What you can do

Making a Visible Difference through Citizen Science

By Laura Stewart

About the author: Laura Stewart is an Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education (ORISE) research participant in the EPA Region 10 office.

My first citizen science project was in 1999; working on a United Nations-funded project in Swaziland. In a poor community near a paper mill, we worked to address environmental and local health concerns due to the plant’s emissions. As a result of the youth-led project, the factory extended the height of its smoke stakes to disperse the emissions, which improved air quality. Seeing this interplay between environmental science and social justice changed my life.

Me (in all black) with the Swaziland "bucket brigade."

Me (in all black) with the Swaziland “bucket brigade.”

Today, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related jobs are some of the fastest growing sectors in the United States, growing to an estimated 9 million jobs by 2022.

Despite this projected growth, diversity in these fields is decreasing. Since 1991, 12 percent fewer women are earning computer science degrees. According to a National Science Foundation report, 8 percent of Hispanics and 4 percent of African Americans earned bachelors degrees in engineering, and currently people of color make up less than 20 percent of staff in the nation’s environmental organizations.

I believe these trends are creating the potential for a fundamental problem in trying to solve environmental and health challenges – how can we make a visible difference in low-income and minority communities when people from those communities are not taking part in STEM? I believe using citizen science at the community level provides a great answer to this problem.

Citizen science is the involvement of regular people in the discovery of scientific knowledge. Citizen scientists come from all walks of life, harnessing the power of information towards a common goal.

Here at EPA, I’m working on a community-based research project testing the beta version of a new EPA resource, the Community-Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool (C-FERST). C-FERST is a web-based environmental information and mapping tool that EPA researchers are developing where communities can identify, understand, and address local-scale sources of environmental exposure, thus becoming a part of the expanding pool of citizen scientists:

  • In Tacoma, Washington we used C-FERST with local government, a nonprofit organization, and a local college to look into food access, houselessness and infant mortality.
  • At Portland Community College, students assessed disproportionate impact, environmental justice concerns and air quality.
  • At Concordia University, social work students used the tool to interpret the real-life implications of environmental data for an upcoming project that focuses on creating safer, healthier, and more educated communities.
  • At Groundwork Portland, youth in a summer employment program used the tool for a livability study. By using C-FERST information about brownfields and air quality, students were able to inform their field research and advocate for equitable development practices in one of their city’s urban growth corridors.
  • In Seattle, we partnered with Antioch University to train their Masters of Urban Environmental Education graduates to use C-FERST to develop culturally-responsive curricula. As part of a STEM summer program at Garfield High School in Seattle, C-FERST was used to teach high school and middle school children of color about environmental justice issues including food justice, urban blight, and transit access. Students learned to conduct a community assessment, create and upload GIS map layers, and envision interim uses for vacant properties in their community.

Citizen Scientiest Groundwork Portland

I believe citizen science dares us to recognize how power imbalances affect the unique experiences of communities and people’s abilities to positively change their communities. Citizen science gives us the opportunity to return that power back into the hands of communities, potentially changing lives, not just the immediate results from science projects, but engaging members of these communities in the long term power of STEM disciplines and what they can bring to their communities.

What is your community doing to make a visible difference through citizen science?

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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Calling All Planners

by Megan Goold

US EPA Photo by Eric Vance

US EPA Photo by Eric Vance

To me, a new year means it’s time to start planning: vacations, doctor’s appointments, summer camps, career development plans…the list goes on and on.   Some planning is easy and exciting, and more welcomed than others. For example, I’d rather plan a vacation than a root canal.

However, it’s the difficult issues that tend to need the most planning, the most preparation, and involve the most information. So, as you can imagine, an issue as complex as climate change requires planning and preparation across the board. How will a changing climate impact our town? Our roads? Our electricity? How will it impact my school? My health? My safety?

Understanding our vulnerability to increased risk from flooding, more frequent extreme weather events, and other climate change impacts is the first step in being prepared for these changes.  On April 4-6, Antioch University and EPA are co-hosting a conference in Baltimore which is designed to build capacity for local decision-makers to take action on climate change in the face of uncertainty.  The conference will include sessions on constructing resilient buildings, conducting vulnerability assessment for flooding and extreme heat, planning for the needs of at-risk communities, and much more.

In addition, a workshop will be held on the third day of the conference to bring together students and educators to focus on the question – how can we build community resilience through education?

