waterways

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.

 

By Mike Shapiro

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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Challenging Nutrients: EPA and Partners Launch New Ideation Prize

Effects from excess nutrients in American waterways cost the country more than $2 billion each year.

Activities of daily modern life add small amounts of the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus to our lakes, rivers and estuaries, either directly or indirectly.

We all contribute to the widespread problem. Runoff from our suburban lawns, city streets and rural fields is just one of many ways we introduce more nutrients into the environment.

The partnership for this challenge currently includes: - White House Office of Science and Technology Policy - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - U.S. Department of Agriculture - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  - U.S. Geological Survey - Tulane University - Everglades Foundation

The partnership for this challenge currently includes:
– White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
– U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
– U.S. Department of Agriculture
– National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
– U.S. Geological Survey
– Tulane University
– Everglades Foundation

These excess nutrients end up in our waterways and fuel algae growth that exceeds healthy ecosystem limits. In turn, algal blooms can contaminate drinking water, kill aquatic species and negatively affect water-based recreation and tourism.

A partnership of federal agencies and stakeholders has announced a new prize competition to collect innovative ideas for addressing nutrient overloads.

The challenge aims to identify next-generation solutions from across the world that can help with excess nutrient reduction, mediation and elimination. The total payout will be $15,000, with no award smaller than $5,000. Proposals can range from completely developed ideas to exploratory research projects.

Ideas will be judged on a range of criteria, including technical feasibility and strategic plans for user adoption. Additionally, the challenge entries will inform the partnership members’ broader commitment and vision to find new ways to approach this decades-long problem.

Submit your idea today!

About the Author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Wetlands All Around Me

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By Travis Loop

The moon lit up the marsh as my canoe glided across the water. In shallow sections, my paddle pushed against the bottom. Around me were frogs peeping, fish splashing and birds rustling. For a 13-year-old boy on a field trip, these Chesapeake Bay wetlands were a dramatic introduction to the remarkable area where the land meets the water.

Why are wetlands – often mucky and unattractive – remarkable? It is for their critical role in the ecosystem and in our communities. In many places I’ve been throughout my life I have found wetlands all around me… and discovered their importance.

When living in Wilmington, North Carolina, I saw how coastal wetlands and Carolina bays are vital habitat for wildlife, including the alligator peering at me while I kayaked in a swamp. Wetlands are diverse biological ecosystems and more than one-third of threatened and endangered species live only in wetlands. Migratory waterfowl use wetlands – especially prairie potholes in the Midwest – for resting, feeding or nesting. This is big business – about 2.3 million people annually hunt migratory birds, spending $1.8 billion dollars.

Now at EPA headquarters in Washington, colleagues say swamps, marshes and bogs are the kidneys for our nation’s waterways, filtering pollution and reducing sediment that would hurt downstream. For example, without the Congaree Bottomland Hardwood Swamp in South Carolina, a $5 million wastewater treatment plant would be needed.

During a trip to Louisiana I heard how wetlands function as natural sponges that trap water and lessen flooding. Wetlands along the Mississippi River once stored 60 days of floodwater. Now they store only 12 days because most have been filled or drained and there is more frequent flooding along the river.

I didn’t expect to find wetlands when living in Hawaii. Yet near my house on Oahu, wetlands were part of Ka’elepulu Pond. I’ve learned there are wetlands in unique places across the country – about 20 percent of wetlands (20 million acres) in the continental U.S. are not visibly connected to other waterways – as you would suspect wetlands to be – but may have groundwater connections and provide other benefits.

Sadly, many wetlands have already been lost or altered – more than half of the original wetland areas in the continental U.S. are gone. And near my home in Annapolis, Maryland, climate change is raising sea levels, slowly swallowing the wetlands of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

We need these wetlands around us.

About the author:  Travis Loop is the director of communications for EPA’s Office of 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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Getting To Know Your Local Waterways

By Doug Norton

“How’s My Waterway?” Can you answer this question about your favorite vacation lake, or the river where you walk with your dog? Are streams in your community polluted, and what’s being done about it if they are?

Most people don’t know – and are surprised to learn that the answers have been publicly available for years. But publicly available doesn’t always mean easily accessible, and understandable.

For decades, the Clean Water Act has required tracking of water pollution problems and restoration progress across the nation. EPA public databases include detailed information about the condition of local streams and lakes, pollutants, where they come from, and progress on fixing the problems.

