What you can do

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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Take a Second to Fix a Leak

Water-Sense - 2015by Kimberly Scharl

 

 

One trillion gallons.

That’s how much clean drinking water American households waste each year due to leaky pipes, toilets, showerheads and other fixtures. That’s enough water to fill 1,515 Olympic-sized swimming pools!

The good news: fixing these leaks can be easy, inexpensive, and can save you nearly 10 percent on your water bills. EPA’s WaterSense program encourages everyone to “chase down” plumbing leaks during next week’s 7th annual Fix a Leak Week, because leaks can run, but they can’t hide!

Fix a Leak Week is the perfect time to find and stop water leaks in your home. When it comes to repairing leaky fixtures, and you don’t need to be a home repair expert. Some common types of leaks found in the home, like worn toilet flappers and dripping faucets, are often easy to fix. You might only need a few tools and hardware, and these fixes can pay for themselves in water savings.

To kick off the week, EPA is hosting a Twitter Chat on Monday March 16th from 2-3 pm (eastern). Join the conversation by using the hashtag #FixALeak.

The celebration of savings lasts all week: the WaterSense Facebook page has a map of events happening all over the country to celebrate Fix a Leak Week. Here are two in the Mid-Atlantic Region:

On March 16, EPA will be on hand at the South Philadelphia store of The Home Depot – a WaterSense partner – to demonstrate water-saving improvement projects. Stop by to find out about water-saving projects and products.

On March 22, the City of Charlottesville, the University of Virginia, and the Albemarle County Service Authority will host a Fix a Leak 5K, an event where runners will chase a “running” toilet along the city’s main rivers and natural areas. The family-friendly event will also feature local vendors and non-profits sharing information on water and energy savings.

Share the savings

When you take the plunge to find and fix a leak in your home, share the news!

How do you save water during Fix a Leak Week and every day? Let us know in the comments!

About the Author: Kimberly Scharl joined EPA in 2010, after moving to the mid-Atlantic region from Mississippi. She is a financial analyst and project officer in the Office of Infrastructure and Assistance, and is the Regional Liaison for the WaterSense Program. Kim enjoys bowling and spending time with her family.

 

 

 

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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Head toward savings

by Jennie Saxe

The water-efficient “waste collection system” from the space shuttle, at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

The water-efficient “waste collection system” from the space shuttle, at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

As I’ve watched news reports of wild winter weather across the country, I’ve been truly impressed by the resourcefulness and creativity inspired by the snow: amateur MacGyvers have engineered everything from homemade roof clearing devices to custom-designed sleds. But, in my humble opinion, this motorized combination snow plow/toilet created by a Maryland man during the President’s Day snowstorm might just take the cake.

Just as you can depend on snow to spur innovation, you can depend on the word “toilet” to grab attention. Although lots of toilet-related stories in the news are silly or gimmicky, I think it’s time to take the toilet more seriously.

In the developing world, toilets are key to improved public health. Here in the US, they present another opportunity: significant water savings. According to EPA’s WaterSense program, toilets account for nearly 30% of indoor water use in an average home. If the toilets are leaking, they could be using even more. And if you’re wasting water, you’re wasting money, too.

I checked out the WaterSense website to see just how many toilets have been certified to achieve the WaterSense standard of 1.28 gallons per flush and achieve a high level of performance. I was amazed to find 2,396 models of toilets certified to meet the WaterSense standard. If you lined up that many toilets side-by-side, this line of loos would stretch for over half a mile! With this many models to choose from, you’re certain to find a WaterSense-certified toilet in a style and at a price that meets your needs. I was also surprised to learn that that toilet installation is now so simple, that you may not even need any tools!

So the next time you see a story in the news that uses the toilet as a punchline, just remember that the toilet is more than comic relief – it’s a chance for some serious savings.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs.

 

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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Healthy Water, Healthy Kids

The moment just before splashing in a puddle.

The moment just before splashing in a puddle.

