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Protecting the Environment for Today and the Future

By Karen Flournoy

We all have the responsibility to protect the environment for today and the future. For some of us, we have the honor every day of protecting the environment – working for EPA, state environmental agencies, other federal or state agencies, businesses, or legal or technical firms. I was in high school when President Nixon signed the order to create the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I didn’t imagine that someday I would work for the EPA!

As a kid, I was interested in science, loved being outdoors, and had a rock collection built by family and friends who brought me rocks when they traveled. I was determined in 4th grade to go to college because I wanted to study science or be an astronaut, as the space program was just beginning. In college in the 1970s, I studied civil engineering at the encouragement of my Dad. While many of my male classmates were interested in structures or transportation, I pursued my interest in wastewater. After almost one year at a consulting firm working on wastewater treatment plant projects, I was offered a job at EPA Region 7.

I’ve served in many roles throughout my career in EPA Region 7. I began as an engineer in the construction grants program reviewing wastewater treatment plant projects for funding, then moved to the site cleanup (Superfund) program, and later spent six years advising the Region 7 Administrator on environmental issues in agriculture. Now I serve as the Director of the Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. We are responsible for safe drinking water, wastewater permitting and storm water management, watershed projects, pesticides, and lead-based paint. We also manage the wastewater and drinking water state revolving loan funds, working with states to fund projects for drinking water and wastewater treatment.

What does protecting the environment really mean? For those of us who work at EPA, it means:

  • Making sure the laws passed by Congress are carried out through regulations and voluntary programs.
  • Providing information to students, the public, and regulated facilities.
  • Finding answers to environmental challenges through research.
  • Working with federal, state, local, and tribal partners to carry out environmental programs.

What does protecting the environment for today and the future mean for you?

  • Consider a career in environmental protection or encourage students to pursue careers in the environment, science, engineering, and math.
  • Purchase Energy Star and WaterSense labeled products to save energy and conserve water. Fix leaks in your toilets, faucets, and irrigation systems.
  • Be an example for children, including how to recycle, compost or properly dispose of items that cannot be recycled or composted.
  • Learn about your community’s wastewater and drinking water systems. The pipes under the ground that we don’t see every day carry safe drinking water to homes and businesses and wastewater to treatment plants.
  • Keep trash out of lawns and storm drains, and pick up pet waste.
  • Don’t rinse grease down your kitchen sink.
  • If you have a septic system, pump out the contents to ensure proper operation and protect nearby streams and groundwater.
  • Keep drinking water supplies safe by not disposing of chemicals on the ground and by applying the proper rate of fertilizer to your lawn.
  • Install a rain garden to keep rainwater on the property and rain barrels to catch rainwater for watering plants and lawns.
  • If you farm, install and maintain best management practices to minimize runoff of fertilizers and nutrients from farm fields, and keep livestock and manure from animal feeding operations out of streams.

If you already are a protector of the environment, that’s great! Keep up the good work! If you would like to learn more about what you can do to protect the environment for today and the future, please visit www.epa.gov for more information.

Karen Flournoy serves as the Director of EPA Region 7’s Water, Wetlands and Pesticides Division. She has a degree in civil engineering and has served in a number of positions in Region 7. Karen is a native Kansan with a lifelong interest in science and 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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Your Input is Shaping the Clean Water Rule

Skokomish River in Olympic National Park

Water is the lifeblood of healthy people and healthy economies. We have a duty to protect it. That’s why EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are finalizing a Clean Water Rule later this spring to protect critical streams and wetlands that are currently vulnerable to pollution and destruction. On April 3 we sent the draft rule to the Office of Management and Budget for interagency review. Since it’s not final yet, we can’t speak to every detail. But the spirit of this rule boils down to three facts:

First, people depend on clean water: one in three Americans get their drinking water from streams currently lacking clear protection.

Second, our economy depends on clean water: manufacturing, farming, ranching, tourism, recreation, and other major economic sectors need clean water to function and flourish.

Third, our cherished way of life depends on clean water: healthy ecosystems support precious wildlife habitat and pristine places to hunt, fish, boat, and swim.

