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Answering the Call of the Water

2013 May 30

By Christina Catanese

This time of year seems to bring people out of the woodwork after being cooped up all winter, to enjoy the sun and green of spring.  For me, this means I must answer the Call of the Water and take some time in nature and out on the water.

Last week, I spent a few days kayaking the Clarion River near the Allegheny National Forest.  It didn’t take long before the stress of normal life that had built up in my shoulders melted away, as my energy and perspective became focused on reconnecting with the land and waters in my native Western Pennsylvania.

Looking downstream from the banks of the Clarion

Looking upstream from the banks of the Clarion

As the blades of my paddle dipped through the water, I pictured those same, splashing water molecules making their way down the Clarion, into the Allegheny River, and all the way to my hometown of Pittsburgh. There, they would meet other molecules from the Monongahela, become the Ohio River, then the Mississippi, and finally flow into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

Thinking about the journey these little H2Os would go through illuminated the concept of a watershed for me.  I realized that anything I did to the water way up in Northwestern Pennsylvania would have an impact on the water quality for millions of people that live downstream… so I’d better hold on to that granola bar wrapper if I didn’t want it to show up late for Mardi Gras. Imagining the long path this water would take made the measly 4 miles I kayaked seem like cake – what an epic journey it would be to follow that water all that way!

A heron I encountered during my kayaking trip

A heron I encountered during my kayaking trip

Spending time on rivers  can give us perspective and helps us get to know our rivers, and ourselves, in a totally new way.  Whether they flow through forested or urban areas (or a combination), we see their many uses as well as their beauty, and come to appreciate them as part of a whole network of rivers and streams that connect and support us.

That’s why many environmental and watershed groups around the country sponsor sojourns every year to help people reconnect with their rivers.  Some sojourns are just a few miles, while others paddle the entire length of a river over the course of a few days.  A quick survey reveals tons of sojourning opportunities in the Mid Atlantic region:

Is there a sojourn happening on a river near you not on this list?  Let us know!  Don’t see a sojourn happening on your river?  Start your own.

This spring and summer, I hope you too will answer the Call of the Water and get to know a river near you just a little bit better.

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.

Live Streaming Available

2013 May 23

By Tom Damm

So why do volunteers put in the time, effort and some expense to wade through streams, scooping up water samples and batches of tiny bugs?Stream-Monitoring

Mostly, it’s “for the love of their local stream,” says Bill Richardson, regional monitoring coordinator in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Water Protection Division.

Bill is helping to coordinate a training conference in Shepherdstown, WV, that will bring together volunteer monitoring groups to share strategic plans, recruiting tips and success stories.  Registration for the August 9-10 conference sponsored by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is open until July 26. Abstracts can be submitted until July 12.

Trained volunteers play an essential role in assessing the condition of local streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands.

You’ll see them slogging along in hip waders or hunched over stream banks to collect samples that help indicate the quality of the water.  They use test kits to measure total nitrogen and phosphorus, special nets to troll for aquatic insects, and hand-held meters to check for levels of dissolved oxygen, pH, and temperature.  Others are busy scribbling field observations of habitat, land uses and the impacts of storms.

The data can help state and local agencies screen water for potential problems, establish baseline conditions or evaluate the success of cleanup practices.

Sound like something you’d be interested in?  You can find volunteer monitoring programs where you live by accessing this link.  For more information on monitoring, contact Bill Richardson at richardson.william@epa.gov

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.

A Celebration Ten Years in the Making

2013 May 16

By Alysa Suero

A large gazebo on the grounds of the Audubon Center in Mill Grove, Pennsylvania, was buzzing last week, and not just from the sound of bees pollinating the flora.  It was also the site of the Schuylkill Action Network’s 10th anniversary celebration.

