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What’s on Tap?

2014 October 30

by Pam Lazos

 

Tap water flows to you with a simple twist of the wrist.

Tap water flows to you with a simple twist of the wrist.

Today in the U.S., through miracles of engineering and ingenuity, clean water is delivered right to your faucet, cheaply, efficiently and good enough to drink, bathe in and cook with.  Do you know why?  Since the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, EPA has been regulating the water we drink, and that’s a beautiful thing. EPA sets legal limits, designed to protect human health, on the levels of more than 90 contaminants in drinking water. There are also rules that set how and when water must be tested.   So why does tap water sometimes get a bad rap when it flows to you with a simple twist of the wrist?

Some say they prefer the taste of bottled water over tap water, and others believe bottled is safer than tap.  Bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under its food safety program. But where does that bottled water come from? If you look at the label of any bottled water, you’re likely to see waterfalls and pristine lakes, or wild rivers and cool mountain springs. The scene is relaxing, energizing, soothing, and delightful, right?  But what you see is not always what you get: about 25% of all bottled water is actually tap water! When you factor in the safety and convenience of tap water with the higher relative cost of bottled water, the plastic waste often associated with bottled water, and the greenhouse gases associated with transporting bottled water, the reasons to turn to tap water really start to stack up.

When you’re on the go and you need a refreshing drink, fill up your own personal bottle with tap water. Today you can find attractive and lightweight water bottle containers in every size and color so it’s no problem finding the container that you need while in the car, going for a run, or while at work. So next time, don’t reach for the bottled water.  Turn on the tap! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

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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Energy Champions: Making a Difference

2014 October 23
Outfitting aeration tanks with fine pore diffusers is one way to achieve significant energy savings

Outfitting aeration tanks with fine pore diffusers is one way to achieve significant energy savings

by Lori Reynolds

As part of the EPA mid-Atlantic Energy Team, I talk with water and wastewater treatment plant operators across the region and they’ve shared with me this eye-opening fact: energy is a facility’s largest controllable budget item. Since energy accounts for about one-third of the operating budget for drinking water and wastewater systems, it’s a logical place to look for savings.  I’ve also learned that operators have a good understanding of where the energy is being used in the facility and have great ideas for cost-saving equipment or process changes. 

How can those energy-saving ideas make it from concept into practice? One approach is enlisting an “energy champion” for these facilities that are on the front lines of protecting public health and the environment. Having someone who can work directly with operators and speaks the language of the municipal decision makers can provide the key to saving energy (and money!) at these facilities.

If a community is looking to save money or reduce its carbon footprint, water utility energy efficiency is a great way to jump start those efforts. EPA has resources and success stories – including an energy management guidebook – that are valuable references.

The work of an energy champion usually begins by reviewing the energy bill with the operator, and determining what simple operational changes could save money right away. For example, staggering the start-up of motors and equipment to reduce the demand charge or filling storage tanks at night to avoid peak rates.

Energy champions also play a critical role in documenting savings, which can help a facility gain support for additional energy efficiency projects. We all know that sometimes you have to spend a little money now to save a lot of money in the long run. That’s where those savings from the early operational changes come in handy: as those savings accrue, they can be reinvested in capital projects to further reduce energy use. Bigger projects, like installation of energy efficient pumps and motors often have a longer payback period, but have the potential to reap the rewards of even bigger savings.

The decision by a water or wastewater treatment plant to invest time and money in energy savings is a commitment to lower utility bills. An energy champion who can work with operators, decision makers, and municipal engineers can make a real difference for a community by turning a huge energy consumer into one that uses “net zero” energy.

 

About the author: Lori Reynolds works in the Region’s Office of Infrastructure and Assistance, which provides funding to states for water and wastewater infrastructure.  To sustain the investment, Lori and others in the office promote energy and water conservation and proactive operation and maintenance planning to extend the useful life of infrastructure assets.

 

 

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

2014 October 16
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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Migrating Songbirds in our Watersheds

2014 October 9

By Andrea Bennett

The Yellow Warbler, Setophaga petechia. (Photo courtesy of Bert Filemyer, Delaware Valley Ornithological Club)

The Yellow Warbler, Setophaga petechia. (Photo courtesy of Bert Filemyr, Delaware Valley Ornithological Club)

It’s fall migration season, and if you go out for a walk near a stream in the woods, you may see migrating songbirds, such as the Yellow Warbler, Setophaga petechia. After a summer in North America, this brilliantly colored bird – all yellow with streaks of red on its breast – is on its way back to Central and northern South America to spend the winter.  Through the spring and summer months, Yellow Warblers look for spots in woods near streams and wetlands to build their nests here in the mid-Atlantic region.

