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Clearer Protections for Headwater Streams

2014 April 10

by Randy Pomponio

WOUS2Spring is finally here, and with it arrives new beginnings. Flowers and plants find new life, our avian friends fill the air, and the streams and creeks that run through our neighborhoods and parks are bubbling along.  This spring also brings a new day for determining Clean Water Act protection for streams and wetlands, which had become confusing and complex following several Supreme Court rulings.  After roughly a decade of confusion, the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule clarifies the jurisdictional status of seasonal and rain-dependent streams, wetlands, and isolated water bodies.

Under this clearer definition, the Clean Water Act will continue to protect our aquatic resources, including some of our most important waterways —headwater streams.  Headwater streams comprise over half of the total stream miles in the mid-Atlantic states, and play a fundamental role in reducing flooding, providing wildlife habitat, recharging groundwater, filtering pollution,  along with supporting hunting and fishing. Many of these benefits can be readily attributable to streams which only flow for part of the year. The vast majority of people in the mid-Atlantic rely, at least in part, on these types of streams for their drinking water supplies.

By clarifying the significance of these vital ecological functions – the proposed rule would provide for an estimated $388 million to $514 million annually of indirect benefits through the protection of  aquatic resources, just like your neighborhood creek.

If you are out for a hike this spring, and you notice that you need to leap over a stream that was dry back in the fall; that’s the type of water that will continue to be protected with this proposed rule.  Take a moment to consider the complexity of our aquatic resources, and how that seasonal creek contributes to the overall health of say, the mighty Delaware, Ohio, Potomac, and James River basins.  Under our watch and in our care are precious and life-sustaining tributaries.  This spring, we should celebrate their protection afforded by an illuminated Clean Water Act.

About the Author:  Randy Pomponio is the Director of the EPA Region 3 Environmental Assessment & Innovation Division.  He enjoys learning about our fascinating ecosystems and experiencing them through hiking, fishing, scuba diving, and best of all, sharing them with his children and grandchildren.

 

 

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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Urban Waters: Connecting Communities to their Water Resources

2014 April 3

By Catherine King

Through the Urban Waters program, EPA is seeking to help communities — especially underserved communities as they work to access, improve, and benefit from their urban waters and the surrounding land. If you are interested in caring for an urban stream or river or lake or would like to get your neighbors involved in caring for a local urban water resource, then welcome to the Urban Waters Movement!

Urban Rivers

The Urban Waters effort is anchored in a simple theory: if we better engage communities and all work together in efforts to improve and protect water quality, those efforts will be more successful.

The first step is a recognition that people need to be connected to the potential of their water bodies to get them engaged. If people are better engaged, they will be more committed to improving local water quality, which in turn can help revitalize communities. That revitalization reinforces people’s connections to their water bodies, completing a positive cycle for improving the environment and communities as a whole.  Communities across the country are taking this approach and seeing the benefits. In the mid-Atlantic region alone, there are several organizations that have received Urban Waters Small Grants and even a few Urban Waters Federal Partner Pilots.

Water quality touches all of us every day: through the water we drink from the tap, to the waters we swim in, and the water we use to water our plants and crops. Your local water utility serves a key role – treating wastewater and drinking water – but ensuring access to clean waters and protecting the surrounding land starts with you, your neighbors and local community organizations.

Working hand-in-hand, community groups and local residents can initiate activities to help revitalize urban waters, such as setting up a water quality monitoring program, organizing volunteer cleanup efforts, and forming coalitions to speak out about water quality concerns to community leaders.  By pooling efforts, your voice and hard work make the difference to your local waterways and to the community that depends on them.

You can become better informed about urban water issues affecting your community by visiting EPA’s Urban Waters Resources websiteEPA’s Urban Waters Learning Network is another resource for you to learn about actions that other communities are taking to protect their urban water resources and lets you participate in the dialog.  Tell us what activities you are involved with in your community to protect your local urban waters!

About the author:  Catherine King is the EPA Region 3 Urban Waters Program Coordinator in the Office of State and Watershed Partnerships in the Water Protection Division in Philadelphia, PA.

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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Take a second to fix some leaks!

2014 March 27

Water SenseBy Kimberly Scharl

American households waste more than 1 trillion gallons of clean drinking water each year due to leaky pipes, toilets, showerheads and other fixtures. Fixing these leaks can be easy and inexpensive, and can save you nearly 10% on utility bills.  EPA’s WaterSense program spent the week of March 17-23 encouraging everyone to “chase down” plumbing leaks during the 6th annual Fix a Leak Week. To kick off the week, EPA hosted a Twitter Chat with tweets featuring Flo, the WaterSense mascot at different locations in the mid-Atlantic, challenging each location to participate in Fix a Leak Week. Flo appeared at the White House, the Liberty Bell and with the ponies at Assateague!

