Monthly Archives: June 2014

Setting the Record Straight on Waters of the US

Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for Water

Updated July 7, 2014

There’s been some confusion about EPA and the Corps’ proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule under the Clean Water Act, especially in the agriculture community, and we want to make sure you know the facts.

We know that we haven’t had the best relationship with the agriculture industry in the past, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t and we can’t do better.  We are committed to listening to farmers and ranchers and in fact, our proposed rule takes their feedback into account.

The rule keeps intact all Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture that farmers count on. But it does more for farmers by actually expanding the list of up-front exemptions. We worked with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Army Corps of Engineers to exempt 56 additional conservation practices. These practices are familiar to many farmers, who know their benefits to business, the land, and water resources.

Farmers and ranchers are on the land every day, and they are our nation’s original conservationists. The American agriculture economy is the envy of the world, and today’s farmers and ranchers are global business professionals—relying on up-to-the minute science to make decisions about when to plant, fertilize, and irrigate crops.

Both EPA and farmers make decisions based on facts—so here are the facts about the proposal.
When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it didn’t just defend the mighty Mississippi or our Great Lakes; it also protected the smaller streams and wetlands that weave together a vast, interconnected system. It recognized that healthy families and farms downstream depend on healthy headwaters upstream.  But two Supreme Court cases over the last 15 years confused things, making it unclear which waters are “in,” and which are “out.”

That confusion added red tape, time, and expense to the permitting process under the Clean Water Act. The Army Corps of Engineers had to make case-by-case decisions about which waters were protected, and decisions in different parts of the country became inconsistent.

So EPA and the Corps are bringing clarity and consistency to the process, cutting red tape and saving money. The proposed Waters of the U.S. rule does not regulate new types of ditches, does not regulate activities on land, and does not apply to groundwater. The proposal does not change the exemption for stock ponds, does not require permits for normal farming activities like moving cattle, and does not regulate puddles.

The agencies’ goals align with those of farmers: clean water fuels agriculture—and we all depend on the food, fuel, and fiber that our farmers produce. We at EPA and the Corps welcome input on the proposed rule to make sure we get it right.

Here are clarifications on a few points of confusion about the proposed rule. For further information, check out:

http://www2.epa.gov/uswaters/questions-and-answers-about-waters-us-pdf

The EPA and the Army Corps are NOT going to have greater power over water on farms and ranches.

  • The Clean Water Act and its regulations have multiple exclusions and exemptions from jurisdiction and permit requirements.  The proposed rule does not change or limit any of them.
  • The agencies also worked with USDA to develop and publish through an interpretive rule, a list of NRCS agricultural conservation practices that will not be subject to CWA permitting requirements.  These practices encourage conservation while protecting and improving water quality.

The proposed rule will NOT bring all ditches on farms under federal jurisdiction.

  • Some ditches have been regulated under the Clean Water Act since the 1970s.
  • The proposed rule does not expand jurisdiction.
  • For the first time, the agencies are clarifying that all ditches that are constructed in dry lands, that drain only dry lands, and don’t flow all year, are not “waters of the U.S.” This includes many roadside ditches, and many ditches collecting runoff or drainage from crop fields.
    • Ditches that are IN are generally those that are essentially human-altered streams, which feed the health and quality of larger downstream waters. The agencies have always regulated these types of ditches.
    • Ditches that are OUT are those that are dug in dry lands and don’t flow all the time, or don’t flow into a jurisdictional water.
  • Farmers, ranchers and foresters continue to receive their exemptions from Clean Water Act Section 404 permitting requirements when they construct and maintain their ditches, even if ditches are jurisdictional.

The proposed rule does NOT mean permits are needed for walking cows across a wet field or stream.

  • Normal farming and ranching activities are not regulated under the Clean Water Act.

The proposed rule will NOT apply to wet areas on fields or erosional features on fields.

  • Wet areas on crop fields are not jurisdictional.
  • The proposal specifically excludes erosional features from being “waters of the U.S.”

EPA and the Corps are NOT taking control of ponds in the middle of the farm.

