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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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Drinking Water Infrastructure: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

2014 December 4

By Vince Gallo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Decade of Partnership for the Nation’s River

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

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

by Vicky Binetti

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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Make Purple Your Favorite Color!

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

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

by Alysa Suero

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Dedication to Service

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

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

 

 

By Jennie Saxe

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She extends a sincere thank you to everyone who has served – and continues to serve – our country. 

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

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