As you are starting to plan your 2016, put this one on the calendar. It’s a must for local decision-makers, governments, students, and small businesses alike! While planning for a changing climate is not the easiest of tasks, it’s a necessary one.

Check out EPA’s website for more about climate change impacts on water quality and quantity, and learn more about the Local Solutions: Eastern Regional Climate Preparedness Conference on the conference website.

 

About the author: Megan Goold is the Climate Change Coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 3 office, where she manages a network of climate change professionals, and has recently launched a Climate Literacy initiative.

 

 

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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A Summer Send-off at the Coast

by Megan Keegan

Enviroscape

EnviroScape – the ultimate tool for watershed education

How do you interest an audience of children, from toddlers to teens, in watershed protection? It’s easy: bring the subject down to their level – literally! That’s exactly what I did when I arrived to set up an exhibit at Pennsylvania Coast Day. By moving the timeless EnviroScape® – the ultimate tool for watershed education – from the tabletop to the ground, the children got a bird’s-eye view of a watershed comprised of several different land uses.  Parents looked on, amused, as the children helped “make it rain!” to demonstrate how common environmental pollutants make their way into our region’s waterways.

Along with EPA’s exhibition, Coast Day boasted a wide range of exhibitors with kid-engaging activities, like the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary’s demonstration of bivalve water filtration.  Bivalves include clams, oysters, and mussels. In our region, freshwater mussels are critically important because they provide valuable “ecosystem services” like stabilizing stream beds and filtering water. As we mentioned in a blog last year, an adult mussel can filter an astonishing 15 gallons of water per day. The Coast Day exhibit let passers-by see this filtration in action, with water in the aquarium tank going from cloudy to clear in a matter of hours.

The best part about the day?  It was totally free!  Although it was a cloudy day threatening to rain, Coast Day attracted a great crowd reflective of the diverse communities and family-friendly character of Philadelphia. If you missed this celebration of the Pennsylvania coast, head down to Lewes, Delaware, this Sunday for Delaware’s Coast Day – another free, fun, family event.

Find out more about your watershed – and even get involved with local watershed protection activities – by using EPA’s Surf Your Watershed website. If you’re an educator or parent looking for water education resources for children there are many fun, educational activities EPA’s water website.

 

About the Author: Megan Keegan is a new member of the Source Water Protection Team in EPA Region 3.  Her favorite state is Maine, where she enjoys fishing, kayaking, and picking blueberries. She considers Acadia to be the best National Park on the East Coast.

 

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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County Health Rankings: A Breath of Fresh Air

By Donald F. Schwarz

About the Author: Donald F. Schwarz, MD, MPH, MBA is Director, Catalyzing Demand for Healthy Places and Practices at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

http___www.epa3

Air pollution has long moved on from being a concern reserved for proactive environmentalists. Today, it has become a more visible personal health issue for millions of families and a major and growing public health concern for communities who live in close proximity to pollution sources.

The quality of air that we breathe determines, in part, how long and how well we live. Unfortunately, for residents of predominantly low-income and/or minority counties across the country, the impact of polluted air leads to the biggest concerns. Because many mobile and stationary sources of air pollution tend to be concentrated around the residential areas of low-income and minority communities, certain geographies have a greater threat of damaged health.

That’s why the County Health Rankings, an online tool which uses a variety of indicators to rank public health for almost every county in the nation, includes air pollution as an indicator to measure the health conditions of a county. It recognizes that an important aspect of the health of a community includes factors beyond the control of an individual person. The tool highlights regions by their health quality to help focus local government action.

CountyHealthRankings example

(courtesy County Health Rankings)

Air pollution is not a health concern that exists in a bubble — it has impacts on human health in several realms. For example, we know the links between polluted air and asthma. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about nine people die from asthma in the U.S. every day. The toll on lives is acute, as is the effect on how well people in impacted regions live. Air pollution also causes decreased lung function, chronic bronchitis, and other adverse pulmonary effects. The impact does not end with individual homes and families but over time affects our communities and our economy. In fact, asthma costs us about $56 billion in medical costs, lost workdays, and early deaths each year. These are not expenses that people who are already struggling to make a living are able to comfortably “take on,” nor should they have to.

There are also correlations between air pollution and the quality of life for children, many of whom are low-income or minority, who live, learn, and play in close proximity to pollution sources. There is a strong correlation between birth defect rates and proximity to air pollution, likely because pregnant mothers are a more susceptible population to environmental hazards. For older children, education is a concern based on the fact that more than 10.5 million school days each year are lost among 5- to 17-year-olds due to asthma complications.