By Jennie Saxe

Like most children, my kids interact with water in many ways, from the moment they wake up to the moment their little heads hit their pillows. Every day, my boys use water for drinking, bathing, and brushing their teeth. The clothes they wear and the dishes they eat from get washed in water as well. They also love swimming, splashing in puddles, and hiking near (and sometimes falling into) Crum Creek. Because water interacts with nearly every part of our children’s lives, healthy kids depend on healthy water.

From Baltimore to Bangladesh – improving water quality means improving children’s health. As adults, we can do lots of things right in our own communities to make sure our kids have healthy water. Things like supporting local efforts to protect drinking water sources; conserving water resources by installing WaterSense-labeled products; and planting rain gardens to slow the flow of stormwater. And for the kids in other corners of the globe, we can support charitable organizations that bring water resources and sanitation to those who most desperately need them.

There’s something else we can do to help provide healthy waters for our kids into the future: we can teach them about the water resources all around them! Never underestimate what kids can do – their insight, ingenuity, and motivation are unparalleled when they understand connections to their daily lives. You never know…they may come up with their own amazing projects that protect and restore water quality. To get our next generation of water protectors started, EPA has compiled a variety of educational resources and activities geared toward students and educators.

At home, and at work, I always look forward to opportunities to teach children about water resources. Earth Day, Drinking Water Week, Protect Your Groundwater Day, American Wetlands Month, World Rivers Day, and, the upcoming 40th Anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act all provide opportunities for communicating with our kids, in language they understand, just how important our precious waters really are.

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’s taught her kids where their water comes from and what happens when it goes down the drain.

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 Real Value of a Penny

by Pamela Lazos

The mighty penny.

The mighty penny.

When I was a kid we used to recite the rhyme “see a penny, pick it up, then all day you’ll have good luck.” There were certain rules, though. The luck was only for the finder if it was heads up. Tails up and you had to give it away immediately or risk bad luck. Apparently, these superstitions morph over time: when my mom was a kid, the penny was only lucky if you put it in your shoe.

But even in 2014, a penny can go a long way, as I learned on a recent tour of Pennsylvania American Water’s Coatesville, Pennsylvania, treatment plant. Customers of this water system pay just a penny for a gallon of water. By comparison, if you purchase a 24 ounce bottle of water at your local convenience store, a conservative estimate says you’d pay about $1.29. Pennsylvania American Water sells 128 ounces of water for one cent. If they charged the same amount as your local convenience store, that gallon of water would cost their customers $9.50, a hefty price tag in any market.

The staff at this treatment plant, as in most water treatment plants across the country, is very knowledgeable and takes pride in their work. The plant itself is state of the art. Aging equipment has been replaced, and new chemical feed systems have been installed. A centralized data-monitoring system keeps track of plant operations, and an electronic read-out in the lab area displays the intake and outflow, constantly monitoring for compliance with drinking water standards.

And you don’t have to leave your house to get a tour of a drinking water treatment plant. You can go on EPA’s Virtual Water Treatment Plant tour any time! This interactive video guides you through the treatment process from source to tap.

As we come up on the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the tour was a great reminder of how exceptionally important tap water, and the water industry professionals that produce it are to our health and our communities.

 

About the author: Pam Lazos is an attorney in the Office of Regional Counsel in EPA Region 3, and focuses on water law. When not in the office, she keeps bees, writes books, and volunteers in her community on various projects that benefit women and children.

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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Recreating Pennsylvania’s Past Along the Lehigh River

Whether you prefer biking or kayaking, there are lots of great places for recreation on mid-Atlantic waterways.

Whether you prefer biking or kayaking, there are lots of great places for recreation on mid-Atlantic waterways.

by Virginia Thompson

On a beautiful mid-July day, my husband and I biked the 25-mile Lehigh Gorge Trail along the Lehigh River in the Lehigh Gorge State Park. Donning our helmets and supplied with, food and drinking water, we started at White Haven and traveled downstream through the Pocono Mountains to Jim Thorpe, PA – following the same ground as the “Iron Horse” that pulled logs and coal for fueling America’s industrial growth.

