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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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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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