Aquatic Health/Habitat Use

Save the shellfish

by Jennie Saxe

Oysters and other shellfish are at risk due to ocean acidification

Oysters and other shellfish are at risk due to ocean acidification

On a recent visit to Washington D.C., I had the opportunity to try eating raw oysters for the first time. Though I found the first slurp slimy, the texture quickly gave way to amazing taste: some were briny, some were almost sweet. Needless to say, the oysters disappeared quickly. But my beloved shellfish are in peril, according to this recent study. The culprit? Ocean acidification.

What is ocean acidification? Here’s a quick science lesson: gases have the tendency to “dissolve” into liquids until they reach a stable state between the liquid and the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, or CO2, released from power generation, transportation, industry, and other sources, behaves in just this way.

As CO2 levels in the atmosphere increase, a portion of the CO2 enters the oceans, where it creates carbonic acid, increasing acidity. Increased acidity (or, a drop in pH) makes it harder for shellfish to make their shells out of calcium carbonate. If the shellfish can’t thrive, that negatively affects the marine organisms and processes that depend on them, as well as an economy and a way of life that we recently featured in this blog.

We recently described how cleaner air can mean cleaner water. Ocean acidification is another example of how air quality and water quality are closely linked. By reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere, we can reduce the impact of ocean acidification on oysters and other aquatic resources.

So take a look at what you can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – you’ll also help ensure a healthy marine ecosystem, a strong fishing economy, and delicious seafood dinners for generations to come.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She encourages everyone interested in seafood safety to check out the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fact sheet on selecting and serving seafood, as well as this advice from EPA and FDA on fish consumption and mercury.

 

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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Clean Bay Critical to Watermen Then and Now

Watermen Culling Oysters in the  Chesapeake Bay Credit to Library of Congress LC-USF34-014482-D)

Credit: Library of Congress

by Bonnie Lomax

Each year, the nation celebrates African American History Month, dedicating the month of February as a formal and themed opportunity to recognize and celebrate the contributions and the rich history of African-Americans. This year’s theme is “A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture.

As an African-American and an amateur genealogist, I often think about my own family history and how my ancestors may have lived a hundred or more years ago. The United States Censuses of 1900 and 1910 list my maternal ancestors and their children as living in the communities of Dames Quarter, Ewell, and Chance, in Somerset County, bordering the Chesapeake Bay on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. My great-grandfather and his sons were all listed in occupation as oystermen or watermen, earning a living harvesting oysters on the Chesapeake Bay.

Most likely, my ancestors and others would have faced many difficult challenges in their day-to-day lives. Their work required being away from home and family, spending extended periods of time on the water, often exposed to harsh weather conditions. Yet for them and the other early 20th century watermen, the waters of the Chesapeake Bay provided a kind of home, as well as a source of stability and income. In fact, their way of life depended on a clean and healthy Bay.

Today, the nation’s largest estuary continues to support many people’s livelihoods. (Check out this photo essay exploring the life of modern-day Chesapeake Bay watermen). However, like many ecosystems, the Bay faces enormous environmental challenges, including nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution, and the consequences of a changing climate.

Last year, EPA and its state, federal, and non-profit partners signed the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, setting goals, outcomes and management strategies to guide the restoration of the Bay, its tributaries and the lands around them. That followed the establishment in 2010 of the Chesapeake Bay Blueprint for Restoration, or Bay TMDL, designed to ensure that all pollution control measures needed to fully restore the Bay and its tidal rivers are in place by 2025.

While government commitment is essential, individual actions can have a huge impact on the Bay. Check here for a list of simple everyday steps you can take to help the Bay.

Just as it was 100 years ago, the Chesapeake Bay continues to play a vital role in the lives of millions. The steps we take today are crucial in preserving this important resource – and its culture and history – for future generations.

 

About the author: Bonnie Lomax is the Communications Coordinator for the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division of EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region.

