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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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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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