water

A Really Good Day: Building the East Capitol Urban Farm

By Jeff Corbin

As much as I love my job, and as proud as I am of the work that EPA does every day, I must admit that some days are just better than others. I’m speaking of those days when you get to be part of something that just makes you feel good. Something that makes you say: “We did well today…this is what we are all about.” Two weeks ago, I had one of those days. Let me tell you how this all started.

Build day for the East Capital Urban Farm. Photo credit: Emily Simonson/EPA ORISE.

Build day for the East Capitol Urban Farm. Photo credit: Emily Simonson/EPA ORISE.

A little while ago, I started having discussions with colleagues at the U.S. Department of Interior, one of our partners in the Urban Waters Federal Partnership. That Partnership’s focus is to reconnect urban communities – particularly those who are overburdened or economically distressed – with their waterways, and collaborate with community-led revitalization efforts. While DOI and I talked, our friends at the University of the District of Columbia, including Dr. Dwane Jones and his team in UDC’s College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability, and Environmental Sciences, helped us think through next steps.

So what was the big idea? Take a vacant, 3-acre piece of land in the District’s Ward 7, an area in dire need of fresh, healthy food and economic infusion, and turn it into an urban farm. And not just any urban farm, but one that combines art, recreation, education and a general sense of community ownership. On a recent Saturday, the District of Columbia Building Industry Association officially took the project from a “big idea” to reality, adopting this project as their annual Community Improvement Day: a day of building with the help of hundreds of citizen volunteers, professional contractors, and too many partners to name.

At the end of the day, even with a few loose ends to wrap up, the site was on track for a spring harvest of a variety of produce from the private garden lots and community gardens. Food grown here will benefit the wider community via mobile food trucks and a farmer’s market.

Final design for the East Capital Urban Farm.

Final design for the East Capitol Urban Farm.

Part of EPA’s contribution to the project was a $60,000 nonpoint source program grant to install a state-of-the-art “green” system to capture the storm water that will run off the site. With urban farming growing in popularity (that’s a good thing!), it is critical that these types of operations are designed to be models for protecting nearby waterways. EPA’s investment will also help educate visitors about the importance of controlling storm water run-off. Eventually, there will even be an aquaponics facility, where fish are grown and their waste is used to fertilize the gardens. Now that’s recycling at its best!

 

Hundreds of volunteers turned out to help with planting. Photo credit: Emily Simonson/EPA ORISE.

Hundreds of volunteers turned out to help with planting. Photo credit: Emily Simonson/EPA ORISE.

If you want to see what one of my good days looks like, hop off the Metro’s blue/orange line at the Capitol Heights stop and look uphill across the street…and plan on buying some fresh produce in the spring!

About the author: Jeff Corbin is Senior Advisor for the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River. Before coming to EPA, he was the Virginia Assistant Secretary of Natural Resources and before that spent time in the environmental non-profit sector. He currently splits his time between Richmond, DC, Annapolis and other parts of the Chesapeake watershed. When not working, he can usually be found on his fishing skiff exploring Virginia’s rivers.

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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Bringing Water Protection into the Modern Age

By Cynthia Giles

Information technology is everywhere. How we communicate, and how we share with one another has gone digital, saving paper, time, money, and making it easier to get information faster and more reliably.

Paper reports can stack up – here is an example from just one EPA Region

Paper reports can stack up – here is an example from just one EPA Region

Forty-three years ago, when the Clean Water Act was enacted, things moved a little slower. But the significance and impact of this important law remains today. It has helped clean up our lakes and rivers, and ensure that Americans are drinking safe water so we can live active, healthy lives. Under the Clean Water Act, the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program requires that hundreds of thousands of regulated facilities monitor and report data on their discharges of pollutants into waters to ensure they are not negatively affecting public health or the environment.