  • The proposed rule does not change existing practice regarding farm ponds.
  • The rule does not affect the existing exemption Congress created under section 404 for construction and maintenance of farm or stock ponds.
  • The proposed rule would for the first time specifically exclude stock watering ponds from jurisdiction in rule language.

http://www2.epa.gov/uswaters/questions-and-answers-about-waters-us-pdf

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Promoting Sustainability through Community Engagement in Jamaica: A Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

By Kevin Fath

My experience while serving as a Peace Corps agribusiness adviser in Jamaica provided me with unique opportunities to learn, engage, and research at the community level. I served in Bluefields, a small coastal farming and fishing village in Westmoreland parish in southwest Jamaica. I worked primarily with a group of organic farmers, promoting sustainable agriculture and introducing climate change adaptation strategies through community engagement. As a participant in the Peace Corps Master’s International program through Texas A&M University, I also conducted research on the vulnerability of local agricultural livelihoods to climate change.

As part of the community integration and learning process, I facilitated an assessment with the Westmoreland Organic Farmers Society, a local organization engaged in production agriculture and home economics. The results of the assessment helped us to better understand factors affecting the economic and environmental sustainability of their livelihoods. Through informal discussions with farmers, I also gained awareness of how changing weather patterns, such as variable rainfall, increased risk for these small-scale farm families.

In October 2012, Bluefields community organizations were given the opportunity to apply for small grants to support the development of livelihood opportunities more resilient to climate change. Designing a project and submitting a successful proposal was easier because we had already collectively identified and prioritized the needs and interests of the organization.

 

Kevin Fath working with two members of the farmers group (Westmoreland Organic Farmers Society Ltd) to set up the main irrigation lines during the development of the organic demonstration farm.

Kevin Fath working with two members of the farmers group (Westmoreland Organic Farmers Society Ltd) to set up the main irrigation lines during the development of the organic demonstration farm.

 

Among other things, the funds we received went toward establishing an organic demonstration farm, where the group erected a structure to catch and store rainwater for a drip irrigation system. The farm was also used to host a Farmer Field School where community members learned about organic farming practices, the potential impacts of climate change, and possible adaptation and mitigation strategies. The group was also able to purchase improved processing equipment and received food safety training, important steps toward establishing a formal agribusiness.

 

Brian (Kevin’s Rastafarian supervisor left, in blue hat) teaching how to make compost at one of the Farmer Field School sessions held at the demonstration farm.

Brian (Kevin’s Rastafarian supervisor left, in blue hat) teaching how to make compost at one of the Farmer Field School sessions held at the demonstration farm.

The group continues to develop and improve the farm, as well as their processing capacity. More importantly, they are increasing resiliency by adapting new technology to their own cultural norms and practices. Working side-by-side with my Jamaican friends to establish the demonstration farm was not only one of the joys of my life, but also showed me how difficult it is to cultivate marginal lands with simple hand tools; a reality for millions of men and women around the world.

During my service, I also designed a study to assess the vulnerability of local agricultural livelihoods to climate change. My hope is that the results will illuminate areas where targeted programs can improve farmers’ resiliency and increase incomes. The data I collected can also be used to measure changes in vulnerability over time. I hope the change we’ll see in Bluefields will be that of more sustainable livelihoods through environmental stewardship and human empowerment. This is a very possible outcome if the Jamaican men and women I worked with in the farmers group are any indication.

 About the author: Kevin Fath of West Salem, Ohio served as an environment volunteer in Jamaica from 2012 – 2014. During his service, Kevin worked with Jamaican farmers on sustainable agricultural practices. A participant in the Peace Corps Master’s International program, Kevin will receive his master’s degree in International Agricultural Development from Texas A & M University later this year. Kevin is also a veteran who deployed twice during his 8-year enlistment in the Army Reserve prior to joining the Peace Corps.

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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College Students + EPA = a Win for Local Communities

By Michael Burns

The College/Underserved Partnership Program (CUPP) develops long term partnerships between local colleges and universities and underserved cities and communities. Through the program, the schools provide technical support to communities at no cost to them. I’ve had the opportunity to work on this program for several years, and to help expand it in the southeastern region of the U.S. With my coworkers, I’ve travelled through this area of the country and found that small, underserved communities are in need of resources to improve their environment and quality of life. However, they often lack the required technical expertise in engineering, transportation, and infrastructure planning to pursue these initiatives in a progressive and sustainable manner. We use our CUPP program to provide the support they need. Then communities are able to address these important issues – like energy savings projects, land reuse, and economic development – that will support their long-term viability.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve developed partnerships with nine colleges and 16 communities. Two new colleges will be joining this fall. (And, eight of these nine schools were already providing these services with no federal funding for support!) It’s been great to see our academic institutions place such a high value on the need to help others, and work to make a visible difference in communities that really need the help.

