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We Seek Water

2013 August 22

Reposted from the It’s Our Environment

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By Pam Lazos, Region 3

In the 1972-1975 TV series, “Kung Fu,” David Carradine walks the American West, looking for his family, performing awesome martial arts moves, and uttering the often-used refrain: “I seek water.”

Over a weekend this summer, while camping with family and friends at Worlds End State Park in Sullivan County, Pa., there was water everywhere, yet we did the same.

We had rented a group tent site – primitive camping. So instead of the usual bank of bathroom facilities, we were afforded a “pit”. It was more glamorous than your usual pit because it had two individual rooms inside a small building with each boasting a locking door and a raised toilet-like structure, but no water. Think port-a-potty, but rooted to the ground.

Down the road was another building with two rooms, luxurious in comparison, each containing its own toilet and shower stalls plus hot and cold running water. These bathrooms were for the cabin rentals, not the group sites; however, I admit to visiting them several times.

Because we had no water at our source, or maybe it’s just a natural human tendency, we spent the rest of the weekend in search of it. Some of us went kayaking, some of us went hiking around the lake at nearby Eagles Mere, and some of us went fishing in the Loyalsock Creek. All of our activities had water at their core. Even the hike up Butternut Trail to the well-hidden vista passed across the creek several times and sported a few small waterfalls.

Coming back from the lake, the girls carried their water bottles on their heads, reminding me of the women in other parts of the world who walk miles to the nearest water source carrying a four-pound jerry can (40 pounds full) which will provide about five gallons. This is the minimum one person needs for drinking and hygiene per day, but not enough for a family. Gathering water takes hours for these women. Sometimes they collect water from water holes that are also used by animals in the area. This can lead to sickness among the women and their families.

About 3.4 million people die from waterborne diseases each year, mostly in developing countries. So arduous is the task of collecting water that many girls are pulled out of school at an early age to help their mothers, resulting in their continued illiteracy and poverty.

Watching my girls, frolicking with their water bottles on their heads, I sent up a prayer of thanks for the abundance of water in our lives and the blessings and opportunities that flow from it. We have the tools and technology to bring fresh, pure water to everyone. Get involved with any one of many organizations, working both locally and internationally to solve these complex water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) issues. Together, we can create an environment where everyone has access to clean water.

About the Author: Pam Lazos works in Region 3’s Office of Regional Counsel chasing water scofflaws and enforcing the Clean Water Act. In her free time, when her family allows, she writes both fact and fiction, but mostly she likes to laugh.

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.

We’re Still in the Bay Watershed?

2013 August 15

By Tom Damm

We’re getting ready to take our daughter back to college in Pittsburgh next week.  I remember last year when we took the trip, we were heading west along the Pennsylvania Turnpike – one driver switch and nearly three quarters of the way across the state – when we saw this sign: “Leaving the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.”

Really?  Way out here?

It reminded us of how vast the Bay’s drainage area is (large parts of six states and all of the District of Columbia) and how actions – good or bad – affecting local waters in Steelers country can impact the Bay itself where the Ravens and Redskins rule.

If you’ve been on the road this summer, you may have seen the Entering/Leaving the Bay watershed signs along major highways in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. They were put up in the late 1990s by the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a tri-state legislative advisory panel, to mark boundaries of the watershed and to help people understand more about Bay restoration.

Bay Watershed Sign

Bay Watershed Sign

For everyone but the driver, take a close look at the signs as you ride by.  They’re original works of art reflecting symbols of the Bay watershed’s bounty – fish, wildlife, recreational opportunities, and clean water.  Each one is designed a little differently, depicting iconic species and activities recommended by the local areas.  The western Maryland sign on I-68 between Frostburg and Grantsville, for instance, features brook trout, river rafters and a black bear.

You’ll see the signs as far east as I-76 in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and as far south as I-81 north of Roanoke, Virginia.

In only a few words, these signs convey some big messages, namely that efforts to restore the Bay are also benefitting local waters and local economies, and that the activities of everyone, everywhere in the 64,000-square-mile watershed make a difference in water quality – for the Bay and for the 100,000 or so creeks, streams and rivers that feed it.

Have you seen watershed signs for the Bay (or other watersheds) in your travels this summer?

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.

Calculating the Impact

2013 August 8

By Andy Dinsmore

What happens when all of the rain from a storm can’t soak into the ground on my property?  Where does it go?  Is that runoff causing any problems?

These are questions many people may be asking themselves.  In developed areas, that runoff likely enters into a storm sewer (a pipe) which outlets directly to a stream.  And too much runoff after a storm can cause severe damage to our streams, such as bank erosion and habitat loss.