For years, these reports were filed by paper, and regulators – state and federal – had to manually review and enter the data into computers. That is until this week, when Administrator Gina McCarthy signed the final NPDES electronic reporting rule, requiring reports to be electronically filed. More than seven years in the making, following more than 70 technical and individual meetings, and 50 webinars with over 1,200 stakeholders, we have brought clean water protection into the modern age. Here’s what that means:

  • The public will have full transparency into water quality data. Facility-specific information, such as inspection and enforcement history, pollutant monitoring results, and other data required by NPDES permits will be accessible to the public through our website. Transparency can also drive improved performance among regulated facilities; when water quality data can be easily accessed online, facilities are more inclined to avoid pollution problems that raise public concern.
  • Once the rule is fully implemented, the 46 states and the Virgin Islands Territory that are authorized to administer the NPDES program will collectively save approximately $22.6 million each year as a result of switching from paper to electronic reporting.
  • Additionally, after full implementation, we estimate that states and regulated entities will save a total combined 900,000 hours of time per year. Instead of sifting through stacks of paper, that time, in addition to the money saved, can be put toward important water protection activities.

Finalizing this rule is a major milestone, but there’s still more work to do. Over the next few months, we will schedule trainings and more webinar sessions with states and regulated entities to provide an overview of the final rule, and the next steps for implementing electronic reporting. To realize the important benefits that this rule provides, EPA and our state, tribal, and territorial partners will continue to work collaboratively to implement these changes.

Electronic reporting in this day and age is essential to effective environmental protection. It furthers our Next Generation Compliance and the E-Enterprise for the Environment strategies to take advantage of new tools, innovative approaches and to work in partnership with states to increase compliance and reduce pollution. A modernized approach to reporting means cleaner water for everyone.

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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Where to Find EPA at WEFTEC 2015

By Ken Kopocis

EPA’s booth at WEFTEC 2012. Photo credit: Tara Johnson

EPA’s booth at WEFTEC 2012. Photo credit: Tara Johnson

In just five days, over 20,000 people will arrive in Chicago to participate in the Water Environment Federation’s (WEF) Annual Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC). WEFTEC is one of the largest conferences and exhibitions in North America for the water sector. I’m really looking forward to attending this year’s conference along with others from EPA. During the five-day long conference, sessions and exhibit booths will showcase water technology innovations and good work in the water arena in the U.S. and internationally. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for this year!

The events listed below are just some highlights of EPA’s involvement in WEFTEC 2015. Please see the full WEFTEC agenda or search the WEF Events App (available through Apple’s App Store or at http://app2.core-apps.com/weftec2015) under WEFTEC 2015 for a complete list of where to find us.

Keynote: Our Acting Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg will deliver the keynote address on Monday, September 29 at 10:00 a.m. Central Time. His speech will be streamed live online at www.weftec.org.

Policy Session: EPA officials will hold a discussion at the Clean Water Policy Forum on Monday, September 28, from 1:30 – 5:00 p.m. Central Time in Room S402b.

Innovation and Technology: We will have a display at the Spotlight on Technology Innovation in the circular awards display of the Innovation Pavilion. Here you can learn about examples of technology innovation for water resource sustainability and share your own innovations.

EPA Booth: Our staff will be available to discuss agency activities and resources for the water sector in the exhibit hall at booth #4467. New this year, we will be hosting four short speaking events at our booth to address some of the hot topics surrounding water resources:

Monday, September 28

  • 10:30 a.m. Innovative Water Financing with Jim Gebhardt
  • 11:30 a.m. Water-Energy Nexus with Jason Turgeon
  • 2:30 p.m. DOE Resources for Utilities with Scott Hutchins

Tuesday, September 29

  • 2:30 p.m. Climate & Water Tools for Adaptation/Resiliency with Michael Shapiro

Social media: During the conference, keep up with EPA information and announcements by following @EPAwater on Twitter and EPA – Water is Worth It on Facebook. Join the full WEFTEC discussion by using #WEFTEC15.

