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Putting Your Rain Barrel Down for a Long Winter’s Nap

2013 November 21

By Steve Donohue

In addition to raking all those leaves, another job I do every fall is put my rain barrel away for the winter.  If you have a rain barrel, you’ll want to do this before a hard freeze can damage your barrel, valve, or overflow piping.

Emptying my rain barrel on a Fall afternoon

Emptying my rain barrel on a Fall afternoon

I have had a rain barrel for many years and often leave it up until after Thanksgiving, and I have never had a problem with freezing where I live near Philadelphia.

But when it’s time to pack it up for the season, your first step should be to drain the barrel as much as possible by removing plugs and opening the valve.  Every inch of water represents 10 or more pounds, so save your back and be patient!  While it is draining, I disconnect the downspout, clean the screens and filters, and remove the overflow piping.

Next, I open and check the inside of the barrel for sediment.  You’ll want to remove this dirt and organic matter to prevent clogging your valve and to start off clean next spring.  I swish the remaining water in the barrel to loosen the sediment and quickly turn the barrel upside down over my mulched bed to keep it off the grass.  Even fully drained, you might want an extra pair of hands to wrestle your barrel off its platform.

I store my rain barrel inside my garden shed for the winter, but you can cover it in place or turn it upside down in the yard.  The key is to keep water out that could freeze and damage it or the fittings.

The last step is to reconnect the downspout to direct water away from your foundation and prevent erosion.  As with any roof drainage, if possible, direct it away from impervious surfaces like concrete and asphalt to slow it down, spread it out, and soak it in.

With your rain barrel safely tucked away for winter, you can relax, kick your feet up and watch some football…at least until it’s time to start shoveling snow.

To learn more about rain barrels, visit http://www.epa.gov/reg3esd1/garden/rainbarrel.html or watch this video about the benefits of rain barrels

About the author: Steve Donohue has been an environmental scientist at EPA for over 20 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 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.

Please Recycle, Our Oceans Will Thank You

2013 November 14

By John Senn

One of my favorite things about living in Washington, D.C. is Rock Creek Park, a 1700-acre space that’s one of country’s oldest federally-managed parks. I live less than a mile from the park’s winding and secluded trails, and run on the trails at least once a week. For me, it’s the ideal way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Rock Creek Park is also home to a wide range of wildlife; it’s not uncommon to see a hawk or woodpecker among the park’s tall trees and, if you’re lucky, you can catch a glimpse of the muskrats that live along Rock Creek just upstream of Peirce Mill and gnaw on the trees that line the creek’s banks.

Rock Creek

Rock Creek

But sadly, I see a lot of trash floating in Rock Creek, most of which is plastic bags and bottles and aluminum cans. When trash isn’t properly disposed of, it often reaches our lakes, rivers and streams—and ultimately our oceans—where it can severely impact aquatic life. Marine animals can swallow marine debris causing suffocation or starvation. Sea birds have been known to ingest small pieces of plastic as they look like fish eggs, and sea turtles sometimes swallow clear plastic bags, which look like jellyfish.

Rock Creek flows into the Potomac River, which empties into the Chesapeake Bay, the country’s largest estuary and one of our most important coastal areas. The trash I see in Rock Creek has the potential to affect water quality in the Bay miles downstream.

Properly disposing of waste and recycling is one of the easiest things people can do to help protect our lakes, rivers, streams and oceans. Plastic recyclables can also be turned into new products like jackets, pens and brushes as this infographic from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows.

America Recycles Day is November 15 and this year’s theme is “a day of service.” Next time I head to the park, I’m going to collect the bottles and cans I see during my run and put them one of the park’s recycling bins. It’s not going to solve the water quality problems in the Chesapeake Bay, but it’s a way to help.

About the Author: John Senn is the deputy communications director in EPA’s Office of Water and also serves on the agency’s emergency response team.

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.

A Chance to Walk the Walk When it Comes to Green Infrastructure

2013 November 7

By Tom Damm

What happens in my hometown doesn’t stay in my hometown.

Actions on the land and in the waters of Hamilton Township, N.J. have an effect on the Delaware River, which is a major focus of our cleanup work in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region.

As a possible blog idea, I wanted to look into the pollution impacts of stormwater that enters the sewer drain across from my house.  When I accessed my township website for a contact number, I found something even more interesting.