Screen shot of Stormwater Calculator

Screen shot of Stormwater Calculator

But do I know how much runoff is coming from my property?  A new tool from EPA, the National Stormwater Calculator, has made it much easier to figure out.  It uses a simple, step-by-step process to assess a property (land use, soil features, and rainfall) and give an estimate for runoff.

I used the tool to evaluate my property and found it to be very user friendly.  I just entered my address and a window showed my property location.  Then I selected my soil type and landscape features using the incorporated links and overlays.  I gave my best estimates for the percentage of trees, grass, and impervious surfaces (my roof and driveway).  The calculator then showed me approximately how much runoff my property produces in a year.

The intent of the calculator is to compare current runoff estimates with reductions that would result from some simple practices, like redirecting your downspouts over your lawn, installing rain barrels, or making a rain garden.  More complex practices that may be used by industrial, commercial, or municipal properties are also available, such as curbside planters, green roofs, infiltration basins, and porous pavement.

I already have two rain barrels and a rain garden, so I ran the calculator twice.  The results of my two calculator runs (one without the rain barrels and rain garden and one with them) showed that I’m capturing an estimated 1.77 inches of runoff each year.  When I convert that to volume, it becomes 6,343 gallons of runoff that does not leave my property – enough to fill more than 100 average-sized bathtubs.  You can see the output from the calculator here.

So if you’ve asked yourself where your runoff goes, check out the calculator.  And then consider taking some basic steps to reduce your impact.

Maybe my next blog will have to be about how easy it is to build your own rain barrel and install it yourself.   But for now, be sure to check out our Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin’s recent blog about rain barrel art.

About the Author: Andy Dinsmore has been with EPA since 1997 and is currently the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Stormwater Team Leader, responsible for ensuring that regulated entities, such as construction sites, certain industrial facilities, and urbanized municipalities, properly manage their stormwater runoff and comply with their NPDES permits. Outside of the office, Andy enjoys gardening, playing racquetball, and spending time with his two children.

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.

Program Helps Give Cheat a Second Chance

2013 August 1

By Tom Damm

Just down the hall from me, the “319 Program” is quietly doing its part to revive damaged rivers and streams.

Yes, you can find a roster of success stories listed on its national website, but the program, which funds projects to reduce water pollution from non-pipe sources, operates largely behind the scenes.

The 319 Program, named for a section of the Clean Water Act that addresses polluted runoff, didn’t get a mention in last week’s NPR piece on the comeback of the Cheat River in West Virginia.

But without 319 funds in the mix, the Cheat today wouldn’t be teeming with smallmouth bass and coursing with whitewater rafters.

Rafting on the Cheat River

Rafting on the Cheat River
Courtesy: Friends of the Cheat

Fred Suffian, the 319 point person for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Water Protection Division, says it wasn’t long ago that 20 miles of the Cheat River watershed near the Pennsylvania border were so badly degraded by acid drainage from long-abandoned mines that they were essentially dead.

But restoration projects to help neutralize acidity and reduce metals have sparked a turn-around and led to a resurgence of the bass population.

More than $4.1 million in 319 grants have helped fund nine projects in the Cheat watershed and leveraged an additional $1.7 million in matching funds from the state – contributing to the work of a host of state and federal agencies, academia, industry, and citizens groups like Friends of the Cheat in cleaning up this once-moribund river.

Do you have a success story about a river near you?  Let us know.

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.

Strong Farms, Clean Waters. Can Do

2013 July 25

By Kelly Shenk

The back of my car sports two bumper stickers. One says “Save the Bay,” the other “No Farms No Food.”  When mentioning this to people, I often encounter a certain skepticism.  While I think most folks want to believe these objectives are compatible, they aren’t convinced it’s possible to have both profitable agriculture and clean waters at the same time.

A recent tour I took with the Schuylkill Action Network, or SAN, in Berks County, Pennsylvania, highlighted the SAN’s decade of work helping to keep farmers farming and the creeks that flow into Schuylkill River running clean.

Berks County farm

Berks County farm

We met two local dairy farmers who proudly showed us the extensive improvements they’ve made on their farms thanks to technical and financial assistance from the SAN and its partners like Berks Conservancy, the Berks County Conservation District, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, EPA, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the water suppliers.

The farmers put in manure storage tanks, erected fencing, created vegetative buffers, and used no-till cropping.  They raved about how these practices help them run their farms more efficiently and economically.

