By Christina Catanese
During my time at EPA, I’ve learned so much about water protection, from permits to enforcement, from regulations to partnerships, from large national actions to things anyone can do to protect their waters. Managing the Healthy Waters Blog, along with other digital communications, I’ve also thought a lot about how best to communicate the work EPA does in water protection outside our agency’s boundaries. I’ve found that, consistently, our most effective communications have been those that make visible the real impacts of our work, those that connect environmental actions to the things that are most important to all of us, and those that engage people on a deep emotional level, not necessarily a scientific one. And often, it also takes a touch of creativity.
In a digital age, there are more ways than ever for us to reach out and connect with the many audiences interested in what EPA does, and more ways to have a presence in communities. Social media and blogs are some of the newest tools in our communication toolboxes – we’re still honing our craft to figure out the best way to use these tools to build the most engagement with our work.
One of the best tools I know of to help make these meaningful connections is art. How many times have you felt your spirit soar while watching a powerful performance, or your mind fill with awe gazing upon a work of art (or, for that matter, a work of nature)? For many of us, just reading about science and large, sometimes overwhelming environmental problems doesn’t always inspire the same excitement. But what if the complementary powers of art and science could be combined? Can environmental science and art be integrated to educate and inspire people to change their perspective and behavior on environmental issues? I think the answer is yes. I think art has amazing potential to connect people with the natural world and their environments in a way that typical presentations of scientific information cannot. From storm drain art to artfully managed stormwater and beyond, the possibilities are endless to use art as an avenue into environmental issues, and an inspiration to get involved.
With the challenges we face in water protection and other environmental issues, it’s more important than ever to communicate about these issues and engage everyone in the solutions. What other creative ways can you think of to communicate about environmental challenges and the possibilities to address them?
About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, managing the Healthy Waters Blog and other digital communications in the Mid Atlantic Region’s Water Protection Division. She is parting ways from the agency this week to explore more deeply the connections of environmental science, art, and communication as the Director of Environmental Art at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.
By Charlie Rhodes
While wetlands may conjure up images of “swamp things,” in reality these unique ecosystems have many vital and fascinating characteristics.
For example, wetlands provide crucial food and habitat for wildlife. Did you know that more than half of the fish caught for recreational or commercial purposes depend on wetlands at some point in their life cycles, as do 75 percent of our nation’s migratory birds?
Both saltwater (along the coastal shorelines) and freshwater (extending inland) wetlands occur in the coastal watersheds of the United States.
Wetland systems improve water quality and buffer coastal communities from erosion and flooding, while also providing recreational opportunities. A recent report Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watershed of the Continuous United States 2004-2009 summarized the status and trends of coastal watersheds. Frankly, much of the report compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wasn’t good news.
During the study period, wetlands suffered a net national decline of 360,720 acres (an area about the size of Los Angeles), and an average of 25 percent increased loss compared to the previous five years. Our Atlantic Coasts saw a decline of 111,960 acres (larger than the city of Philadelphia). Losses and degradation of wetlands in coastal watersheds can be directly traced to population growth, changes in water flow, and increased pollution.
Some of the reported impacts include:
- The loss of an estimated that 7,360 acres of estuarine saltmarsh in the Atlantic coastal watersheds – mainly due to erosion and inundation from rising sea levels along shorelines near Delaware Bay.
- Forested freshwater wetlands declined by an estimated 405,740 acres. Of these losses, 69,700 acres (44%) were attributed to silviculture, the practice of harvesting trees in many swamps.
- Natural ponds declined by 16,400 acres (-3.9 percent), while detention or ornamental ponds increased by 55,700 acres (+19 percent). While this would appear to indicate a net gain, the tradeoff is that natural ponds, which often interact with other natural environments and provide additional benefits, were being lost while isolated decorative ponds or sumps of limited ecological value were being created.
While reestablishing and creating wetlands can offset losses, this study also found that these strategies have not been as effective in coastal wetlands as in other types. Challenges include costs, competing land use interests, and oversight limitations.
Wetland losses coupled with increasing frequency of extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy make the mid-Atlantic coasts increasingly vulnerable to coastal flooding and inundation.
But not all of the news is bad. Many great opportunities still exist for citizens, industry, government agencies, and others to work together to slow the rate of wetland loss and improve the quality of our remaining wetlands. Learn more about what you can do to protect wetlands and about EPA’s wetland activities in the mid-Atlantic at the following: http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/protection.cfm; and http://www.epa.gov/reg3esd1/wetlands/ .