Throughout the rest of the week, my coworkers and I participated in several more events and activities.  At the Energy Awareness Fair at the Naval Support Activity Base in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, we highlighted the link between water savings and energy savings by promoting water efficiency in homes and communities. Using less water means water and wastewater utilities need to use less energy for their pumps.

We also visited Eyer Middle School in Macungie, Pennsylvania, to talk with sixth graders about saving water in their homes.  We used a WaterSense-labeled shower head to demonstrate its water savings as compared to a traditional fixture.  In preparation for our visit, the classes explored Recycle City to learn about other ways to save water and energy.

Even though Fix a Leak Week is officially over, any time is a good time to find and stop water leaks in your home.  And when it comes to repairing leaky fixtures, you don’t need to be a home repair expert. Common types of leaks found in the home are worn toilet flappers, dripping faucets, and other leaking valves–all often easy to fix. You might only need a few tools and hardware, and these fixes can pay for themselves in water savings. Check out this video by Spartanburg Water on detecting a leaky toilet.

Take the Pledge!

Join us and thousands of your friends and neighbors in taking simple actions to save water. Take the “I’m for Water” pledge, and make a commitment to saving this precious resource.

For more information on Fix a Leak Week and the WaterSense program, go to www.epa.gov/watersense. You can also follow WaterSense on Facebook and Twitter!

How do you save water during Fix a Leak Week and everyday? Let us know in the comments!

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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Recovering from a heavy dose of winter

2014 March 20

By Jennie Saxe

Mounds of salt ready to be spread on roads

Mounds of salt ready to be spread on roads

Is this winter over yet? Fortunately, we’ve had a few days in the mid-Atlantic that make me think spring could be just around the corner. Even as we prepare to turn the page weather-wise, some remnants of winter will stick around. This year, one of those remnants is salt…lots of salt.

A couple of years ago, we brought you some information on smart ways to apply salt to keep the roads safe in winter weather and protect water resources at the same time. While that winter was relatively mild, winter 2014 has been another story. Municipal salt supplies are running low, and recently it’s been tough to find “snow melt” of any kind in neighborhood hardware stores.

With the snow now melting, the leftover salt is headed right toward our water supplies. Here are some of the impacts that increased salt can have:

  • Road salt runoff can increase levels of conductivity (a substitute measure of “saltiness”) in streams and cause stress to aquatic life like fish and macroinvertebrates – in high enough concentrations, salt runoff can be toxic to sensitive organisms
  • Salt increases the density of water which impacts the normal turnover processes in waterbodies – this can also affect aquatic life through depleting oxygen levels in deeper water and nutrient supplies in the upper part of the water column
  • Salt has more of an impact on freshwater systems than on those that are brackish or saline already
  • Salty runoff that enters drinking water supplies could cause elevated sodium levels that can have health consequences

If you’d like to see how one of our local waters, the Schuylkill River, responds to road salt runoff, the US Geological Survey (USGS) has some interesting data. Salt runoff from roadways or salt blown by the wind could be responsible for that conductivity spike in mid-February.  Since the chloride from road salt (sodium chloride) is not removed or transformed by natural processes, the only way to bring levels down is through dilution, usually by way of rainfall. Toward the end of February, you can see the conductivity levels decrease.

I’ve used some of our recent spring-like weather to sweep up the salt around our house. This will prevent even more salt from washing down the drain and into the creek near my house. Cities and towns can use street sweeping as a mechanism to remove excess salt from their streets at the end of the winter season.

Did you have any low-salt methods for handling the snow this winter? How are you keeping the left-over salt from getting into our waterways?

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 and cheering for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.

 

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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It’s all about the Network: Funding Agricultural Practices that Restore Clean Water

2014 March 13
A network of technical professionals visit a PA dairy farm that received financial assistance to install agricultural conservation practices which are good for business and local water quality.

A network of technical professionals visit a PA dairy farm that received financial assistance to install agricultural conservation practices which are good for business and local water quality.

 

by Kelly Shenk

 If you are a farmer in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, there are some great workshops providing information on ways to finance conservation practices to restore local waters and the Chesapeake Bay. The University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center  is holding a series of Agricultural Finance Workshops in Delaware and West Virginia and the Upper Susquehanna region in Pennsylvania later this year.  In January and February, I participated in the Ag Finance workshops that were held in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and found them extremely informative.