WEF Events App: All EPA events can be found using the WEF Events App by searching “EPA” under WEFTEC 2015. We will also have select documents available download through the app under our booth. Search for “4467” or “U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”

We look forward to seeing you in Chicago!

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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In My Grandfather’s Footsteps: A Worthwhile Summer Spent at EPA 

Every summer, EPA brings in students to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread is proud to feature several blogs written by these interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. Andrew Speckin’s blog launched this series. Our second blog is by Sara Lamprise, who has worked in our Drinking Water, Water Quality, Wastewater, and Pesticides programs.

By Sara Lamprise

My grandfather and I share the same spirit. He is what I think of as a practical idealist. Softhearted, with a deep love of nature, he is not one to turn a blind eye to struggles. As ever, he continues to shape my sense of ethics and accountability.

When I was younger, he told me that idle worry is a way of avoiding responsibility. I never heard him say, “I wish someone would …” If he thought it needed doing, he did it, which meant he was usually busy.

lamprisegrandfather

Sara’s grandfather, Paul Deshotel, on 70th birthday

As an adult, I’ve wanted to be someone my grandfather would respect. I’ve stayed busy, but not always with things I found worth doing. Countless times I thought, “I wish I could …” or “I wish I was qualified to do something else.” Idle thoughts.

I sat on them. And I definitely didn’t tell my grandfather about them.

Meanwhile, I pestered my friends about plastics in the ocean and the erosion of the Gulf coast and fish that change from male to female. It seems pretty obvious in retrospect, but I think my friends caught on before I did. Long story short, I decided to change fields. To do that, I needed to go back to school.

I see a need for skilled people who care about others and the environment. So I’m developing the skills to fill that need. I could have spent my summer learning to fetch coffee … probably. But I wanted a worthwhile experience in a positive environment. EPA was my top choice.

Sara Lamprise at Myrtle Beach, S.C., summer 2012

Sara Lamprise at Myrtle Beach, S.C., summer 2012

I heard that this was a great program, that even as an intern, my work would be relevant and meaningful. I also heard many times that I would be working with great people. Check and check.

Plus, I respect EPA’s strategy. From my perspective, a critical role of EPA is providing the information to make sound environmental decisions. Information can spur action. It can bring about voluntary changes that are enduring and contagious. I know it doesn’t always work that way, and that’s where enforcement comes in. But information is a good Plan A.

Also, I heard tales of a fish grinder that I really want to see in action. Major selling point.

Anyway, I’m stoked. I figure whatever I work on will be time well spent, and something my grandfather will be happy to hear about.

About the Author: Sara Lamprise is working as a Student Intern at EPA Region 7. She is a senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City majoring in environmental science. Sara loves board games, hiking, and any excuse to travel.

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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Great Lakes Successes – Part 2

By Cameron Davis

We’ve all made remarkable progress in the first five years of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), much of it visible. (see Opinion)

The Isle Royale Coaster-Credit Phyllis Green

The Isle Royale Coaster-Credit Phyllis Green

But behind every official success there are many other successes. Here a few of the unofficial successes that aren’t required for reporting, but are just as important:

  • The Initiative isn’t just about restoration. It’s about protection. Though the agencies don’t plan on removing “restoration” from the Initiative’s name, they understand we have to protect what’s left. Otherwise we’ll be spending much more to restore those things, too. For example, the Initiative has funded work to protect a small population of native coaster brook trout on Isle Royale for its own sake and so that it can be used to restore other populations around Lake Superior. “Thanks to GLRI funding, we are gaining critical information to help restoration efforts,” says Phyllis Green, superintendent at Isle Royale National Park, punctuating the notion that restoration and protection go hand in hand.
  • The Initiative continues to support overburdened and disproportionately impacted communities. For example, in its recent Requests for Applications under the Initiative, we provide extra points for applications that help advance environmental justice, as recommended by the agencies’ Great Lakes Advisory Board. This also helps EPA make good on its commitments under Plan EJ 2014. Check out the most recently-released Requests for Application (RFA). This means projects like the recently-completed Marquette Park Lagoon Stormwater project in Gary, Indiana, will help this important community. This means the agencies will keep cleaning up Areas of Concern, located largely around post-industrialized communities. This means we’ll keep reducing contaminant levels in fish, on which people depend for a food.
  • The Initiative is spending what comes in. This is one indicator that the demand for Initiative support remains high for attacking the most complex, long-standing threats to ecological health. In August, the Government Accountability Office published an examination of the Initiative and confirmed that in fiscal years 2010 through 2014, $1.68 billion of federal funds were made available and as of January 2015, we had allocated nearly all of the $1.68 billion.
  • As important, the Great Lakes community is cooperating in unparalleled ways. Chaired by our Administrator Gina McCarthy, the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force of 11 federal departments works with states, tribes, municipalities, environmental groups, business, academia and just about any other interest that helps to restore the Lakes.
Marquette Park Lagoon-Banneker Achievement Center

