On this Campus, the Rain Works

By Madeleine Raley

As the intern for the EPA’s Office of Water, I sit in on weekly communications meetings with the rest of the staff. One week in March we were discussing our communication strategy for Earth Day. It was decided that we would announce the winners of the third annual Campus Rainworks Challenge, a design competition to engage college and university students in reinventing water infrastructure. The winning designs proposed innovative additions to their respective campuses that would reduce storm water impacts while providing educational and recreational opportunities.

When the winners of the competition were announced in the meeting, you can imagine the feeling of pride I felt when I heard that my very own school, the University of Maryland, was a first place winner for the demonstration project category! So, on Earth Day, April 22, I got to stand on the steps of Memorial Chapel and listen to Ken Kopocis, Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water, award my fellow students and teachers with this prestigious award.

The project, titled “Historic Chapel Site: Meadows, Meanders and Meditation” includes a 7-acre re-design of the area next to the campus chapel that captures and treats storm water from the adjacent parking lots and rooftops. Replacing storm pipes and traditional lawn cover, they would implement meadow landscapes that include bio retention, bios wales and rain gardens to treat storm water in a more natural, on-site way.


Photos from the student report

Photos from the student report

As a student, I walk the pathway to class on the field just below the proposed site. The erosion from storm water flowing from uphill parking lots and sidewalks cuts a clear and visible pathway, descending through the athletic fields. It leaves behind a brown trail through what should be green grass. When I learned of the project’s location, I knew exactly where and why they proposed to build it. The erosion is not a sight you can miss.

The plan provides a habitat for pollinators such as bees and butterflies, and beneficial insect species such as ladybugs. It also includes an outdoor classroom and contemplative landscape for visitors and the university community. The faculty and students of University of Maryland, including me, are thankful this is an award that recognizes and also helps to enhance campus’s green infrastructure.

About the author: Madeleine Raley was an intern for the Office of Water communications team. She is a senior Government and Politics Major and Sustainability Minor at the University of Maryland and is expecting to graduate in May.

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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Fun on the Urban Waterfronts

by Virginia Thompson

Spruce Street Harbor Park. Photo credit: Matt Stanley/Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

Spruce Street Harbor Park, Philadelphia,  PA                                 Photo credit: Matt Stanley/Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

Just in time for summer fun and relaxation, the Delaware River in Philadelphia is again the setting for a unique riverside attraction.  Spruce Street Harbor Park, a pop-up park near the city’s historic area, reflects the attraction that rivers and water—even in an urban setting—hold for us.  The paradise-like park, in its second summer, boasts a somewhat tropical theme with hammocks, large board games, gourmet food, floating gardens with native plants, a planted meadow, and a boardwalk with even more attractions.  Visitors can hang over the river in suspended nets, dip toes in the fountains, rent kayaks and swan boats, or sail remote-controlled sailboats.  There will even be a giant “rubber” duck, weighing 11 tons and standing 6 stories high, as part of the Tall Ships Philadelphia Camden festival, scheduled for late June.

That the park is such a popular attraction and respite for residents and visitors alike serves as a testament to the success of the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA).  The CWA established pollution control programs and water quality standards, and requires permits to discharge pollutants into rivers and streams.  Prior to the CWA, the Delaware River, like many urban rivers, failed to meet the Act’s goals of “fishable and swimmable.”  Fortunately, there are encouraging signs that the river is on the rebound.

Another popular urban park experience in Philadelphia is offered on the banks of the Schuylkill River, which now boasts a trail for thousands of walkers, bikers, and skaters.  The trail includes a segment leading from Center City to the Philadelphia Art Museum and Fairmount Water Works, even extending to Valley Forge National Historical Park and beyond.

The enthusiasm for these urban water-related recreational experiences demonstrates the value we all place on clean water.  Look for me hanging out in one of the Spruce Street Harbor Park hammocks!


