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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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Recreating Pennsylvania’s Past Along the Lehigh River

2014 August 28
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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A Revolutionary Resolution in Philadelphia

2014 August 21

by Randy Pomponio

Fairmount Water Works   Randy Pomponio with representatives from: Philadelphia City Council, Clean Water Action, Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership, Sustainable Business Network

EPA’s Randy Pomponio with representatives from: Philadelphia City Council, Clean Water Action, Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership, Sustainable Business Network

One does not have to look far to find history in the City of Philadelphia.  Whether it’s the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross House, or America’s first zoo, Philadelphia has played a pivotal role throughout our nation’s history.

Earlier this year, Philadelphia again made history when its City Council unanimously passed a resolution, sponsored by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, supporting EPA’s and the Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed Waters of the U.S. rule clarifying streams and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act.  This environmentally historic event gives Philadelphia the distinction of being the first U.S. city to pass such a resolution in support of clean water.

On August 6, I was privileged to be part of an event recognizing this important milestone at  Philadelphia’s historic Fairmount Water Works.  As I shared the stage with members of Philadelphia City Council; Clean Water Action; the Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership; and the Philadelphia Sustainable Business Network, I was reminded of the type of diverse partnership that called for additional clarity in defining protected waters.

While the Clean Water Act has protected our right to safe and pristine waters for more than 40 years, determining protections under the Act for streams and wetlands became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006.  Many different entities representing local governments, industry, and environmental groups asked EPA for clarification of what is a “water of the United States.”  The proposed rule responds to the request and is designed to clear the confusion and provide a more definitive explanation.

This is critical because the health of our larger water bodies – our rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the network of streams and wetlands where they begin.  These streams and wetlands benefit all of us by trapping floodwaters, removing pollution, recharging groundwater supplies and providing habitat for fish and wildlife.  They’re also a source for outdoor recreation activities, providing essential economic benefits.  One in three Americans and more than 1.5 million Philadelphians get at least some of their drinking water directly or indirectly from seasonal, headwaters, or rain dependent streams.

The City of Philadelphia and its partners made history in promoting clean water. Your input can help ensure that future generations enjoy a history of clean and healthy waters.   EPA is accepting public comments through October 20, 2014.

 

About the Author: Randy Pomponio is the Director of the EPA Region 3 Environmental Assessment & Innovation Division. He enjoys learning about our fascinating ecosystems and experiencing them through hiking, fishing, scuba diving, and best of all, sharing them with his children and grandchildren.

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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Art and the Environment

2014 August 14

by Andrea Bennett

Children are especially adept at conveying their interests – like SCUBA diving – through their artwork.

Children are especially adept at conveying their interests – like SCUBA diving – through their artwork.

People often express how they feel about our environment through many art forms such as photography, sculpture, and painting.  In the past, landscape artists in the mid-Atlantic region focused on painting historical events such as the famous painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware River in 1776. As our cultures changed, so did the subjects of our paintings and eventually painters began portraying the environment as it is without an important historical event in the center.

Different groups of painters used techniques that reflected their geographical areas such as the Hudson River School landscape painters and the Impressionists in Europe. Here in the mid-Atlantic there is a new group – the Potomac River School.  Recently these painters had a group show and most of the paintings were of the Potomac River and its tributaries.

The Washington Society of Landscape Painters, an art organization founded in 1913, sponsored the show titled, “Images of Washington, DC, 2014.” While the group only admitted male painters until 1993, this recent show, featuring the works of many women artists, demonstrates that women are actively capturing the beauty of the Potomac River today.

Children are especially adept at capturing what they see in the environment and many organizations are aware of the interest children have in re-creating what they see, and hold contests to encourage their artistic talents. This year the National Park Service sponsored a youth art contest and April art exhibition to showcase the beauty of Appalachia’s parks and wildlife and to help foster environmental protection in the New River Gorge area of West Virginia.

The City of Virginia Beach and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary  are also examples of mid-Atlantic organizations that sponsor contests to help artists – children and adults – show how they enjoy their local watershed and the natural environment around them.

Recently, more people have begun to create art that is part of or protects the environment. One local high school created a decorative sculpture out of bottle caps because they couldn’t find a place that could recycle them.

The Maryland Department of the Environment also sponsors an annual “Rethink Recycling” Sculpture Contest. One recent winner created a sculpture named “Meeko the Dolphin,” made out of discarded styrofoam, soda cans and water bottles!

Whether you’re living, working or vacationing here, the mid-Atlantic region, from the Shenandoah River in Virginia to the New River in West Virginia, is full of  great places to visit and capture with a photo or a drawing!

 

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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Green Infrastructure Research All-STARs

2014 August 7

by Ken Hendrickson and Jennie Saxe

 

An example of green infrastructure to help in managing urban stormwater.

An example of green infrastructure to help in managing urban stormwater.

A few weeks ago, Major League Baseball (MLB) held its annual All-Star Game. This is a chance for the best players from across MLB to work together and showcase their talents. EPA recently had a chance to host an “all-star” event of its own. On July 24, EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region and EPA’s Office of Research and Development hosted a kick-off meeting of researchers who received Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants. Since this was a kick-off meeting, it felt like less like a mid-season break, and more like spring training.

Like a baseball team focused on winning the pennant, these researchers are all focused on one goal: understanding the performance and effectiveness of green infrastructure in an urban setting. Five colleges and universities received a total of nearly $5 million from EPA to focus research on green infrastructure in Philadelphia. These research projects, announced on a snowy day this past January, will support the groundbreaking Green City, Clean Waters Partnership agreement between EPA and the City of Philadelphia.