 

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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Cleaner Air Means Cleaner Water

by Tom Damm

photo credited to Eric Vance, EPA

Photo credit: Eric Vance, EPA

So, what does cleaner air as far away as Indiana have to do with cleaner water in the Chesapeake Bay? Plenty.

A sizable portion of the overload in nitrogen in the Bay and its surrounding waters comes from tailpipes and smokestacks in a vast area that extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the mid-West and from North Carolina to a lower slice of Canada – and even beyond.

The nitrogen pollution is carried by winds and falls directly or washes into the Bay’s waters, contributing to algal blooms that rob oxygen in water needed by fish and other aquatic life to survive.

The good news is that actions by EPA and its state partners under the Clean Air Act have led to big reductions in those airborne nitrogen oxides, or NOx.

In putting together an EPA fact sheet on the topic, we found that two side-by-side graphics were most telling.

One shows the degree of nitrogen air pollution affecting the Chesapeake Bay watershed in 1986. The other shows the state of the air in 2013. It’s as if someone lifted a dark overlay.

That’s a big deal because scientists estimate that as much as a third of the nitrogen polluting the Bay comes from the air.

The fact sheet lists some of the Clean Air Act rules that have led to the sharp declines in NOx pollution. It also highlights figures that show EPA is on track to meet air pollution reduction goals in the Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet.”

And it’s not only the Chesapeake that benefits from the decrease in NOx pollution. Coastal waters from Long Island Sound to estuaries all along the Gulf Coast benefit from reduced nitrogen loads from the air.

You can do your part, too, to help brighten the picture. When possible, walk, bike or take public transportation to reduce vehicle emissions that pollute the air – and water.

 

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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Taking out the Trash

by Tom Damm

 

Trash and litter in our waterways can be harmful to our health, the environment, and the economy.

Trash and litter in our waterways can be harmful to our health, the environment, and the economy.

When EPA representatives met with 4th graders in Maryland last year to observe their work as “stream stewards,” many of the students had the same comment – there’s too much trash in the water.

One young girl told us, “People need to protect our world from getting dirty…because some people throw trash on the ground and they don’t pick it up so we need to tell them to recycle so we don’t get pollution in the water.”

That’s the basic idea – although in far more technical terms – behind steps taken by the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia under the Clean Water Act to control trash impacting two major rivers – the Anacostia and the Patapsco.

Trash and debris washed or dumped into our waterways pose more than aesthetic problems. They’re a serious health hazard to people, wildlife and fish and can have economic impacts. Trash harms birds and marine life who consume small pieces, mistaking them for food. In fact, a shard of a plastic DVD case was identified as the cause of the recent death of an endangered sei whale in Virginia’s Elizabeth River. Some of the waste contains chemicals and pathogens that affect water quality.

In 2010, the Maryland and District of Columbia environmental agencies combined to develop strict pollution limits, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), for trash in the Anacostia River. It was the first – and is still the only – interstate trash TMDL in the country.

And then earlier this month, EPA approved a TMDL submitted by the Maryland Department of the Environment for parts of the Patapsco River to deal with trash problems in Baltimore area streams and its famous harbor. The department worked closely with the City and County of Baltimore and with environmental stakeholders on the final product.

One of the ways trash is already being removed from Baltimore Harbor is through an innovative water wheel that collects it. Check out this video and story to see how it works.

And visit this site for tips on what you can do to keep trash out of waterways.

 

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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Make Purple Your Favorite Color!

Purple pipes offer an easy way to distinguish recycled water from the potable water distribution system.

Purple pipes offer an easy way to distinguish recycled water from the potable water distribution system.

by Alysa Suero

What comes to mind when you think of purple? Likely you conjure images of grapes, flowers, or your favorite socks. How about a purple pipe? Most states require pipes to be colored purple if they carry reclaimed water. Reclaimed water is an important component in water conservation and one that is rapidly gaining in popularity for many uses.

