Aquatic Health/Habitat Use

Live Streaming Available

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 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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How’s the Bay Doin’?

By Tom Damm

When the late New York City Mayor Ed Koch wanted to get a sense for, “How’m I doin’?” he’d ask people on the street.

Bay Barometer Cover ImageThe Chesapeake Bay Program takes a more scientific approach when it considers the state of the Bay and its watershed.

It crunches all sorts of statistics and produces an annual update on health and restoration efforts called Bay Barometer.  The latest one is now available.

So how’s the ecosystem doin’?

The science-based snapshot shows that while the Bay is impaired, signs of resilience abound.

A number of indicators of watershed health, like water clarity and dissolved oxygen levels, point to a stressed ecosystem.  But other factors, such as a smaller than normal summertime dead zone and an increase in juvenile crabs entering the fishery, provide a brighter picture.

Recent restoration work and pollution cuts also offer signs of progress for the nation’s largest estuary.

Learn more about Bay Barometer or read the full report.

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 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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Conserving Water Resources With Green Infrastructure

Environmental Science Center at Ft. Meade, Maryland

By Trey Cody

EPA employees in Fort Meade, Maryland at the Environmental Science Center recently added some unique environmental features to their building, which is home to Region III’s chemistry and microbiology labs. EPA staff helped construct a rain garden with native grasses, goldenrod, coneflowers, and http://www.epa.gov/greeningepa/glossary.htm rerouting rooftop drainage pipes to a rain barrel to help reduce splash erosion as stormwater falls from roof gutters to the garden. The rain garden makes for a beautiful sight for workers at the front of the building and is watered both naturally and with the rain barrel.

These improvements and more are helping this facility in its effort to meet the Guiding Principles for Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings as well as working towards achieving a U.S Green Building Council, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design existing building certification.

Read about more environmentally positive features of the Environmental Science Center.

This is just one way that EPA is helping to improve water quality by the construction of green infrastructure in our region. There are numerous other examples of how new products, technologies, and practices can use natural systems to enhance water quality. Some of these can be implemented in your local household or business. The great thing about green infrastructure is that while it is improving water quality, you can save water, money and energy.

Below are some examples of green infrastructure that you can implement to your house to promote water quality. You can click each one to view more information, fact sheets, benefits, examples and web sites.

  • Downspout Disconnection: The rerouting of rooftop drainage pipes to drain rainwater to rain barrels, cisterns, or permeable areas instead of the storm sewer.  Home owners can disconnect and reroute these pipes with little to no effort!
  • Rain Gardens: Shallow, vegetated basins that allows for the collection and absorption of runoff from rooftops, sidewalks, and streets.  Rain gardens mimic natural hydrology by infiltration, evaporation, and returning water vapor to the atmosphere.  They can be installed in almost any unpaved space. This is a great way for a homeowner to beautify their homes and improve water quality!
  • Permeable Pavements: Paved surfaces that allow infiltration, treating, and storage of rainwater where it falls.  Permeable pavements may be constructed from pervious concrete, porous asphalt, and several other materials.

Have you installed any of these or other examples of green infrastructure in your household?

Leave a comment and tell us about your experiences!

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource.  Throughout the year, EPA will be highlighting different aspects of the history and successes of the Clean Water Act in reducing pollution in the past 40 years.  The month of August will focus on Science and Innovation.

About the Author: Trey Cody has been an intern with EPA’s Water Protection Division since graduation from high school in 2010. He is currently attending the Pennsylvania State University.

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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Capturing Every Drop and Every Voice

By Trey Cody

Water is essential to all of us as individuals, a nation, and as a planet, yet there is a finite supply.

As part of EPA’s 40th anniversary celebration of the passage of the Clean Water Act, we want to hear what makes this resource special to you. And, you have an opportunity to tell us with EPA’s “Water is Worth it” video project!

The Clean Water Act was created in response to a national concern about untreated sewage, industrial and toxic discharges, destruction of wetlands, and contaminated runoff. Enacted in 1972, the Act set a national goal “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.” A special part of the Act gave citizens, like you and me, strong roles to play in protecting and restoring our waters.