The SAN is a partnership between EPA, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Philadelphia Water Department, the Delaware River Basin Commission, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, conservation districts, local officials, watershed and non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders who share a common goal for the watershed.  Since its inception in March 2003, this group has successfully worked together to improve and maintain Schuylkill River water quality.  Its 10th anniversary ceremony was an opportunity to reflect upon the history of the organization and congratulate its on-the-ground partners who are actively working to keep the water clean.

An unexpected highlight of the ceremony was the appearance of a rescued owl, coolly perched on the arm of an Audubon Society volunteer.  With a spin of his head and a hoot of thanks, even the owl seemed to recognize the hard work of all who strive to keep his watershed clean.

SAN owl

Photo Courtesy of the Schuylkill Action Network

The SAN’s “vision for collaboration” emerged as the prominent theme during the ceremony, where awards were presented to individuals and local watershed groups who implemented outstanding projects to meet this goal.  Tackling varied and difficult issues from acid mine drainage to storm sewer overflows to excess nutrients, the award recipients were met with thunderous applause and even a standing ovation.  Presenters and winners alike, including a middle school, an ecologist, and a water supplier, all highlighted the uniqueness of the SAN and its approach.  Credited for uniting a “crosscut of society and the environment,” SAN itself was cheered for bringing together a diverse population who found common ground in their appreciation for the watershed and their shared desire to see it thrive for generations to come.

With a successful ten years already in the history books, several of the day’s speakers posited the future of the organization.  We learned that our nation’s population growth is expected to increase by 50 percent by the year 2050, and most of the growth will be seen within 100 miles of the coasts.  The Schuylkill watershed is firmly within that boundary. Undaunted, the SAN partners pledged to build upon their successful joint ventures and continue to work together to ensure that the Schuylkill watershed is a high quality water resource in the year 2050 and beyond, for humans, owls, and all who call this watershed home.

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.

The Lowdown on Why Water Use is Down in DC

2013 May 9

By Ken Pantuck

It turns out that when it comes to water conservation, what goes up sometimes does come down.  And what each of us does in our homes really does have an impact.

Water consumption in the District of Columbia is down from an average of 125 million gallons per day in 2004 to 100 million gallons today, according to recent reports from DC Water.   Similarly, the amount of wastewater going to Washington’s Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant has declined over the past decade.

A shot of DC’s urban water resources Photo courtesy of Flickr photographer ad454 from EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project

A shot of DC’s urban water resources. Photo courtesy of Flickr photographer ad454 from EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project

How did this reduction occur?  It seems to be a combination of factors.  Homeowners have decided to use water-saving appliances in new homes and to replace water consumptive fixtures.  DC Water has pushed an effective and ongoing program to repair and replace aging and deteriorated sewer segments.  Proactive steps have been taken to eliminate other sources of water in the system, like tidal intrusions. And rainfall and ground water levels have been lower than normal.

Although earth is often referred to as the “water planet” with about 70% of its surface covered by water, less than 1% of the water is available for human use.  Water supplies are finite, and the residents and wastewater utility in DC are helping to protect this critical and precious resource where they live.  The story of water use in the district shows that the collective action of individuals can make a big difference to ensure there is enough clean water for generations to come.

The water conservation message is simple and something that any municipality, large or small, can easily promote.  Encouraging residents to use less water is low cost and can produce significant savings.  For example, the 25 million gallons of water savings in DC also results in a savings of $2,500 per day in processing costs at the Blue Plains Treatment Plant.  Even more important, lower rates of water use means that less water is going through a wastewater system, which can relieve the pressure on treatment plants during large storm events.  In a smaller plant, this could mean the difference between expanding the plant or not.

What can you do to help reduce water use where you live?  One thing is to look for WaterSense-labeled water appliances for your home.  WaterSense is an EPA partnership program that seeks to protect the future of our nation’s water supply by offering people a simple way to use less water with water-efficient products, homes, and services.  Get lots of tips for how you can save water in your home here.

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.

Drinking Water Week 2013: What’s in YOUR Water?

