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Protecting Your Drinking Water for 40 Years

2014 December 18

By Ken Kopocis

Crossposted from EPA Connect

As I traveled across the country this year, there’s one thing I could count on everywhere I went: tap water that’s safe to drink. Drinking water is essential for healthy families, thriving communities, and strong local economies. And this month we’re proud to celebrate an important milestone as December 16, 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

We’ve made incredible progress in improving drinking water safety over the past 40 years. Before Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, EPA lacked the authority and the funding to ensure safe drinking water, and over 40% of our nation’s drinking water systems failed to meet even the basic health standards in place at the time.

Today, we almost take safe drinking water for granted. The Safe Drinking Water Act has been such a success that we sometimes lose sight of how far we’ve come. Americans drink over 1 billion glasses of tap water every day. We enjoy the cleanest drinking water in the world, with more than 90 percent of Americans receiving water that meets all standards, all the time.

We owe that accomplishment to this incredible law, and to the dedicated work of water professionals at the federal, state, and local level. Clean, reliable water is the foundation of what makes America great. It’s what lets our children grow up healthy, keeps our schools and hospitals running, and fuels our economy.

But we face new and legacy challenges to providing safe drinking water. Just this past year, the water sector struggled with the effects of a changing climate. Climate impacts hit the water sector first, with warmer temperatures, stronger storms, more extreme droughts, and changes to water chemistry.

We’ve also seen stark reminders this year that our drinking water supplies are still vulnerable. In January, a chemical spill upstream of the Charleston, WV, drinking water intake contaminated the drinking water supply for five days. Governor Tomblin estimated the spill cost the state over $70 million. And in August, algae in Lake Erie produced a toxin that made it into Toledo’s water supply. Local business came to a standstill and nearly half a million people were left without safe drinking water for two days.

These events make clear that we need to do more to protect our nation’s drinking water at the source. EPA will continue to coordinate efforts with partners like the Source Water Collaborative, made up of 25 national organizations dedicated to protecting our nation’s drinking water. The Collaborative has launched a Call to Action—asking utilities, states, federal agencies, and local governments to step up to protect source water. I encourage all of us to act.

Utilities can partner with landowners and businesses, and make sure they have plans in place with emergency responders. Local governments can help with land use planning to protect water where it counts most. States can update source water assessments.

And federal agencies can work better together. At EPA, we’re working with USDA Rural Development to better serve the 97% of our nation’s water systems with fewer than 10,000 customers. We’re offering specially tailored technical assistance and financing options for rural water systems, helping make sure they have the resources and expertise they need.

And EPA has taken an important step to protect headwaters and small streams from pollution with our proposed Clean Water Rule, which will reduce the need for expensive treatment.

Protecting drinking water has never been easy, and it’s not getting any easier. But when we focus on infrastructure investments, building partnerships, and protecting source water — we can continue to make a difference.

We’ll have to work together. And when we do, the Safe Drinking Water Act will protect future generations for decades to come.

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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Dreaming of a Better Bathroom? Retrofit with WaterSense!

2014 December 11

by Kimberly Scharl

With WaterSense-labeled products, you can save water, energy, and money.

With WaterSense-labeled products, you can save water, energy, and money.

Bathrooms are by far the largest water users in the home, accounting for more than half of all the water that families use indoors. But advances in plumbing technology and design mean that there is a wide variety of faucets, showers, and toilets that use significantly less water than standard models while still delivering the rinse, spray, and flush you expect. So, if you are planning to remodel your bathroom, you have a great opportunity to also save water and money.

Why save water? Because it’s our most precious natural resource, and because at least two-thirds of the United States have experienced or are bracing for local, regional, or statewide water shortages. Even after recent rains in the mid-Atlantic, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows areas in the region that are abnormally dry.

WaterSense labeled products are backed by independent third party certification that meet EPA’s specifications for water efficiency and performance. So, when you use WaterSense labeled products in your home or business, you can be confident you’ll be saving water without sacrifice.

Changes we make at home will add up quickly in neighborhoods across the country. If one in every 10 American homes upgrades a full bathroom with WaterSense-labeled fixtures, we could save about 74 billion gallons of water and about $1.6 billion on our utility bills nationwide per year.

Giving your bathroom a high-efficiency makeover by replacing older, inefficient bathroom fixtures with a WaterSense-labeled toilet, faucet, and showerhead can help your household save in more ways than one. Use this simple water savings calculator to estimate how much water, energy, and money you can save by installing WaterSense-labeled products in your home or apartment.