These workshops provide a wealth of knowledge about programs to assist in reducing nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution. I learned that while funding is available, certain procedures need to be followed closely.  Some of the types of funding available include: USDA Farm Bill funding; state agricultural cost share funding; federal and state loan programs; public and private grant programs; and tax credits.  There are also creative ways to combine these funding mechanisms that reduce the amount you, as a farmer, would pay.

Take for example, fencing in the Shenandoah Valley. Fencing is a low-tech way to protect waterways by keeping cattle out of streams. There are a number of programs to help fund stream exclusion and we heard about several at the workshop:  Farm Bill programs, the VA agricultural cost share program that covers up to 100% of the cost of stream exclusion, and other programs for farmers who need more flexibility in the type of fence and width of buffer installed. There’s even a program to pay farmers $1 for every foot of fence they have paid for themselves to cover the maintenance costs.

 The workshop presenters are familiar with each other’s programs, so they know how to “piggy back” programs to minimize the cost to farmers.  Most importantly, they know the producers in their region and understand their issues.  They discuss the available options with the farmer, decide on a plan of action, and then identify the program or mix of funding programs that will meet the farmer’s needs.  With this approach, the technical network helps farmers address issues with the least amount of cost, hassle, paperwork, and confusion.

I left these workshops encouraged by the dedicated cadre of technical professionals that are out in the field every day working with farmers to find solutions to protecting water quality while keeping farmers farming.

For more information on future workshops, contact:  Jill Jefferson, University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center, at jilljeff@umd.edu.

 

Kelly Shenk is EPA Region III’s Agricultural Advisor. 

 

 

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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Carbon Footprint Reduction Challenge

2014 March 6

by Enid Chiu

use less and recycle your plastics

use less and recycle your plastics

With 2014 in full swing, many New Year’s resolutions are nothing more than a distant memory. We are approaching the time of year when people take renewed vows of self improvement for several weeks, recognizing it as limited but important time to challenge themselves in some way. People often give up personal vices, such as snacking or social media, while others add habits like daily exercise.

During this time, I’m not giving up sugar or television. Instead, I have decided to embark on a carbon fast. This entails taking steps to reduce my carbon footprint while striving to build a more sustainable environment. I realized that my decisions in previous years revolved solely around short-lived attempts at personal improvement. This year I wanted to approach something that would benefit more than just myself and potentially have longer-lasting impacts on my behavior. If this is something that interests you, here are some specific practices that could be taken to make your carbon footprint smaller:

  •  Power off/unplug appliances not in use
  • Install EnergyStar rated energy efficient appliances
  • Choose water-efficient appliances, in particular WaterSense labeled fixtures (they save energy, too!)
  • “Shower smarter” by taking shorter showers or using buckets to capture water while the shower is warming up (use the captured water for watering plants or even flushing toilets)
  • Reduce thermostat by at least two degrees
  • Limit car trips by relying on biking, walking, public transportation, and carpooling
  • Make Meatless Monday a habit, or change to a meat-free/plant-based diet
  • Purchase locally grown produce
  • Increase the amount of material that you recycle
  • Talk about your decision to reduce your carbon footprint – a little conversation can inspire many!

Making these types of lifestyle changes will be a challenge, especially with our culture of consumption and convenience. Some people may choose to take all these actions at once while others may focus on a few actions at a time. Try using your calendar to help you tackle a couple of changes each week, or maybe there’s an app that can help. However you choose to approach it, take this time to reflect on your relationship with the environment and how we can be good stewards of the resources we have available.

Are you inspired to reduce your carbon footprint? Tell us in the comments!

About the Author: Enid Chiu is an environmental engineer in the Office of Drinking Water and Source Water Protection. Outside of the office, Enid enjoys helping others through music, pleasing others through food and dreaming.

 

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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The Art of the Natural Garden”

2014 February 26
example of a native plant

example of a native plant

 

by Todd Lutte

  It’s once again time to experience that first “breath of spring” at the Philadelphia Flower Show.  A local tradition with international recognition, the Philadelphia Flower Show has been a prelude to spring for more than 150 years with EPA’s mid-Atlantic Region being a part of that tradition for more than two decades.  As one of the city’s most anticipated annual events, the Flower Show brings thousands of garden enthusiasts to the floors of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in early March.