Marquette Park Lagoon-Banneker Achievement Center

Though there’s still so much more progress needed—a century of abuse doesn’t disappear in five years—there’s little doubt that the first five years of the Initiative have made historic progress.

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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Great Lakes Successes Take Front & Center – Part 1

By Cameron Davis

It’s official. The first five years of the precedent-setting Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are history. And the Initiative has made history.

The Initiative is the largest Great Lakes-only investment in restoring and protecting the ecosystem in U.S. history. Recently, the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force chaired by U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy sent its progress report covering the first five years of the program to Congress and President Obama. Not all such reports inspire you to stand up and cheer, but this one should.

When President Obama proposed the Initiative and a bi-partisan Congress stepped up to fund it, the reason was clear. After more than a century of abuse, the integrity of the ecosystem that comprises some 95 percent of the nation’s fresh surface water—the supply for tens of millions of Americans—was unravelling fast. Decades of projects needed to bring back the health of the ecosystem and fulfill our international obligations with Canada had remained unfunded.

The Initiative changed all that. In the 25 years before the Initiative, only one of the then 31 Areas of Concern—waterfront communities with ecological or health impairments—had been taken off the cleanup list. In the first five years of the Initiative, the Presque Isle Area of Concern (AOC) in Pennsylvania has been taken off the list and cleanup has been completed in five more for ultimate delisting. Waukegan Harbor, once called the “world’s worst Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) mess,” is now a case study in persistent restoration action prevailing over persistent toxic pollution. In other AOCs, people who once thought cleanup would never be completed are now finding hope that it will be completed, and in their lifetime.

Asian carp. Asian carp, which can eat many times their body weight in plankton—one base of the food chain—could further undermine the Great Lakes ecosystem if they ever get in and become established. Within months after my appointment in the summer of 2009, a newer monitoring technique called “environmental DNA” was turning up genetic material from two kinds of Asian carp—silver and bighead—further upstream toward Lake Michigan than previously expected. We used the Initiative, whose first funding came through only months before, to provide emergency funding to plug holes in the permeable Chicago Area Waterway System. That, and tenacious work by representatives from agencies in the United States and Canada, has meant that in the past five years, these equally tenacious fish have not made it to Lake Michigan to become established.

With the shutdown of the Toledo metro area’s water supply from toxic cyanobacteria having taken place a year ago, the thick, almost florescent green growth is a reminder along too many coastlines that phosphorus doesn’t just fertilize crops on land. Too much of it washing downstream fertilizes dangerous algal growth in the water. Under the first five years of the Initiative, the amount of farmland acreage under conservation program management in three priority watersheds—the Maumee and Western Lake Erie Basin, Saginaw Bay and Green Bay watersheds—has increased by more than two thirds from previous levels.

That’s the official report. Check it out at http://glri.us.

But if you want to know some of the unofficial successes under the first five years of the Initiative, check out the next post for Part 2.