2013 May 2

By Lisa Donahue

I like to go camping in the summer with my kids. We make sure the hiking boots fit and pile all the gear and food in the car, with a plan to explore the wild lands of Pennsylvania.  We camp in state parks or private campgrounds. We have snacks to eat, and marshmallows to toast, but… what about water?

Do we drink straight from a stream? Certainly not! Streams can contain harmful bacteria and other pollutants.Do I buy bottled water to bring?  Or fill up our water bottles at the camp ground?

Taking a hike at Worlds End State Park

Taking a hike at Worlds End State Park

I think about drinking water all the time – it’s my job.  I’m part of the EPA team in the Mid Atlantic Region that administers and enforces the Safe Drinking Water Act, the law that says we should all have safe water to drink.

Public Water Systems regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act have to conduct tests to make sure the water they supply to customers and visitors isn’t contaminated.  Campgrounds and state parks are likely to be regulated as public water systems.  They are often in sparsely populated areas and use their own wells or other water sources to provide water to the campers and visitors.

How do I find out whether or not the water at a particular place is OK?  I check the data systems.  Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has an on-line database of all of their water systems.  I can search by the name of the park or campground where I’m planning to go, or search geographically.   Find it here:  http://www.drinkingwater.state.pa.us/dwrs/HTM/Welcome.html

Once I find the place I’m looking for, I can check to see if there are any violations.  Did the campground conduct all the tests it was supposed to?  Did those tests come out OK, showing no contamination?  If I’m venturing further away from home, some other states have similar on-line databases.  Also, EPA maintains the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS), which is accessible through our Envirofacts web site.

By the way, these databases don’t just have information on campgrounds!  They have information on community water systems, too — the water system serving your city or town.  For the most part, the water systems in the mid-Atlantic states meet EPA standards.

There are lots of ways to get information about what’s in the water we drink.  Did you find something through one of the links above about your drinking water?

Drinking Water Week is May 5-11.  Celebrate by taking some time to learn more about your drinking water sources!

About the Author:  Lisa Donahue has been an Environmental Scientist with EPA’s Mid Atlantic Region for over twenty years.  She’s a native of southeastern Pennsylvania, and enjoys being outside in all four seasons.

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.

All Aboard for Earth Week

2013 April 25

By Tom Damm

A group of us got Earth Week off on the right track Monday when we set up EPA information tables at one of the busiest train stations in the country – 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.

It was part of the third annual Amtrak-EPA Earth Day Fair, and commuters and school kids cruised the aisles, stopping by to ask questions, pose with mascots like Swampy the Frog, and check out displays on a variety of environmental topics.

A view of the festivities at 30th Street Station on Earth Day 2013

A view of the festivities at 30th Street Station on Earth Day 2013

Water issues were well represented.  We had information on green landscaping, WaterSense products to save water and money, and our Net Zero Energy push to help water and wastewater utilities cut energy costs.

At my table, I had fact sheets on the importance of streams and wetlands, particularly small streams that feed bigger ones and play a key role in the quality of water downstream.

Visitors were attracted by the sign, “How’s Your Waterway? Check it out Here.”

I demonstrated on my laptop how they could determine the health of their local streams, creeks and rivers with EPA’s new app and website, “How’s My Waterway?.”  We just plugged in their zip code and in seconds their nearest waterways showed up on the screen with information on their condition.

“I always wanted to know that.  I fish.  Thanks!,” was one response.

You still have a few days to get involved in Earth Week activities happening in your area.

And if you don’t get a chance to join in this week, remember, Every Day is Earth Day.

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.

Making a Difference – One Rain Garden at a Time

2013 April 18

By Sue McDowell

The Rain Gardens for the Bays Campaign has gone local!

The Borough of Ambler, Pennsylvania, in collaboration with the Ambler Environmental Advisory Council, is helping to install rain gardens to improve local water quality in the Wissahickon Creek watershed, a tributary to the Schuylkill River, which leads to the Delaware Bay.