The schools have already done great work. Here’s some of the completed and planned projects in my region:

  •  A completed project between Darien, Georgia and Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia involved using solar stills to dewater sewage sludge. The dewatered sewage sludge was reduced by 30 percent, making the waste easier to handle and less costly to dispose of at a permitted facility.
  •  A pilot agricultural project between Shorter, Alabama and Tuskegee University will provide economic opportunities for underserved and underdeveloped lands.
  • Tuskegee University is also working to create solar panels to power sewage lift stations, thereby reducing operation costs to the city and reducing electrical usage.
  • Tennessee State University is providing Pleasant View, Tennessee an engineering analysis of their stormwater system so the city can address problems with the system.
  • In the fall, Clark Atlanta University will help Lithonia, Georgia develop a proposed private/public partnership for a brownfield site in this town.
  • Savannah State University will develop a coastal sustainability plan to anticipate and address potential issues caused by climate change for two cities in Georgia, Midway and Riceboro. This plan is required by the Regional Coastal Commission of Georgia.
  • Tuskegee University and Alabama State University are developing an alternate transportation project which will reuse brownfield sites, and address issues of lack of access to healthy food and lack of access to medical care in Alabama.
  • And, we’re also asking our federal partners, such as the National Park Service and USDA Rural Development, to expand this collaborative effort.

About the author: Michael Burns works on the College/Underserved Partnership Program (CUPP). Previously he worked for, where he served as the Acting Superintendent of the Tuskegee Institute Park and worked with communities in Alabama

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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Restoring Our Monuments

monumnetsOn a recent morning run around the National Mall, I took my first swing by the newly-restored Washington Monument since it had closed after an August 2011 earthquake. From afar and up close, patches show where the tower has been revitalized, resuscitated and renewed. The goal was never to restore it to its original look and condition. Nothing can ever be truly “restored” in the pure sense; I’ve sometimes wondered why the word even exists. But that was never the goal. The goal was to restore its functionality.

When President Obama first proposed the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in 2009 that was the goal, too. These magnificent natural monuments—shared by Canada, eight states, dozens of tribes and thousands of municipalities, and home to some 95 percent of the nation’s fresh surface water—had been crumbling ecologically. Decades of habitat loss, alien species invasions, phosphorus runoff that causes mats of harmful algae, and industrial pollution had caused extreme wear such that we needed to accelerate progress in restoring their functionality.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Tools for Recreation on our Rivers

by Virginia Thompson

Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row is a hot spot for recreation in Philadelphia, as well as a National Historic Landmark.

Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row is a hot spot for recreation in Philadelphia, as well as a National Historic Landmark.

Growing up in the Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania, I learned the power of rivers:     Hurricane Agnes wiped out parts of my town when the river overflowed its banks.  In calmer times, the river provided a beautiful respite.  Now living in the Delaware River Basin, I enjoy the Schuylkill River, which dissects Philadelphia, for its recreational value throughout the year:  regattas, festivals, walkers, joggers, bikers, and rollerbladers all take advantage of the City’s connection to the river.

My real introduction to the Schuylkill River, however, came three years ago when our high school daughter began rowing crew.  Only then did I learn how river flow, wind, precipitation, and flooding affect such a smooth, beautiful sport.  Days that seemed ideal to spectators often turned out to be challenging conditions for those on the water.

Never was the disconnect between those on land and those rowing on the water more pronounced than at the recent Stotesbury regatta, the world’s largest and oldest high school regatta, held annually on the Schuylkill River.  The first day of the regatta was rainy with torrents of water backing up storm drains, but the rain’s impacts to the rowers were fairly minimal most of the day with warm air, negligible wind, and calm water.