As an Office of Water scientist, I regularly use these databases in national and state studies of water pollution trends and restoration strategies. But even I had trouble answering the simple question: “How’s My Waterway?” These data systems weren’t designed to provide a quick look at local waters or to provide a simple explanation of what the data really mean. Chances are most people would be baffled by EPA’s complex databases and scientific information. They might say, “But all I really want to know is: how’s MY waterway? And please tell me in words I can understand.”

My project team created an exciting solution to this dilemma as part of EPA’s Water Data Project, which makes important water information more widely known and available to the general public. We developed How’s My Waterway as a simpler pathway through the same EPA database. You can instantly get localized information about waterways in map and list format by simply entering a zip code or place name. Anyone can check on local waters anywhere in the nation in seconds—even at the water’s edge, for those using smart phones.

Users can pan across a color-coded map that shows how common are the polluted, unpolluted, and unassessed waters. Waterway-specific details include the local pollutants and progress on clean-up plans. Plain-language descriptions about each pollutant explain where it comes from, whether it harms the environment and human health, and what people can do to help. Related links go to the technical database if needed or to other popular sites about beaches, drinking water, fish advisories and other water topics.

What’s the health of your waterway? Now you can find out

About the author: Doug Norton is a watershed scientist with EPA’s national Office of Water who studies national pollution patterns, helps states restore polluted waters, and designs tools to help improve public understanding of water pollution issues.

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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Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act

By Nancy Stoner

I am proud to be at EPA in 2012 for the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s foremost law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource. I often think about how a generation ago, the American people faced health and environmental threats in their waters that are almost unimaginable today.

Municipal and household wastes flowed untreated into our rivers, lakes and streams. Harmful chemicals were poured into the water from factories, chemical manufacturers, power plants and other facilities. Two-thirds of waterways were unsafe for swimming or fishing. Polluters weren’t held responsible. We lacked the science, technology and funding to address the problems.

Then on October 18, 1972, the Clean Water Act became law.

In the 40 years since, the Clean Water Act has kept tens of billions of pounds of sewage, chemicals and trash out of our waterways. Urban waterways have gone from wastelands to centers of redevelopment and activity, and we have doubled the number of American waters that meet standards for swimming and fishing. We’ve developed incredible science and spurred countless innovations in technology.

But I realize that despite the progress, there is still much, much more work to be done. And there are many challenges to clean water.

Today one-third of America’s assessed waterways still don’t meet water quality standards. Our nation’s water infrastructure is in tremendous need of improvement – the American Society of Civil Engineers gave it a D-, the lowest grade given to any public infrastructure. The population will grow 55 percent from 2000 and 2050, which will put added strain on water resources. Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution is increasingly harming streams, rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters. Climate change is predicted to bring warmer temperatures, sea level rise, stronger storms, more droughts and changes to water chemistry. And we face less conventional pollutants – so-called emerging contaminants – that we’ve only recently had the science to detect.

The absolute best path forward is partnership – among all levels of government, the private sector, non-profits and the public. It is only because of partnership that we made so much progress during the past 40 years, and it is partnership that will lead to more progress over the next 40 years.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone who has been part of protecting water and for working to ensure that this vital resource our families, communities and economy depends on is safeguarded for generations to come.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of 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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Iowa Soybean Farm Visit

By Nancy Stoner

In September, I was near Webster City for a tour hosted by the Iowa Soybean Association. We visited a local farmer, Arlo Van Diest, and his wife, Claudia, who own and farm 2,300 acres to produce corn and soybeans. They recently received the 2012 Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award.

I was impressed with how the Van Diest farm uses a system of conservation practices that combine innovation with proven technologies to keep nutrients out of local waterways. They use strip tillage, which disturbs less soil and results in less erosion than conventional tillage. Seeing the positive results, Arlo purchased a second strip till machine that he loans to neighboring farmers so they can try strip tillage on their own farms. With the assistance of the Iowa Soybean Association, Arlo buried woodchip bioreactors under part of some fields near tile drains to intercept the drainage water and turn the nitrate into harmless nitrogen gas.