Like many migrating birds, Yellow Warblers eat insects. So if  no-see-ums get under your skin, hope that a Yellow Warbler comes to nest nearby. These birds also feast on gypsy moth larvae, plant lice and other pesky pests, so having songbirds in your neighborhood can put a significant dent in the insect population.

Unfortunately though, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey the number of songbirds in North America has been decreasing since the 1960s. Our world is a dangerous place if you’re a songbird: tall buildings, TV and radio towers, power lines, high voltage wires, pesticides, and predators all pose threats. Another critical threat to the migratory bird populations is the decrease in woodland habitat caused by expanding development near waterways where the birds feed and raise their young.

But here’s the good news: there are lots of relatively easy things we can do to help preserve the bird population. Since songbirds often fall prey to outdoor cats, consider keeping your pet cat inside or outfitting your family’s feline with a “cat bib” for outside roaming without harming birds. Consider non-pesticide methods of controlling pests, or limiting pesticide use to when it’s absolutely necessary. And we can make our manmade environment more bird-friendly too. Adding bird deterrent structures to buildings and communication towers can help birds find a safer route.

If you happen to live near a stream, you can help our songbirds even more by developing riparian buffers.  EPA and states work together to plant and protect stream channels and corridors, which not only provide habitat for birds and other wildlife, but also improve water quality.  Together, we can help insure that these beautiful winged “insect terminators” come back to our neighborhoods every summer.

About the Author: Andrea Bennett is a biologist with EPA.  Andrea enjoys birding, kayaking and playing the mandolin and she is a member of her local watershed protection team.

 

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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And the Best Supporting Role Goes To…

2014 October 2

by Bonnie Turner-Lomax

 

Waterways with “celebrity” status rely on the supporting roles of countless unnamed waterways and wetlands.

Waterways with “celebrity” status rely on the supporting roles of countless unnamed waterways and wetlands.

Waterways with “celebrity” status rely on the supporting roles of countless unnamed waterways and wetlands.

No trip to Los Angeles is complete without a visit to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Hundreds of stars are embedded into the sidewalk along Hollywood Boulevard, honoring countless celebrities, past and present. These well-known Hollywood stars have kept us on the edge of our seats; made us laugh, cry, and sometimes scared the wits out of us.

Yet it takes a cast of hundreds–sometimes thousands–to make these celebrities shine.  Their names may not be readily recognized, but these professionals working in supporting roles and behind the scenes are essential to our movie-going experience.

There are many “celebrity” waterways in the Mid-Atlantic Region like the Chesapeake Bay, the Delaware, and the Potomac, which are well known for their beauty, recreational opportunities, and the economic benefits they provide to surrounding communities. But like Hollywood celebrities, their stardom is dependent on the supporting roles of countless unknown and unnamed streams, wetlands, and headwaters.

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it didn’t just defend the “big star“ waters. It also protected the smaller streams and wetlands that flow into rivers and lakes. The law recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need healthy headwaters upstream.

This March, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule that clarifies Clean Water Act protection for waters that are vital to our health and our economy. Science shows what kinds of streams and wetlands impact water downstream, so our proposal insures that these waters will be protected.

One in 3 Americans – 117 million of us – get our drinking water from streams, creeks, and wetlands currently lacking clear protection. Safeguarding smaller streams is also crucial for our economy in areas like tourism, manufacturing, energy, recreation and agriculture.

If you’ve ever viewed the credits at the end of a movie, you are taking time to recognize the many behind-the-scenes people for the roles they played in a production.  Your comments on the proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule help us give “credit” to important roles these waterways play in our lives. EPA is accepting comments on the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule until October 20.

 

About the author: Bonnie Turner-Lomax is the communications coordinator for the Region’s Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division. She enjoys theater, traveling, and taking in a good movie.

 

 

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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Climate change, wild weather, and your water

2014 September 25
Storms that cause rivers to flood their banks are becoming more frequent.

Storms that cause rivers to flood their banks are becoming more frequent.