About the Author: Charlie Rhodes is a wetland ecologist who has been with EPA since 1979. He has worked nationally on wetlands in many capacities including impact assessment, delineation, and enforcement; and in many roles, including expert witness, instructor, and grant reviewer.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.
By Bob Perciasepe
Crossposted from EPA Connect
Yesterday, I was up in Philadelphia joined by CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley and Mayor Nutter to announce nearly $5 million in EPA grants made possible through the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program. These investments are going to five universities, and aim to fill gaps in research evaluating the costs and benefits of certain green infrastructure practices.
The projects to be invested in, led by Temple University, Villanova University, Swarthmore College, University of Pennsylvania and University of New Hampshire, will explore the financial and social costs and benefits associated with green infrastructure as a stormwater and wet weather pollution management tool.
From rain gardens and permeable pavement to using absorbent landscape materials to soak up rainwater and more, the knowledge we gain will pay dividends not just for Philadelphia, but for cities all across the country. Green infrastructure can save money, promote safe drinking water, and build more resilient water systems—especially in the face of climate change.
Results from these university research teams will supplement a growing body of knowledge that EPA’s own researchers are uncovering. From monitoring and performance evaluation to creating models and a toolbox of green infrastructure resources for decision-makers, this research will be valuable to the city of Philadelphia and beyond.
We’re especially proud of the great work going on through Philly’s Green City, Clean Waters program. Our ongoing partnership between our researchers, EPA regional staff, academia, and the City of Philadelphia under Mayor Michael Nutter is a model for others to follow. We’re helping make real progress at the community level. Community progress isn’t just what guides our actions—it’s a measure of our success in fulfilling EPA’s mission of protecting public health and the environment.
And we’ll continue to rely on that kind of collaboration—especially when it comes to climate change. Luckily, Philadelphia has made major progress, thanks to Mayor Nutter’s efforts in cutting carbon pollution and preparing the city for climate impacts. As a member of President Obama’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, Mayor Nutter’s advice will be critical to make sure our climate preparedness and resilience policies respond to the needs of communities. The advice we get from the Task Force is an important component to our national Climate Action Plan to combat climate change broadly.
We have come a long way in the 40 years since the Clean Water Act. But with new challenges like climate change—we need push forward with community-focused, innovative solutions. That’s why locally focused partnerships like Green City, Clean Water, and ground level solutions like green infrastructure, are paving a pathway for progress.
I’m confident that through our STAR program, investments in these projects will go a long way to developing innovation solutions to stormwater management, wet weather pollution, and building more resilient, safer water systems for all.
Bob Perciasepe is the EPA’s Deputy Administrator.
By Jennie Saxe
I love traveling by train. I commute to work by train and occasionally my family substitutes a train trip for a long car ride to avoid traffic and the confined space of our car (which somehow seems to shrink with each passing hour). Traveling by train also give you a unique perspective on the landscape – when you’re less concerned about the brake lights in front of you, you get a chance to really take in what’s around you.
One of the things that I was able to enjoy on a recent train trip to Boston was the amazing waterfront scenery along our route. However, on this journey – which began on the Christina River, continued across the Delaware River, glided all along the coves and harbors on Long Island Sound, and ultimately ended near Boston Harbor – I not only saw the beauty in nature, but also the many, varied connections we have with our waterways:
Recreation. Industry. Infrastructure. Homes. History.
These are just some of our links to the water. Waterways in the mid-Atlantic and in New England are rich in history and have been valued for their contributions to society for hundreds of years. Industry and agriculture depend on clean, reliable water supplies. Recreation on the water is an important element of our life and of livelihoods in the northeast. Much of our infrastructure and many communities are located near the water, a pattern established early in our nation’s history. The flip side: all of these activities also put stress on water quality and quantity. For a big-picture look at the strains on our water resources, as well as the importance of water to our economy, check out this interesting report from EPA.
Clearly, our coastal areas are vitally important to our economy and our way of life, but they are also some of the areas most vulnerable to rising sea levels associated with climate change. EPA’s climate change website chronicles some of the specific changes anticipated for the northeastern U.S. as well as some of the planning that communities in the northeast are doing to help them adapt to a changing climate. EPA also has drafted climate change adaptation implementation plans to ensure that we continue to fulfill our mission of protecting human health and the environment as we continue to adjust to a “new normal” in terms of our climate.
I’m not sure what changes I’ll see in our coastal areas on my next rail adventure, or on a train trip to New England 20 years from now. My kids will probably be the ones to notice changes during their lifetimes. I believe that when you feel connected to something, it instills in you a sense of stewardship and preservation. Every time we take this journey up the east coast, we’ll take some time to take off our earphones, put away the tablet, and just gaze out the window to appreciate our connections to the water resources in our region.