 

About the Author: Kimberly Scharl joined EPA in 2010, after moving to Pennsylvania 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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Drinking Water Infrastructure: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

2014 December 4

By Vince Gallo

A huge investment is needed to maintain the massive network of infrastructure that delivers water to our taps.

A huge investment is needed to maintain the massive network of infrastructure that delivers water to our taps.

Did you ever think about how that clean, clear, and safe drinking water makes it to your kitchen faucet? Or, when you pass one of those huge, blue water towers: why it’s there? Most of us have never really considered the vast amount of infrastructure needed to bring water from its source to your tap. In reality, the network of pipes, pumps, power generators, reservoirs, and fixtures responsible for delivering drinking water is massive.

Safe drinking water infrastructure can be described as a silent industry, one we tend not to think about until it is not working properly. Floods, hurricanes, spills, and other emergencies are often the only times we give drinking water infrastructure any thought at all. Maybe that’s because in the last four decades, since passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, we have been blessed with the promise of a continuous supply of fresh, safe drinking water.

One of the key successes of the Safe Drinking Water Act is the amount of financing provided by the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund or DWSRF. The DWSRF was established by the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996, and it has been a major success.

The DWSRF works like this: EPA grants funds to each state which are deposited into a special dedicated loan fund, where recipients (typically public water systems) also deposit a 20% match for each grant. The state then lends these funds to individual water systems to improve existing infrastructure or to build new systems. The water systems repay the loans to the state DWSRFs over 20 or 30 years, and – in some cases – some or all of the loan can be forgiven if the system serves an economically disadvantaged community.

Since EPA awarded the first DWSRF grants in 1997 the progress has been remarkable. In the mid-Atlantic, EPA has provided over $1.8 billion in assistance for water infrastructure assistance. Across the country, the DWSRF grants combined with the state match contributions, loan principal and interest repayments, earned interest, and funds borrowed via municipal bonds, have made possible $30.1 billion (with a “B”!) in financial assistance to public drinking water systems. That’s a lot of pipe!

Though the success of the DWSRF program is indisputable, many challenges remain.  The current financing need for public water infrastructure is estimated at $384 billion and growing. At the same time, changes in water resources due to a changing climate complicate the task of reliably providing safe drinking water.

Here in the mid-Atlantic, the DWSRF has supported projects to meet challenges like drought conditions by funding water line replacement and water metering projects which help preserve water resources. The DWSRF has also helped water systems build resilience to flooding by using DWSRF funds to locate new water infrastructure outside of flood-prone areas. Projects like these mean that the DWSRF is well-positioned to leverage its success into the future, where it will be a major player – albeit not the only one – in finding and funding solutions to increasingly complex water resource challenges.

Wow! All this talk has made me thirsty. I think I’ll drink a nice, cool glass of water straight from the tap, thanks to the Safe Drinking Water Act and the DWSRF.

About the author: Vince Gallo is a financial analyst in the Office of Infrastructure and Assistance in EPA’s Water Protection Division. He has over 25 years of experience in the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs. Outside of the office, Vince enjoys traveling.

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 Decade of Partnership for the Nation’s River

2014 November 20
: A view of the Potomac River at Great Falls. Photo credit: C&O Canal NHP via Flickr.

A view of the Potomac River at Great Falls. Photo credit: C&O Canal NHP via Flickr.

by Vicky Binetti

This year, members of the Potomac River Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership are marking the tenth anniversary of their 2004 partnership resolution.   I recall the excitement as water utilities from the middle Potomac, and federal, interstate and state government representatives signed a giant version of the partnership’s framework document at Little Seneca Reservoir in Maryland, pledging to work together to protect the quality of the Nation’s River, the source of drinking water for more than 5 million people.

On that September day, our aspirations were high: to develop a unified voice for the protection of drinking water sources, provide a forum to enhance understanding of important water quality issues, and build a team to coordinate action on priority concerns.  Over the past 10 years, partnership members have joined forces to conduct unique sampling studies for pathogens and emerging contaminants.  We’ve conducted workshops on runoff of salt-laden stormwater from winter storms; on the potential risks posed by newly recognized contaminants, and ways to reduce their presence in water supplies; and on the potential for nutrient pollution from agricultural and urban sources to contribute to harmful algal blooms.  We’ve developed coordinated early warning systems and emergency response strategies; conducted exercises to simulate real disasters; and shared lessons learned and contingencies planned in dealing with floods, droughts and power failures.  We’ve examined the success and value of land conservation efforts in the basin, and probed the simple elegance of how forested lands protect downstream water quality.