Class is in session with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program.

Class is in session with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program. Photo courtesy of Jess Brown, Rutgers.

I learned that Hamilton is Ground Zero for a new initiative by Rutgers University to promote green infrastructure techniques that soak up stormwater before it reaches the sewer system and creates nasty problems in our streams and streets.

Better yet, Rutgers was recruiting volunteers to be part of the action in Hamilton and elsewhere.

Green infrastructure is one of the hottest topics I write about at EPA.  We’ve helped communities in our region become national leaders in using green strategies to slow the flow of stormwater.

Now I had the chance to get directly involved.  So I signed up for the training offered by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program.

The course was designed to develop a corps of paraprofessionals to help Rutgers engineers and scientists identify sites ripe for rain gardens and other green techniques to “keep the rain from the drain.”  The classroom training took place at Duke Farms, a model of environmental stewardship, and at Rutgers, where we also stepped outside to examine how a parking lot could be fitted with green features.

Instructor Chris Obropta described the problems posed by stormwater, the solutions offered by green infrastructure, and the role we would play initially in scouting out potential locations through aerial maps, photos, site visits and other analysis, and then writing up our findings.

I have a head start in Hamilton.  Our town officials are supportive of the initiative and the program already has found 72 candidate sites in our six sub-watersheds, including hard surfaces at my local Little League field and firehouse.  Large rain gardens have been installed at two of our high schools, providing real life lessons for students.

With certificate in hand, I’m looking forward to taking the next steps with the folks from Rutgers.

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 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.

It’s Not Psycho to ‘Shower Better’ with WaterSense

2013 October 31

By Kim Scharl    

You know how the classic horror film goes. You’re in the shower, escaping the outside world and winding down…until that music comes on and the curtain flings open.

How terrifying – you’re wasting so much water in your shower!  The horror!!

So what if there was a better, less scary way to shower? There is, thanks to WaterSense labeled showerheads. You can experience superior shower performance and save water, energy, and money simply by replacing your showerhead with a WaterSense labeled model this fall.

Drain with vampire teeth

If you dare, click the image above to listen to a podcast with more about the scary ways you may be wasting water, energy, and money in your shower.

Showering accounts for nearly 17 percent of residential indoor water use, or about 30 gallons per household per day. That’s nearly 1.2 trillion gallons of water used in the United States annually just for showering! The good news is that with a WaterSense labeled showerhead, you can save four gallons of water every time you shower.

Showerheads that have earned the WaterSense label are independently certified to use 20 percent less water and meet EPA’s performance criteria for spray force and water coverage, which means you really will shower better – comfortably and more efficiently, while getting just as clean.

What’s more, installing a WaterSense labeled showerhead can save the average family the amount of water it takes to wash more than 70 loads of laundry each year. Because energy is required to heat the water coming to your shower, your family can also save enough electricity to power your home for 13 days per year and cut utility bills by nearly $70 annually.

Whether you are remodeling your bathroom or simply interested in ways to save around the house, look for the WaterSense label on your next showerhead. To make the showering savings even sweeter, some utilities offer rebates, giveaways, promotions, or other incentives to promote water-efficient showerheads.

October is Energy Awareness Month, so this Halloween, learn more about WaterSense labeled showerheads and see a list of models at the WaterSense-Labeled Showerheads page. In addition, the WaterSense Rebate Finder lists some of the rebates utilities offer on WaterSense-labeled showerheads and other plumbing fixtures.  You can also listen to this spooky podcast about saving water and energy in your home.

So Shower Better with WaterSense.  Your water use can be one less thing to be scared of in the shower on a dark and stormy night.

About the Author: Kimberly Scharl has worked at the Environmental Protection Agency since 2010, after moving to Pennsylvania from Mississippi.  She is a financial analyst and project officer for the Water Protection Division, Office of Infrastructure and Assistance.  She is also the Regional Liason for the WaterSense Program.  Kim enjoys bowling and spending time with her family.

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.

Good Time to De-Clutter the Medicine Cabinet

2013 October 24

Cross posted on It’s Our Environment

By Andrea Bennett

Click here to serach for a collection site near you.