By late in the day, the sky cleared, winds picked up and the rain moved out.  Anticipating improved rowing weather, we were surprised by the cancellation of the day’s remaining races due to “deteriorating river conditions.”  By the next morning, conditions were much worse:  near-flood stage water chocolate brown in color, with the rushing current carrying huge logs and other visible and hidden debris that could pose serious problems.  Surprisingly, the placid, cool, sunny morning was unfit for rowing.  By afternoon, the debris had mostly cleared and rowing resumed.  For the City Championships the next day, the water was significantly lower, little debris was visible, and the water was calmer.  The disparity between the weather and the river conditions was so pronounced because it took time for the upstream floodwaters and debris to flow down the Schuylkill to Philadelphia.

Knowing the current conditions of the river is important for all recreational users.  Fortunately, the Philadelphia Water Department hosts a website service, Philly River Cast, which provides a recreation-focused forecast of water quality in the Schuylkill River.  The River Cast predicts levels of pathogens likely to be in the water carried from upstream based on precipitation, and provides a simple green-yellow-red indication of the river’s suitability for recreation.

While we can’t control the weather, at least we have a tool to help us be prepared for the conditions and able to make smart decisions.

 

About the author:  Virginia Thompson is currently the Coordinator of the Exchange Network, a partnership of federal and state governments providing improved access to environmental data to make better and more timely decisions.  She enjoys swimming, gardening, and bicycling on rail-trails.

 

 

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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Follow EPA’s Climate Justice in Action Series!

On June 25th EPA launched a summer-long Climate Justice in Action blog series, kicked off by a video from Administrator Gina McCarthy. The series focuses on the unequal burdens climate change places on low- income and minority communities and the innovative solutions communities are taking across the country to fight climate change and prepare for its effects. As a part of the series EPA has created this Interactive Climate Justice Map that allows for environmental justice and climate change stakeholders from all backgrounds to upload stories about actions being taken in their communities to combat climate change.

Please take the time to contribute your story! EPA will collect all of your submissions over the course of this campaign, which will be highlighted in various ways throughout the summer. This will also be a great educational opportunity by compiling successes and lessons learned from a variety of stakeholders to demonstrate the full breadth of activities taking place across the country to combat climate change.

So tune in here throughout the summer to follow our stories, tell us about your successes and hard work, and join the conversation on climate justice!

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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Community Engagement in the Philippines: A Return Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

By Leah Ettema

Like almost any other coastal community in the Philippines, my Peace Corps site (Laoang, Northern Samar) is primarily composed of fishermen and farmers who report that their fish catch has drastically decreased over the past 20 years. This threatens their food security, income, and way of life.  During my service, I worked with my municipal counterparts to visit all 28 coastal communities in Laoang, where we held community meetings. We talked, listened, and worked with the fishermen to help identify the resources they still have, explore their problems, and come up with ideas for the future.  During these visits, I was able to briefly participate in the everyday life of coastal communities. I learned that even in the poorest of areas, someone will always have a generator to sing videoke, the fear of Aswang (witches) is very real, simple ingredients make delicious snacks, and basic street fair games are highly entertaining. Despite having an increasingly difficult livelihood, the residents’ sense of humor, joy, and resiliency is unwavering.

We compiled the results of our discussions into an environmental profile, which serves as the basis for future coastal resource management programs. We formed plans to enact a Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Management Council that would work closely with the local government to re-establish marine protected areas and to monitor the health of the coral reefs, sea grass, and mangroves. These plans also called for the enactment of a Bantay Dagat (coast guard) that would aggressively apprehend illegal fishers, as well as to encourage schools and households to segregate their waste for recycling.

What we, as Peace Corps Volunteers, worked toward was to develop the Filipinos’ abilities to effectively manage their resources to improve their standard of life. My Filipino co-workers (and friends) are inspiring, hard-working community developers, and will continue working to improve fishing resources and livelihoods long after I’m gone.

 

RPCV Ettema working with the women in Langob

RPCV Ettema working with the women in Langob

About the author: Originally from Frankenmuth, MI, Leah Ettema, RPCV Philippines, 2009-2011, currently works for EPA’s Region 4, (Atlanta, GA) for the Water Protection Division.

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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Ways that Weatherization Works: Climate Justice through Revitalization

By Kerry N. Doi

When I first came to Los Angeles from Hawaii in the late 1950s I remember the smog being so thick that, at times, you could barely make out the shape of a building that was only a few blocks away. As kids growing up we couldn’t run around outside for more than 20 minutes because the air quality was so bad that your lungs would burn.

