water

Southern New England Coastal Towns Prepare for Climate Change

We pulled into a parking lot in downtown Wickford, Rhode Island. A nearby car was parked in three inches of water, and salt water bubbled up through the storm drain. The tide was high, but not extraordinarily high. These days, occasional flooding of a parking lot is more of an annoyance than a real threat. But what about in the future?

A car parked in salt water in Wickford, RI. The parking lot storm drain routinely backs up at high tide.

A car parked in salt water in Wickford, RI. The parking lot storm drain routinely backs up at high tide.

 

Rhode Island was the second stop on my Adapting to Climate Change learning tour. Last summer I visited several Cape Cod communities to see how they are dealing with accelerating beach erosion and other adaptation challenges, including chronic flooding from sea level rise, warming ocean temperatures, storm surge risk and habitat decline. More recently, I toured Rhode Island with the same objective, but with a special focus on developing decision-making tools to help communities become more resilient.

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Celebrating National Groundwater Awareness Week

By Dr. Peter Grevatt

One of my favorite ways to travel is by bicycle. So, when I visited southern California last month, I jumped at the chance to ride along the San Gabriel River to see how Los Angeles County sustainably manages their drinking water supplies to support their growing population.

A recent defining experience for communities in California, and many other regions of the county, has been drought of an intensity that hasn’t been seen in generations. The severity of this drought has forced communities to address questions about their ability to meet their basic water needs. A common theme for many has been the critical role of a reliable supply of ground water in their ability to survive and thrive into the future.

I followed my ride along the San Gabriel with a visit to the extraordinary treatment facility operated by the Orange County Water District. Through a partnership with the Orange County Sanitation District, this facility takes highly treated wastewater and purifies it with a three-step advanced treatment process. This water is used to replenish their groundwater basin, preventing seawater intrusion and helping to supply drinking water to over 600,000 people.

I also visited the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel in San Diego County, a small tribal community that is facing a diminished ground water supply. Chairman Perez and members of the Tribal leadership described their efforts toward water conservation, leak detection and repair, and identifying new drinking water supplies to support the needs of their Tribal members.

Communities large and small are taking on the challenge of ensuring a reliable water supply. Clean ground water will play a vital role in their long term solution, as it currently does every day for over 100 million Americans.

These communities make clear that effective groundwater management will play a central role in keeping our communities healthy. During National Groundwater Awareness Week (March 8-14, 2015) let’s take time to celebrate all the great work across the country that is being done to protect our nation’s groundwater, so that communities can rely on this precious, limited resource now and in the future.

About the author: Peter Grevatt, Ph.D. is the director of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.

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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Advancing Sustainable Development in the United States

By Apple Loveless and Leslie Corcelli

A United Nations summit to adopt sustainable development goals will take place this September. Among these is a proposed goal to “ ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all,” which expresses global intent to provide adequate water and sanitation to everyone.

When we think about inadequate drinking water and wastewater treatment, it usually brings to mind developing countries. But in our work in the Office of Wastewater Management, we see examples in rural Alaska, Appalachia, the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as smaller communities like Willisville and Lowndes County.

Willisville is a small minority community in southwestern Loudoun County, Virginia. In the late 1990s, the Loudoun County Health Department surveyed Willisville to determine its water and wastewater needs. It found that the majority of residences had inadequate drinking water supplies and failing or non-existent sewage systems. Most residents used privies and outhouses.

Simply providing indoor plumbing to existing homes would have driven up property values so much that the average resident wouldn’t have been able to afford the taxes. However, Willisville was able to work with the county and nonprofit organizations to increase taxes incrementally, enabling owners to afford the payments.

In the end, the residences and an area church got indoor plumbing, a cluster system was installed to treat wastewater, and private land was purchased to build a drainfield.