Our hopes are that by using the county ranking tool, state and local governments can find ways which to share ideas to improve public health from place to place. For example, a recent study from our home state of New Jersey found that programs like the E-Z Pass open-road tolling (which result in fewer cars idling around toll plazas) have been connected to lower premature birth rate among moms who live nearby. By indicating within states those counties with similar pollution control problems, there is an opportunity for increased collaboration between governments and decision-makers. We hope that knowledge like this can contribute to improved public health for all.

We can hope for brighter futures for marginalized communities by taking direct action in the right areas. Want to know if you are breathing clean air in your county? Check out the 2015 County Health Rankings to see where your county stands in your state for air pollution.

Learn what you can do to improve the air in your community, check out the step-by- step guidance from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps--What Works section or the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps--Action Center where you will find tools, resources, policies, and programs to help you make your community a healthy place to live, learn, work, and play.

Donald F. Schwarz: “Learn what you can do to improve the air in your community. Check out the step-by- step guidance in the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps–What Works section or take a look in the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps–Action Center, where you will find tools, resources, policies, and programs to help you make your community a healthy place to live, learn, work, and play.”

 

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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Home Energy Audits are Easy and Worth Your Time

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator

I had a great visit recently with a couple of eager young energy consultants sent by my electric utility, and I’m feeling rather good about the results. I learned that all in all, my 2,500-square-foot colonial home is reasonably energy efficient. And I learned that I can invest just $1,000 to make improvements that will more than pay me back in three years.

Since EPA New England is encouraging residents across the region to take advantage of home energy audits, I asked my utility, National Grid, to audit my house. I wanted to find out first-hand what happens in these audits, which, by the way, are often offered for free.

Even though I am the regional administrator at EPA’s New England office, my experience was pretty much what any homeowner could expect – if you ignore the two suited, but very polite executives that trailed me and the consulting engineers eagerly checking on everything from my boiler, insulation and wiring to my refrigerators, stoves and windows.

The entire visit was actually quite fun, but then, I love this kind of stuff. And in just two to three hours I found out that the areas where I thought I was doing well with energy efficiency were not always that great. I learned that my 93-year-old four-bedroom colonial could use a bit more insulation, and that it hosts an attic fan that turns on when it shouldn’t. I was also surprised to hear that the high-priced, energy-efficient air conditioner I so proudly purchased was installed wrong. The installers hadn’t connected the duct work correctly, so I’ve been cooling a 100-degree attic, in addition to our living space.

If I correct these issues, about 60 percent of the $2,500 cost of improvements will be paid for by tax credits and government subsidies, leaving me with just a $1,000 bill. Oh and, they also gave us 10 free LED light bulbs to replace less efficient ones.

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Subsidies and programs already in place in New England put us ahead of the curve of national policy. The US Clean Power Plan, which EPA expects to finalize this summer, will require all states to draft a plan to help cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. EPA suggests states look at using less fossil fuel, using fossil fuel more efficiently, cutting back on demand and increasing the use of low emission, no–emission or renewable resources. Every state can tailor its own best plan based on their needs.

Each state has its own incentives, and many provide free audits. EPA also offers the ENERGY STAR Home Advisor, an online tool to help consumers save money and improve their homes’ energy efficiency through recommended home-improvement projects. Simple actions, like upgrading a bathroom showerhead, can save thousands of gallons of water a year, which translate to lower water and energy bills.

I asked for a utility audit because I wanted to take part in a program EPA encourages. I wanted to see what is was like to have a home energy audit. It was so satisfying I felt compelled to wander over to neighbors, utility folks trailing behind me, and share with them the lessons I had learned from my audit. I know the improvements I make may only be a tiny difference in the nation’s emissions, but if each of us makes a few recommended changes, it quickly adds up to a big deal.

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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Celebrating National Pollinator Week: Choose Native Plants

By Gayle Hubert

I discovered a few years ago that I’m a sixth generation resident of Platte County, Mo. I was living in a house unknowingly within five miles of where my third and second great-grandfathers are buried. It’s funny how we end up going back to our roots. My family’s roots grow best on our native land. So it is with my native plants.

As I was digging one day in my yard in Parkville, I marveled at the plant I was putting into the ground, back into the native Missouri soil it loves so well. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than putting these plants back home where they belong. My plants get their strength from the tan clays of the Midwest.

