wetlands

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

The following excerpt is reposted from “EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA Leadership

Aerial photograph of river and wetland

EPA recently released a scientific report about the connectivity of U.S. waters.

By Lek Kadeli

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

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

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EPA: Protecting Water: A Precious, Limited Resource

Summer is when many families head to our oceans, lakes, and streams to fish, swim, and enjoy our nation’s waters—bringing water quality and safety to the top of our minds. EPA has a critical mission to make sure our nation’s water resources are safe for drinking, for recreation, and for aquatic life.

Earlier this summer, I asked EPA employees to share the innovative work they’re doing to protect our nation’s water resources. I’d like to share some of their great stories with you.
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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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The Renewal Continues in New Orleans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Nancy Stoner

New Orleans is defined by its location along the Mississippi River and near the Gulf of Mexico. It is working hard to define its water future — a future in which the city is less vulnerable to flooding and sea level rise and is able to retain or restore many of the coastal wetlands that have been lost over the years because people have altered the hydrology.

The Urban Waters Ambassador, Danny Wiegand, funded by the Office of Water and on detail from the Army Corps of Engineers, is the perfect guy to take on this assignment. He’s working closely with the Mayor’s office, other agencies such as HUD and FEMA, and most importantly, the citizens of New Orleans and grassroots groups such as Groundwork New Orleans. More

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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Reducing the Impact of Stormwater Challenges

Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA Office of Water

Stormwater pollution is a dilemma all across the country – even in beautiful mountain towns like Aspen, Colorado. Pollutants such as oils, fertilizer, and sediment from the steep mountains that tower over the town, can be carried via stormwater and snowmelt and deposited into waterways like the Roaring Fork River. This has a huge impact on the ecosystem.

Last month, I toured the Jennie Adair wetlands, a bio-engineered detention area designed to passively treat stormwater runoff in Aspen. I saw firsthand how the city is working to deal with its stormwater challenges. Before this project, stormwater did not drain to a water treatment facility. It used to flow directly into the Roaring Fork River and other water bodies within the city limits, having significant impacts on the water quality.

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Wetlands: Earth’s Kidneys

By Marguerite Huber

Stream restoration research

Stream restoration research

Our organs are vital to our health, with each one playing a significant part. Kidneys, for instance, filter our blood to remove waste and fluid. Wetlands are often referred to as “Earth’s kidneys” because they provide the same functions, absorbing wastes such as nitrogen and phosphorous. When excess amounts of these substances—nutrient loading—flow into waterways it can mean harmful algal blooms, hypoxia, and summer fish kills.

Recognizing the importance of wetlands, many communities are taking steps to protect, restore, and even create wetlands.

For example, many stream restoration projects include constructing wetlands to absorb stormwater runoff and absorb excess nutrients and other pollutants that flow in from a host of sources across the watershed (known collectively as nonpoint source pollutants).

These constructed wetlands can provide key elements to urban stormwater management because they help reduce the impacts of runoff after a rainstorm or big snowmelt event. Such runoff typically transports high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous and suspended solids from road surfaces into waterways.

One such type of wetland that may provide these kinds of benefits is the oxbow lake, so named because of their curved shape. These form naturally when a wide bend in a stream gets cut off from the main channel, but EPA researchers are taking advantage of a couple of oxbow wetlands created during stream restoration activities at Minebank Run, an urban stream in Baltimore County, MD.

The researchers are studying the oxbow wetlands to quantify how effective such artificially created wetlands are at absorbing nitrogen and phosphorous in an urban setting. If these types of wetlands are effective, then deliberately constructing oxbow wetlands could be an important nutrient management strategy in such landscapes.

From May 2008 through June 2009, the researchers analyzed water, nitrate (a form of nitrogen pollution), and phosphate flow during four storms to better understand the impacts of hydrology on the potential for the two oxbow wetlands and the adjacent restored streambed to absorb or release nutrients.

The results suggest that oxbow wetlands in urban watersheds have the potential to be “sinks” that absorb and store nitrogen. They also reinforced information pointing to the dynamic hydrologic connection linking water and nutrient flow between streams and nearby oxbow wetlands, findings that if confirmed through further investigation can be used to improve restoration efforts that improve water quality across entire watersheds.

When it comes to phosphorus, the researchers found that oxbows don’t function as “sinks,” but “sources,” that contribute a net increase of the nutrient. They hypothesize that this is because the nutrient is released from wetland sediments during storms or other similar events. Future studies are needed to investigate the magnitude of phosphorous release, and how important that contribution is across the watershed.

Just like how our kidneys are an essential aspect of the human body, wetlands are an important aspect of nature. Retaining additional nutrients and treating non-point source pollutants help give natural and constructed wetlands the affectionate nickname of “Earth’s Kidneys.”

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

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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Take Action for Wetlands

by Stephanie Leach

Citizen science projects enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research.