In Lowndes County, Alabama, inadequate wastewater management had become a public health hazard and environmental issue that could no longer be ignored. Mostly rural and primarily African-American, Lowndes County did not have a centralized wastewater management system, and is built on impermeable clay soils that made septic systems cost prohibitive. The county also has a 27 percent poverty rate. Many of the county’s residents disposed of raw sewage in fields, yards and ditches. It was estimated that 40 to 90 percent of households had either no septic system or an inadequate one.

Beginning in 2010, we entered into a four-year financial assistance agreement with the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise to develop a decentralized wastewater management approach for rural Lowndes County. This grant is an important first step towards improving basic sanitation services in Lowndes County.

There are many communities like Willisville and Lowndes County in the United States. Funding and technical assistance can help them improve inadequate water and wastewater services. It takes collaboration by local, state and federal government to achieve environmental justice for those in underserved communities.

About the authors: Apple Loveless has a graduate degree in environmental management with a focus on water resource planning and management, and is adapting to life in the Mid-Atlantic region. Leslie Corcelli has a graduate degree in environmental science and policy, and lives in northern Virginia with her partner and a menagerie of rescue animals. Apple and Leslie are Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education research participants in the Sustainable Communities Branch of EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management.

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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Another Way to Act on Climate: Getting Smart on Brownfields Reuse

For 20 years, the brownfields program has worked with local communities to help support reuse and development of former and current contaminated lands. Cleaning up brownfields has put a lot of land back into use, helping communities and boosting local economies. This work has another huge benefit, too: as we redevelop brownfield sites to significantly reduce the impact of climate change.

In Milwaukee, a 5-mile strip that was once the site of several industrial facilities is going through an extensive cleanup. Over 60,000 tons of contaminated soil and more than 40 underground storage tanks have been removed. One of the community’s ideas for the land’s next use is building a green, linear park, with bike trails to encourage lower-impact forms of transit. The park will use green infrastructure elements to reduce stormwater runoff, protecting local waterways during storms that can be made more intense by climate change.

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What to Know about the President’s FY2016 Budget Request for EPA

 

1. The President’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget request for EPA demonstrates the Administration’s commitment to protecting public health and the environment. The $8.6 billion request is about $450 million above last year’s enacted amount, and will protect our homes and businesses by supporting climate action and environmental protection.

2. Investments in public health and environmental protection pay off. Since EPA was founded in 1970, we’ve seen over and over that a safe environment and a strong economy go hand in hand. In the last 45 years, we’ve cut air pollution 70 percent and cleaned up half our nation’s polluted waterways—and meanwhile the U.S. economy has tripled.

3. The largest part of EPA’s budget, $3.6 billion or 42%, goes to fund our work with our state and tribal partners—because EPA shares the responsibility of protecting public health and the environment with states, tribes, and local communities.

4. President Obama calls climate change one of the greatest economic and public health challenges of our time. So the FY16 budget prioritizes climate action and supports the President’s Climate Action Plan. The budget request for Climate Change and Air Quality is $1.11 billion, which will help protect those most vulnerable from both climate impacts and the harmful health effects of air pollution.
States and businesses across the country are already working to build renewable energy, increase energy efficiency, and cut carbon pollution. Our top priority in developing the proposed Clean Power Plan, which sets carbon pollution standards for power plants, has been to build on input from states and stakeholders.

So in addition to EPA’s operating funding, the President’s Budget proposes a $4 billion Clean Power State Incentive Fund. EPA would administer this fund to support states that go above and beyond Clean Power Plan goals and cut additional carbon pollution from the power sector.

5. EPA will invest a combined $2.3 billion in the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds, renewing our emphasis on the SRFs as a tool for states and communities.

We’re also dedicating $50 million to help communities, states, and private investors finance improvements in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.

Within that $50 million, we’re requesting $7 million for the newly established Water Infrastructure and Resilience Finance Center, as part of the President’s Build America Initiative. This Center, which the Vice President announced on January 16th, will help identify financing opportunities for small communities, and help leverage private sector investments to improve aging water systems at the local level.