For many of us, fall can be a good time to de-clutter things around the house, such as the garage, that closet in the guest room, and the medicine cabinet. While going through that medicine cabinet, it’s not uncommon to find expired and never-used medications sitting on a shelf, just taking up space. Flushing them down the toilet means they wind up in rivers, lakes, and streams, potentially hurting animals living in the water and people who drink it.

Fortunately, there are better and safer ways to get rid of these medicines. During National Drug Take-back Day on October 26th, you can drop off your unwanted drugs nearby, usually at a city or county building, police station, or senior center. Information on locations can be found online or by calling 1-800-882-9539.

You’ll also find that many communities have permanent drop-boxes. You can find information about the closest drug drop-box near you online.  Also, some pharmacies have drop-boxes or can provide mail-back containers for drug disposal.

One of my co-workers explains, “I read in our local paper that the police station had a drop-box, and then one got put up at the senior center, too. I had leftover drugs around the house, plus the doctor changed my prescriptions a few times, so it’s great to have safe places to drop off drugs whenever I want.”

There are even permanent drop-boxes for medication for pets and farm animals. For example, the Berks County Agricultural Center in Pennsylvania accepts veterinary medicines.

If you can’t participate in National Drug Take-back Day or you are unable to use a local drop-box, you still can safely dispose of your unwanted drugs at home by following the instructions on our fact sheet.

Remember, we all need to do our part in keeping drugs out of our water!

 

About the Author: Andrea Bennett works in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Drinking Water and Source Water Protection and also participates in hazardous waste recycling days.

 

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.

Flexing Freshwater Mussels in the Delaware

2013 September 26

By Matt Colip

It takes more than the brute strength of legislation to clean up America’s waterways.  The complex process of aquatic ecosystem cleanup requires many tools, including one of nature’s most powerful muscles: her freshwater mussels.

That’s what the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE) – assisted by the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Scientific Dive Unit – set out to assess during a late summer freshwater mussel survey in a tidal section of the Delaware River near Philadelphia.

Freshwater mussels are bivalves similar to oysters and clams.  But, unlike oysters and clams, freshwater mussels live in inland streams, and provide valuable benefits including strengthening streambeds by keeping soils in place and providing food and habitat needed by other animals and plants.  As filter-feeders, mussels also clean the water in which they live by sucking water in and trapping solids such as dirt, algae and other pollutants, then releasing the clean filtered water back into the environment.

Being in the tidal area of the Delaware River as a scientific diver was an interesting experience. The water was not clear and flow rates were very high due to tidal fluctuation.  In these conditions, I couldn’t help but think, “There’s no way there are mussels down here.”  Despite my suspicions, when I reached the river bottom, sure enough, there were mussels everywhere, thriving and filtering the ambient water!

Recording data during the freshwater mussel survey

Recording data during the freshwater mussel survey

Ultimately, the survey, in addition to confirming the existence of an abundant freshwater mussel population in a very urbanized section of the Delaware River and providing valuable scientific data, gave me a newfound appreciation for what I used to only consider a tasty added protein to a pasta dish at a restaurant.

For more information about freshwater mussels in the Delaware River, please visit the PDE’s website.  Read more about the latest in EPA scientific diving at facebook.com/EPADivers.

 

About the Author: Matt Colip works in the region’s NPDES Enforcement Branch and focuses primarily on enforcing wastewater and stormwater regulations. 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.

*EPA is not endorsing the consumption of oysters, clams and mussels in the wild.   Please refer to the National Shellfish Sanitation Program guidelines associated with regulating the handling, processing and distribution of mussels prior to consumption.

 

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.

Celebrating Mushrooms, Farmers, and Watersheds in Kennett Square

2013 September 19

By Christina Catanese

“What’s that smell?” I asked, as we got out of the car in front of my friend’s house in Kennett Square, PA.

“Oh, the mushroom compost?” Jaclyn said. “I don’t even smell that anymore.”

It wasn’t an unpleasant smell, but an earthy aroma that permeated the air the same way the culture of mushroom farming pervades this small Pennsylvania town.

Mushrooms are a way of life in Kennett Square.  Often called the Mushroom Capital of the World, mushroom farms in this area of Southeastern Pennsylvania produce the vast majority of mushrooms produced in the United States, outdone only by China in mushroom farming worldwide.  I heard some figures that mushroom farms in Chester County produce over a million pounds of mushrooms a week!