Citizen science projects enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research.

 

This May is the 24thAmerican Wetlands Month, a time for us to appreciate the beautiful diversity of our wetlands as well as Americans’ long and evolving history with them. While we have not always recognized wetlands as ecologically valuable places, we are now fortunate to have a large body of cultural and scientific knowledge, as well as technologies that allow us to access this voluminous information, to guide us in the exploration of our aquatic resources and even allow us to aid in their protection.

You can find many opportunities to advocate for wetlands in your area, including volunteering with community groups to restore or monitor wetlands or even participating in what are known as citizen science projects. Citizen science is when individuals without professional expertise assist in the collection of data. Participation in a citizen science project can mean surveying a specific location over a certain time period, volunteering to collect samples from designated streams, or even simply making note of an observed species. Increasingly, citizen science is taking the form of crowdsourcing over the internet, whereby ordinary people submit their observations to organizations in order to create a large-scale representation of the biodiversity present across time and space.

Some examples of citizen science projects that enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research include: Frogwatch USA, Project Feeder Watch (to report overwintering birds), The Orianne Society (salamanders), Bandedbirds.org (banded shore birds) and other location-specific projects dedicated to rare or invasive plants. What’s more, several of these projects have smartphone apps which users can consult for more information or even use to submit their observations.

American Wetlands Month offers us an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been and take action to protect our aquatic resources as we move forward. For more information, visit EPA’s American Wetlands Month website. What groups or projects are you involved with that help you learn about and protect wetlands in your area?

About the Author:  Stephanie Leach works in EPA Region 3’s Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division as an intern from the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking, and learning as much as she can about the natural world and how to protect it.

 

 

 

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 Natural Resources – Here and Abroad

OITA PDAA Jane Nishida talks to key local and national stakeholders working to preserve and protect Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay

OITA PDAA Jane Nishida talks to key local and national stakeholders working to preserve and protect Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay

 

By Jane Nishida, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of International and Tribal Affairs

The Chesapeake Bay is one of the nation’s most vital resources, providing important habitat for fish and wildlife, and recreational and tourism opportunities for millions of people each year. While increased tourism and development has supported the area’s economic growth, it has brought with it a suite of environmental challenges, including nutrient pollution, loss of forests and wetlands, and air pollution stemming from increased development in the area. In my previous roles as Secretary of Maryland’s Department of the Environment and Maryland Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, I saw first-hand the impacts of this damage, and worked closely with local residents, stakeholders, elected officials and the federal government to begin on a major restoration and protection effort. Not only can we protect the bay and surrounding wildlife, we can ensure the continued economic benefits of tourism for the future.

Nearly 8,000 miles away from the Chesapeake Bay lies an area with similar opportunities and challenges. Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is known around the world for its striking beauty and diverse ecosystem. However, as with the Chesapeake Bay, concerned citizens and government officials are seeing increased degradation and pollution as more and more people access the Bay for tourism, recreation and shipping development. More

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Innovating a Path Forward: EPA & the Colorado Natural Heritage Program Wade Into Colorado’s Wetlands

By: William Bunch

I work in EPA’s Region 8 office in Denver and have the opportunity to work with some partners that are doing great work in this area of our country. One such program is the Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP).

CNHP is on the cutting edge of wetlands science and is one of EPA’s partners in Region 8. It provides an array of mapping, monitoring and assessment, and other eye-catching projects for the entire state of Colorado. One such project was the development of a wetland plant identification handbook. As a plant ecologist, I’ve used tons of plant field guides, but this is not your ordinary plant handbook. It’s an incredibly exhaustive collection that documents the wetland plants found in the state of Colorado. In fact, the weight of knowledge is so extensive that you can easily tell when the book is in your pack! On this front, CNHP shines yet again. It is currently in the process of converting the field guide into an app for smartphones. The app will reduce the extra weight during field visits, while still providing the extensive information that is included in the handbook.

Another project from CNHP that has been grabbing the attention of wetland ecologists in Colorado is its assessment of wetland plant communities in Denver parks. I had the pleasure of joining CNHP on a plant inventory of Parkfield Park and it was awesome! Of the many plants discovered and identified, we found Wolffia columbiana, which is the world’s smallest flowering plant. This was only the second known occurrence of this plant in the state of Colorado (first known occurrence in Denver), and reinforces the idea that you can’t judge a book by its cover. The only other documentation of this plant occurring in Colorado was in Yuma County by Ralph Brooks in 1980. Who would have thought that an urban park in Denver would be home to a plant so rare for the state? As John Muir once said,

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe!” We are intrinsically connected to our environment, and everywhere you turn, there are new things to be discovered.

For more information about the great work CNHP does, check out its blog  or its wetlands inventory .  For more information about EPA’s work on wetlands, check out w.epa.gov/wetlands.