The theme for the 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show is “ARTiculture…where art meets horticulture”.   The EPA exhibit is titled “L’Art du Jardin Natural” which translated is “The Art of the Natural Garden”.  The display showcases native plants, wetlands and sustainable landscaping techniques in a passive setting

Art and the natural world have forever been intertwined in the human imagination but our scientific understanding of the complexity of these beautiful places has only become its own field of study in more modern times. Through this study, we have learned that our rivers, streams, and wetlands are not just pretty pictures—they are dynamic ecosystems that continually respond to cues from climate patterns, local hydrology, invasive species, human disturbances, and many other factors.

The beauty of these wild places is founded upon resilience as an amazing number of plant and animal species have evolved to fill special ecological niches across very different habitat types. While these native species benefit from clean waters, they also enrich the whole ecosystem through functions that control and abet plant cover, sediment supply, water quality, flood control, and biodiversity.

The use  of native plants has many benefits, including relatively low maintenance, which saves both time and money.  Pollinators, beneficial insects, and other wildlife rely on native plants for food and habitat, and invasive species are less likely to colonize an area with an established native plant community.

If you’re in the area, stop by and experience “L’Art du Jardin Natural”.  The 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show runs from Saturday, March 1st   through Sunday, March 9th at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia.

 

Todd Lutte is an EPA environmental scientist who works to enforce laws and regulations for the protection of wetlands. Todd is a key partner in creating EPA’s exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show

 

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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Now featuring…water in the movies!

2014 February 20
Brandywine River

Brandywine River

By Jennie Saxe

If you – like much of the mid-Atlantic region – have been cooped up during this relentless winter, you might find yourself looking for some movies to watch to pass the time until spring arrives. If you have an interest in water, there are some great water-related movies that you can snuggle up to on a snow day.

One of the classics is Chinatown (1974), billed primarily as a drama. Beyond the human drama of the film, there is a serious look at disputes over water in early 20th century southern California. A Civil Action (1998) focuses on the dangers of groundwater contamination. A more contemporary film, Quantum of Solace (2008), is an action movie that weaves in the theme of the increasing value of water.

If you’ve already seen all of these great films, why not pass the time by making your own movie? EPA is sponsoring a “Climate Change in Focus” video contest for middle school students. Since many of the effects of a changing climate will impact water resources, perhaps there’s a chance that these videos will be the next water-focused blockbuster film. Budding scientists and aspiring filmmakers can get more information on EPA’s A Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change website. The mid-Atlantic region has no shortage of important waters that can serve as inspiration for a video masterpiece.

Are you inspired to submit a video for the contest? Do you have any other water-related movies to suggest?

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 and cheering for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.

 

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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Rain Gardens in the Winter

2014 February 12
My rain garden in February

My rain garden in February

By Sue McDowell

Back in April, 2013, I wrote a blog about the benefits of rain gardens.  Now with almost half the country engulfed in winter and freezing temperatures, should we just forget about our gardens for now?

In a way, yes. Your rain garden should take care of itself throughout the winter months and be refreshed for the spring.

If you recall from the previous post, a rain garden is a garden designed as a shallow depression to collect water that runs off from your roof, driveway and other paved areas. The gardens are filled with varieties of native plants and shrubs that are both water and drought tolerant.  It’s a sustainable and economic way of dealing with rainfall as nature intended – all year round. It might not look like it, but your garden still works hard throughout the winter months.  In the winter, rain gardens continue to manage rain water (or snow melt) by holding the water briefly to allow slower infiltration.

Winter rain gardens are similar to any garden – the flowers die back, waiting for spring to re-emerge.  Most rain garden designs plan with winter in mind, such as using native grasses, dry seed pods from native coneflowers (Echinacea) and black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) .

By not cutting back last year’s growth, the rain garden can provide food and cover for winter birds such as sparrows and juncos.   Adding a fresh layer of mulch and raking out any leaves will keep the rain garden functioning during the cold months and ready it for the spring growth.

Here’s a bonus tip: when you do ready your rain garden for the spring, you can put the leaves and cuttings you remove from your rain garden in your home composter. If you’re not composting, but plan to start when the weather warms up, the brown leaves and cuttings will be a perfect starter food for your compost pile.

What are some of your observations of your rain garden through these winter months?

About the author: Susan McDowell joined the EPA family in 1990.  Her work on community-based sustainability throughout her career includes the award-winning Green Communities program which has traveled across the United States and internationally.  She brings her ‘ecological’ perspective to her work including Pennsylvania’s nonpoint source pollution program the mid-Atlantic National Estuaries, and the G3 Academy (Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns).

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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Getting Creative with Communications

2014 February 6

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.

A view of Philadelphia from Camden

A view of Philadelphia from Camden

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 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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