Although air pollution in Los Angeles has drastically reduced since then, we need to find ways to continue improving environmental conditions for our children and families, especially in communities that suffer more than their share of the environmental burden.

It’s well documented in urban cities like Los Angeles that low income and ethnic minority communities bear a disproportionate amount of adverse health impacts from environmental burdens. However, it is often overlooked that these same communities are also at the forefront of addressing climate change.

ScreenShot_CalEnviro2 0Low income and ethnic minority communities have a wealth of knowledge that, when combined with data and standardized government information, provide a holistic picture of the pollution burdens and socioeconomic vulnerabilities within our neighborhoods. According to CalEnviroScreen 2.0, half of the statewide population of ‘Disadvantaged Communities’ resides in Los Angeles County. These are neighborhoods that are densely populated and include historically low income, ethnic minority communities where residents look to strategies that can mitigate the causes and adapt to the impacts of climate change while providing revitalization opportunities to their communities.

As President and CEO of the Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE), I have witnessed firsthand the passion that our communities of color have for a greener Los Angeles. PACE’s Weatherization Program is run by our diverse, multi-lingual staff, which is the foundation for PACE’s reputation as a resource for low income, ethnic minority populations. Over the past 38 years, we have built familiarity and trust with these neighborhoods and aim to create a meaningful relationship with each community member. Our staff is fluent in over 40 different languages/dialects and provides cultural sensitivity that enables PACE to access and empower disadvantaged communities.

Untitled-1PACE’s Energy and Environmental Services Program has grown with funding from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the President’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Today, PACE serves 26 zip codes in Los Angeles and is one of the largest contractor agencies for the State of California, Community Services Department.

Overall, our Energy and Environmental Services Program has assisted over 284,000 homes throughout Southern California since the inception of the program. This hard work has resulted in more than $2 billion in savings for residents by lowering energy bills, which helps low income residents to stay in their homes, especially when faced with issues of displacement and gentrification.

Weatherization

What we have also seen, is that weatherization Assistance Programs also have the potential to offer workforce training, expand green industry opportunities and create much needed jobs. At PACE, these jobs not only provide benefits and career ladder opportunities but also living wages at $15-$35 per hour. With the infusion of ARRA funding in 2009, PACE’s Weatherization Program doubled in size and was able to create/retain 60 jobs!

“My wife and I fled our home country of Ethiopia in order to escape the violence and political upheaval. In ‘81 we came to the U.S. as refugees. It was 31 years ago when I started at PACE that they gave me just a screwdriver and a hammer. Over time I was trained as an installer and now I am a field supervisor. I was able to buy a house and put two children through school. I thank God for the strength he gave me to take care of PACE’s Weatherization Program. As a result, the program has taken care of me all these years.”

Asrat Feissa, Field Supervisor of PACE’s Weatherization Program

PACE is proud to be a part of this movement toward addressing climate change. As we continue to build on our efforts to address the environmental injustices resulting from the warming climate, we look forward to continuing our efforts in comprehensive community development, with a triple bottom line—lessening our carbon footprint, creating green jobs, and helping people to save on energy costs. In this way, we hope that our efforts will also allow the children of our future to not suffer from asthma because of too much smog caused by dirty energy, or the long-term consequences from climate change inaction.

About the Author: Kerry N. Doi has honed and demonstrated his experience and expertise in all forms of community economic development. In his 38 years as President and CEO of Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE. On the national level, Kerry is a member of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) and is a founding member and the former national chair of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (CAPACD), a national association of Asian and Pacific Islanders engaged in community development.

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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Modeling Cyanobacteria Ecology to Keep Harmful Algal Blooms at Bay

By: Betty Kreakie, Jeff Hollister, and Bryan Milstead

Sign on beach warning of harmful algal bloom

U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Dr. Jennifer L. Graham

Despite a lengthy history of research on cyanobacteria, many important questions about this diverse group of aquatic, photosynthetic “blue-green algae” remain unanswered.  For example, how can we more accurately predict cyanobacteria blooms in freshwater systems?  Which lakes have elevated risks for such blooms?  And what characteristics mark areas with high risks for cyanobacteria blooms?

These are important questions, and our ecological modeling work is moving us closer to finding some answers.