About the Author:  Virginia Thompson has worked at EPA for nearly 29 years and enjoys gardening, swimming, and biking in her spare time.


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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Water Wednesday: Plenty of Great Catches at KC Area Rivers and Lakes

By Angela Sena

Bass (courtesy MDC)

Bass (courtesy MDC)

Along with catching a great Chiefs or Royals game, you can also get a great catch with the many fishing opportunities in the Kansas City area. I’ve always enjoyed fishing, and have been my husband’s fishing buddy for many years (even before tying the knot – I think that’s how I snagged him). Now, with our little fisherman, we are passing along the fever.

During the summer, you can find us at one of the local boat docks launching at sunrise and fishing till 10 or so, or until hunger pains are too great. However, if the fishing is really good, my best bet is to take a snack. (I can’t seem to tear my husband away at that point!) Later we pull into the driveway as our neighbors are just getting up – and we still have the rest of the day!

MDC boat ramps in KC area

MDC boat ramps in KC area
(click to access interactive map)

In Missouri, where I live, there are many Department of Conservation (MDC) rivers and lakes to fish. These lakes are not as widely known as the larger lakes, but they hold good potential for some great fishing and summer fun and even food. Four Missouri counties in the Kansas City metropolitan area – Platte, Clay, Jackson, and Cass – offer fishing opportunities including shore, boat, lake, pond, and river fishing.

Larger rivers generally are abundant in catfish and carp. Smaller streams usually contain lots of channel catfish, but you can also catch largemouth bass, bluegill, green sunfish, carp, and crappie. Almost all area streams have public access areas. Check the Missouri weekly fishing report for the type of fish in the area and types of lures that work best for the season. I sometimes think lures are for anglers, since the fish pay no attention on some days.

River Fishing
County River Name of Area
Cass S. Grand Amarugia Highlands Conservation Area
Clay Missouri Cooley Lake Conservation Area
Clay/Jackson Missouri LaBenite Park/Liberty Bend Conservation Area
Jackson Missouri Fort Osage
  Missouri Riverfront Park
  Blue Brown Athletic Area
Platte Platte Humphrey Access
  Platte Platte Falls Conservation Area
  Platte Kendzora Conservation Area
  Platte Marshall Conservation Area
  Platte Ringold Access
  Platte Schimmel City Access
  Platte Union Mill Access


For those who like a larger fishing hole, area conservation lakes and ponds may be better for you. These waters hold potential for largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, channel catfish, redear sunfish, and hybrid striped bass. I always find it funny that even with a boat, I still seem to fish the edges of the lake like those on shore.

Lake and Pond Fishing
County Area Name Acres Boat Access
Cass Amarugia Highlands CA1 55 Yes
  Harrisonville North Lake 34 Yes
Clay Chaumiere Lake 1 No
  Englewood Lake 1 No
  Lakewood Lake 1 No
  Smithville Lake 7,200 Yes
Jackson Alex George Lake 8 No
  Bergan Lake 3 No
  Blue Springs Lake 720 Yes
  Blue Valley Lake 1 No
  Bowlin Road Pond 4 No
  James A. Reed Memorial WA2 252 N/A
  Lake Jacomo 970 Yes
  Lake of the Woods 1 No
  Lone Jack CA1 35 Yes
  Longview Lake 930 Yes
  North Terrace Lake 1 No
  Penn Valley Lake 1 No
  Prairie Lee Lake 150 Yes
  Scherer Lake 15 No
  Tarsney and Wood Lakes 17 & 8 Yes
  Troost Lake 3 No
  Wyatt Lake 3 No
Platte Guy B. Park CA1 17 Yes
1 Conservation Area
2 Wildlife Area


My favorite conservation area for fishing is Tobacco Lake at the Guy B. Park CA. It’s a hop, skip and a jump from home and always a nice place to fish. I remember taking our son when he was small enough to use an infant life jacket (except he didn’t like it because he couldn’t reach his hands to his mouth). Since it’s a “no wake” lake, it is always quiet (except for the occasional angler on his cell phone). If you fish a place often enough, you get to know the regulars who get to fish all the time – unlike us working stiffs! They’re always happy to see you and share their tips for the day.