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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Making Hazardous Waste Regulations Work for Today’s Marketplace

The pace of technology and change in the modern world can be dizzying. As new medicines and treatments are developed, new types of waste emerge. However, our hazardous waste generator regulations were written in the 1980s and haven’t changed much over the years.
Well, today we’re taking steps toward changing that. I’m excited to announce that we are proposing two rules to provide businesses with the certainty and flexibility they need to successfully operate in today’s marketplace.

Over the last 35 years, we’ve heard from states and the regulated community that our hazardous waste generator regulations, which were designed for manufacturing, don’t fit all sectors and especially not the healthcare sector. We’ve listened and these two proposals make a number of updates and improvements to the existing regulations. We have proposed over 60 changes to the regulations to improve the effectiveness of and compliance with the hazardous waste generator program. This includes rearranging some of the generator regulations that had outgrown their original numbering system so it will be easier for facilities of all sizes that generate hazardous waste to find everything they need to know in one place.

The second rule will make it easier for healthcare providers to comply with hazardous waste rules while protecting the nation’s water. We’re proposing to remove the traditional manufacturing-based hazardous waste generator requirements and instead provide a new set of regulations designed to be workable in a healthcare setting while ensuring safe management and disposal of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals. The primary focus for nurses, doctors and pharmacists is providing healthcare – they are not experts in hazardous waste identification and management. This rule seeks to reduce the burden and increase compliance by proposing a more flexible, common sense approach for healthcare providers and the elimination of unnecessary management practices.

Pharmaceuticals entering the environment, through flushing or other means, are having a negative effect on aquatic ecosystems and on fish and animal populations. Our proposal is keeping pace with today’s environmental issues by banning the sewering, or flushing down the toilet or sink, of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals from healthcare facilities. It is projected to prevent the flushing of more than 6,400 tons of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals annually making our drinking water safer.

In order to keep our world safe and healthy, regulations should not only effectively manage sources of environmental harm, but also be flexible and clear enough for newcomers to understand. The updates and tailoring of the hazardous waste generator regulations by these two proposed rules increases compliance, which then increases environmental benefit. The new rules respond to the needs of both the environment and businesses, benefitting both sides.

Our proposals will be available for public comment online in the coming weeks once they are published in the Federal Register. We’d love to hear your thoughts. To review these proposed rules now, visit: www2.epa.gov/hwgenerators.

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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The Last Year of an Environmental Educator’s Career: Reflections on Sustainability

Introduction by Kathleen L. Fenton

I’m fortunate to manage EPA Region 7’s Environmental Education Program. I get to meet folks like Dr. Michael Hotz, who work tirelessly to ensure today’s students understand, value and enjoy learning. Dr. Hotz is one of those exceptional teachers who students remember long after they’ve graduated, an educator who makes a lasting impression. Most importantly, he’s influenced students to realize that science, technology, engineering and math are subjects they can understand and have fun doing, while actually learning – and it’s knowledge they can keep and use for years to come.

Dr. Hotz is a model teacher and representative of many fine teachers across the Heartland. I had the honor of watching him receive his Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. I wish him well on his career’s final year, and hope the teaching profession can employ more teachers like him. Thank you, Dr. Hotz, for an impressive 31-year run!

By Dr. Michael Hotz

As I begin the last of 31 years of teaching young people, I reflect on sustainability. Through the last 19 years in the Kansas City, Kan., Public School District, I’ve had the opportunity to create a school garden/outdoor classroom, conduct long-term watershed studies, create an aquaponic system where tilapia grow and greenhouse plants are nourished, and conduct energy audits to save more than $100,000 in utility costs.

Dr. Hotz and his wife, Catherine, at PIAEE award ceremony

Dr. Hotz and his wife, Catherine, at PIAEE award ceremony

It’s been a great experience, and I have an EPA employee to thank for, as she says, “planting the seed of ideas.” Roberta Vogel-Luetung sat with me as we brainstormed ideas over 15 years ago at an in-service meeting conducted by EPA. We discussed how an empty, unused courtyard at Wyandotte High School could be used for teaching environmental content. Since that meeting, the courtyard has been turned into a school garden and outdoor classroom with 20 raised beds, an automated sprinkler system, all-weather walkways, flower gardens, a water feature, and composting facilities.