Along the way, we saw remnants of the canals and locks dating back to the nineteenth century that helped move goods to large urban areas, such as Philadelphia. While the area was mostly known for lumbering and coal, it was also widely recognized for its scenic beauty. Wildlife was so abundant in this area that John Audubon visited Jim Thorpe in 1829 to sketch.

Biking along, I imagined what scenery folks riding the rails might have seen in those days. Just then, I saw several railroad tracks tucked between a wall of rock of Mount Pisgah and the river. Unbeknown to me, one of the tracks was still active and I was startled by a train coming around the bend, demonstrating the power of “rails with trails.”

Though over-logging and catastrophic fires have reduced many of the communities that relied on lumber and shipping to distant memories, the beauty, history and recreational opportunities offered by some of these towns have granted them a kind of twenty-first century rebirth.

For example, the economy of Jim Thorpe, formerly Mauch Chunk (“sleeping bear” to the Leni Lenape Indians, who resided there), is now based largely on its water-oriented recreational resources. In addition to bicycling like we did, white-water rafting down the Lehigh River is also a popular option.

But, while we’ve seen significant improvement in the quality of our rivers and streams in the four-plus decades since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, many of our waterways remain impaired by pollution. Whether you are white-water rafting, kayaking, or enjoying our rivers and streams in other ways, there are resources to help you find out about water quality in the area you plan to visit.

You can check the lists of impaired waters prepared by your state, or put technology to use by downloading apps that tell you what, if any impairments, impact a particular body of water.

Do you check on water quality before you head out for water-related recreation? Let us know what tools you find most useful!

 

About the author: Virginia Thompson hails from northeastern Pennsylvania and is the EPA Region 3 Coordinator for the Exchange Network, a partnership of federal and state governments providing improved access to environmental data to make better and more timely decisions.

 

 

 

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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Promoting Environmental Stewardship Among Young People: A 2009 PEYA Winner’s Story

By Apoorva Rangan

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions has evolved into a problem on a scale that no nation can afford to fight alone. There are over 190 countries. Their boundaries may be fixed, but their people breathe the same air. No matter which country contributes the most or the least to the carbon dioxide burden, all nations suffer together.

During a time when there are major differences between developed and developing nations as how to mitigate climate change, my brother and I launched Project Jatropha, an international collaboration aimed towards alleviating rural poverty and environmental destruction by promoting the biofuel shrub Jatropha curcas.

Project Jatropha provides poor farmers in southern India with enhanced technical assistance in the utility and productivity of biofuels in ways that are environmentally sustainable and economically rewarding. Additionally, this project provides a successful medium in which young people across the globe can collaborate on the implementation of sound initiatives that provide environmental and monetary benefits to impoverished farmers in need.

In 2009, Project Jatropha was awarded the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Presidential Environmental Youth Award (PEYA). The PEYA program recognizes youth who promote environmentally-conscious awareness of our nation’s natural resources and encourages community involvement in sustainability efforts.

Each year, one outstanding project from each of EPA’s ten regional offices is selected for national recognition. The new projects awarded continue to be impressive. To be one of the lucky recipients of this award is truly one of my biggest accomplishments as an environmentalist. This honor has given Project Jatropha invaluable visibility and exposure. More importantly, the recognition from this award has helped raise awareness about how community action is key to creating essential strategies the benefit our global community and environment.

Since receiving the award, Project Jatropha has launched a variety of sister projects focused on environmental education, solar energy programs and kitchen gardens. My experience as an environmentalist has shown me that climate change is a problem on the scale that no entity can afford to fight alone. Because collective efforts can make a difference, the environmental education and stewardship of young people is undeniably crucial in the fight to combat global warming.

About the author: Apoorva Rangan is studying Science and Management with a biotechnology sequence at Claremont-McKenna College in California. She is currently interning at the Office of Public Engagement.

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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Staying Sustainable at School

By Maddie Dwyer

As fall approaches, there’s one thing on every college kid’s mind: living on campus. Whether you’re excited or not, dorm life is coming, and it’s time to start getting ready. For me, this means using the things I learned at EPA this summer. Below are some tips for green living, which can help you whether you’re living in a dorm or an apartment, or at home.

