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Native Plants: Special Effects for the Environment

2015 February 26

by Bonnie Turner-Lomax

Native plants from the mid-Atlantic area

Native plants from the mid-Atlantic area

Celebrating “the Magic of the Movies,” the 2015 Philadelphia Flower Show opens this weekend at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.  Each year, the Flower Show provides a prelude to spring, and a temporary escape from the cold and snow of a typical Philadelphia winter for its hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Watching a good movie can provide a great two-to- three hour escape where the unreal becomes convincingly real.   Whether it’s a fictional land inhabited by mythical creatures; a time and place long forgotten; or a futuristic world in a distant galaxy, movie magic and special effects can make anything and everything appear real.

This year, EPA’s  Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit “Now Showing at a Garden Near You,” featuring a cast of aquatic plants including azaleas, laurels, dogwoods, pitcher plants, phlox, and many other varieties of flora native to the mid-Atlantic region, demonstrates a magical yet very real, healthy and balanced garden ecosystem.

Using native plants from your area can provide many benefits for the environment including a source of food and habitat for pollinators, beneficial insects and other wildlife.  Native plant communities also provide a sustainable way of fighting off colonization by those pesky invasive species.

Since natives require relatively little maintenance, they help save both time and money, and using native plants contributes to a healthy ecosystem that provides important ecological services like flood abatement, and filtering and replenishing groundwater.

If you plan to visit the Philadelphia Flower Show, stop by the EPA Exhibit and see how you can create a sustainable escape by applying  “special effects” that will make your yard beautiful to look at, while reducing pollution and maintenance costs at the same time.  The Philadelphia Flower Show runs from February 28 through March 8, 2015.

 

About the Author: Bonnie Turner-Lomax is the Communications Coordinator in the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division of EPA’s mid-Atlantic region.

 

 

 

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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Clean Bay Critical to Watermen Then and Now

2015 February 19
Watermen Culling Oysters in the  Chesapeake Bay Credit to Library of Congress LC-USF34-014482-D)

Credit: Library of Congress

by Bonnie Lomax

 Each year, the nation celebrates African American History Month, dedicating the month of February as a formal and themed opportunity to recognize and celebrate the contributions and the rich history of African-Americans.  This year’s theme is “A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture.

As an African-American and an amateur genealogist, I often think about my own family history and how my ancestors may have lived a hundred or more years ago. The United States Censuses of 1900 and 1910 list my maternal ancestors and their children as living in the communities of Dames Quarter, Ewell, and Chance, in Somerset County, bordering the Chesapeake Bay on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  My great-grandfather and his sons were all listed in occupation as oystermen or watermen, earning a living harvesting oysters on the Chesapeake Bay.

Most likely, my ancestors and others would have faced many difficult challenges in their day-to-day lives.  Their work required being away from home and family, spending extended periods of time on the water, often exposed to harsh weather conditions.  Yet for them and the other early 20th century watermen, the waters of the Chesapeake Bay provided a kind of home, as well as a source of stability and income. In fact, their way of life depended on a clean and healthy Bay.

Today, the nation’s largest estuary continues to support many people’s livelihoods. (Check out this photo essay exploring the life of modern-day Chesapeake Bay watermen).   However, like many ecosystems, the Bay faces enormous environmental challenges, including nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution, and the consequences of a changing climate.

Last year, EPA and its state, federal, and non-profit partners signed the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, setting goals, outcomes and management strategies to guide the restoration of the Bay, its tributaries and the lands around them.  That followed the establishment in 2010 of the Chesapeake Bay Blueprint for Restoration, or Bay TMDL, designed to ensure that all pollution control measures needed to fully restore the Bay and its tidal rivers are in place by 2025.

While government commitment is essential, individual actions can have a huge impact on the Bay.  Check here for a list of simple everyday steps you can take to help the Bay.

Just as it was 100 years ago, the Chesapeake Bay continues to play a vital role in the lives of millions.  The steps we take today are crucial in preserving this important resource – and its culture and history – for future generations.

 

About the author: Bonnie Lomax is the Communications Coordinator for the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division of EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region.

 

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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Slowing the Spinning Wheel

2015 February 12

electric meterby Ken Pantuck

Whether we live in houses or apartments, we all probably share the same sense of hesitation when we open our monthly electric bill…especially after some frigid winter months.

Keeping the environment and our household budgets in mind, it makes sense to consider ways to reduce these bills with more efficient appliances, and conservation measures to use less energy whenever possible.

Just like homeowners and renters, most operators of large water and wastewater treatment plants are always looking for ways of lowering energy consumption and the costs that come with it, and reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in the process.  The difference is that their power requirements are enormous.

Did you know that nationally, electricity accounts for 25 to 40 percent of the operating budgets for wastewater utilities and approximately 80 percent of drinking water processing and distribution costs? In fact, drinking water and wastewater systems account for nearly four percent of all the energy use in the United States.