By Jennie Saxe

This blog, the first of two Healthy Waters blogs this week, focuses on adaptation to a changing climate.

In recent years, I’ve experienced a lot of wild weather here in the mid-Atlantic: torrential rains have caused flooded basements on my street; hurricane-force winds and derechos have downed our beautiful trees and caused power outages; and epic snowstorms have kept me from getting to work (and gave my kids way more snow days than we had planned for). We have also bemoaned both extreme heat and bitter cold.

A vast body of scientific assessment tells us that as the climate continues to change, we can expect to see trends toward more of this extreme weather and that there are a range of impacts that we should plan for. To protect our water supplies, we need to consider everything from the impact of increases in temperature on water quality and aquatic life to careful groundwater management to changes in how much water is used and what it is used for. And as we plan, we can no longer rely on past conditions as a predictor for what will happen in coming decades.

These weather phenomena can also have other consequences that not everyone thinks about right away, like interruptions in drinking water supplies and overwhelmed wastewater treatment plants.  To help minimize these impacts, EPA has been working with states and water and wastewater utilities across the mid-Atlantic to translate the volumes of climate change assessments into practical actions they can take to make sure they’re prepared for weather-related emergencies as well as the impacts of climate change on water resources. States across the country have set up networks of utilities that have volunteered to help each other when disasters arise. EPA also partners with states to provide information to help water utilities and individuals ensure a safe supply of water when weather-related emergencies are threatening. EPA has also engaged with audiences across the region – from college students in Virginia to mayors in Delaware – to discuss the expected effects a changing climate has on our water resources and on our communities.

Although we have made tremendous progress in protecting and restoring our water resources, climate data shows the urgency of staying vigilant in our preparedness for severe weather events even as we are taking steps to adapt to the longer-term changes already underway. Our children and grandchildren are depending on us to make decisions today that ensure safe, reliable water resources now and into the future.

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 reminds everyone to assemble or refresh their emergency kits during National Preparedness Month.

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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Powerful Partnerships

2014 September 25

By Walter Higgins

The Selbyville Wastewater Treatment Plant is one of five that had an energy audit.

The Selbyville Wastewater Treatment Plant is one of five that had an energy audit.

This blog, the second of two Healthy Waters blogs this week, focuses on energy efficiency to reduce carbon pollution, a driver of climate change.

The power of partnerships means making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. When it comes to adapting to a changing climate and slowing the changes already underway, we’ve found that partnerships provide one of the best tools we have.

EPA has partnered with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and Delaware Health and Social Services (DHSS) and other partners to assist water and wastewater treatment plants, and the communities they serve, save energy and money.

These facilities use a lot of energy to treat and move drinking water and wastewater, and they are typically the largest energy consumers for municipal governments, accounting for 30 percent of all the energy they consumes. Energy efficiency and renewable energy from these facilities also cuts carbon pollution as outlined in EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

Over the past year, the Delaware Water/Wastewater Energy Efficiency Partnership has conducted energy assessments of drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities.  These energy assessments have helped operators and managers better understand energy usage at their plants, and identified low- or even no-cost options for achieving reductions. The partnership has shared these energy-saving practices with a wider audience through workshops for plant operators and managers.

The assessments have also generated a list of potential energy-saving projects offering serious savings, but with a higher initial price tag. Where can utilities find money to fund these projects? The partnership will offer a free workshop focused on funding energy efficient projects at water utilities on September 30. This workshop is a great opportunity for town managers in and around Middletown, Delaware, to hear about financing options for energy efficiency at water and wastewater utilities.

We hope our partnership with Delaware agencies inspires similar partnerships in other parts of the mid-Atlantic region and across the country. These types of energy efficiency projects at water and wastewater utilities have demonstrated undeniable environmental, economic and public benefits and  provide fundamental investments in a more sustainable way of life.

About the author: Walter Higgins has been with EPA since 2010, working in the Water Protection Division on grants that fund water quality and drinking water projects. He also works with water and wastewater facilities on energy efficiency. Walter recently earned his Pennsylvania certification as a wastewater operator.

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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What will you rethink?