For example, with a manure storage tank, they don’t have to haul the manure onto the fields daily, and they can make sure they only apply the fertilizer when the crops need it.  The fencing prevents trampled stream banks and cow manure in the creek.  No-till farming means they don’t have the labor and fuel costs associated with tilling a field. During the tour, the SAN representatives emphasized to farmers that implementing these practices helps them stay competitive for the long-haul.

The SAN firmly believes thriving agriculture provides an important part of a thriving watershed, and is achieving success by involving all stakeholders in the process. Through best management practices, farms are achieving profitable, competitive agricultural operations, and clean water.

Thanks in large part to the SAN’s efforts, Berks County residents have clean water to drink and clean streams to fish, great local food to eat, a thriving agricultural economy, and even a good local beer that relies on Schuylkill River water for brewing.

I think I’ll stop talking about my bumper stickers and start pointing out the great work groups like the SAN are doing to show people what’s possible.

About the Author: Kelly Shenk is EPA Region III’s Agricultural Advisor

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.

Capturing Rain and the Imagination

2013 July 18

By Shawn M. Garvin

It’s fitting and perhaps perfect timing for EPA’s mid-Atlantic Regional Office to be opening up a new educational exhibit in our Public Information Center titled, “The Art and Science of Rain Barrels.”   Record-setting amounts of rainfall this past June in Philadelphia and Wilmington serve as a reminder of the challenges communities face in solving wet weather problems such as flooding, sewer overflows and run-off of pollutants and debris into urban creeks, streams and rivers.

No pun intended, but for most of us, wet weather problems ‘hit home’ when our basements flood…or when our commutes to work and school are disrupted and delayed, and when outdoor events and recreational activities get postponed or cancelled.   All the more reason why EPA, the Philadelphia Water Department, the Energy Coordinating Agency and the nonprofit Mt. Airy Art Garage teamed up to create this current EPA exhibit.

One of the rain barrels on display at the EPA exhibit

One of the rain barrels on display at the EPA exhibit

We want to foster greater awareness of the health, environmental, and economic benefits that can be gained by better managing potentially harmful rainwater runoff.  The Art and Science of Rain Barrels is one way our organizations are engaging Philadelphia residents in the City’s Green City, Clean Waters plan to transform many of Philadelphia’s traditional hardened surfaces to green areas, ultimately making local waters cleaner, and communities healthier, vibrant and more attractive places to live and work.

It’s been a little over a year since EPA and the City of Philadelphia embarked on this new Green City, Clean Waters partnership, and momentum and support for the plan’s goals continue to grow.  It’s exciting to see community-based organizations, regular citizens, and students jumping in to make a difference.  The City of Philadelphia is encouraging its residents to install rain barrels to reduce stormwater runoff.   A rain barrel is a structure that collects and stores stormwater runoff from rooftops. The collected rain water can be used for irrigation to water lawns, gardens, and street trees.   Although these systems store only a small volume of stormwater, collectively, they can be effective at preventing large volumes of runoff from entering the sewer system, potentially causing overflows and impairing local waterways.

That’s the message we want to drive home through our exhibit.  The display features two mock city row-homes, one which uses a traditional aluminum gutter and down spout to convey rainwater from the roof to the ground; the other which uses a rain barrel connected to the down spout to capture and store rainwater for beneficial use.

We’re grateful to our partners for loaning us other rain barrels that are on display, several of which are hand-painted or artfully designed by students and seniors from Philadelphia.  These unique rain barrels illustrate that these structures can be useful and appealing.

I encourage you to check out EPA’s Public Information Center rain barrel exhibit, located at our Mid-Atlantic Regional Office, 1650 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103, M-F, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

About the Author: Shawn M. Garvin is EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator responsible for ensuring the protection of human health and the environment in Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

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.

Photo Essay: Old and New Environments Coming Together in Pittsburgh

2013 July 11

Blog and Photos by Christina Catanese

A few months ago, home in my native Pittsburgh, I paid a visit with my family to a place I went to many times growing up – Phipps Conservatory.  My childhood recollections of the place mainly revolve around the stunning plant displays, and the plethora of colors and types of flowers that seemed to grow out of every possible surface.  I was enchanted by the re-creation of various ecosystems, like the tropical plant room that thrived even in the bleak Pittsburgh winter.  But during this visit, I encountered a new aspect of the Conservatory that changed how I saw the place, and indeed, my hometown itself.

The Center for Sustainable Landscapes was opened last year as Phipps’ hub for education, research, and administration.  Striving to be “one of the greenest buildings on earth,” the Center utilizes innovative technologies to generate all its own energy, as well as treat and reuse all water captured on site.