Enjoying a beautiful day in the Kennett Square community

Enjoying a beautiful day in the Kennett Square community

Every year, this proud tradition of mushroom farming is celebrated at the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival.  I attended this year’s festival a few weeks ago, where I expected to and did eat many types and forms of mushrooms (including but not limited to the classic deep fried mushroom balls, the higher brow mushroom gorgonzola hummus, and even cream of mushroom ice cream).

What I didn’t expect was to learn so much about mushroom farming itself, and its role in the health of the watershed of the Delaware River, Red and White Clay Creek, and other local streams.  Part of the festival was an exhibition that walked through the process of growing mushrooms.  It really gave me an appreciation of the amount of work these farmers have to do to grow their crops.

A mushroom farmer harvests white button mushrooms from his exhibition at the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival

A mushroom farmer harvests white button mushrooms from his exhibition at the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival

It all starts with the substrate (the material the mushrooms are grown in), which generally consists of the waste products from other agriculture industries.  This mix of manure, hay, straw, wood chips, cottonseed meal, cocoa shells, and gypsum has to be kept at just the right temperature, pH, and light conditions in indoor mushroom farms, so the right fungi thrive and the wrong ones that could spoil the crop do not.  Once the mushrooms sprouted, I couldn’t believe how fast they grew, sometimes doubling in size in a single day!

After mushrooms are harvested, the substrate material can’t be used for mushroom farming anymore.  As at any farm, this compost can be a source of runoff and enter streams if not managed properly.  Source water protection efforts in the Delaware River Basin identified mushroom farms in the watershed as a partnership opportunity to help reduce nutrient pollution and potential sources of Cryptosporidium, a pathogen often found in manure that may cause disease.  These efforts work with farmers and conservation districts to set up ways to manage this runoff and protect sources of drinking water.

Phase 2 Compost: what the spent mushroom substrate looks like after mushrooms have been harvested and before it comes to your lawn or garden

Phase 2 Compost: what the spent mushroom substrate looks like after mushrooms have been harvested and before it comes to your lawn or garden

With its high capacity to hold water and nutrients, mushroom compost can be used as compost in many applications, like crop and garden fertilization, erosion control, and stormwater management.  Fall is the best time to seed new lawns and fertilize, so if you’re embarking on this process, consider mushroom or other organic soil amendments for your plants.  Like any fertilizer, mushroom compost must be applied appropriately to avoid nutrient pollution.

 

By the end of the day at the festival, I didn’t notice the smell of the mushroom compost much anymore, either.  When I did catch a whiff, it reminded me that this compost (like the mushroom ice cream I ate) was just one stage of a much larger process of mushroom farming.  It wasn’t the beginning or end, but part of a continuing cycle of growing, harvesting, consuming, and composting…all while boosting local economies and protecting local waters along the way.

 

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

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.

Explore Environmental Careers with EPA’s Park(ing) Day Parklet!

2013 September 12

By Christina Catanese

One of the most rewarding parts about working in the environmental field is getting out of the office and having the chance to talk to people about what I do.  And getting to do it in a unique, creative way that inspires others to make a difference in our communities?  Even better.

EPA employees hard at work at our Park(ing) Day parklet - under construction!

EPA employees hard at work at our Park(ing) Day parklet – under construction!

This year, EPA Region 3 employees will present a Park(ing) Day site in Philadelphia, an event that embodies this unique blend of outreach and creativity in urban public spaces.

Park(ing) Day is a national event held on the third Friday in September.  This annual event converts metered parking spaces into temporary parklets throughout the city.  Park(ing) Day re-imagines the possibilities of 170 square feet of public space, celebrates parks and public spaces nationwide, and raises awareness of the need for more pedestrian-friendly spaces in urban areas.

I look forward to Park(ing) Day every year, because I can’t wait to see what people come up with in their mini-park displays.  I love seeing parks that use old or conventional materials in a new way.  Some advocate for a cause or particular issue, while others simply provide a place to sit, catch your breath, and watch the hustle and bustle of the city go by for a bit.  A number of my colleagues and I were so inspired by what we saw, we just had to join in for this year’s event.

EPA’s parklet will focus on highlighting the diversity of careers and people who pursue them in the environmental field, especially careers at EPA.  Our site uses a stylized form of a branching river to demonstrate the different paths an environmental career can take, as well as actions that people in any career can take to help protect the environment.