EPA’s Net Zero Energy team is helping utilities to lower their costs by reducing waste, conserving water, and lowering power demand.

I recently attended a meeting at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the regional planning group for in the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia where energy conservation and reductions were the chief topics.  Each authority had used experts in the field to assist them in examining energy saving actions, and estimating the costs of implementing them.

While many of these energy projects involved little or no cost, others carried a more significant price tag.  Each authority selected what actions would get them the biggest “bang for the buck” within their capital improvement budgets, and would pay for themselves within one to 10 years in energy savings.

While many large water and wastewater authorities are already benefiting from these energy saving measures, some of the smaller ones are just starting to learn about them. A couple of EPA publications entitled “Energy Efficiency in Water and Wastewater Facilities” and “Planning for Sustainability: A Handbook for Water and Wastewater Utilities” can provide the necessary first steps for a community or authority to begin such an effort.

Why not encourage your local utility to check out the savings?

About the Author: Ken Pantuck is the team leader for the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Innovative Technologies 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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Cleaner Air Means Cleaner Water

2015 February 5

by Tom Damm

photo credited to Eric Vance, EPA

Photo credit: Eric Vance, EPA

So, what does cleaner air as far away as Indiana have to do with cleaner water in the Chesapeake Bay? Plenty.

A sizable portion of the overload in nitrogen in the Bay and its surrounding waters comes from tailpipes and smokestacks in a vast area that extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the mid-West and from North Carolina to a lower slice of Canada – and even beyond.

The nitrogen pollution is carried by winds and falls directly or washes into the Bay’s waters, contributing to algal blooms that rob oxygen in water needed by fish and other aquatic life to survive.

The good news is that actions by EPA and its state partners under the Clean Air Act have led to big reductions in those airborne nitrogen oxides, or NOx.

In putting together an EPA fact sheet on the topic, we found that two side-by-side graphics were most telling.

One shows the degree of nitrogen air pollution affecting the Chesapeake Bay watershed in 1986. The other shows the state of the air in 2013. It’s as if someone lifted a dark overlay.

That’s a big deal because scientists estimate that as much as a third of the nitrogen polluting the Bay comes from the air.

The fact sheet lists some of the Clean Air Act rules that have led to the sharp declines in NOx pollution. It also highlights figures that show EPA is on track to meet air pollution reduction goals in the Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet.”

And it’s not only the Chesapeake that benefits from the decrease in NOx pollution. Coastal waters from Long Island Sound to estuaries all along the Gulf Coast benefit from reduced nitrogen loads from the air.

You can do your part, too, to help brighten the picture. When possible, walk, bike or take public transportation to reduce vehicle emissions that pollute the air – and water.

 

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

 

 

 

 

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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Who will win the big game?

2015 January 29

by Steve Donohue

"Green" up for the big game!

“Green” up for the big game!

Sadly, my beloved Philadelphia Eagles will not be in the big game this year – again!  But we can all be winners by conserving resources and saving money on game day and every other day.

Last year 111.5 million viewers watched the game.  If all these fans used WaterSense toilets (which use 1.28 gallons per flush, gpf, or less) instead of the old 3.5 gpf models we could save enough water to fill Lincoln Financial Field up to the Club Box level with just one flush!

If you’re thirsty during the game you can drink bottled water at 50 cents or more each, or thanks to the Safe Drinking Water Act, your local utility, and other partners, you can simply turn on the tap and get safe, clean water delivered right to your kitchen for about ½ cent a gallon.  That’s hundreds of times cheaper and you don’t have to carry the bottles home or dispose of them after they are used.

Game day savings aren’t limited to water, though. If all the households that watched the game got rid of their old beer refrigerator in the garage they would not only save about $150 a year but collectively enough electricity to power over 1.6 million homes!

And, speaking of drinking, if everyone who watched the big game recycled just 1 can we could save a weight of aluminum equal to 260 times the weight of the entire Eagles roster and save enough electricity to power a television for over 2,500 years!

Finally, everyone loves a party but the cleanup…not so much.   If you’re hosting a large gathering and have left over, unspoiled food, please consider donating it to a local charity and helping the over 48 million Americans who live in food-insecure households.

Greening your party for the big game is a win for your wallet and for the environment. Try out these tips on Sunday and every day!

 

About the author: Steve Donohue has been an environmental scientist at EPA for over 25 years. Currently, he works in the Office of Environmental Innovation in Philadelphia where he is focused on greening EPA and other government facilities.

 

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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Taking out the Trash

2015 January 22

 by Tom Damm

 

Trash and litter in our waterways can be harmful to our health, the environment, and the economy.

Trash and litter in our waterways can be harmful to our health, the environment, and the economy.