Taking a stroll through the Center for Sustainable Landscapes’ grounds. The center building’s exterior incorporates repurposed wood salvaged from barns in Western Pennsylvania.

Taking a stroll through the Center for Sustainable Landscapes’ grounds. The center building’s exterior incorporates repurposed wood salvaged from barns in Western Pennsylvania.

While a beautiful architectural construction, I was most impressed with the stormwater management measures the Center took, from the green roof, to rain gardens, to the pervious pavement used on the walkways.

Click “read more…” below to read the rest of this photo essay!

read more…

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.

Think Before You Toss

2013 June 27

By Tom Damm

Aside from the occasional crew mate whose stomach can’t handle the high waves, there’s one sight that’s particularly troubling to EPA researchers sampling our coastal waters – garbage and other man-made debris bobbing along in the current.

Marine debris

Credit: Ocean Conservancy

Renee Searfoss, the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Ocean and Dredge Disposal Team Lead, says marine debris – plastic bags, bottles, cans and other items – presents a real problem.  It can have impacts on health, the environment – even our economy, but it takes a special toll on marine life.

Marine life such as turtles and birds – and the fish we catch and eat – mistake this trash for food.  They ingest the debris and it impacts their digestive systems.

Renee says her teams have picked up very tiny pieces of debris, which can pose more of a threat to marine species than larger ones since they’re easier to ingest and cause a slow death or allow toxins to build in the animals’ systems.

Most of this harmful trash begins its journey on land and enters the ocean through our local streams and rivers.  You can help ease the problem by properly disposing of trash and by recycling plastic bottles, bags and cans.

In a new EPA video filmed on the water, Renee says, “There aren’t a lot of creatures out here that can really defend against anything we throw in the oceans at them.”

June is National Oceans Month – a time to be especially aware of how and where we toss our garbage.

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.

School’s Not Out

2013 June 21

By Tom Damm

It’s the first day of summer and school may be the last thing on your mind.

But here’s an opportunity to participate in an Academy – and you don’t need test scores, extracurricular activities or recommendations to get in – just a healthy interest in learning how to protect your local waters.

EPA’s Watershed Academy is a free, online source of information about the many issues that affect your rivers, streams and wetlands.Watershed Academy trifold photo

You can check it out on Tuesday, June 25, at 1 p.m. (Eastern) when the Academy is offering the first in a summer series of live webcasts on harmful algal blooms and nutrient pollution that pose environmental and public health threats.  Here’s a link to register.

Speakers will include experts from EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

And that’s just a taste of what the Watershed Academy has to offer.

Tuesday’s session will be the 74th monthly webcast sponsored by the Academy.  Topics have ranged from key national issues to actions you can take around the home to prevent pollution.  Streaming audio versions of past webcasts are available on the website.

The Academy also offers training courses and publications on water issues.

So don’t put those pencils and paper away just yet.  The learning may be just beginning.

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.

Wastewater Innovation Saving Energy, Saving Money

2013 June 13
CambiReactors

New Sludge Processor at Blue Plains

By Ken Pantuck

In addition to being the largest facility of its kind in the U.S., the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, in Washington D.C. is also now the first in the nation constructing power-producing Cambi units to treat sludge.

After the water we use in our homes and businesses gets sent down the drain, it goes to wastewater treatment plants, like Blue Plains, where processes remove large debris, settle out dirt and grit, consume organic matter, and disinfect the water before it gets discharged. But these processes leave behind leftover solids or sludge, which is where the Cambi units come in.

The units act like a giant pressure cooker, where the combination of pressure and heat speeds up the sludge digestion process. In addition to processing sludge at a faster pace, it also produces Class A biosolids, which can be safely sold to the public for use on lawns and gardens.

The innovative features of this new technology, currently used successfully in Europe, go beyond just treatment. While conventional wastewater treatment plants use mega-quantities of energy, these units will actually provide a source of energy for the plant, generating enough methane to run three gas combustion turbines that will supply about 40 percent of electricity needed to run the plant.

When operational, the Cambi units will also reduce odors, as well as sludge transportation costs and related pollution.

A few weeks ago, some of my colleagues and I toured the stainless steel reactors and associated digesters as they were going up, as part of DC Water’s $900 million improvements at the Blue Plains plant.

Saving energy and costs, reducing sludge volume and odors, while creating biosolids which we can use on lawns and gardens, makes me think this type of technology may have the potential for broader applications at wastewater treatment plants across the U.S.

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.