For those of you who have not tried fishing yet, there are free fishing days or daily fishing passes, and even rod-and-reel loaners for those that don’t want to commit to the sport. If you have a particular species you would like to catch, you can find information on the species and more. If anything, it will be a good outing for the kids and you’ll soak up some vitamin D!

Before heading out, remember to check regulations for that area and take your fishing license, drinking water, sunscreen, polarized sunglasses, and life jackets. As my 5-year-old found out a year ago, life jackets are a good thing and leaning too far over the edge of the boat is bad – but that’s for another blog.

About the Author: 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. Angela is a native of New Mexico 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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The Importance of Snowpack

by Mike Kolian

In the United States, changes in snowpack currently represent one of the best documented hydrological signs of climate change. Snowpack is a key indicator and plays a vitally important role both in the environment and to society.

Snowpack accounts for a majority of water supply in many parts of the West as it stores vast amounts of water that is slowly released as temperatures rise in the spring and summer. Snowpack keeps the ground and soil moist by covering it longer into spring and summer which influences the onset of the fire season as well as the prevalence and severity of wildfires. In addition, hydro-electric power generation in the West is heavily reliant on water supplied by melting snowpack.

A very serious story is unfolding out West. This year, snowpack in the western U.S. is at record lows in the Sierra Nevada and Cascades of California, Oregon, and Washington, confirmed by the recent April 1st snowpack measurements. In fact, some snowpack sites in California and Washington were observed to be snow-free this spring for the first time since observations began.

Snowpack is measured in snow-water equivalent, which reflects the amount of water contained in the snowpack at a location (if the entire snowpack were to melt). This indicator is based on data from over 700 measurements sites across 11 western states and shows long-term rates of change for the month of April, which could reflect changes in winter snowfall as well as the timing of spring snowmelt.

map chart titled "Trends in April Snowpack in the Western United States 1955-2015." Charts shows mostly percentage reductions of snowpack over all mountains areas, ranging from 0 to -80 percent. Very few areas show small increases.

Over the last 60 years, there have been widespread temperature-related reductions in snowpack in the West, with the largest reductions occurring in lower elevation mountains in the Northwest and California. From 1955 to 2015, April snowpack declined at over 90 percent of the sites measured (see map). The average change across all sites amounts to about a 14 percent decline. Observations also indicate a decrease in total snowfall and a transition to more rain and less snow in both the West and Northeast in the last 50 years.

photo of a resevoir with water levels dropped way below usual level

Long-term trends in snowpack provide important evidence that climate-related shifts are underway, and highlight the seriousness of water-resource and drought issues that Western states such as California currently face.

Less snowpack means less water and less water means more serious impacts.

Explore more:

See this and other Snow and Ice indicators

Open the map in Google Earth (KMZ) (100K, Download Google Earth): http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/images/indicator_downloads/snowpack_april1.kmz

About the author: Mike Kolian is an environmental scientist with EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs, Climate Change Division. His deep roots managing long-term environmental monitoring programs form the basis of his appreciation for the important role they and their data play in scientifically based decision making.

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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Water Wednesday: “Mommy, Where Does It Go When I Flush?”

By Chrislyn Johnson

Last spring, when I was potty training my 3-year-old, he asked me where it goes after we flush the toilet. I thought about this before I answered him, because I have often overwhelmed the poor child with my answers. He once asked me “What is water?” and I told him it was two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.

For most people, it is enough to be told that when you flush the toilet, it goes to the sewage treatment plant. Since I worked in wastewater regulation for a little while, I know it goes far beyond that, and I have trouble answering this seemingly simple question with a simple answer.