Through local volunteers and partnerships with state and local governments, Ambler is well on the way to its goal of 100 rain gardens over the next 10 years.

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. It’s a sustainable and economic way of dealing with rainfall as nature intended.

Check out this video about Ambler’s ambitions!

The Rain Gardens for the Bays Campaign is greening our neighborhoods and protecting our streams by dotting the landscape with thousands of demonstration rain gardens in local watersheds. Town Halls, libraries, schools and other public institutions are showcasing this natural way to manage stormwater on the property that generates it.

The campaign is a partnership with EPA’s three mid-Atlantic National Estuary Programs (Delaware Bay, Delaware Inland Bays and Maryland Coastal Bays), the state of Delaware, the University of Delaware and other organizations.  One of our prime goals is encouraging residents and other property owners to install their own rain gardens.  You, too, can help your local watershed and our bays and rivers, one garden at a time.

For more information about Rain Gardens for the Bays Visit: http://www.raingardensforthebays.org/

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 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.

Serving Communities by Cleaning Streams

2013 April 11

By Rebecca Schwartz and Christina Catanese

In the Philly area and looking for ways to celebrate Earth Day a little early?

Mayor Michael A. Nutter and the Philadelphia Streets Department announced that the 6th Annual Philly Spring Cleanup will be held on Saturday, April 13.  This annual event is a way to involve Philadelphia residents in their local neighborhoods and parks, all while making the city a beautiful, clean place for both residents and visitors to enjoy.  It’s a day when Philadelphia residents are encouraged to volunteer a bit of their time, enjoy the outdoors, and connect with their neighbors and neighborhoods.  By taking part in cleaning up our communities, we all gain a sense of ownership and civic pride in our urban environment, which translates into stronger communities as well as greater sustainability and health.

EPA Employees at a recent ELN marsh clean up event

EPA Employees at a recent ELN marsh clean up event

It’s important for us to serve our communities even when we’re not on duty at EPA.  So this weekend, EPA’s Region 3 Executive Leaders Network (ELN) is partnering with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to host a cleanup at Tacony Creek State Park.  A group of EPA employees, friends, and relatives will be spending the afternoon beautifying a stretch along the newly built bike path – and you’re invited to join us!   Here are the details:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

10:00am to 2:00pm

Meet at the corner of East Ruscomb Street and Bingham Street, Philadelphia, PA

We’ll be picking up trash and removing invasive plants along the new bike path!  Volunteers should wear long pants and bring enough water for the afternoon.  Gloves will be provided, but please bring your own if you have them.  Kids are welcome, so bring your friends and family!

Tacony Creek is a small stream in one of Philly’s urban watersheds that eventually flows into the Delaware River.  Small streams like this one make a big difference in their communities: providing a place to recreate, supporting strong economies, providing drinking water, protecting against floods, filtering pollutants, and providing food and habitat for many types of fish.  Small streams can have a big effect on downstream water quality as well, as they all come together to feed into the larger river system.

If you can’t get to this event but want to contribute to cleaning up Philadelphia, find a Philly Spring Cleanup project in your neighborhood online at www.phillyspringcleanup.com.

Not in the Philadelphia area?  Let us know what’s happening to clean up river and stream areas in your community!

About the Authors: Rebecca Schwartz is an ORISE Intern in the Office of NPDES Permits and Enforcement working on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation permits.  She graduated from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill with an MS in Ecology, and serves as a member on ELN’s Community Service Crew for the Mid Atlantic Region. 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.

The State of Our Rivers and Streams

2013 April 4

By Tom Damm

A recent EPA survey shows that more than half of the nation’s rivers and stream miles are in poor condition for aquatic life.

Cover of Draft National Rivers and Streams Assessment 2008-2009 Report

Cover of Draft National Rivers and Streams Assessment 2008-2009 Report

The survey – the 2008-2009 National Rivers and Streams Assessment –indicates that among other concerns, our waterways don’t have enough vegetation along stream banks and have too much nitrogen, phosphorus, bacteria and mercury.