The gold standard for understanding cyanobacteria in lakes is direct measurements of certain water quality variables, such as levels of nutrients, chlorophyll a, and pigments.  This of course requires the ability to take on site (“in situ”) samples, something that is not possible to do for every lake in the country.  Our modeling work is focused on predicting cyanobacterial bloom risk for lakes that have not been directly sampled.

We are using remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) data to model bloom risk for all lakes in the continental United States.  The work is also starting to shed light on some of the landscape factors that may contribute to elevated predicted bloom risk.  For example, we know that different regions have different predictive risk.   We are also learning about how lake depth and volume, as well as the surrounding land use impact cyanobacteria abundance.

In addition to our national modeling efforts, we are collaborating with others on smaller scale and more focused studies at regional and local scales.  First, we are partnering with other EPA researchers to develop time-series models using data gathered frequently and over a long time by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.  By using these data, we expect to tease apart information about annual timing and the intensity of blooms.  We can also explore aspects of seasonal variability and frequency. Lastly, we are starting to explore ways to use approximately 25 years of data collected by Rhode Island citizen science as part of the University of Rhode Island’s Watershed Watch program.  We hope to mine these data and uncover indicators of harmful algal bloom events.

With all this work, we and our partners are adding new chapters to the long history of cyanobacteria research in ways we hope will help communities better predict, reduce, and respond to harmful blooms.

About the Authors: EPA ecologists Betty Kreakie, Jeff Hollister, and Bryan Milstead are looking for ways to decrease the negative impacts of cyanobacteria and harmful algal blooms on human health and the environment.

NOTE: Join Betty Kreakie, Jeff Hollister, and Bryan Milstead for a Twitter chat today (June 26) at 2:00pm (eastern time zone) using the hashtag #greenwater. Please follow us @EPAresearch.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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A Message to IRIS Program Stakeholders: We Want to Hear From You!

By Kacee Deener

IRIS graphic identifierIn July 2013, EPA announced enhancements to our Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program to improve the scientific foundation of assessments, increase transparency, and improve productivity. Stakeholder engagement is an essential part of the enhancements, and since announcing them, we have held bimonthly public meetings to discuss scientific issues related to preliminary assessment materials and draft IRIS assessments. We announce these meetings well in advance on the IRIS website, and we publicly release any relevant materials about two months before the meeting is held. We also identify specific scientific issues related to the chemicals we are assessing.

Did you know that anyone can participate in these meetings? You can register to participate as a discussant on a specific scientific issue identified by EPA, or you can identify one of your own. Likewise, you can participate in the meetings more generally (i.e., not sign up for a specific scientific topic, but participate during discussion and open forum sessions). We don’t put together an invited panel for these meetings, and the agenda reflects those individuals who requested to participate in the scientific discussions.

IRIS meeting in a large conference room

EPA holds a public IRIS meeting.

We realize that you can never do too much where communication is concerned, so we use a variety of ways to publicize the meetings. They are announced on the IRIS website and through the IRIS Listserv and Human Health Risk Assessment research program bulletins, which reach more than 7,000 people combined. If you’re not on these lists, please sign up! We also use various social media platforms, including Twitter (follow IRIS and other EPA research on Twitter @EPAresearch).

We know that getting different perspectives on scientific issues is important, and we are exploring additional ways to reach out to scientists and other individuals who might be interested in participating in our meetings and contributing to the IRIS process.

We recognize that not all of our stakeholders have the resources to travel to a meeting. Because of that, for the past year and a half, every IRIS public meeting has also been available by webinar. We’ve also made some recent changes so that webinar participants can more fully engage in our meetings, including using telephone connections that allow webinar participants to actively participate in discussions.

EPA’s IRIS Program works on behalf of the American people, and anyone is welcome to add their voice to the conversation. We welcome your ideas about how to expand public access to and engagement in IRIS activities. We also welcome your input about how to obtain additional perspectives on the complex scientific issues that are discussed at IRIS bimonthly public science meetings. Join the conversation today by commenting on this blog post or sending us your ideas through the IRIS general comments docket.

As always, we want to hear from you!

About the Author: Kacee Deener is the Communications Director in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment.  She joined EPA 13 years ago and has a Masters degree in Public Health.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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