I was fortunate enough to visit during the harvest and even rode on a combine as it collected corn. The combine has equipment that displays the yield generated with each row harvested. I quickly recognized that Arlo’s willingness to embrace advanced technology, along with his strong commitment to environmental stewardship, made it possible to both efficiently grow crops and conserve aspects of the local ecosystem.

Just a few miles away, I visited a local stream monitoring site in Lyons Creek Watershed. The Iowa Soybean Association’s commitment to a healthy watershed is demonstrated by their pursuit of funding for monitoring equipment and analysis. A representative, Todd Sutphin, told me how funding from various sources, including EPA, contributed to improved monitoring practices and nutrient management solutions in this watershed.

It was an amazing, impressive experience to see the endless acres of corn waving in the fresh breeze. I learned a lot on this trip about how farmers are using both innovative and traditional conservation practices to benefit financially by keeping the nutrients for the crops and reduce water pollution at the same time. Given that agriculture is a major source of the nutrients entering not only the local waterways of Iowa, but also the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico, I was heartened to see this progress.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of 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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The Storm Drain Cat

By Amy Miller

Truth be told I could not have told you if there was a drain at the end of our driveway or not. They are generally just there, little windows into the earth below that we avoid without even noticing them. Sometimes when the leaves pile up and create a dam, I mindlessly push them out of the way and experience an inexplicable thrill at watching the new river gushing through the channel I constructed with the toes of my boot.

But one day this winter, as I was walking my 10yearold to school, I found the drain just down from the fence where the lilac bush grows had become the focus of the fire department, public works and the neighborhood.

A kitty cat had found its way into a storm drain and subsequently managed to get only its head above the grate. Now it was stuck with its little face peering out from one of the two by two inch holes in the metal and its legs dangling below. After 15 minutes of trying to get it through, the fire department decided to pry off the heavy metal grating. Unfortunately, this did not help as the cat was frozen to the earth below. This was not a pretty picture and unsure that the cat hadn’t used up all nine lives, I rushed my son off to school.

The end of the story is that the cat lived. It had been missing from a neighbor’s for days, and the town officials really got to play old fashioned heroes. But the moral of the story is that you never know what could get into a storm drain and where it will end up.

Our town officials concluded the cat crawled in through an open culvert, got lost and then tried to climb its way out through a grate. Apparently that was not a success.

But the cat took the same trail as oil, gum wrappers, napkins, food, cigarette butts, dog poop and any other refuse we leave near or on our roads –purposely or through our daily farming and transportation activities. Unlike the cat, however, our refuse goes through the system and into our waterways. Unlike the cat, the pollution that ends up in our storm drains joins with stormwater and makes its way to the lakes, ponds and rivers around us.

About the author:  Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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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Challenges and Opportunities in San Juan Bay

By Nancy Stoner

Last week, I visited the San Juan Bay National Estuary Program office in Puerto Rico and took a tour of the estuary with the program’s director, Dr. Javier Laureano. San Juan Bay was the first tropical island estuary to become part of the National Estuary Program and, it contains coral communities, seagrass beds and mangrove forests – all habitats designated critical areas. The San Juan Bay program also faces some significant environmental challenges, but Dr. Laureano and his team are making tremendous progress through their partnerships with commonwealth and municipal officials, the local water and wastewater utilities, and dedicated community groups.
We started the day with a boat tour of the waterways that connect to San Juan Bay. It’s an oasis in the Puerto Rico’s largest urban center with almost no development and lots of wildlife, but with significant contamination issues from sewage and stormwater. The National Estuary Program has requested $1.2 million from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to track all of the sources of untreated sewage into the waterway. We also saw a number of new eco-tourism businesses that the National Estuary Program has helped get off the ground.

A hallmark of this program is its focus on developing economic opportunities for many of the communities located within the National Estuary Program study area because of the poverty they face. In this case, many of the local neighborhoods lack sewage treatment and have clogged stormwater drains as well, so the storms flood the streets, homes and even schools with sewage-laden water.

The trash in the Martin Pena Channel that flows into San Juan Bay and is so deep that you can walk across the former stream at many points. It is a health hazard that EPA is working in partnership with many, including effective community leaders, to address, but it’s a big job and presents a significant financial challenge for this impoverished community.