Students were challenged and stepped up to the task of designing, building, and financing this area, which they also help plant and maintain. These students, as well as others, have reaped the fruits of their labors. Joanne Postawait has taken over the responsibility of planting and harvesting this area, while I continue to help with its hardscape maintenance.

School garden/outdoor classroom

School garden/outdoor classroom

The EPA video “After the Storm” inspired me to create a “challenge-based” learning experience for the Small Learning Community in which I teach at Wyandotte High School. Through collaboration with my fellow educators Ms. Hornberger (Math), Mr. Willard (English), and Mr. Zak (Engineering), we created a long-term project around Big Eleven Lake in Kansas City, Kan.

Each year, students study their watershed in my science classes. We bring the studies down to the local level of what the students can do themselves to help the watershed. They’ve been taught how to conduct water testing, and then go into the field and test Big Eleven Lake, Kaw Point (at the convergence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers), and other lakes in the area. Comparisons are made and reported to the Kansas Health Department. All of the curriculums are tied into this experience. Standardized test scores demonstrate that significant gains have been made because of this program.

I was also a member of the EPA Urban Lake Testing Group where EPA provided water testing techniques and equipment, and samples were sent to EPA laboratories for analysis. I was then able to train residents of the Big Eleven Lake area, who belong to the Struggler’s Hill/Roots Neighborhood Association, to do the water testing. These neighborhood association members were helpful in sharing their lives and experiences around the lake, and the EPA employees were just as helpful with the testing and field work.

Aquaponics system

Aquaponic system

We developed a pilot aquaponics program where tilapia are grown. The water from these tanks is sent to trays where plants are grown, establishing a symbiotic relationship between the fish and plants. Wastes from the tilapia nourish tomatoes, herbs, squash, and other plants in our greenhouse. This type of organic, non-polluting growing system is 10 times more efficient than traditional methods and saves water.

I initiated energy audits and plans to save on utility costs. Students use testing equipment to monitor lights, electricity, and temperature and then develop plans to reduce usage. More than $100,000 was saved in a single year. A recycling program also is in place, which is operated by our Environmental Club and is part of the Green Schools Program of the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education.

Aquaponic system

Aquaponic system

These programs helped me to be recognized as a proud winner of the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE). EPA and its employees have been instrumental in the development and teaching of these programs.

I am honored that my former student and 2015 graduate, Karina Macias Leyva, wrote the following in her letter of recommendation for the award: “When Dr. Hotz teaches anything that is part of the environmental education field, even with the smallest projects, he inspires students to gain awareness of their environment and acquire knowledge, skills, values, experiences and also determination, which will enable students to act individually and collectively that will lead to solving present and future environmental problems.”

I’m currently working with Towson University, investigating how environmental education happens in and out of the classroom and what impacts student understanding and attitudes about the environment and environmental science.

As I plan for this final year of teaching, my major concern is sustaining these programs. I’m training and encouraging other teachers at Wyandotte High School to keep them going. Our environmental future depends upon the teaching of young minds here in the Heartland and across the nation.

I have enjoyed and am thankful for the relationships that have been made with EPA, and I look forward to working with all of you at EPA during this final year.

About the Introducer: Kathleen Fenton has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education grants, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

About the Author: Dr. Michael Hotz has been a teacher at Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kan., for the past 19 years, as part of his 31-year teaching career. He was awarded the PIAEE in 2015.

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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Student Intern Looks to Make a Big Difference at EPA This Summer

Every summer, EPA brings in students to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread is proud to feature several blogs written by these summer interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. Our first blog is by Andrew Speckin, who is lending his skills in our Clean Water Program.