6. Scientific research remains the foundation of EPA’s work. So the President is requesting $528 million to help evaluate environmental and human health impacts related to air pollution, water quality, climate change, and biofuels. It’ll also go toward expanding EPA’s computational toxicology effort, which is letting us study chemical risks and exposure exponentially faster and more affordably than ever before.

7. EPA’s FY 2016 budget request will let us continue to make a real and visible difference to communities every day. It gives us a foundation to revitalize the economy and improve infrastructure across the country. It sustains state, tribal, and federal environmental efforts across all our programs, and supports our excellent staff. We’re proud of their work to focus our efforts on communities that need us most—and to make sure we continue to fulfill our mission for decades to come.

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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A PIAEE Winner’s Path Forward

By Gerry Reymore

Greetings from Vermont! The snow is falling and the temperature is a chilly 20 degrees. As a teacher, I’m busy starting the second half of the school year. If your school is anything like ours, you don’t have time to even blink from now until graduation in June. The rest of the school year just seems to fly by.

This year is especially exciting for me as a winner of the 2014 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE). This award recognizes K-12 teachers who connect students to the natural world around them and use innovative methods to teach environmental education. I’m proud to be one of the 2014 recipients. I received financial support for my training, and my school received financial support too. I challenged my students this year to brainstorm what we can do with the school portion of the funding.

We agreed to focus on water and incorporate that theme in as many ways as we can. We’ll be updating our water sampling lab equipment, which will allow us to test water samples at our homes and from the local brook that runs behind our school and into the White River. Our town is building a new water treatment plant and we’ll be working with the town to understand water science from a municipal perspective. Finally, we’ll be installing a remote weather station and a water sampling station in our sugarbush (the forest of maple trees where sap is harvested for syrup). With this equipment, we can sample and test rainwater to relate its properties to the health of the forest. Information we gather will be shared with the Proctor Maple Research Center of the University of Vermont.

As for me, I plan to use this award to improve my understanding of water and the environment, but from a different standpoint: engineering. This summer, I plan to study the Erie Canal in Central New York. I would like to focus on the engineering and construction of this historic project and look at the environmental impacts to tie engineering into my teaching. I can see plenty of lesson plans and lab experiments for next year’s class coming out of this experience.

Applications for the 2015 award are now being accepted. If you’re a stellar teacher who is passionate about environmental stewardship and actively incorporating environmental education into your teaching, I highly encourage you to apply for PIAEE.

EPA, I cannot thank you enough for this opportunity to learn more about a subject I’m deeply committed to and to give my students a richer learning environment.

Have a great second half to the school year.

About the author: Gerry Reymore is the Environmental Resource Management Instructor at the Randolph Technical Career Center in Randolph Vermont. Before entering the teaching field 10 years ago, Gerry was vice president of a large Forest management and aerial mapping company in New England. He has a BS in Natural Resource Management from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY and a MSE in Civil Engineering from the University of Washington in Seattle. WA.

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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All Dried Up – Advice for Drought-Impacted Water Utilities

By Bailey Kennett

Born and raised in upstate New York, the idea of drought was pretty foreign to me. Some summers were dry, and maybe our backyard veggies didn’t do so well, but after some disappointment, we’d just cross our fingers and hope for the weather to turn before the season ended. This passive approach may have been fine for a budding gardener and her fleeting green thumb, but when whole communities are at risk, drought preparedness and response actions are essential.

Whether you live in the Sonoran Desert or the Land of 10,000 Lakes, drought can impact your water supply and influence how much water you can use at home. Some of us may witness dramatic impacts in parched lakes or vast stretches of cracked earth, while others may see more limited effects in a wilting vegetable garden. But, as these conditions persist year after year as they have in much of the country, it becomes increasingly clear that we are dealing with a disaster – a slow-moving and hard-hitting disaster fueled by climate change.