Once it goes down the drain, the water travels through a sometimes aging, sometimes modern, infrastructure of pipes to a wastewater treatment plant. Treatment options vary, from open lagoons to all-inclusive mechanical plants, all with the same goal: to treat sewage so it can be released into the environment. Many modern facilities do this with an “activated sludge” process that uses bacteria to naturally break down the waste.

As it enters the plant, the solids are separated out by a grit screen and settling basins. Heavier solids like plastics, eggshells, and intact items are settled out and removed; then taken to the landfill. The next step is the primary clarifier, where the sewage moves slowly along so heavier particles and sludge can settle out. At the same time, grease and oils dumped down the drain float to the top and are skimmed off the surface.

After the clarifier, the water is moved to the main part of the treatment: the aeration basin. Bacteria feast on the nutrients to break down the sewage and remove chemicals in the wastewater as it bubbles and roils with oxygen. Depending on the plant, an additional tank is sometimes added to help remove nitrogen. Since the treated water goes back into rivers and streams, this additional step is helpful in removing nitrogen before it can cause problems. Nitrogen can cause algal blooms that not only can be toxic, but also consume a lot of oxygen during decomposition, which kills the fish.

Following the aeration and nitrogen removal processes, the water then flows into a secondary clarifier. Water trickles out from weirs at the top of the large, circular tanks of the clarifier. The water is disinfected, either by chemical means (such as chlorination, similar to bleach), or through newer alternatives like ultraviolet (UV) lights. Once disinfected, the treated water is released into a nearby river or stream.

Whereas the water treatment is nearly finished in the secondary clarifier, the sludge often has a few more steps to completion. The bacteria slowly settle to the bottom of the clarifier into what is called the sludge blanket. Some of the sludge blanket from the clarifier is recycled and added back into the incoming wastewater to begin the treatment reaction in the aeration basin. Depending on the type of plant, the remainder of the sludge travels to the digesters for either aerobic or anaerobic digestion (where the bacteria eat each other).

Aerobic digestion uses oxygen to further break down the sludge. It is nearly odorless, but also costly since the process has to be manually oxygenated. The other common alternative is anaerobic digestion, which is not so odorless since it produces methane. However, the methane can be captured and used to generate electricity to operate the plant. The waste heat from the generators even can be used to keep the anaerobic digesters at the correct operating temperature. After leaving the digesters, water is removed from the sludge, which can then be disposed of or used as a soil conditioner. With clean water going back to the stream or river, and sludge going back to the earth, the cycle is complete.

I thought about this intricate series of steps that mimics the breakdown processes wastes would undergo in nature, given sufficient time and space. I thought about how fortunate we are to live in a country where water quality is a high priority, and we can make a daily difference to protect our local waterways (see graphic below).

I also thought about my son’s level of understanding, as he impatiently asked me again, “Where it go?” With all of this in mind, I looked down at my innocent little boy and told him, “It goes to the sewage treatment plant, honey.”

Click image to see larger version.

Click image to see larger version.

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 also enjoys access to flush toilets.

Scientific American
U.S. Census Bureau
World Health Organization

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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How An EPA Grant Transformed Our Lives and Environment

Many employers in Wisconsin can’t find applicants with the right skills and credentials to fill job openings. We refer to this as a skills mismatch – there are jobs available but those who are unemployed don’t have the industry certifications, licenses and credentials to qualify. We’ve engineered the Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps (Great Lakes CCC) using the EPA’s Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training grant program to position our training participants for career and college readiness. We believe individuals from under-represented populations can work in sectors related to environmental remediation while simultaneously ascending to positions of leadership where post-secondary education will be a prerequisite. .

In our Great Lakes CCC program, we start with public-private partnerships that give participants high-level science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) experiences which translate into bona fide occupational credentials. We emphasize disaster planning and preparedness inherent in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration hazardous waste courses and co-enroll our trainees into the AmeriCorps national service program where they also earn college scholarships. Individuals who previously thought post-secondary education was unattainable suddenly find themselves with scholarships they can use for tuition over the next several years.