When EPA representatives met with 4th graders in Maryland last year to observe their work as “stream stewards,” many of the students had the same comment – there’s too much trash in the water.

One young girl told us, “People need to protect our world from getting dirty…because some people throw trash on the ground and they don’t pick it up so we need to tell them to recycle so we don’t get pollution in the water.”

That’s the basic idea – although in far more technical terms – behind steps taken by the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia under the Clean Water Act to control trash impacting two major rivers – the Anacostia and the Patapsco.

Trash and debris washed or dumped into our waterways pose more than aesthetic problems.  They’re a serious health hazard to people, wildlife and fish and can have economic impacts.  Trash harms birds and marine life who consume small pieces, mistaking them for food.  In fact, a shard of a plastic DVD case was identified as the cause of the recent death of an endangered sei whale in Virginia’s Elizabeth River.  Some of the waste contains chemicals and pathogens that affect water quality.

In 2010, the Maryland and District of Columbia environmental agencies combined to develop strict pollution limits, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), for trash in the Anacostia River.  It was the first – and is still the only – interstate trash TMDL in the country.

And then earlier this month, EPA approved a TMDL submitted by the Maryland Department of the Environment for parts of the Patapsco River to deal with trash problems in Baltimore area streams and its famous harbor.  The department worked closely with the City and County of Baltimore and with environmental stakeholders on the final product.

One of the ways trash is already being removed from Baltimore Harbor is through an innovative water wheel that collects it.  Check out this video and story to see how it works.

And visit this site for tips on what you can do to keep trash out of waterways.

 

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

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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Partners in Preventing Pollution

2015 January 15

by Ms. Kyle J. Zieba

 

MS4 Training Exercise

MS4 Training Exercise

 

It was truly rewarding watching professionals from Prince William and Fairfax counties in Virginia help lead our recent training exercises in how to ensure towns follow the rules when it comes to preventing municipal stormwater pollution.

Our EPA team worked with these counties to strengthen their stormwater programs following compliance inspections in 2011.  And now here they were at the front of the class showing others how to do the job right.

Stormwater runoff is a leading cause of pollution in our rivers and streams.  Over the last few years, EPA has worked with many municipalities and counties in the region to improve their Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) compliance.  As a result, many local governments have stepped up to better their operations.

Today, Prince William and Fairfax counties are proactively managing their MS4 compliance obligations, and sharing their experiences.

The counties recently hosted, and joined EPA, in leading the training sessions for state inspectors from throughout the mid-Atlantic region on how to check for stormwater violations.  They explained some of their model procedures and led the trainees through mock inspections, a demonstration in detecting illicit discharges, and other activities.

One of EPA’s priorities, launching a new era of local partnerships, is on full display in our MS4 compliance work with Fairfax and Prince William counties. By working together, we’re demonstrating a new paradigm for how compliance assurance activities to protect human health and the environment can lead to long-term collaboration and shared accountability.

 

About the author: Ms. Zieba is an National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Enforcement Officer in the Water Protection Division in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office.

 

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 Boring Subject

2015 January 8
The 26 foot diameter "cutting" head of Nannie, built in Germany at a cost of $25 M

The 26 foot diameter “cutting” head of Nannie, built in Germany at a cost of $25 M

by  Ken Pantuck

DC Water dedicated its second Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) on December 12, 2014. It has been named “Nannie”, in honor of Nannie Helen Burroughs, a prominent 20th century African-American educator, civil rights activist, and Washington resident. This TBM will join another – called “Lady Bird” – as part of Washington’s strategy to reduce combined sewage overflows into the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers when it rains.

The huge cutting head – 26 feet in diameter – will soon be lowered down a nearby drop shaft 100 feet below the surface and placed on railroad tracks.  Like a caterpillar, more segments will be added to the drilling machine, growing Nannie to a total length of 350 feet and a weight of 1,248 tons (the equivalent of nearly six Boeing 747s) when fully assembled and functional.  As the TBM moves forward, curved six-foot cement pieces are pressed against the tunnel wall to create a strong circular structure.  On average, Nannie is expected to create 52 to 64 feet of tunnel each day.

Four workers are dwarfed by the enormity of the shaft where Nannie will be lowered

Four workers are dwarfed by the enormity of the shaft where Nannie will be lowered

The Catholic archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl; EPA’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water, Ken Kopocis; DC Water Board Chairman and City Administrator Allen Y. Lew and DC Water General Manager George S. Hawkins, spoke at the dedication event.  Mr. Lew christened Nannie with a bottle of DC tap water.  Cardinal Wuerl blessed the machine and asked for God’s protection of the miners.  We often forget that tunneling, whether it is for mining, subways, highways, or sewers, is not without risk.  I was told that a statue of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of miners, is often placed near tunneling construction sites.