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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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Terps Leave Tinier Water Footprints

By Madeleine Raley

The University of Maryland (UMD) is one of the largest consumers of freshwater in the state of Maryland, but it’s making big steps in water conservation across campus. Despite the addition of a new dorm in 2011, which added 640 beds and over 180 bathrooms to campus, water consumption levels have remained relatively steady at about a half a billion gallons annually since 2009. This is thanks to mass implementation of new water saving devices such as low-flow toilets, showers, faucets and moisture sensors on irrigation fields.

Although I’ve been a student at UMD for the past three years, it wasn’t until I came to intern for EPA’s Office of Water this semester that I truly began to appreciate the innovative ways UMD conserves water. During my internship, I learned about WaterSense, a partnership program started by EPA’s Office of Water, which offers people a simple way to use less water with water-efficient products, new homes, and services. Three water efficient products in the program are low-flow toilets, faucets and showerheads. According to EPA, one WaterSense low flow showerhead will save 2,900 gallons of water and $70 a year. To earn the WaterSense label, a showerhead needs to be under a 2.00/gallon per minute flow.

Residential facilities at UMD says that every single shower on campus (1,236 to be exact) has a 1.5/gallon per minute flow. They even have an entire residence hall that utilizes showers with 1.25/gallon per minute flow. The campus also boasts 1,370 toilets equipped with low-flow flush valves, and 1,370 sinks equipped with low flow aerators. To illustrate how effective this is, let’s consider the case of Washington Hall. In 2011-2012 Washington Hall used an average of 65,750 gallons of water annually. However, after the installation of low-flow products, the building used an average of 34,250 gallons of water annually in 2013-2014, saving over 30,000 gallons a year.

When organizations buy WaterSense products, they empower the individual to make a difference without even realizing it, simply by using the WaterSense products offered. Recruiting larger organizations and companies – or even universities — could be an effective solution to curb the immense amount of water wasted by toilets, faucets and showerheads, like at the University of Maryland.

About the author: Madeleine Raley is a Spring 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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FracFocus Report: Helping us Paint a Fuller Picture

By Tom Burke

Only a few years ago, very little was known about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. Congress asked us to embark on a major effort to advance the state-of-the-science to accurately assess and identify those risks. Today, we are releasing a new report to provide a fuller picture of the information available for states, industry, and communities working to safeguard drinking water resources and protect public health.

The Analysis of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Data from the FracFocus Chemical Registry 1.0. is a peer-reviewed analysis built on more than two years of data provided by organizations that manage FracFocus, the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Operators disclosed information on individual oil and gas production wells hydraulically fractured between January 2011 and February 2013 and agency researchers then compiled a database from more than 39,000 disclosures.

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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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An Inspiring Afternoon with Women Scientists and Engineers from Carnegie Mellon University

 

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon at Carnegie Mellon University with very impressive women faculty members and doctoral candidates in the engineering, environment and public policy fields.

These women of diverse backgrounds and experiences enlightened me about their work on a number of environmental challenges facing us today. They are doing important research on the life-cycle of energy systems and their impact on climate change and mitigation. Through these efforts, faculty and students are seeking to understand the social, economic and environmental implications of energy consumption tools that can be used to support sustainable energy.

I was pleased to learn that one Ph.D. candidate is studying water quality and marine life in the Monongahela River. We’re doing very similar work in our Wheeling, West Virginia office and I hope we can build on each other’s progress. There are a number of interesting and practical research projects on air quality modeling, agriculture, and natural gas – I am interested in learning about the final outcomes of these projects and how it may increase our understanding in those areas.

My visit to Carnegie Mellon is timely since we celebrate Women’s History Month in March. Women have a long history in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) that many may not realize. Women play an important role by fostering a robust and diverse scientific community that draws from a broad array of unique experiences and skills. Developing diverse world-class talent in STEM, is absolutely critical in meeting the growing environmental challenges facing our modern world.

I am inspired by the passion and creativity of the talented group of engineers and scientists at Carnegie Mellon. They are striving to make meaningful contributions to the environment for generations to come. We need to ensure more women have the opportunity to pursue degrees in the various fields of science. These women scientists and engineers are helping to move this forward.

Shawn M. Garvin is EPA’s Regional Administrator for Region 3, overseeing the agency’s operations in Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Shawn’s career in intergovernmental affairs spans more than 20 years at the federal and local levels.

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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Five Ways Streams and Wetlands Keep Us and Our Environment Healthy

You may have heard that we’re proposing a rule to clarify which streams and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act. Right now, 60 percent of our streams and millions of acres of wetlands lack clear protection from pollution and destruction.