The tiny green dots, where the arrows are pointing, are clumps of Wolffia columbiana. The plant’s body is less than 1/16 in. (0.8-1.3 mm) long.  Photo by Bernadette Kuhn.

The tiny green dots, where the arrows are pointing, are clumps of Wolffia columbiana. The plant’s body is less than 1/16 in. (0.8-1.3 mm) long. Photo by Bernadette Kuhn.

 

Cover page of CNHP’s Field Guide to Wetland Plants

Cover page of CNHP’s Field Guide to Wetland Plants

 

Billy Bunch, Pam Smith, and Laura Cascardi standing in front of a patch of large bull rushes during a plant inventory of Denver’s Parkfield Park. Photo by Bernedette Kuhn.

Billy Bunch, Pam Smith, and Laura Cascardi standing in front of a patch of large bull rushes during a plant inventory of Denver’s Parkfield Park. Photo by Bernedette Kuhn.

Billy Bunch, Pam Smith, and Laura Cascardi standing in front of a patch of large bull rushes during a plant inventory of Denver’s Parkfield Park. Photo by Bernedette Kuhn.

About the author: William Bunch is an ORISE Intern for EPA Region 8. He is an avid plant ecologist and, like most ORISE interns, is currently trying to find a permanent position 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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Quilting to Give a Community a Voice

“We would like to dedicate this blog in memory of the four Lake Apopka farmworkers, community leaders, and long-time Farmworker Association of Florida members – strong and dedicated women leaders and agricultural workers – who we lost in 2013.  In memory of Angela Tanner, Willie Mae Williams, Betty Woods, and Louise Seay.  With gratitude and remembrance from the community.  We will miss you.”

By Jeannie Economos

When I first started working for the Farmworker Association of Florida in 1996, they told me part of my job was to work on the issue of Lake Apopka.  Little did I know at the time that Lake Apopka would become my life’s work for the next 17 years. And, it would become personal…as I came to know and love the community of people I worked with – the farmworkers who fed America for generations.

Untitled-2Lake Apopka is Florida’s most contaminated large lake.  On the north shore, 20,000 acres of farmland were carved out of what was once the bottom of Lake Apopka.  Farmworkers farmed that land – they call it muck –for decades beginning in the 1940s during World War II until the farms were bought out by the state and shut down in 1998 for the purpose of trying to restore the lake’s natural wetlands.

Alligator studies in the 1980s and the tragic death of over 1,000 aquatic birds on Lake Apopka in 1998-99 were linked to toxic organochlorine pesticides that had been used on the farms prior to their being banned in the 1970s. Farmworkers were exposed to these same chemicals, but nobody was looking at their health problems from chronic occupational pesticide exposure on the farmlands. Millions were spent to study alligators, and later the birds, and to try to restore the ‘dead’ lake. But no money was ever spent to address the health concerns of the farmworkers, who were acutely exposed to these pesticides for years.

The community would not accept this, especially when they saw their friends and family members getting sick and even dying.  Thus, was born the idea of the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt Project.  With a lot of hard work and commitment from former Lake Apopka farmworkers from Apopka and Indiantown, it has become a reality. The quilts were created to honor the lives of the farmworkers who have been exposed to the pesticides and to keep alive their history. The artwork of each individual square weaves the personal stories, tragedies, and small victories together to speak about the environmental injustices at Lake Apopka. The Lake Apopka farmworker leaders continue to use the quilts to both raise awareness among student and church groups about environmental justice and their community, and as a tool to press their case with state and local decision makers to address the health and environmental problems facing their community members.

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2013 MLK Day Parade in Florida

Today, the quilts have been viewed by thousands of Floridians and exhibited all across the state, including in Orlando City Hall, the Orange County Public Library, the Alachua County Public Library and the African American Museum of Art. This has helped spread awareness of the injustices the farmworkers face, and has helped build attention from the state legislature, which has been working to propose legislation which would provide long-term health care services for the affected residents surrounding the lake.

Is there still a need to address health care for the farmworkers on Lake Apopka?  Yes, but the creation of the quilts has given the community a voice and a message that they didn’t have before.  And, it has been a way for members to turn their pain into folk art that memorializes the ones they love.  Validation is what the community wants.  The quilts are one way to validate their lives and their contributions to our society.  

About the author: Jeannie has worked for over 20 years on issues of the environment, environmental justice, indigenous and immigrants’ rights, labor, peace, and social justice. From 1996-2001, she worked for the Farmworker Association of Florida as the Lake Apopka Project Coordinator, addressing the issues of job loss, displacement, and health problems of the farmworkers who worked on the farm lands on Lake Apopka prior to the closing of the farms in 1998. After the bird mortality in 1998-99, her focus turned to the pesticide-related health problems of the former Lake Apopka farmworkers, who were exposed to the same damaging organochlorine pesticides that were implicated in the bird deaths.

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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