National Pollinator Week is June 15-21, and I felt compelled to write about one of my greatest passions: native plants. This week was designated to build awareness of the declining pollinator populations in the hope that we’ll begin to choose native plants for our landscapes, as one of many things we can do to help pollinators.

Why pollinators are important

Clockwise from lower right: Indian Pink, Wild Hairy Petunia, Caterpillar, American Beautyberry, Tiger Swallowtail on Purple Coneflower (center)

Clockwise from lower right: Indian Pink, Wild Hairy Petunia, Caterpillar, American Beautyberry, Tiger Swallowtail on Purple Coneflower (center)

Our choice of plants is even more important considering the connection they have to pollinators and to our food supply. Pollinators are responsible for one third of the food we eat, and for pollinating the plants that supply us with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients like antioxidants found in tea, fruit, and vegetables. Pollinators are also responsible for the meat and dairy we eat, because those animals eat the alfalfa, clover, and other plants pollinated by bees and other pollinators.

Many pollinator populations are declining, and one reason is that the number and variety of native plants they evolved with are declining too. Pollinators grow up with native plants, use them for food and shelter, and they often prefer only natives. Some non-native varieties are less hardy and have been genetically altered so much that bees and other pollinators can’t find the pollen because they no longer recognize the structure.

Not only do native plants provide nutrients and homes to pollinators, they also help the environment by thriving without adding expensive fertilizers, chemicals, or sprinkler systems. I believe they are some of the hardiest living things on earth.

The advantages of going native

Gayle’s first native garden in its third year, with her son Nate

Gayle’s first native garden in its third year, with her son Nate

I’ve witnessed their amazing powers to return to full bloom after being mowed down by mistake, eaten by deer and rabbits, and dug up by dogs. They’ve withstood drought, killing frosts, subzero cold, and scorching heat. They wait patiently until floodwaters disappear and stand tall downstream of a raging current. They can be trampled, transplanted, pummeled by hail and still thrive in some of the driest, hardest, and most compact soils on this planet – the clay soil of the Heartland. Their strength is in their roots.

I started gardening with natives at our first home in a corner of the backyard that I had no idea what to do with. The plot sat for a couple of years until I attended an event at a local nursery, where I bought my first native flower seed that began my garden. I was hooked on natives from that day on.

Gayle’s current native garden

Gayle’s current native garden

I was in awe of every bloom because I’d never seen these plants before. Each one had its own unique character and beauty. And then, to my astonishment, came dozens of butterflies, along with hummingbirds, Goldfinches, Cedar Waxwings, Indigo Buntings, and many more winged visitors. Native plants will lure critters you never knew existed.

Ten years later, we moved to a new home that was a challenge because of the strict covenants and neighbors’ preferences to manicured green lawns. However, I wanted to share my knowledge and designed my native flower beds in areas where the grass doesn’t grow. I even incorporated non-natives into the scheme.

It’s been 12 years since I installed that garden. To my amazement, I still get plenty of compliments about my native garden from passers-by. I‘m constantly adding and moving things around, but isn’t that what gardening is all about?

Create your own natural, native garden

I encourage you to incorporate a few native plant species into your own landscape. You can delight in the same wonderful blooms, joy, and diversity these plants have given me, and at the same time, give the pollinators the plants they grew up with. And if you don’t own land, you can still grow them in pots and give them to friends and family to place in their landscapes.

There are many native plant varieties that substitute nicely for the familiar non-natives we see every day, and will offer more value to you and the ecosystem. For example, Serviceberry or Dogwoods will swap for the Bradford Pears, and besides spring blooms, they display additional fall color and are less susceptible to ice damage. Golden Currant can replace your Forsythia, with thousands of yellow blooms and a wonderful clove fragrance! Not only that, it blooms in March when little else does.

Tuck a few new native plants here and there among existing non-natives, like I’ve done. You can use prepared garden designs or design your own hummingbird garden, Monarch waystation, or pollinator garden. Have fun with it!

Choose a native plant as a substitute for a non-native. They’re good for pollinators, the environment, and your wallet!

Helpful links:

About the Author: Gayle Hubert serves as an Environmental Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Air and Waste Management Division. She is currently assigned to the Waste Enforcement and Materials Management Program. Gayle received her bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Missouri.

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: “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.