That’s a concern for many reasons.  Our rivers and streams serve as sources of drinking water, provide recreational opportunities, support fish and wildlife, and play a critical role in our economy.

There’s a way to find out if your local waters are impaired by pollutants.

EPA’s new How’s My Waterway? app can show the condition of your local stream, creek or river – whether you’re standing on the water’s edge with a mobile device or sitting at home with a computer.  I tried it this week and found that my local creek is impacted by arsenic, E coli, lead, phosphorus and low dissolved oxygen levels.

The health of our rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the vast network of streams where they begin, including stream miles that only flow seasonally or after rain.

These streams feed downstream waters, trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, remove pollution and provide fish and wildlife habitat.

Want to do something to help improve water quality conditions?  You can control polluted runoff from your property, adopt your watershed, do volunteer water monitoring, and more.  For information, click here.

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.

Soak it Up! Philadelphia Designs Showcase Rain as a Resource

2013 March 28

By Ken Hendrickson

Sitting in the auditorium at the Academy of Natural Sciences and watching the presentations of the nine finalists in the Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! design competition, you could feel the excitement in the air.  The pecha kucha presentation format gave the evening a rhythm and cadence, but the design teams gave it substance.  All of the nine finalist teams had creative ideas and I didn’t envy the judges’ position of having to pick the final three winning teams – but in the end, they did.  Throughout the evening as I viewed the design boards, talked to the designers, and watched the presentations, I had the same three thoughts.

My view from the audience at the Soak It Up! Awards

My view from the audience at the Soak It Up! Awards

First, stormwater is exciting, or perhaps more accurately, green infrastructure design solutions to urban stormwater are exciting.  The design solutions treated stormwater as a resource and made it a visible and important part of each site and, by extension, the city.  What is exciting is that not only did these teams provide real, workable, and affordable solutions to addressing one of our most pressing water quality concerns, these designs would also make the city a better place to live and work.

My second thought had to do with collaboration.  I was impressed at the level to which these teams had embraced the collaborative approach to design.  While the competition did specify that teams needed to include a civil engineer, an architect, and a landscape architect to be eligible, the finalists seemed to take this integrated and collaborative design approach a step further.  I couldn’t help but wonder about the process that lead to these designs.  What future partnerships, collaborations, and design solutions might be born as a result of this competition?

Which brings me to my final thought about the Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! design competition: that these designs are not just attractive imagery and impressive reports.  They represent a shift in the way we view urban stormwater and the solutions we design to control it.  Each of these designs has a story and they are stories that everyone with an interest in clean water and livable communities deserves to hear.

In an effort to help make these stories available to all, the G3 Academy (Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns) is partnering with the Community Design Collaborative to host a webcast on April 4th featuring the design competition winners.  The webcast is free and open to anyone.  For more information and to register for the webcast, please visit this link.

Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! is a joint effort of the Community Design Collaborative, the Philadelphia Water Department, and EPA to inspire innovation in green stormwater infrastructure.  This design competition was the latest product of the partnership between EPA and the City of Philadelphia to advance green infrastructure for urban wet weather pollution control.  For additional resources on green infrastructure, visit the EPA green infrastructure website.

How does stormwater affect your community, and how would green infrastructure help?  Do the designs from the Philadelphia: Soak It Up! design competition inspire ideas for where you live?

About the Author: Ken Hendrickson has worked at the EPA since 2010 and is the Green Infrastructure staff lead in the Office of State and Watershed Partnerships.  Ken has a background in landscape architecture, geology, and watershed management.  He enjoys working to empower communities to improve their environment and finding solutions that create more resilient social, environmental, and economic systems. When not in the office, Ken enjoys challenging and rewarding outdoor activities and creative indoor hobbies.

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.