2014 September 18

by Jaclyn McIlwain

 

rethinkI love rocking a brand new pair of shoes, feeling fresh as I walk through Rittenhouse Square on my way to lunch at a hip restaurant.  But, wait.  Don’t I already have a pair of blue suede shoes?  Didn’t I just go grocery shopping last night?

If you’re lucky enough to have the luxury of dining out and shopping in Center City, do you ever stop and think about where all of these products are coming from?  The exotic food, the jeans you’re wearing.  What went into these goods?  Answer: natural resources, materials, and energy.  In fact, 42% of carbon pollution emissions in the U.S. are associated with the energy used to produce, process, transport, and dispose of the food we eat and the goods we use. To build a more sustainable future, we almost certainly will need to rethink how we source, consume, and dispose of goods.

Don’t be disheartened! There are a million ways to rethink your daily practices.  By simply reexamining the choices you make day-to-day, you have the power to affect change and work toward a sustainable future: from shopping (“Could I borrow this from someone instead? Can I reuse something I already have in my home?”) to your daily routine (washing clothes in cold water and turning off the tap when brushing your teeth) to how you dispose of products and materials that you just can’t use any more (think: recycling and composting!) There’s no better time than Pollution Prevention Week to commit to actions that improve your health, help the planet and save money.

EPA is highlighting steps you can take toward sustainability during Philadelphia’s 2014 Park(ing) Day.  Park(ing) Day is a national event held on the third Friday in September, where mundane metered parking spaces are converted into temporary miniature parks throughout the city.  Park(ing) Day re-imagines the possibilities of 170 square feet of public space, celebrates parks and public spaces nationwide, and raises awareness of the need for more pedestrian-friendly spaces in urban areas.

Visit EPA’s temporary park and explore how you can save water, reduce waste, prevent pollution, and act on climate.  There are a few more sustainability surprises waiting for you this Friday, September 19 at 18th and Sansom Streets, but I won’t give it all away.  You’ll have to come see (and learn) for yourself!

What if we could transform the city for just one day? What if we could transform the way we make our purchases, for good?  We can, and we are.

What will you rethink?

 

About the author: Jaclyn McIlwain has worked at EPA since 2010 in the Water Protection Division.  A Philadelphia native, Jaclyn studied environmental science and is a graduate of the 2012 Pennsylvania Master Naturalist program.  When not in the office, she can be found hiking, camping, or practicing yoga. 

 

 

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

2014 September 11

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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Road Tripping Through Watersheds

2014 September 4
Road trips are a great way to take in scenery like this.

Road trips are a great way to take in scenery like this.

by Bonnie Turner-Lomax

All across the country Americans enjoy taking to the road to popular vacation spots; visiting family or friends; or on day-trips to favorite destinations.   My husband and I recently completed what has been an annual ritual for the last four years…driving my daughter from our home in New Jersey to college, just outside Pittsburgh.

The roughly five hour road trip (each way) covers almost the entire east-west length of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, taking us from one end of the state to the other.   The more than 300-mile journey is an experience of spectacular and varied scenery from the densely populated and urbanized Philadelphia suburbs to the rolling hills, mountains and valleys of the western end of the state.

More than half of the trip goes through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.  A watershed is an area of land that drains into a particular river, lake, bay or other body of water.  Encompassing 64,000 square miles, with more than 17 million people living in its midst, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is one of largest watersheds in the country.  It is supported by thousands of smaller creeks, streams and rivers.  Each of these smaller waterways has its own watershed, sometimes referred to as sub or local watersheds.

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it didn’t just defend the big mighty waters like the Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River, or the Great Lakes, it also protected the smaller streams and wetlands that flow into rivers and lakes. The law recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need healthy headwaters upstream.

Under the Clean Water Act, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule, in March that strengthens protection for clean water that’s vital to our health and our economy. Science shows what kinds of streams and wetlands impact water downstream – so our proposal says that these waters should be protected.

One in 3 Americans—117 million of us—get our drinking water from streams, creeks, and wetlands currently lacking clear protection.  Safeguarding smaller streams is also crucial for our economy in areas like tourism, manufacturing, energy, recreation and agriculture.

So even when “just driving through” an area, be mindful that actions in one place can impact waterways hundreds of miles away.

 

About the author: Bonnie Turner-Lomax is the communications coordinator for the Region’s Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division.  She enjoys theater, traveling, and taking long road trips 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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