You might not think that your local stream or that wetland in the woods is a big deal, but the water that flows through it could end up hundreds of miles away as someone’s drinking water or where people swim or fish. Streams and wetlands aren’t just a little piece of our water system; they’re the foundation. They generate a large portion of the water that ends up in our lakes and rivers – so what happens upstream affects everything that lies downstream, including the water that flows by our homes and out of our taps.

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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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Puerto Rico Shows the Power of Community Involvement in Protecting Waterways

Deputy Assistance Administrator Mike Shapiro talking with Harvey Minnigh, Cristina Maldonado (CEPD), and Graciela Ramirez (CECIA-InterAmericana) about the progress of the construction of a filter for the community of Mulas Jagual in Patillas, Puerto Rico.

Deputy Assistance Administrator Mike Shapiro talking with Harvey Minnigh, Cristina Maldonado (CEPD), and Graciela Ramirez (CECIA-InterAmericana) about the progress of the construction of a filter for the community of Mulas Jagual in Patillas, Puerto Rico.

By Mike Shapiro (cross-posted from It’s Our Environment)

Growing up, I remember playing along the mud flats by Newark Bay and pondering why the water nearby was so dark and sticky. I later learned that the water and mud flats were contaminated with oil and other substances. While Newark Bay is still far from clean by our current standards, today when I return to my home town I can see progress from the cleanup and restoration that is taking place.

Our work with communities to improve water quality makes a big difference. I flew to Puerto Rico in February to visit two projects that have made tremendous strides in improving the health of communities there – thanks to dedicated project leaders who empower local people and collaborate with local and federal government agencies to protect their waterways.

My first visit was to Mulas Jagual in Patillas, where the city and its residents are building a filter to treat water that will serve 200 households. This is an incredible accomplishment for a community that only a few years ago was taking water from a local river and piping it directly to their homes without any treatment. Through an EPA grant, they received training and technical assistance from a university in Puerto Rico. They learned about chlorination and formed a board to help manage their community water system.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Mike Shapiro stands with Jose Font from the EPA Caribbean Environmental Protection Division, community leaders and members of Project ENLACE, a government organization whose mission is to implement the $744 million land use and development plan for Cano Martin Pena.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Mike Shapiro stands with Jose Font from the EPA Caribbean Environmental Protection Division, community leaders and members of Project ENLACE, a government organization whose mission is to implement the $744 million land use and development plan for Cano Martin Pena.

My second visit was to the Martin Pena Channel, a 3.75-mile tidal channel located within San Juan Bay. During the early 20th century, substandard dwellings were built within the wetlands bordering the channel, using debris as fill material. Over 3,000 structures now discharge raw sewage into the remains of the channel. Poorly maintained sewer systems result in flooding, regularly exposing 27,000 residents to polluted waters. In 2014, we awarded a grant of $60,000 to design a new stormwater drainage system. We’re currently working with our federal partners on a major dredging project that would restore water flow within the channel.

Administrator Gina McCarthy declared February to be Environmental Justice Month. It’s important to provide minority and low-income communities with access to information and an opportunity to better protect their health. Clean water is a vital piece of the puzzle for the health and safety of all Americans.

About the author: Mike Shapiro is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water where he performs a variety of policy and operational functions to ensure the effective implementation of the National Water Program.

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 our Drinking Water for Everyone

By Dr. Peter Grevatt

Like families in almost every city and town across the U.S., everyone in my house counts on the idea that we can just reach for the tap any time we’re thirsty or need some water to cook dinner. And, there hasn’t been a single day when safe drinking water wasn’t readily available to me or my family at a remarkably low cost.

While most Americans enjoy this same luxury every day, this past year two major drinking water systems were shut down when harmful toxins contaminated their drinking water systems. These incidents in Toledo, OH, and Charleston, WV, resulted in over 800,000 residents having to find an alternative supply of safe drinking water for as long as five days. And, in both cases, this led to National Guard deployment to provide emergency drinking water to long lines of residents.

Unfortunately, Charleston and Toledo are not the only places in the United States where this occurred in the last year, reminding us of the critical importance of protecting the sources of our drinking water.