I also joined EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck and Assistant Administrator Craig Hooks for a meeting and walking tour with representatives of community groups, a visit to a community garden where university students tutor children in the neighborhood and a trip to eroded coastal areas where the National Estuary Program is planting mangrove trees to stabilize and protect the coastline. These projects are a few examples of the great work underway to restore and protect one of the country’s most unique ecosystems in the United States.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of 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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Paving the Way in American Manufacturing

By Nancy Stoner

On a cold February day, I stood in a driveway in an industrial complex in Bladensburg, MD, just outside the nation’s capital. Water from a 500-gallon container was gushing onto the ground in front of me. But rather than forming large puddles and flowing across the parking lot, the water was simply disappearing – not into thin air, but into a special system of permeable pavers called PaveDrain.

Instead of letting rain flow off hard surfaces and carry pollution into local waterways and stormdrains, this innovative product captures it and allows it to slowly filter into the ground. Ernest Maier, a Bladensburg, MD company, manufactures the PaveDrain system and had hosted me for a demo. They are exactly the type of company that President Obama spoke about in his State of the Union address when he laid out a blueprint for an economy that is built to last – one built on American manufacturing, American energy and the skills of American workers.

When the President laid out proposals for how we’ll bring about a new era of American manufacturing, with more good jobs and more products stamped Made in the USA, Ernest Maier is the type of company the President was talking about – a successful American company that manufactures products in America and employs American workers.

This system of permeable pavers that greatly reduce water pollution can be found at the nearby town hall in Bladensburg, in residential driveways in Pennsylvania and in the parking lot of a Ford factory in Louisville. In addition to manufacturing products that reduce water pollution and recharge groundwater, Ernest Maier is taking steps to use clean energy and protect the environment – reusing water at the factory, putting biodiesel in their off-road vehicles, utilizing recycled materials, and working with The Conservation Fund to offset carbon dioxide emissions.

Manufacturers of environmental technology are critical to an economy built to last. In fact, the U.S. is the world’s largest producer and consumer of environmental technology goods and services. The U.S. environmental technology industry is a significant economic engine comprised of approximately 119,000 firms, 99 percent of which are small and medium-sized companies. According to the Department of Commerce, the U.S. environmental technology industry in 2008 generated approximately $300 billion in revenues, $43.8 billion in exports, and supported almost 1.7 million jobs.

Let those numbers soak in…they show that our environment and economy can thrive together.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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Success on Santa Fe River Reflects Power of Partnership

By Nancy Stoner

One of the best parts of my job is when I get outside of Washington, D.C. to travel to see water issues firsthand and meet the wide spectrum of people involved in protecting waterways.

During a recent trip to New Mexico, I saw the incredible progress in improving the lower Santa Fe River over the past 10 years. Previously, grazing cattle prevented plants from growing along the river to filter pollution and provide wildlife habitat. An upstream wastewater treatment plant contributed to water quality problems. The result was a barren, erosion-prone stretch of the river with an unhealthy pH, too much sediment, and not enough dissolved oxygen.

Enter a diverse array of stakeholders: the New Mexico Environment Department, the County and City of Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Soil and Water Conservation District, the WildEarth Guardians and private landowners, as well as community volunteers and school groups. They all met me that day to celebrate the restoration.

And enter EPA’s 319 program under the Clean Water Act, which provides grant money to tackle water pollution problems through activities such as projects, training, technical assistance, education and monitoring. EPA made $175 million in grants available in 2011. I am sure that most readers aren’t in New Mexico, but here is a list of 355 similar success stories from 319 grants around the country.

For the lower Santa Fe River, about $257,000 in 319 grants from EPA led to about $320,000 in matching funds for projects. Fencing was installed to keep livestock out of the area. Native vegetation — more than 5,000 cottonwood trees and 15,000 willow trees – were planted to filter pollution and provide wildlife habitat. Levees were removed to allow water to reach the floodplain, wetlands were created, and outreach and education activities occurred. The result is a lush corridor and cleaner water, along with the return of waterfowl and beavers to the area.

The State of New Mexico has removed the pH and sediment impairments and is proposing to remove the dissolved oxygen impairment in 2012. You can read more here .

While the improvements to water quality and the natural environment are critical, what truly inspired me – and everyone standing along the river that day – is the story of partnership. The federal, state and local government, along with environmental groups and private citizens, all worked together. It shows that water is vital to all of us and success in stewardship is a collective effort.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water and grew up in the flood plain of the South River, a tributary of the Shenandoah River.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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