At the frontlines of the water supply emergency are water utilities, which monitor and manage supplies in order to maintain water service and ensure public health. As record drought conditions continue, many water utilities nationwide are revising their existing drought management approaches to account for new extremes and tipping points.

2014-12-09 Spicewood Onsite-WEM-004

EPA recently launched an effort to develop an interactive, multimedia guide to assist water utilities in increasing their drought preparedness and resilience. This drought response guide is based on lessons learned from six water utilities across diverse regions of the country. Two of the pilot utilities – Tuolumne Utilities District in Sonora, California, and a Corix Utilities system in Spicewood Beach, Texas – shared their insights into the major challenges faced, solutions developed, and steps taken to ensure a more resilient utility and community.

As drought continues across the United States, creating conditions that threaten to become the “new normal”, it is critical that water utilities prepare for changes to long-term supply and demand. Whether it’s using sustainable gardening practices or being aware of water emergency conditions, we as community members must also understand our role in water conservation and stewardship. Drought may be a slow-moving disaster, but our drought management efforts will help more water utilities move towards greater resiliency.

About the author: Bailey Kennett works in the U.S. EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water in Washington, D.C, through a fellowship with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). She works on emergency response programs and tools to increase the resilience of the water sector.

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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11 Sports Teams and Leagues That Have Gone Green

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Carly Carroll

It’s a big week in sports. Folks are getting ready for the big game, and if you’re a hockey fan, there’s a lot of excitement out on the ice. So this week we’re focusing in on the ways that sports teams, stadiums and fans can reduce their environmental impact and take action on climate.

The great news is that many sports teams and leagues have already scored some big environmental goals. Read on to learn about a few of the big steps they’ve taken on the environment.

  1. The Philadelphia Eagles run an efficient offense under Chip Kelly and have started to bring efficiency to their cleaning strategy as well. They are using greener cleaning products that don’t contain chemicals that can harm the environment.
  2. The National Hockey League is on a power play on a number of environmental initiatives, including purchasing wind energy credits to offset all of its electricity usage for its headquarters in New York City.
  3. Consol Energy Center, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, is the first NHL arena to be LEED Gold Certified – the second highest level of certification.
  4. Every year, the National Basketball Association hosts NBA Green Week where it highlights what teams and players are doing to take action for a cleaner environment.
  5. The Boston Red Sox recently wrapped up a new “green monster” in Fenway Park – a five-year plan that included the installation of enough solar panels to provide 37% of their energy.
  6. While Corey Kluber fanned a lot of batters in 2014 en route to his AL Cy Young, the Cleveland Indians fanned their way to clean energy, becoming the first MLB team to install a wind turbine.
  7. The Miami Marlins are sliding into 2015 with a groundbreaking reduction in water use. New plumbing fixtures and water use plans will reduce their use by an estimated 52%, while changes to their landscape design mean a 60% reduction in water for irrigation.
  8. About 65% of the waste generated at PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, gets recycled. According to the Pirates, if the plastic bottles they’ve recycled were laid flat end to end, they would stretch from PNC Park to Yankee Stadium and back again.
  9. The St. Louis Cardinals are knocking it out of the park when it comes to reducing wasted food. Since 2008, they’ve delivered $159,462 of safe, healthy leftover food to those who need a good meal.
  10. The Seattle Mariners took a big step adding Robinson Cano to their lineup in 2014. The club has also taken big steps to enhance their energy efficiency and reduce water use. They’ve saved more than $1.75 million in electricity, gas, water and sewer bills since 2006.
  11. The Washington Nationals are leading the league on green building. Nationals Park was the first major professional stadium to become LEED Silver Certified.

Many teams, leagues and stadiums are involved with programs here at EPA like the Food Recovery Challenge and the Green Power Partnership. Check out our Green Sports website to learn more.

About the Author: Carly Carroll has worked in public engagement and environmental education for 8 years. She enjoys connecting the sports world with EPA and teaching kids about nature. She graduated from NC State University with a Masters in Science Education, but is a die-hard Tar Heel fan.