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 spending time with her husband and 2 children, cheering for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, and – obviously – traveling by train.
By Matt Colip
A 40-degree day wasn’t ideal for an open-air trolley ride. But the sights we witnessed in Virginia’s capital were worth the chill.
I joined EPA mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin as he participated in a recent trolley tour of projects in Richmond that are helping to improve water quality in the James River and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay. The tour was provided by officials from the City of Richmond, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the non-profit Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
The first stop was the city’s wastewater treatment plant to view massive upgrades designed to sharply reduce pollution discharges to the James. EPA funded more than half of the project through its Clean Water State Revolving Fund. From here, the trolley rolled off toward downtown Richmond.
There, we came to a stop for a different form of transportation: the Bus Loop Green Street project. This project retrofitted the bus loop for the Capitol to utilize pervious pavement and rain garden planters with native species to filter and absorb the captured rain water. This was a great example of the green infrastructure opportunities offered by urban environments – a strategy EPA supports across the region to improve water quality.
After a few minutes at this site, we traveled to our third stop, Capitol Square – this time by foot. Walking past the Capitol to this next stop reminded us of how beautiful Virginia’s Capitol building truly is; its historic architecture makes you think that Thomas Jefferson could be walking out the front door. It may have been a cold day, but the sky was clear and the sun was beaming down and reflecting off the Capitol building’s sheet white walls – you almost needed sunglasses just to look at it!
It wasn’t long before a representative from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay explained that the brick walkway surrounding the Capitol that we were standing on was pervious, too. An underground cistern harvests rainwater from the walkway, which is then used to water plants and provide water for the Bell Tower fountain on Capitol Square. This project not only reduces the amount of stormwater runoff from what was once an impervious surface surrounding the Capitol building, but serves as a high-profile education tool to inform the public about the benefits of controlling stormwater with surfaces that let the rain soak in.
The final stop was a single-lane carriage street on 12th Street near the Capitol that had also been retrofitted with porous material, another example of history interfacing with cutting-edge environmental solutions in Richmond.
Both Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin and I were very impressed with these projects, which provide a tangible representation of what Richmond and other urbanized areas can do to improve the long-term health of their local waters and the larger water systems they are a part of.
About the Author: Matt Colip works in the region’s Office of State and Congressional Relations as the as the State and Congressional Liaison for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Originally from Texas, Matt graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., with an interdisciplinary BA in Public Health and has a MS from Saint Joseph’s University that focused on environmental protection policy and management. In addition to SCUBA diving, Matt is an avid bicyclist and enjoys riding with friends and colleagues.
By Tom Damm
With EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program, there are projects you can see and those you can’t.
But whether it’s adding the latest pollution-reduction technology to a wastewater treatment plant or building underground sewer lines to eliminate leaky septic systems, the projects all have something in common – they improve water quality and give a nice boost to the local economy.
The program – which is marking its 25th anniversary – is impressive in sheer numbers alone.
Since its inception, nearly $8.5 billion has been invested in more than 6,000 clean water infrastructure projects in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region; more than $100 billion nationwide.
But it’s the difference the program is making in communities that’s been the real measure of success.
From every locale, large and small, you can witness the results, from improvements on farms that reduce runoff to nearby streams, to upgrades of treatment plants resulting in significant progress by the wastewater sector in reducing pollution to local waters and the Chesapeake Bay. Check out this map and description of projects in Maryland, for example.
We like doing groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting events to celebrate the water and wastewater projects because it allows people to appreciate the benefits of this unique federal-state partnership.
The program works like this: EPA provides grants to the states, and the states in turn, provide affordable financing to communities, non profits and others for needed projects that improve and protect the quality of the local water. The program is funded with annual federal grants, state contributions, loan repayments and interest.
Our state partners have the highest praise for the program, perhaps best expressed by Virginia State Revolving Fund Program Manager Walter Gills. He says the initiative “combines the power of the federal seed funding with the innovation, efficiency, and customization of the various state government delivery systems.”
Keep an eye out for a project near you. And listen to our podcast to hear more about some of the visible impacts in communities in the Mid Atlantic Region from the past 25 years of the Clean Water State Revolving fund. For more information on the program, visit water.epa.gov/grants_funding.
About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.
