Protecting the Environment for Today and the Future

By Karen Flournoy

We all have the responsibility to protect the environment for today and the future. For some of us, we have the honor every day of protecting the environment – working for EPA, state environmental agencies, other federal or state agencies, businesses, or legal or technical firms. I was in high school when President Nixon signed the order to create the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I didn’t imagine that someday I would work for the EPA!

As a kid, I was interested in science, loved being outdoors, and had a rock collection built by family and friends who brought me rocks when they traveled. I was determined in 4th grade to go to college because I wanted to study science or be an astronaut, as the space program was just beginning. In college in the 1970s, I studied civil engineering at the encouragement of my Dad. While many of my male classmates were interested in structures or transportation, I pursued my interest in wastewater. After almost one year at a consulting firm working on wastewater treatment plant projects, I was offered a job at EPA Region 7.

I’ve served in many roles throughout my career in EPA Region 7. I began as an engineer in the construction grants program reviewing wastewater treatment plant projects for funding, then moved to the site cleanup (Superfund) program, and later spent six years advising the Region 7 Administrator on environmental issues in agriculture. Now I serve as the Director of the Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. We are responsible for safe drinking water, wastewater permitting and storm water management, watershed projects, pesticides, and lead-based paint. We also manage the wastewater and drinking water state revolving loan funds, working with states to fund projects for drinking water and wastewater treatment.

What does protecting the environment really mean? For those of us who work at EPA, it means:

  • Making sure the laws passed by Congress are carried out through regulations and voluntary programs.
  • Providing information to students, the public, and regulated facilities.
  • Finding answers to environmental challenges through research.
  • Working with federal, state, local, and tribal partners to carry out environmental programs.

What does protecting the environment for today and the future mean for you?

  • Consider a career in environmental protection or encourage students to pursue careers in the environment, science, engineering, and math.
  • Purchase Energy Star and WaterSense labeled products to save energy and conserve water. Fix leaks in your toilets, faucets, and irrigation systems.
  • Be an example for children, including how to recycle, compost or properly dispose of items that cannot be recycled or composted.
  • Learn about your community’s wastewater and drinking water systems. The pipes under the ground that we don’t see every day carry safe drinking water to homes and businesses and wastewater to treatment plants.
  • Keep trash out of lawns and storm drains, and pick up pet waste.
  • Don’t rinse grease down your kitchen sink.
  • If you have a septic system, pump out the contents to ensure proper operation and protect nearby streams and groundwater.
  • Keep drinking water supplies safe by not disposing of chemicals on the ground and by applying the proper rate of fertilizer to your lawn.
  • Install a rain garden to keep rainwater on the property and rain barrels to catch rainwater for watering plants and lawns.
  • If you farm, install and maintain best management practices to minimize runoff of fertilizers and nutrients from farm fields, and keep livestock and manure from animal feeding operations out of streams.

If you already are a protector of the environment, that’s great! Keep up the good work! If you would like to learn more about what you can do to protect the environment for today and the future, please visit for more information.

Karen Flournoy serves as the Director of EPA Region 7’s Water, Wetlands and Pesticides Division. She has a degree in civil engineering and has served in a number of positions in Region 7. Karen is a native Kansan with a lifelong interest in science and water.

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