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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Latest Science Informs Final Clean Water Rule

By Ken Kopocis

At EPA, we utilize the latest and best available science to inform our decisions. This extends to our rule to protect clean water that we are developing jointly with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We aim to release it in spring 2015.

This week our Office of Research and Development released its final assessment of the science on how streams and wetlands are connected and affect downstream waterways. Referred to as the connectivity report, it is a review of more than 1,200 pieces of independent, peer-reviewed, and published scientific literature.

In short, this research shows us how streams and wetlands impact the rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal waters they flow into. About 60 percent of stream miles in the U.S. only flow seasonally or after rain, but they have a considerable impact on downstream waters. And approximately 117 million people – one in three Americans – get their drinking water from public systems that rely on these streams. Streams and wetlands provide many benefits to communities – they trap floodwaters, recharge ground water supplies, remove pollution, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. They’re also economic drivers because they support fishing, hunting, agriculture, recreation, energy, and manufacturing. Science shows that these streams and wetlands are vital to our health and the environment, so we are committed to protecting them as we develop our final Clean Water Rule.

EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers wouldn’t finalize the Clean Water Rule until the final science report was available, but have factored in science findings throughout the process of drafting the Clean Water Rule, including:

  • Release of the draft connectivity report in 2013.
  • Input from EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board at public meetings in 2013 and 2014 and in written comments submitted by the SAB in October 2014.
  • Regular updates on changes to the connectivity report from our Office of Research and Development during fall 2014.

As our agencies work to finalize the Clean Water Rule, we are considering all scientific research we’ve reviewed in addition to the nearly 900,000 public comments that were submitted. We have listened carefully to the feedback from everyone on the draft proposal during the seven months it was open for comment. We greatly appreciate the valuable input and thoughtful suggestions, and will be making changes to the final rule as part of our commitment to getting it right. Our goal is to find a balance that reflects the best science, is reasonable for all parties, and protects the clean water we depend on.

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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Scientific Report Shows Strong Connection between Wetlands, Streams, Rivers and Estuaries

By Lek Kadeli

You may have noticed along a favorite hiking trail that some streams only appear after rainfall, or maybe you’ve seen wetlands far from the nearest river. You probably didn’t think about the importance of those smaller water bodies. But a new scientific report we’re releasing today shows that small streams and wetlands play an important role in the health of larger downstream waterways like rivers and lakes.

Our researchers conducted an extensive, thorough review of more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies to learn how small streams and wetlands connect to larger, downstream water bodies. The results of their work are being released today. The report, Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence, is a state-of-the-science report that presents findings on the connectivity of streams and wetlands to larger water bodies.

So, what did the researchers find?

  1. The scientific literature clearly demonstrates that streams, regardless of their size or frequency of flow, are connected to downstream waters in ways that strongly influence their function.
  2. The literature also shows that wetlands and open waters in riparian areas (transition areas or zones between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems) and floodplains are integrated with streams and rivers, and help protect downstream waters from pollution.
  3. There is ample evidence illustrating that many wetlands and open waters located outside of riparian areas and floodplains provide functions that could benefit rivers, lakes, and other downstream waters, even where they lack surface water connections. Some potential benefits of these wetlands, in fact, are due to their isolation, rather than their connectivity.
  4. Connectivity between waters occurs in gradients determined by the physical, chemical and biological environment.
  5. The incremental contributions of individual streams and wetlands are cumulative across entire watersheds.

Before finalizing these conclusions, our researchers subjected early drafts of the report to rigorous scientific review. Reviewers came from academia, consultation groups, and other federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Our Science Advisory Board reviewed the September 2013 draft of the report and comments were received from members of the public on that draft.

Based on both the extensive, state-of-the-science report and the rigorous peer review process it received, this report makes it clear: What happens in these streams and wetlands has a significant impact on downstream water bodies, including our nation’s largest waterways.

About the Author: Lek Kadeli is the Acting Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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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