Why would the research teams meet when the research hasn’t yet begun? This type of meeting provides researchers with a full picture of all of the research that is planned, and allows researchers to identify opportunities for collaboration. In this way, the individual teams can better understand where, how, and what their peers will be investigating. Proposals were developed several months ago, and it’s important to discuss the plans, processes, and research sites that have been refined since the projects were funded.

While the research may be conducted by these “academic all-stars,” it is much more than an academic exercise: the research is happening on the ground in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, and – by making it easier and cheaper to protect water quality through greening communities – the benefits will go to the residents of the city. In addition to the more than 30 researchers who attended to present their plans, dozens more people learned about the research plans by attending via webinar – maybe they will be inspired to pursue green infrastructure projects in their communities.

In research, as in baseball, with hard work comes important results. We’re certain that when we check back with these researchers in a few years, they will have many more insights to share.

 

About the authors: Ken Hendrickson and Jennie Saxe work in the Water Protection Division of EPA’s Region 3 office in Philadelphia.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Rain is Natural, But Run-Off is Not

2014 July 31

by Andrea Bennett

Potted daylilies and ivy in a parking area help transform an impermeable surface into one that captures rainwater.

Potted plants in a parking area help transform an impermeable surface into one that captures rainwater.

While we know that forests, meadows, and other plantings help slow the flow of rainwater and filter out pollutants, some towns (including mine) still have zoning laws prohibiting homeowners from replacing impermeable surfaces with vegetation.

These ordinances may not make the most sense from an environmental standpoint, but they can inspire homeowners to get creative about adapting impervious surfaces around the house to absorb rainfall and prevent polluted run-off.

For example, in my case, I realized that putting plants on top of an impermeable surface, mimicking more natural ground cover, could make a real difference.  The daylilies and ivy we now have in our parking area are helping to soak up rain before it becomes run-off.

When rain falls onto impervious surfaces that have pet waste, leaked oil, and lawn chemicals, they transport that polluted run-off to local creeks and rivers. By keeping the rain from contacting the pollution on land, or slowing down the movement of polluted stormwater, we give our local waterways a better chance of staying healthy.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension has crunched the numbers on how much runoff a medium-size house and lot in Virginia could generate, and they might surprise you.

They found that a 1,600 square foot roof and 750 square feet of driveway and sidewalks results in a total of 2,350 square feet of impervious surface. With just a half-inch of rain, more than 700 gallons of water would run off – enough to fill about 15 bathtubs!  During a bigger or longer storm event, even more rain would turn to run-off.

There are even more ways to keep rain from turning into polluted run-off. Around your home, you could build a rain garden; install permeable surfaces; sweep your driveways and walkways; pick up litter; and fix oil and antifreeze leaks from automobiles.

As for me, I plan to install a rain barrel to help capture rainwater to reuse in my yard.  Keep an eye out for local rain barrel workshops in your town: these workshops explain how to construct a rain barrel from a plastic 55-gallon drum, so you can use the water it collects to water plants.

What else can you do around your home to make sure rain doesn’t turn into polluted run-off? Let us know in the comments.

 

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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Evaporation: friend or foe?

2014 July 24
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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Our Friends, the Freshwater Mussels

2014 July 17
Freshwater mussels found the Brandywine River

Freshwater mussels found in the Brandywine River

by Andrea Bennett

 No, we can’t eat them, but they are kind of cute – as far as mussels go.  And these little bivalves do something that we could only do if we spent millions of dollars constructing a filtration plant: they filter out pollution from our drinking water sources. In fact, one adult mussel can filter up to 15 gallons of water per day; a 6-mile stretch of mussel beds can filter out over 25 tons of particulates per year!

Mussels are sometimes referred to as “biosentinels” – a living indicator of the presence of chemical contaminants or microbial pathogens. Because the presence of freshwater mussels means that a watershed is healthy, they provide a low-cost way to monitor water quality.

I was lucky enough to go on a mussel monitoring outreach event in the Brandywine River with The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.  We visited a land-locked pond near the Brandywine, where we found adult eastern floater mussels, which can live to over 70 years old! We also found younger mussels – about 8 years old – but no “babies.”  We then went to the Brandywine River, where we found eastern elliptio, but unfortunately, no young mussels.  At both places, we found corroded and disintegrating shells.

Back in the early 1900s, there were about 14 species of native freshwater mussels in the Delaware River Basin.  Now, it’s difficult to find anything but eastern elliptio in the Delaware watershed. Most importantly, you can’t find juveniles. Mussels reproduce by releasing larvae, called glochidia, which attach to the gills or fins of fish (the fish don’t know they are there).  In about 3 weeks, the glochidia fall off the fish to grow into juvenile mussels. Research shows that mussels are still releasing the glochidia, but the juveniles are not surviving.

Scientists from the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, with support from EPA and other agencies, are looking into what’s making it difficult for freshwater mussels to reproduce and survive.  In 2013, EPA published new recommendations for how much ammonia can be in surface water. These recommendations will help states work with dischargers and sources of non-point source pollution to better protect aquatic life, especially freshwater mussels.

You can get involved too!  The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary has freshwater mussel volunteer monitoring activities. If you’re in southwestern Virginia, you might be interested in projects in the Clinch River, which has more freshwater mussel species than any other river in North America.

Protecting these small, barely noticeable aquatic animals – so they can live, reproduce, and filter the water – also protects us, by improving the quality of our waterways.

 

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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