EPA is hosting a video project asking Americans to send in videos about why water is worth it to them. Each video should be a 15-second clip with the phrase “Water is worth it because…” and your explanation of why. Videos can be serious, funny, or a little in-between. You could show your favorite activity involving water, talk about water, or even drink some water in your video! You are the director and the star so you can be as creative as you want!

To register, visit EPA’s Clean Water Act 40th Anniversary page and fill out the video entry form. Once you make your video, submit your entry as a response to our promotional video. All videos must be received by September 14, 2012. Get all the information on how to submit your video here!

To learn more about the CWA and other anniversary events and show your support for clean water, please visit these helpful sites:

Have you entered your video yet? Do you have an idea for future projects or contests promoting clean water? Leave a comment and let us know!

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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Connecting at the Water’s Edge

By Maryann Helferty

Young Red Belly Turtle seen at Lardner's Point

Young Red Belly Turtle seen at Lardner's Point

Late on a warm spring afternoon a few weeks ago, I walked along a newly restored tidal wetland and gazed at the young sedge grasses and arrowhead plants.  The line, “If you build it they will come” from the movie Field of Dreams passed through my mind.  Here at Lardner’s Point Park in Philadelphia, PA, both wildlife and people were reclaiming their spot at the water’s edge.

Earlier that week, the opening ceremony for the park celebrated the creation of 300 feet of shoreline access and four acres of open space.  After the ribbon-cutting, a visitor spotted a small baby turtle climbing up the fresh soil bank.  It was a red-belly turtle, a threatened species in Pennsylvania.  It had emerged from the river to welcome the park supporters, just as the early players from baseball’s past entered the cornfield ballpark of Kevin Costner’s dreams. A local water scientist reported that in ten years of boat surveys, he had not seen a young turtle of this species in this area.

Creation of the park was truly a Cinderella story, as the shoreline had been wrapped in a concrete bulkhead from its days as a ferry terminal, and was later fouled by an oil spill.  Over $500,000 in federal funding was dedicated to the restoration and mitigation project.

The ecological restoration of Lardner’s Point is about more than the re-emergence of a living marine ecosystem for plants and animals.  Along the industrial riverfront, open space is as rare as the threatened turtle. The design of this site features a fishing pier, connection to a bike trail and picnic tables.  Check out our podcast on the Lardner’s Point restoration to learn more.

These amenities bring a breeze of recreation to the dense, row-home neighborhood of Tacony nearby.  That’s why as part of the Urban Waters Movement, EPA is seeking to help communities — especially underserved communities — as they work to access, improve and benefit from their urban waters and the surrounding land.

As I left the pier, I said hello to a 10-year old boy carrying a fishing rod.  He happily reported that this was the first time he could walk with his grandfather and fish on the Delaware.  By reconnecting the river to wetlands and greenspace, the park was also connecting friends and family with great memories along the river.

With summer coming, how are you going to connect at the water’s edge?  May is American Wetlands Month, so take some time to learn how you can protect and restore wetlands near you.

About the Author: Maryann Helferty is a water quality scientist with the Mid-Atlantic Regional office of the EPA.  She has worked on groundwater and watershed protection in both the rural Pacific Northwest and the urban corridors of the Atlantic.  One of her passions is teaching urban youth about water through the poetry curriculum: River of Words.  You will find her this summer walking the water’s edge in the Wissahickon Watershed.

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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An A+ for Water Protection

By Tom Damm

Cabrini College students and professor receive their award - click for more photos!

Cabrini College students and professor receive their award, photo courtesy of the Schuylkill Action Network

If you’re like me, you remember staring out the window on a nice spring day thinking how great it would be to have class outside – until your teacher snapped you out of your reverie.

For students recognized by EPA last week, the outdoors has been a classroom.

Three elementary and middle schools and one college in Pennsylvania were honored for environmental projects that offer lessons in protecting drinking water sources.

At Limerick Elementary School in Royersford, students held a watershed day and planted a protective buffer of 100 trees along the Landis Creek.

Also in Royersford, students at the Spring-Ford Intermediate School created a rain harvesting project to recycle and reuse water.

At Sandy Run Middle School in Dresher, more than 700 students were involved in a project to rip out invasive knotweed in Sandy Run and replace it with native trees and shrubs that will help restore the waterway.

And at Cabrini College in Radnor, students took a variety of actions to restore Valley Creek and did important stream and community research.

