Regional Geographic: Mapping Our Waters for Environmental Protection

By Christina Catanese

Recovery Act Funded water projects in PennsylvaniaAt the EPA, we use geography all the time.  We have maps hanging all over the walls of our offices, showing the locations of wastewater facilities, delineations of watersheds, and impaired streams, just to name a few.  Very rarely does a day go by when I don’t use a map of some kind to do my job.  Because EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment requires a good spatial understanding how human populations interact with their environment, mapping and geography are integral to our work.

So, how does the EPA use geography?  Here are just a few highlights:

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (or “stimulus” bill) provided additional funding for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, which are administered by EPA to the Mid-Atlantic States.  These funds are then allocated to local projects like updating aging wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.  Visit the infrastructure  website and click your state on the map on the bottom right side of the page to see maps of Recovery Act-funded projects.  Project locations are flagged on the map with balloons or pins according to the type of project (Clean Water, Drinking Water, projects with a green component) occurring at each location.  This map also includes a short description of each project and the funds allocated to it.  Maybe there is a project going on near you that you didn’t even know about!   You can also visit the EPA Recovery site to see maps with summaries of funding and job creation associated with Recovery Act projects.

As we’ve blogged about in previous posts, EPA is in the process of setting a strict “pollution diet” for the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  Just one look at a map of the Chesapeake Bay will tell you how large this clean-up effort is; the drainage basin of the bay itself is over 64,000 square miles and encompasses at least part of six different states.  A number of public meetings were held to get public comments on the new nutrient standards that are being set for the Bay; to facilitate attendance at these meetings for the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, EPA created a map of meeting locations.  The map has information on dates and times as well as driving directions through Google maps. Click the “Fall 2010 Public Meetings” tab.

“Surf Your Watershed” is a great way to learn about the watershed you live in.  Enter your zip code, and find out what watershed your area is part of and lots of information about it, including how healthy your waters are, maps, citizen groups that are active in the watershed area, and much more.  Surf’s up!

The Enviromapper for Water and Envirofacts have even more information about the waters of the United States.  The clickable and searchable map allows you to zero in on an area of interest and find out about water quality and locations of facilities that discharge into water bodies.

Have you used these environmental mapping resources before?  Can you think of any maps that EPA could provide to help you learn more about your environment and geography? How do you use geography and maps in your life or job?

November 14-20 is National Geography Awareness Week – Freshwater!  Let’s join together in learning about geography to help keep the waters of the Mid-Atlantic region healthy. This blog entry will also be posted as part of National Geographic’s National Geography Awareness Week Blog-a-thon.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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