While today’s drinking water treatment systems can remove most contaminants, in some cases, they’ve been overwhelmed by contaminants introduced upstream from the customers they serve. In these instances, many lower income residents bear the greatest burden of losing access to safe drinking water. Without effective source water protection programs, the cost of providing safe drinking water is placed solely on the downstream drinking water plants and their customers, many of whom can’t afford to shoulder this extra treatment cost, let alone the economic losses of closing businesses and schools during a drinking water emergency.

All Americans should have access to safe drinking water. We can all help to make sure this is the case by helping to protect our source waters where we live and for our downstream neighbors.

About the author: Peter Grevatt is the Director of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. The Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water in collaboration with states, tribes and its many stakeholders, is responsible for safeguarding America’s 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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When Hotels Save Water, They Save Money, Too

Hotels consume a significant amount of water in the U.S. and around the world, adding to their utility bills and their bottom line. Through technology, innovation and partnership efforts, we’re helping hotels to save water and money, too.

We know that America’s young people are extremely creative and great with technology. That’s why each spring we provide the nation with a glimpse of America’s winning future through our P3 student design competition for sustainability. “P3” stands for People, Prosperity and the Planet. Working in teams, students and their academic advisors devise innovative solutions to meet environmental challenges in ways that benefit people, promote prosperity, and protect the planet.

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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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Farmers Using Special Crops in Holtwood, PA to Protect Soil & Help Their Farms Thrive

By Kate Pinkerton and Erika Larsen

It is hard to imagine anything growing in fields during winter, but last fall, we visited a farm in Pennsylvania that was covered in thriving, green crops. This farm showcases crop research and water quality conservation practices on agricultural lands. One of its practices is planting “cover crops” – or crops planted specifically to help replenish the soil and protect our waters outside of the typical farming season.

We are two coworkers in the Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education (ORISE) program in the EPA Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. We come from two different backgrounds – agriculture and water quality – to help farmers ensure that nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen stay on the farm where they help crops grow, rather than getting washed into our rivers and streams where they can build up and become nutrient pollution, or the excess of the vital nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen.

Farmers plant cover crops to improve and protect their soil and keep these nutrients from washing away in runoff, especially when they’re not growing crops they can sell. A variety of plants can be used as cover crops, including grasses, grains, legumes or broadleaf plants. By planting cover crops, farmers help the environment and themselves by increasing their soil’s health and water retention, potentially increasing crop yields and creating more habitat for wildlife.

The 200-acre farm we visited in Holtwood, PA – owned by Steve and Cheri Groff – produces corn, alfalfa, soybeans, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers and pumpkins. Annual cover crops help the farm be productive by maintaining a permanent cover on the soil surface at all times. During the tour, we talked with the Groffs about how cover crops store nutrients for the next crop and impact yields, what cover crop mixtures to use and the benefits of having multiple species. We also watched demonstrations on cover crop rooting depths, and how cover crops help soil health and water/nutrient cycling.

We were joined by other local farmers, agricultural conservation NGO staff, and representatives from other government agencies, including USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Risk Management Agency. Rob Myers, Regional Director of the North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, said, “When you compare fields that are normally bare in the fall with a cover crop field capturing sunlight and protecting soil and water, it’s a pretty striking comparison.”

We enjoyed checking out the Groffs’ farm and seeing the wonderful progress that has been made on cover crop use and research, and we’re excited by the opportunities to collaborate to improve soil health and water quality. We hope to see this field continue to grow!
To learn more about cover crops please visit our website: http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/agriculture/covercrops.cfm.

 

ORISE program participant Kate Pinkerton, Chief of the Rural Branch in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management Allison Wiedeman, and ORISE program participant Erika Larsen stand in front of a cover crop research plot at Steve and Cheri Groff’s farm in Holtwood, PA.

ORISE program participant Kate Pinkerton, Chief of the Rural Branch in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management Allison Wiedeman, and ORISE program participant Erika Larsen stand in front of a cover crop research plot at Steve and Cheri Groff’s farm in Holtwood, PA.

 

About the authors:

Erika Larsen is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) research participant in the Nonpoint Source Control Branch in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. Erika is a soil scientist from Florida and currently works on agriculture and water quality issues.

Kate Pinkerton is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) program participant on the Hypoxia Team in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. Kate is originally from Kentucky and studied environmental science at American University. She currently works on nutrient pollution and hypoxia issues in the Mississippi River Basin and the Gulf of Mexico.

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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