Awards to the schools and their students were presented at a National Drinking Water Week ceremony at the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association in Ambler, Pa.  The competition was sponsored by the Schuylkill Action Network, a team of agencies, including EPA, committed to cleaning up and protecting the Schuylkill River and its tributaries – a drinking water source for more than 1.5 million people.

Feel inspired?  Check out ways you can protect your local waters.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, he held state government public affairs positions in New Jersey and worked as a daily newspaper reporter.  When not in the office, Tom enjoys cycling and volunteer work.  Tom and his family live in Hamilton Township, N.J., near Trenton.

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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Atlantic Sturgeon Enter Endangered Species Protection Program

By Kaitlyn Bendik

Have you ever heard of a fish called the Atlantic Sturgeon? I hadn’t until recently. When I sought out to learn about the different endangered species in the District of Columbia, I learned that this fish can grow to an enormous 14 feet long and weigh up to 800 pounds, but it is also endangered. Who knew such aquatic behemoths lived in rivers and estuaries in the Mid Atlantic Region?

I also learned that the Atlantic sturgeon is an anadromous fish species that can live up to 60 years.  It dwarfs the other two sturgeon species found in eastern North America, and is a benthic or bottom feeder.

Have you ever heard of a fish called the Atlantic Sturgeon?  I hadn’t until recently.  When I googled it, I learned that it can grow to an enormous 18 feet long and weigh over 800 pounds, but is also endangered.  Who knew such aquatic behemoths lived in rivers and estuaries in the Mid Atlantic Region!
The Atlantic sturgeon is an anadromous fish species that can live up to 60 years, and dwarfs the other two sturgeon species found in eastern North America.  They are also benthic or bottom feeders.

Recently, the Atlantic Sturgeon was added to the Endangered Species List in the Chesapeake Bay and four other “distinct population segments.”

So how does a species get listed?  A concerned citizen like you may petition the United States Secretary of the Interior to add a species, which begins a process of deciding whether there’s enough information to prove that a species needs listing.  Likewise, an organization such as the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service engages in a candidate species process, where a scientific study is conducted to gather data.  When the study concludes a species needs listing, it publishes its findings in the Federal Register for public comment.  Once that process is complete, the species can get its spot on list.

Why is the Atlantic sturgeon on the list?  Historically, this fish was a part of commercial fisheries in the US.  But due to dwindling numbers, in 1998, a harvest moratorium was put on the Atlantic sturgeon.  Despite that action, sturgeon populations are still threatened today.  They get caught inadvertently by fishermen, and in estuaries and rivers, they face habitat degradation and loss due to human activities like dredging, dams, water withdrawals, and development, as well as being hit by ships.

The Atlantic sturgeon species numbers in the Chesapeake Bay have dropped substantially, from about 20,000 breeding females in 1890 throughout the Bay and its tributaries, to less than 300 breeding females that are found in only the James River.  But a comeback is hopefully soon to come with the actions taken to build back its population.

Keeping our water clean will help keep the Atlantic sturgeon around forever. Visit the Chesapeake Bay Program and the Delaware River Basin Commission website for tips on what you can do to help protect the bays and the endangered species that call them home.

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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Take Winter with a Grain of Salt

By Christina Catanese

It’s about that time of year when the Mid-Atlantic region starts preparing the snow plows and pulling out the road salt. In most of our region this winter, we’ve had a lot of warm days and no big “snowmageddons” so far, but the season is still young!

When big snow storms strike, how do you fight back? Methods like shoveling, snow plows, snow blowers, and applying sand and deicing salt keep roads clear and people safe. But did you ever think about the environmental impact of clearing snow and ice?

Although rock salt is an effective way to clear roads and driveways, issues can arise when the snow is gone and the salt is left behind. As the snow melts in the spring, the salt dissolves and runs off the road into storm drains and nearby water bodies. This can harm aquatic life like fish and plants. Human health can be impacted as well if the salt reaches drinking water supplies.

Many towns have moved from applying to salt to highways and are now applying brine, which has less environmental impact.  Check out this link to learn more about some innovations in snow removal, including a method being piloted by Maryland that sprays a mixture of sugar beets and brine onto highways.