Cardinal Wuerl blesses the TBM

Cardinal Wuerl blesses the TBM

Having myself been underground in the main tunnel being mined by Lady Bird, I can attest that it is among the hardest and most challenging jobs in construction.  The workers or miners come from all over the world.  Because they are experts in what they do and in the operation of this type of machine, the workers that are in DC today could be constructing a subway system in Dubai or a highway tunnel in Europe next year.

A third TBM will start next spring to complete the 13-mile Anacostia River segment.  When finished, DC Water’s Clean Rivers Project is expected to capture 98% of storm-related combined sewage overflows into the Anacostia River and improve its water quality.

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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Financing Faster, Cheaper, Greener Urban Stormwater Management

2014 December 31
Partnerships, market-based incentives, and private sector investment are all key elements of driving effective and affordable urban stormwater innovation.

Partnerships, market-based incentives, and private sector investment are all key elements of driving effective and affordable urban stormwater innovation.

By Dominique Lueckenhoff

Cities and towns across the region are facing huge infrastructure needs to manage urban stormwater runoff, a growing contributor to water pollution. That’s why EPA convened a Sustainable Stormwater Financing Forum in Washington, DC on December 9.

This first-of-its-kind forum – described as “ground-breaking”, “visionary”, and “unique” – hosted representatives of federal, state, and local governments, non-government organizations, and academia, along with private sector engineers, developers, and finance industry representatives. How important was it that all of these different organizations came together? Seth Brown of the Water Environment Federation (WEF) may have said it best: “Making connections between these sectors is vital for the future growth of innovative financing/funding approaches that are needed for the successful management of urban stormwater runoff.”

The forum covered topics from partnerships to market-based incentives and private sector investment, all key elements of driving effective and affordable urban stormwater innovation. DC’s Stormwater Retention Credit program and the Philadelphia Water Department’s Greened Acre Retrofit Program were two of the localized programs discussed with the audience. Without a doubt, the highlight of the forum was an in-depth discussion of a community-based public-private partnership recently adopted by Prince George’s County in Maryland. Under an agreement, the County will partner with the private company to pilot $100 million of green infrastructure projects. According to Prince George’s County, the projects are designed to “provide cost savings, create thousands of local jobs and boost economic development.”

Sustainable solutions to urban stormwater runoff have the potential to spur local economic development, create jobs, and improve quality of life for communities, all while protecting the environment. It was inspiring to hear from experts and leaders in the field about the innovative approaches that will be critical to addressing complex environmental problems – like urban stormwater runoff – today and into the future.

About the author: Dominique Lueckenhoff is the Deputy Division Director of the Water Protection Division in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office.

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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Safer water in the sky

2014 December 24
The Aircraft Drinking Water Rule protects drinking water aboard aircraft

The Aircraft Drinking Water Rule protects drinking water aboard aircrafts

by Jennie Saxe

In my first days at EPA, I was part of a team of scientists and engineers who collected onboard water samples from aircraft at the Philadelphia International Airport. It was a long, hectic day of running from gate to gate to sample water from a wide variety of airlines and aircraft types, usually while the crew was facing a quick turn-around.  But when I thought about all of the passengers I had seen through the course of the day, I knew what we were doing had a real impact on public health.

This was a precursor to a larger sampling effort which led EPA to conclude at the time that drinking water for passengers and crew on aircraft was not adequately protected. To ensure that the water on aircraft is safe to drink, EPA worked with the US Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the airline industry to develop the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule (ADWR), which was finalized in 2009.

Just as a multiple-barrier approach with treatment, monitoring, reporting, and notification requirements ensures safe water delivery for traditional public water systems under the Safe Drinking Water Act, a similar approach was adapted for these unique water systems aboard aircraft. The ADWR requires airlines to develop operations and maintenance plans, sample for coliform bacteria, routinely disinfect and flush aircraft onboard water systems, and perform inspections. If a water sample indicates a problem, airlines must contact EPA, take corrective actions, and let their passengers and crew know about the problem. Together, these steps protect passengers and crew from acute contaminants that could make them sick, even after an exposure as brief as an airplane flight.

In 2012, EPA signed an agreement with Amtrak that further protects drinking water on trains, too. Amtrak’s operations and maintenance plans already required routine disinfection and flushing of water tanks on its rail cars. The agreement with EPA means that every railcar is also sampled for coliform bacteria. Together, these actions protect train crews and the more than 25 million passengers that travel by rail every year.

As the busy holiday travel season begins, many of us will find ourselves taking to the sky or riding the rails to visit loved ones or to squeeze in a vacation. Once you’re on your way, you can pass up the caffeinated, alcoholic, and soft drinks. Save those calories for holiday goodies – wet your whistle with water!

 

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 carries a refillable water bottle on all of her travels.

 

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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