Cross posted on EPA Connect, EPA’s leadership blog
By Shawn M. Garvin
In the midst of a season of many celebrations, I’m reminded of the rich environmental history we have in Region III as we get ready to celebrate another important occasion: The 50th anniversary of our Wheeling, W. Va. Field Office. As a pioneer of many environmental controls and methods, the Wheeling Field Office is one of the places where environmental protection began in this country.
Before the EPA was established in 1970, environmental protection was taking hold in various pockets across the nation, including in the Ohio River area. During the late 1950s, the U. S. Public Health Service (U.S. PHS) collected extensive data on declining fish populations in the Ohio River and its tributaries, and concluded that there was a serious human health threat from rivers full of untreated sewage and castoff industrial chemicals.
To address this threat, the U.S. PHS, supported in large measure by the efforts of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, formed the Ohio River Basin Project and in 1963, the Wheeling Field Office opened as part of this project. The office’s original goal was to evaluate water quality across 72,000 square miles in six states in the upper Ohio River valley.
In 1966, the Wheeling Field Office was assigned added responsibility under the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Federal Water Pollution Control Administration to determine water usage and to oversee water storage needs in reservoirs in response to water quality and extensive acid mine drainage problems. In the late 1960s, the Wheeling Field Office recorded the most acidic rain ever documented in the United States.
In 1970, the Wheeling Field Office was incorporated into the newly formed EPA under the Mid-Atlantic Region. Emphasizing inspections and enforcement, the office was instrumental in EPA’s early charge to help local governments and industry comply with new laws governing air and water pollution.
Until 1986, the Wheeling Field Office operated a chemistry laboratory and continues to run a freshwater biology laboratory, and engineering, inspection and enforcement sections, to keep up with the latest environmental challenges, including among others acid rain, municipal water pollution, fish kills, air emissions, oil spills, hazardous materials, and mountaintop mining. Operations in the office and lab space have continued since its early days, likely making the Wheeling Field Office the oldest functioning environmental facility in the same location in the nation.
Currently, Wheeling houses staff from eight EPA Region III programs who maintain the focus on collaboration with state governments to advance science and environmental compliance in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Scientists, hazardous cleanup managers, inspectors, and other staff continue the fifty year legacy of protecting human health and the environment. Learn more about the Wheeling Field Office here.
So, as we enjoy all this holiday season brings, let’s also celebrate the Wheeling Field Office by looking back on the past 50 years of environmental advances and looking forward to the opportunities to continue pioneering environmental protection.
About the Author: Shawn M. Garvin is EPA’s Regional Administrator for Region 3, overseeing the Agency’s operations in Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Shawn’s career in intergovernmental affairs spans more than 20 years at the federal and local levels.
By Ellen Schmitt and Susan Spielberger
More often than not, watersheds cross political boundaries. Take the Potomac River for example. It drains an area of 14,670 square miles in four states: Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia. As part of the larger Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the Potomac River delivers a significant amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment to the Chesapeake Bay.
Besides its contribution to downstream nutrient pollution, the Potomac basin itself faces a number of threats to its source water quality. One of these threats is a rapid growth in urban population which accounts for 81% of the basin’s 6.11 million residents, and is expected grow by more than 1 million people over the next 20 years.
The environmental challenges presented by the Potomac River, as well as other mid-Atlantic waters often require the attention of different EPA programs. Here’s what two of us do to protect “the Nation’s River” here in EPA, Region 3.
I work in the Drinking Water Branch and we’re working with the Potomac River Basin Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership to protect the river and its tributaries as sources of drinking water. Protecting the source water in the first place is the best preventative step to providing safe drinking water. Hand and glove with this are the other usual steps including treatment at water plants, a safe drinking water distribution system, and increasing the awareness of consumers of protecting drinking water sources. This approach makes sense because some substances can’t be removed at water treatment facilities and it’s often much less expensive to treat the water if contaminants are kept out in the first place. Examples of source water protection activities are: keeping manure from farms out of streams to reduce the potential for pathogens entering the water; having a response plan in the event of a spill of hazardous materials; and working with transportation agencies to reduce the amount of salt spread on the region’s roads during the winter.
The Potomac Partnership is a unique collaboration, comprised of nearly 20 drinking water utilities and government agencies from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and DC focusing on source water protection activities addressing agriculture, urban run-off and emerging contaminants.
I work in the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division. In 2010, Congress provided EPA with two million dollars in funding to restore and protect the Potomac Highlands (a part of Appalachia), and EPA selected American Rivers to administer this grant program. My role in this program is serve as the technical contact for the projects that have been funded – eight of them – ranging from $150,000 to $300,000, that focus on improving natural resources and socio-economic conditions.
