But healthy streams and wetlands can protect communities by trapping floodwaters, retaining moisture during droughts, recharging groundwater supplies, filtering pollution, and providing habitat for fish and wildlife. With states like California in the midst of historic drought, it’s more important than ever that we protect the clean water we’ve got.

Clear protections mean cleaner water. The Clean Water Act has protected our health for more than 40 years—and helped our nation clean up hundreds of thousands of miles of polluted waterways. But Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 threw protections into question for 60 percent of our nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands. Using the latest science, this rule clears up the confusion, providing greater certainty for the first time in more than a decade about which waters are important to protect.

Science shows us the most important waters to protect. In developing the Clean Water Rule, the Agencies used the latest science, including a report summarizing more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies—which showed small streams and wetlands play an important role in the health of larger downstream waterways like rivers and lakes.

You asked for greater clarity. Members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, scientists, and the public called on EPA and the Army to clarify which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act. With this rule, the agencies are responding to those requests and addressing the Supreme Court decisions. EPA and the Army held hundreds of meetings with stakeholders across the country, reviewed over a million public comments, and listened carefully to perspectives from all sides. All of this input shaped and improved the final rule we’re announcing today.

Just as importantly, there are lots of things the rule doesn’t do. The rule only protects waters historically covered under the Clean Water Act. It doesn’t interfere with private property rights, and it only covers water—not land use. It also doesn’t regulate most ditches, doesn’t regulate groundwater or shallow subsurface flows, and doesn’t change policy on irrigation or water transfers.

These are just a few of the many reasons why clean water and this rule are important—learn more here, and share yours with #CleanWaterRules.

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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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

Photo by Deb Stipa

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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