After a decade in partnership, our experience tells us that even as our understanding has increased, challenges remain.  As our population has grown, and land and water use have become more intense, the need for safeguarding sources of our water supply remains a priority.  Whatever challenges lie ahead, this partnership will build upon a foundation of strong science and collaboration.

So, in this same year that we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, let’s also raise a toast – with tap water, of course – to 10 years of protecting the Potomac River.

 

About the author: Vicky Binetti is Associate Director of EPA Region 3’s Water Protection Division, with responsibilities including public drinking water system compliance, source water protection and underground injection control in the mid-Atlantic states.  At home in southern New Jersey, Vicky is a member of the Environmental Commission and Open Space Advisory Committee.  

 

 

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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Make Purple Your Favorite Color!

2014 November 13
Purple pipes offer an easy way to distinguish recycled water from the potable water distribution system.

Purple pipes offer an easy way to distinguish recycled water from the potable water distribution system.

by Alysa Suero

What comes to mind when you think of purple? Likely you conjure images of grapes, flowers, or your favorite socks. How about a purple pipe? Most states require pipes to be colored purple if they carry reclaimed water. Reclaimed water is an important component in water conservation and one that is rapidly gaining in popularity for many uses.

Reclaimed, or recycled, water is highly treated wastewater that’s used again for a variety of purposes such as irrigation, industrial processes, and cooling towers. Often the treated water flows through purple pipes to the end user. Purple pipes offer an easy way to distinguish recycled water from the potable water distribution system.

There are many benefits to using reclaimed water. Using it for golf course irrigation or toilet flushing, for example, reduces the demand on our fresh water resources, reduces the nitrogen loading to the watershed from the wastewater treatment plant, and offers the end user a financial savings since it’s often cheaper to use reclaimed water than to operate a ground water well or purchase potable water from the local water supplier. It also saves energy that would otherwise be used to treat raw water at a drinking water treatment plant.

Reclaimed water in those purple pipes isn’t just for physical processes, either. Highly treated reclaimed water can be used to indirectly augment drinking water sources. In the mid-Atlantic, the Upper Occoquan Sewage Authority has been discharging recycled water into a stream above the Occoquan Reservoir since 1978. The sewage authority can send as much as 54 million gallons per day to the reservoir ensuring that a potable water supply source is consistently ready to serve Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria, Virginia.

As an individual, you don’t need a purple pipe to recycle water in your own home. Try watering your garden with rain water collected in a barrel. Feed your houseplants with water from your half-full water glass instead of pouring it down the drain. Every time we reuse water, whether through purple pipes from a wastewater treatment plant or even in our own home, we’re taking another step to conserve our precious water resources, and that’s a “plum” reward we can all appreciate.

About the author: Alysa Suero is a licensed professional geologist in the Water Protection Division’s Drinking Water Branch. When not in the office, Alysa, who was recently married, enjoys cooking, family game night, organizing closets, and caring for her two rabbits.

 

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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Dedication to Service

2014 November 6
Water treatment plants are staffed 24 hours a day by dedicated professionals

Water treatment plants are staffed 24 hours a day by dedicated professionals

 

 

By Jennie Saxe

As we prepare to commemorate Veterans Day, I’m reminded of how proud I am of the members of my family who have served our nation through military service. From my father, grandfathers, and uncles who served in the Army and the Navy, to my grandmother who served in the Navy Nurse Corps.

At a time when many of our returning veterans are reentering the jobs market, their skills are often easily transferable to the civilian sector.

In fact, many of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines have served as water treatment specialists, utilities men, water support technicians, and water systems maintenance personnel.

In my work at EPA, I’ve been fortunate to meet many public servants who serve our communities in different ways, including water and wastewater treatment plant operators who keep safe water flowing to our faucets and protect our waterways. From Hazleton, PA, to Washington, DC, and many towns in between, I’ve seen how much of a difference well-operated drinking water systems have on our daily lives.

EPA recognizes that jobs in the water and wastewater sector can be a great fit for our highly-trained, dedicated military veterans, and has prepared this guide on how military occupational specialties can translate into water industry jobs. The Virginia Department of Health, Office of Drinking Water has been working with the Army for the past few years to help their water treatment specialists become state-licensed operators. State drinking water staff also assist veterans as they search for jobs.

As we look back at 40 years of safe drinking water, let’s also look ahead to plan for sustainable, resilient water infrastructure that is operated by dedicated professionals – including our nation’s veterans.

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 extends a sincere thank you to everyone who has served – and continues to serve – our country. 

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’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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