By Andrew Speckin

I’m moving into my junior year at the University of Kansas, pursuing a double major in accounting and information systems technology, which is simply a term to describe the use of analytics for business purposes. In today’s workplace, there is a new phenomenon called “Big Data.” It seems that every company or organization is using some form of Big Data, including EPA.

The Agency uses data in many areas: to compare water or air quality assessments from different time periods and regions, to spot trends in ever-changing river levels, to have a better understanding of the precursors that lead to flooding, to determine how temperature affects our ecosystem, and for countless other challenges.

There’s always room for improvement. Some of the projects I’m working on this summer involve updating and enhancing the data systems currently in place. Improving those systems will allow for better decision making and, in turn, better protection of our environment.

Working for EPA gives me the chance to help safeguard the environment in which I spent so much time growing up as a kid. Being outdoors started at an early age; my father signed me up for the Boy Scouts while I was in kindergarten. I stayed with the Scouts all the way up to my senior year of high school, and eventually was presented the Eagle Scout Award.

150731 - Speckin Bartle Camp Site

Andrew’s 10-day campsite at Bartle Scout Reservation

During those 12 years, I was able to partake in many diverse outdoor adventures here in the Heartland, such as spelunking in Missouri caves, canoeing down small Missouri Rivers, and participating in a 10-day summer camp at the H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation. I also went white water rafting in Colorado. Going through Boy Scouts gave me a perspective on how truly complex our ecosystem is, and an understanding that the environment needs to be protected for the health of future generations.

One of the lessons I learned in Boy Scouts was to leave the campground in a better condition than which I found it. If everyone followed that rule in the environment, EPA would have less work to do. Sadly, that is not the case. There’s a lot of work to be done and I’m ready to get started, while hopefully making a difference in the fight to conserve our precious resources.

About the Author: Andrew Speckin is working as a Student Intern this summer at EPA Region 7. One of his main goals in life is to shoot under 100 on 18 holes of golf. Knowing Andrew, we’re sure he’ll achieve that goal, among many others in his life.

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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Implementation of the Clean Water Rule Brings Opportunities

When the Clean Water Rule goes into effect on August 28, it marks a new era of protection for our nation’s streams and wetlands. We are enthusiastic about the opportunities provided by the rule to improve the process of identifying waters covered under the Clean Water Act and making jurisdictional determinations and permit decisions more effectively and efficiently. As EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers implement the Clean Water Rule, the agencies will be taking several steps to increase transparency, provide information, and improve the permit process.

Increasing transparency: EPA and the Army Corps will launch a publicly-accessible, online database for all jurisdictional determinations and permits issued under the rule. The database will provide information, for example, on jurisdictional determinations associated with federal permitting programs as well as statistics on the total number, waterbody type, and watershed location. Data regarding the nature and number of pending determinations will also be made publicly available. This database will provide essential transparency needed for effective implementation of the rule.

Responding to information needs: The Clean Water Rule provides clear and comprehensive direction about the process for conducting jurisdictional determinations. Because the rule is so specific, there is no need for any new manuals or guidance documents.  Instead, the agencies will prepare a comprehensive Questions and Answers document that can be routinely supplemented as experience with the rule grows.   As with any new procedures, field staff and the public will have ongoing questions about the rule, and it is important for EPA and the Corps to identify issues and provide answers as the rule takes effect. We will also ensure the public can coordinate with the field staff as new questions arise after the rule goes into effect so that answers can be provided quickly.

Improving the permit process: EPA and the Army Corps will evaluate existing permitting tools and procedures and identify the changes needed to further reduce costs, delays, and frustration in federal permitting, while improving Clean Water Act protections that benefit public health and the environment. The agencies will focus on increasing the availability of information on issued permits, and improving coordination with federal and state permitting partners to reduce overlap and redundancy in permit reviews.

The strong commitment to seizing these opportunities during implementation of the Clean Water Rule was reflected in a memo distributed across the agencies by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy. We will provide updates of our efforts on a regular basis as part of our obligation to implement the rule in an efficient and effective manner.

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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