For example, we put together a cross-sector partnership that utilizes bird species to detect contaminated sediments that impair the water quality of Lake Michigan estuaries. Under the leadership of the U.S. Geological Service, our training participants are in the process of monitoring tree swallow populations for the presence of contaminants that may be bio-accumulating in the species. When contaminants are identified, our training participants transition from the lab to the field to learn alongside remediation contractors who are responsible for the dredging and restoration operations.

Our training participants are individuals who face barriers to employment, and many of them have struggled to get an education or to find work. We’ve found that high-demand, portable, national credentials – the premise of EPA’s environmental job training grant program – are the solution to long-term employment for our trainees. The combination of multiple industry certifications creates new career opportunities. For instance, a commercial driver’s license overlaid with hazardous waste training positions them for occupations in great demand by trucking companies located between Milwaukee and Chicago. We believe everyone is employable – our multi-faceted credentialing approach has resulted in an average 80 percent placement rate and we anticipate sector partnerships and placement outcomes will climb further as we continue to fine tune our training.

About the author: Chris Litzau serves as the President of the Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps (Great Lakes CCC), a regional job training and education program for disadvantaged individuals in southeastern Wisconsin. He is a tireless advocate for preparing young adults from under-resourced communities with national, portable credentials and skills necessary to achieve careers in emerging technologies. He has a strong interest in transitioning job training participants into the water sector. As the former Executive Director for 12 years at the Milwaukee Community Service Corps–an urban youth corps program that engages young adults aged 18 to 23 in community service and public infrastructure development projects—he assembled a team that included the U.S. EPA, Wisconsin DNR and CH2M HILL to pioneer the “Milwaukee Model” as an initiative to place brownfield job training participants in marine environments to assist in the clean-up of contaminated sediments from the Great Lakes and its tributaries.  

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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New Online Resources Available for Local Leaders and Community Members

During my 38 years at EPA, I’ve had a chance to work here in Washington, D.C., in Research Triangle Park, in Dallas, and in Atlanta. In each of my roles, I’ve had many opportunities to meet with local leaders who are working hard to address concerns in their communities. So I know protecting environmental quality and public health happens most directly at the local level.

That’s why making a visible difference in communities is one of our top priorities for EPA. We are looking for ways we can support local officials juggling multiple responsibilities, as well as residents eager for information they can use to take action and improve local conditions.

So I’m excited about a new resource we’ve launched specifically for local officials and citizens. The Community Resources website gives visitors easy access to three unique resources that can help with a variety of local environmental and public health issues:

  • The Local Government Environmental Assistance Network (LGEAN) website offers information to help communities understand and meet federal and state environmental regulatory requirements. Developed in partnership with the International City / County Management Association, it’s one of several compliance assistance centers EPA supports. Along with media-specific information, LGEAN also includes information to help with issues ranging from sustainable environmental management to transportation to public safety.
  • The National Resource Network website offers practical solutions to help communities reach their goals for growth and economic development. Established by HUD in cooperation with the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities, it offers local government officials a Resource Library to help with practical solutions and analyses, as well as a “311 for Cities” service that enables them to request and quickly receive assistance on a wide range of topics.
  • And EPA’s Community Health website gives users resources to help improve local environmental health conditions. It provides access to information about beach closures, fish advisories, toxic emissions, and other public health issues. Visitors can also find information about applying for EPA grants and technical assistance.

We hope you’ll find this new site helpful. We invite you to check it out and then, click on the link to give us your feedback. We want to hear how we can improve the site to help local officials and community members across the country find the resources that are most important to them.