  1. Saving Energy: It’s easy to save energy by making a few simple changes to your routine. Remember to always turn off the lights when you leave your room. If you’re lucky enough to have air conditioning, and the luxury of controlling it, make sure it’s not left on if no one’s around.
  2. Conserving Water: There are lots of ways to use water efficiently. Take shorter showers and turn off the water when you are using soap, shaving, or brushing your teeth. Also, fixing leaky faucets is an important way to reduce wasted water.
  3. Reducing Waste: College is a great time to get into sustainable habits. Make a commitment to recycle everything you can, even if it means carrying recyclables until you find a recycling bin. Most campuses offer green dining options, like reusable take out boxes, glasses, and silverware. Take advantage of all the green options your school has to offer!
  4. Getting Involved: Every school is different, and will have different environmental issues to address. For example, as part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, my school is working to construct bioswales to filter run-off before it reaches the bay. Check out EPA’s resources for students looking to be greener at school. Whether you are advocating for safer cleaning products or encouraging energy efficient appliances, your school will be better off with your involvement.
  5. Make a Green Agreement with Your Roommate: Helping one another is a great way to make both you and your roommate more sustainable. Ask if it’s okay to unplug each other’s unused electronics, do laundry together, and figure out a schedule to keep the lights and AC off. I’ve been lucky to have lovely roommates and other amazing friends who are committed to green living, and it has helped me to become more sustainable every day.
Maddie and her roommate Grace

Maddie and her roommate Grace

So when moving back to campus, be sure to keep these tips in mind and have a wonderful, sustainable school year!

About the author: Maddie Dwyer studies environmental science and policy at the University of Maryland. She works as an intern for EPA’s Office of Web Communications.

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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Evaporation: friend or foe?

Vegetation in stormwater swales and other green infrastructure allow natural processes - like evapotranspiration and infiltration – to manage stormwater where it lands.

Vegetation in stormwater swales and other green infrastructure allow natural processes – like evapotranspiration and infiltration – to manage stormwater where it lands.

by Jennie Saxe

I was mulching my garden recently, trying to remember why I had decided to spend my weekend this way, and I thought about how much mulch helps out plants during the hot, often dry summer.

In addition to keeping weeds at bay without chemicals, mulch provides the additional benefits of holding moisture in soil and preventing wide fluctuations in soil temperature. I also recently read about how evaporation can affect water supplies by causing significant losses during storage and transmission of drinking water supplies.

So, does that make evaporation the enemy?

Not necessarily: evaporation can also be a good thing. The process of transpiration by the plants is another key ingredient in and keeping our waters clean. Plants transpire by drawing water up from the soil, through roots, throughout the plant, and eventually releasing water to the air through the leaves.

Using green infrastructure mimics natural processes like infiltration and allows communities to reap the benefits of evapotranspiration, the combination of evaporation and transpiration processes in plants.

Green infrastructure utilizes plants for intercepting, capturing and reusing rainwater. For example, water that lands in the canopy of trees may evaporate before it comes in contact with pollutants which reduces the amount of water and pollution that would otherwise end up in sewers and streams.

Although trees can clearly make a huge impact, all types of vegetation in curb bump-outs, stormwater planters, green roofs, and rain gardens can use evapotranspiration to help keep stormwater and pollutants out of our sewer systems and waterways.

This is important because a heavy storm, especially in an urbanized area, can result in rapid runoff of stormwater from roofs, across sidewalks and streets, and many times into combined sewer systems, where it can contribute to sewer overflows – or directly into waterways where it can load streams with pollutants and sediment.

Rapid stormwater runoff can also lead to flooding and property damage. Green infrastructure techniques are one way to slow the flow of stormwater runoff, keeping huge volumes of stormwater out of sewer systems, reducing flooding, and preventing pollution from entering waterways.

So, while evaporation can be a friend or a foe, understanding when it can be helpful is critical to protecting our water resources.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and is currently a Water Policy Analyst in the Water Protection Division of EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. When not in the office, Jennie enjoys tending to a vegetable garden.

 

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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