So when the next big winter storm strikes, strike back, but in an environmentally friendly way. Here are some recommended actions to reduce salt application:

car-snow1. Use the Right Material: There are many options beyond salt and sand, like less toxic chemicals and even things like clean kitty litter.
2. Use the Right Amount: More isn’t necessarily better. Warmer roads need less salt, and roads below 10º F will not benefit from rock salt at all. Applying less salt is also a more economical choice. Snow clean-up costs are reduced, as are damages to cars, roads, and bridges.
3. Apply at the Right Place: Apply salt where it will do most good, like hills, curves, shaded sections of road, and bridges. Use discretion when applying salt near sensitive streams or in drinking water source water protection areas.
4. Apply at the Right Time: Don’t wait until snow is falling to get started. It takes more salt to melt accumulated snow than it does to prevent accumulation.
5. Use Proper Storage Techniques: Salt and sand piles should always be covered to prevent runoff, and should be located away from streams and wetlands.
Read more about best management practices for applying and storing road salt while protecting water supplies here.

Is your municipality practicing smart salt application with these actions? Are you practicing them at your home? Do you know of any other environmentally-friendly ways to clean up snow? Let us know how you’re staying both safe and green this winter season.

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.

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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Green Tracks for Maryland’s Light Rail

By Nancy Grundahl

Read more about green initiatives proposed in, “Design Green! Best Practices for Sustainability, Safe Street Design for the Red Line.”

The Maryland Transit Administration is testing a “Green Track” concept, establishing vegetation between and adjacent to light rail tracks.  Among the positive outcomes is a reduction in polluted stormwater running into local streams.

The question is: will the turf grass and/or sedums planted between the tracks survive in the railway environment and become established well enough to present a dense and attractive growth in Maryland?  If so, green tracks are to be considered for incorporation into portions of the Red Line, a 14-mile light rail transit line proposed in Baltimore City. Additionally, the Green Track concept is being considered for portions of the Purple Line, a 16-mile light rail project in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties. (Read more about green initiatives proposed in, “Design Green! Best Practices for Sustainability, Safe Street Design for the Red Line.”)

Green tracks are not uncommon in Europe, most notably in France and Germany. The benefits are many.  Some stormwater that would otherwise run off will be captured by the vegetation and soil. The temperature in the immediate area will be moderated, being a little cooler in the summer, reducing the urban heat island effect.  And, the noise from the trains will be dampened. Regular monitoring of Maryland’s Green Tracks test areas is currently underway.

Interested in seeing the green track test segments in person?

In mid-town Baltimore go to the Cultural Center Light Rail Station which is near the intersection of North Howard and West Preston Streets. There are two test areas here.

There is another test area in the suburbs near the Ferndale Light Rail Station in Anne Arundel County.  The test area is located between South Broadview Boulevard and Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard south of the station and the firehouse.

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” blog.

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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New Year, New Student Challenge

By Alysa Suero

As 2010 winners in the Elementary School category, the students of Worcester Elementary were all smiles after the award ceremony!

The new year is soon here.  What opportunities await us as we turn the calendar?  If you’re a student leading a school group or participating in a class project to study and protect the Schuylkill River, the new year brings an opportunity to show off your project to a regional audience.

Nominations are now open for the 8th annual Schuylkill Action Network Drinking Water Scholastic Awards, and qualifying for consideration is easy!  All you have to do is lead or participate in a classroom lesson or outdoor project that improves the water quality of the Schuylkill River, a source of drinking water for approximately 1.5 million people.  Previous winning projects include building a campus rain garden, planting trees near a creek, and creating and filming short public service announcements about keeping our rivers clean.

Students in kindergarten through college are eligible for a prize, but only if you enter by March 2, 2012 in one of four age categories (elementary, middle, high school and college).  Teachers, students, parents and community members can nominate a class, an individual college student or a campus club!

The Schuylkill Action Network (SAN) is a collaboration of more than one hundred organizations and individuals, including EPA Region 3, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Philadelphia Water Department, the Delaware River Basin Commission, and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.  The goal of the SAN is to improve the water resources of the Schuylkill River watershed.

To learn more about the annual awards, including nomination criteria, or to nominate your class or student leader online, visit: http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=v6qlnbcab&oeidk=a07e5425qmq59cca5d3

Remember, the deadline for nominations is March 2, 2012.

In the meantime, share your comments below about what you do to keep the Schuylkill River clean.

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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