The Community Resources site is just one way we are working to make a visible difference in communities. Let me share a few examples of work happening on the ground around the country:

  • In Lawrence, Massachusetts, we awarded a brownfields grant that will help the community cleanup and revitalize a neighborhood marked by abandoned and polluted industrial properties. Check out this short video that features Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera and Massachusetts Rep. Niki Tsongas as they describe what this support will mean for the community.
  • In Wheeling, West Virginia, we joined local residents in exploring how it can transform an old apple orchard in an historic part of town into a regional hub for local foods. This work is part of the Local Foods, Local Places Initiative, which involves USDA and other federal agencies in helping communities develop local food systems as a means of revitalizing traditional downtowns and promoting economic diversification. Listen to what the Reinvent Wheeling’s Jack Dougherty has to say about this effort in this story by WV Public Radio.
  • In Fresno, California, we have been working with other state and federal agencies to help spur economic development and revitalization as part of the Obama Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative. A new EPA report drawing on that work describes 30 strategies to help local governments overcome obstacles and encourage infill development, particularly in distressed communities. As many communities across the country have learned, infill development saves money through the more efficient use of tax dollars, increases property values, and improves quality of life. We’re excited about how it can help Fresno, and many other communities that recognize the benefits of reinvesting and restoring what were once vibrant neighborhoods.

Whether working on tools and information to help communities address priority issues or working right alongside community leaders, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and I are proud of the work EPA is doing to help communities build a greener, healthier, more prosperous future. We look forward to sharing more examples of how we are supporting communities in reaching their goals.

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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America’s Heartland Depends on Clean Water

By Mark Hague

The Heartland thrives on clean water, a resource we must both conserve and protect. Agricultural interests, public health officials, recreational small businesses, and all the rest of us rely on clean water for our lives and livelihoods. While EPA oversees the protection of water quality under the Clean Water Act passed in 1972, every Heartlander understands its value to our daily lives.

Mark Hague

Mark Hague

During the past 43 years, EPA, the states, and local partners have worked tirelessly to clean up once polluted rivers and streams. While we’ve come a long way and dealt with the biggest issues, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have worked together to solve what remains through a new Clean Water Rule.

This new rule will help us further ensure clean waters are available to everyone here in the Heartland and downstream. The rule more clearly protects the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of our nation’s water resources.

In developing the rule, we held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country and reviewed more than one million public comments.

One of our most important challenges is protecting those smaller tributaries and wetlands that are a part of the vast interconnected system of some of our big rivers, like the Missouri and Mississippi. Our small waters are often out of sight, yet still serve an integral role in ensuring clean water for all Americans and our environment.

We rely on these smaller wetlands to provide uptake of nutrients, moderate flow in times of flooding, and serve as important habitat for species that spawn or rely on larger bodies of water, like the Missouri River.

Agriculture relies on clean water for livestock, crops, and irrigation. With the Clean Water Rule, EPA provides greater clarity and certainty to farmers and does not add economic burden on agriculture.

There is no doubt our water quality has improved. As a community and an agency, we must continue to protect both large and small tributaries. Clean water is a powerful economic driver affecting manufacturing, farming, tourism, recreation, and energy production. In fact, people who fish, hunt, and watch wildlife as a hobby spent $144.7 billion in 2011. That’s equal to one percent of the gross domestic product. The fact is, we rely on the flow of clean water to provide for this economic engine.

Finally, we all rely on the healthy ecosystems in these upstream waters to provide us with quiet, natural places to fish, boat, swim, and enjoy the outdoors. Hunters and anglers enjoy pristine places, and fishing rod makers and boat builders enjoy more business. And, of course, when drinking water is cleaner, people are healthier. We all win!

The Clean Water Rule will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Learn more at www.epa.gov/cleanwaterrule.

About the Author: Mark Hague serves as the Acting EPA Region 7 Administrator. He is responsible for overseeing the overall operations within the region and the implementation of federal environmental rules and regulations, and serves as a liaison with the public, elected officials, organizations, and others. Mark has 35 years of experience with EPA.

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: 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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