Sources:
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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Rain Barrels of Savings

by Jennie Saxe

As I spent a recent weekend doing springtime yard work, I noticed that the side yard of my house seems to have washed away over the past few years. After a short investigation, I realized that three downspouts on my home pointed at this exact location. I wondered…could I use green infrastructure to help slow the flow of rainwater?

I decided to install a rain barrel to direct some of the rain water to storage instead of letting it flow as run-off across the ground. Reducing the amount of run-off from my roof will keep the soil from washing away. As an added benefit, the stored rain water will be perfect for watering our flowers and vegetable garden.

Full disclosure: DIY is not my strong suit. Even though it’s fairly simple to build your own rain barrel, I purchased mine. All that was left was to follow the directions for connecting it to a downspout.  Here’s the finished product:

A recent, brief rain shower filled about one-third of this rain barrel.

A recent, brief rain shower filled about one-third of this rain barrel.

The rain barrel was installed in a couple of hours, but I did make some rookie mistakes. If you’re thinking about installing your first rain barrel, here are some helpful hints:

  • Location: I knew which downspout to connect to, but I also had to be sure I was able to connect a hose. I also had to consider where excess water would drain once the barrel was filled. Excess water can be directed to overflow, to another rain barrel, or to a rain garden.
  • Safety: A 60-gallon rain barrel will weigh 500 pounds when full, so it’s a good idea to make sure that little ones won’t be tempted to play around it. I used a bed of stones to make sure the base of the rain barrel was sturdy in all weather and able to support the weight of the barrel. To protect against mosquitos using your rain water as a breeding ground, be sure to have screening over all openings.
  • Level: This was the hardest part. Since you won’t want to move the rain barrel once it’s installed, take all the time you need on this step.
  • Have the right tools: If you purchase your rain barrel, follow the instructions. Common tools will include a level, a hacksaw, and a tape measure. Be sure you also have gloves and eye protection – a cut aluminum gutter can be sharp!

Now, if it would just rain! The conditions in my area have just been declared “abnormally dry” (designated “D0” on the U.S. Drought Monitor map). But with my rain barrel installed, I’ll be ready to save the rain when it does arrive.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She thanks fellow Healthy Waters bloggers Steve Donohue and Ken Hendrickson for their helpful hints on rain barrel installation.

 

 

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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Celebrating the 45th Earth Day

by Jennie Saxe

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was held as a national “teach-in” on environmental issues. That day, rallies and conferences were held across the country to get Americans engaged in environmental protection. For a look at the first Earth Day rallies in Philadelphia, check out the history and videos compiled by the Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia, including footage from news reports on the first Earth Week.

As we celebrate the 45th Earth Day, staff in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office are participating in many events that honor the environmental education focus of the day. Even though the Healthy Waters blog is all about water, our Earth Day outreach featured much, much more!

Last Saturday, dozens of EPA employees took advantage of the beautiful weather to lace up their sneakers for the Clean Air Council’s Run for Clean Air. This race, beginning near the iconic steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, follows the Schuylkill River – a source of drinking water for the City of Philadelphia – for much of its route.

EPA staff shared information on sustainability at the Philadelphia Phillies' Red Goes Green game.

EPA staff shared information on sustainability at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Red Goes Green game.

Yesterday, EPA celebrated Earth Day all across the region. Employees shared tips to protect the environment with rail commuters at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, with students at the National Constitution Center, with sports fans at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Red Goes Green game, and with everyone working and living at Fort Meade in Maryland.

EPA educated students on native plants and more at the National Constitution Center's Earth Day event.

EPA educated students on native plants and more at the National Constitution Center’s Earth Day event.

But wait…the week isn’t over yet! Look for EPA at Temple-Ambler’s EarthFest on Friday, April 24, and at Core Creek Park for the Bucks County Earth Day celebration on Saturday, April 25.

In case EPA’s Earth Day outreach didn’t make it to your neighborhood this year, check out these links for a “virtual Earth Day” experience:

  • Save water and money with WaterSense labeled products
  • Protect local waterways by disposing of expired medication properly
  • Use less water in your landscaping by planting species native to the mid-Atlantic – they’re easy to grow and create habitat for birds and butterflies
  • Keep pollution out of our streams by using green infrastructure to soak up rainwater in your yard

Earth Day doesn’t have to come just once a year! Let us know how you plan to make #EarthDayEveryDay.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. For Earth Day, she’s installing rain barrels to slow the flow of rainwater across her yard.

 

 

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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