But I can’t give away too much… you’ll have to come see our parklet for yourself!  Find us at the southwest corner of 34th and Walnut Streets in West Philadelphia on Friday, September 20th between the hours of 8am and 4pm.  And check out this interactive map to find other parklets throughout the city!

Have you experienced Park(ing) Day in Philly, or somewhere else?  What other ways can we re-imagine our urban spaces?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

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.

How 3 Wastewater Treatment Facilities saved $69,000/year in Energy Costs

2013 September 5

By Valerie Breznicky

We’re all familiar with the nightly routine of shutting off the lights and locking the doors, but that doesn’t happen at wastewater and water treatment plants.  Wastewater and water treatment is a 24/7 process and the amount of energy used for that treatment is huge.  But more and more utilities are finding ways to hold down those electric costs – and it helps the environment, too.

Broken Straw Valley Area Authority, PA – One of the many parts of water treatment is aeration, where air is forced through water to transfer oxygen to it.  This water authority identified that their aeration process was wasteful, and changed their computer program to aerate only when the treatment tank was completely filled.  This reduced the aeration time significantly, changing the process from aeration on a continuous flow to aeration of batches.  With this change, the Authority has seen an energy savings of about $10,000 a year.

Broken Straw Valley Area Authority

Broken Straw Valley Area Authority

Ridgeway Borough Wastewater Facility, PA – With the help of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Technical Assistance Team, the Borough changed the operation of the aeration system to run intermittently instead of continuously.  Consider your shower.  It wouldn’t make sense to keep the water running all day just so a few people could jump in and get clean.  The Borough invested in a $500 timer to control the timing of the process and, in turn, saved $31,000 a year in energy and chemical costs, while improving the quality of its effluent.

Ridgeway Wastewater Treatment Plant

Ridgeway Wastewater Treatment Plant

Berlin Borough Wastewater Facility, PA – Like Ridgeway Borough, Berlin Borough changed the operation of the aeration system to run intermittently instead of continuously, installing a timer to control the process and, in turn, saved $28,000 a year in energy and chemical costs, while improving the quality of its effluent.

Berlin Borough Wastewater Facility

Berlin Borough Wastewater Facility

Improving energy efficiency is an ongoing challenge for drinking water and wastewater utilities.  Facilities can make a number of small changes that add up to major energy and cost reductions.

Learn more about wastewater technology and energy efficiency here.  Do you know how your water utilities are saving energy and money?

About the Author: Valerie is an environmental scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency, and one of the Region III Sustainable Infrastructure Coordinators.  She has more than 28 years of experience managing infrastructure grants and has spent 5 and one-half years as a Sustainable Infrastructure (SI) Coordinator, insuring the sustainability of our water and wastewater infrastructure through information sharing and the integration of SI principles in all State programs.

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.

Send Your Showers to Boot Camp

2013 August 29

By Christina Catanese

Saving water doesn’t have to be blood, sweat and tears.  Lately, I’ve been trying something called a Navy shower, an easy and effective way to cut down water use from showering.  Here’s how it works:

Turn on water.  Get in shower.  Get wet.Showerhead
Turn off water.  Soap and lather.
Turn on water.  Rinse off.
Turn off water.  Done!

Basically, it’s as simple as only running the water when you need to rinse, and having it off for the parts when you aren’t.

With a Navy shower, you can have the water running in your shower for as little as two minutes!  Depending on your showerhead’s flow rate, that can be as low as 3 gallons, compared with 150 for a 10 minute shower.  Since showering is one of the leading ways we use water at home, practicing Navy showers will help your water use (and bill) beat a hasty retreat.  And the bathroom at your house might even seem a little less crowed during the morning rush.

If you have water conservation in your sights, try this out: First, test your fixtures and see how much water you’re using with every minute of your shower. Then, test yourself: Time your normal showers to get a baseline, then see how much time and water you can shave off.

And once you’ve challenged yourself to close the ranks on your shower’s length, you can also change your fixtures to low flow showerheads.

You don’t have to be in the Navy to have military discipline about your showers.  And practicing Navy showers most of the time will make you feel better about taking the occasional long, luxurious shower!

As the old saying (sort of) goes, never leave a gallon behind.  How are you taking your water use to boot camp?  Would you try a Navy shower?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

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.