Projects include stream bank restoration in Staunton and Waynesboro, Virginia; land conservation projects in West Virginia and Pennsylvania where parcels with high ecological value are being protected through conservation easements; reclaiming mine land in the Monongahela National Forest by planting native spruce trees; and constructing a green house/ shade house project in Frostburg, Maryland, on reclaimed mine land.
In selecting projects that will protect and restore the Potomac (as well as other mid-Atlantic waters), we emphasize a strategic approach to conservation – also known as the Green Infrastructure approach. We emphasize the connectivity of forest “hubs” of high ecological value and their ability to either expand those hubs or connect the hubs together. This is a more effective way to protect and restore natural systems because it strives to keep important areas intact and to restore ones that are degraded.
For more information about the Potomac watershed, check out this State of the Nation’s River Report from the Potomac Conservancy (PDF). What kinds of activities are happening in the watershed where you live? How else could it be approached, from all sides?
About the Authors: Susan Spielberger and Ellen Schmitt both work out of EPA’s Mid-Atlantic office in Philadelphia, PA. Susan works in the Environment and Innovation Division in the Office of Environmental Information and Assessment, and Ellen works in the Water Protection Division’s Drinking Water Branch.
By Enid Chiu
With holiday season in full swing, people are busy buying gifts, seeing family, and cooking large meals to feed all those hungry bellies. When there’s cooking, there’s oil – and where does all that cooking oil go?
Pouring used cooking oil down the drain might seem like the most convenient solution, but it can have detrimental impacts. When cooking oil/grease is thrown into kitchen drains and even toilets, it sticks to the sides of your home’s sewer pipes. It can build up and block entire pipes, which can mean:
- Raw sewage can overflow into your house, yard, street, neighbor’s house, or waterway
- You will pay for an expensive and messy cleanup
- You and your family might have contact with disease-causing organisms from the sewage
- Sewer departments must charge higher bills for operation and maintenance
To avoid this mess, water departments recommend collecting grease and greasy food scraps in a container to throw in the trash for disposal.
The Indonesian community in South Philadelphia, however, is piloting a different solution that recycles the oil for future use AND generates some revenue for the community. With the support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, they plan on establishing cooking oil drop off barrels at central locations (like places of worship). On a regular basis, an oil recycling company will pick up the oil and pay for each gallon collected. The recycling company uses the oil to make electricity (bio-fuel) and great compost for soil. The money made from the oil collected goes toward improving the community!
The Indonesian community is the first in Philadelphia to pilot residential cooking oil recycling. They have demonstrated a lot of gotong royong – or the ability to come together and work for a common cause. The inaugural oil pouring event at the first established drop off location is occurring today, December 5, 5:30 pm at International Bethel Church, 1619 S Broad Street, Philadelphia (details here). EPA supports this pilot, which is in line with the goals of EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge.
Do you live in Philadelphia, and have used cooking oil stocking up in your home? Feel free to feed the barrel at International Bethel Church – or consider developing a cooking oil recycling plan for your own community! Learn more about cooking oil recycling here.
About the Author: Enid Chiu is an environmental engineer in the Office of Drinking Water and Source Water Protection. She also serves as the Asian American / Pacific Islander program manager at EPA Region III. Outside of the office, Enid enjoys playing music, exploring new restaurants, and watching football.
By Roy Seneca
Anybody who has witnessed the beauty of a bald eagle soaring above knows that it can be quite exhilarating. Not only is the bald eagle a proud national symbol, but it is also an incredible environmental success story.
It was not too long ago that bald eagles in our skies were on the verge of extinction due to the impact of pesticides like DDT. But today, bald eagles can be sighted in the skies across the country thanks to environmental laws that protect them and have allowed their population to surge.
Well, if you get a kick out of seeing one or two bald eagles, you should take a trip to the Conowingo Dam in Darlington, Md. to witness an amazing sight of up to 100 or more bald eagles in one location. During late fall and throughout most of the winter, the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River may be the best location east of the Mississippi to witness these incredible raptors.
The bald eagles congregate at the dam because it provides them with some easy meals. When the dam’s turbines are running, it provides a steady water flow filled with fish on the surface where the bald eagles and other birds swoop in to feast on.
The location also attracts large numbers of gulls, herons, black vultures and other birds, but the bald eagles are the stars of the show. When they are not fishing, the bald eagles sometimes perch in nearby trees and perform acrobatic shows in the sky above the river. Photographers, birdwatchers and families come out to see the birds throughout the season.
It’s peak viewing time if you’d like to see for yourself. For more details, check out this blog.
About the Author: Roy Seneca works in the press office for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region.