Reclaimed, or recycled, water is highly treated wastewater that’s used again for a variety of purposes such as irrigation, industrial processes, and cooling towers. Often the treated water flows through purple pipes to the end user. Purple pipes offer an easy way to distinguish recycled water from the potable water distribution system.

There are many benefits to using reclaimed water. Using it for golf course irrigation or toilet flushing, for example, reduces the demand on our fresh water resources, reduces the nitrogen loading to the watershed from the wastewater treatment plant, and offers the end user a financial savings since it’s often cheaper to use reclaimed water than to operate a ground water well or purchase potable water from the local water supplier. It also saves energy that would otherwise be used to treat raw water at a drinking water treatment plant.

Reclaimed water in those purple pipes isn’t just for physical processes, either. Highly treated reclaimed water can be used to indirectly augment drinking water sources. In the mid-Atlantic, the Upper Occoquan Sewage Authority has been discharging recycled water into a stream above the Occoquan Reservoir since 1978. The sewage authority can send as much as 54 million gallons per day to the reservoir ensuring that a potable water supply source is consistently ready to serve Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria, Virginia.

As an individual, you don’t need a purple pipe to recycle water in your own home. Try watering your garden with rain water collected in a barrel. Feed your houseplants with water from your half-full water glass instead of pouring it down the drain. Every time we reuse water, whether through purple pipes from a wastewater treatment plant or even in our own home, we’re taking another step to conserve our precious water resources, and that’s a “plum” reward we can all appreciate.

About the author: Alysa Suero is a licensed professional geologist in the Water Protection Division’s Drinking Water Branch. When not in the office, Alysa, who was recently married, enjoys cooking, family game night, organizing closets, and caring for her two rabbits.

 

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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And the Best Supporting Role Goes To…

by Bonnie Turner-Lomax

 

Waterways with “celebrity” status rely on the supporting roles of countless unnamed waterways and wetlands.

Waterways with “celebrity” status rely on the supporting roles of countless unnamed waterways and wetlands.

Waterways with “celebrity” status rely on the supporting roles of countless unnamed waterways and wetlands.

No trip to Los Angeles is complete without a visit to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Hundreds of stars are embedded into the sidewalk along Hollywood Boulevard, honoring countless celebrities, past and present. These well-known Hollywood stars have kept us on the edge of our seats; made us laugh, cry, and sometimes scared the wits out of us.

Yet it takes a cast of hundreds–sometimes thousands–to make these celebrities shine. Their names may not be readily recognized, but these professionals working in supporting roles and behind the scenes are essential to our movie-going experience.

There are many “celebrity” waterways in the Mid-Atlantic Region like the Chesapeake Bay, the Delaware, and the Potomac, which are well known for their beauty, recreational opportunities, and the economic benefits they provide to surrounding communities. But like Hollywood celebrities, their stardom is dependent on the supporting roles of countless unknown and unnamed streams, wetlands, and headwaters.

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it didn’t just defend the “big star“ waters. It also protected the smaller streams and wetlands that flow into rivers and lakes. The law recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need healthy headwaters upstream.

This March, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule that clarifies Clean Water Act protection for waters that are vital to our health and our economy. Science shows what kinds of streams and wetlands impact water downstream, so our proposal insures that these waters will be protected.

One in 3 Americans – 117 million of us – get our drinking water from streams, creeks, and wetlands currently lacking clear protection. Safeguarding smaller streams is also crucial for our economy in areas like tourism, manufacturing, energy, recreation and agriculture.

If you’ve ever viewed the credits at the end of a movie, you are taking time to recognize the many behind-the-scenes people for the roles they played in a production. Your comments on the proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule help us give “credit” to important roles these waterways play in our lives. EPA is accepting comments on the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule until October 20.

 

About the author: Bonnie Turner-Lomax is the communications coordinator for the Region’s Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division. She enjoys theater, traveling, and taking in a good movie.

 

 

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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Road Tripping Through Watersheds

Road trips are a great way to take in scenery like this.

Road trips are a great way to take in scenery like this.

by Bonnie Turner-Lomax

All across the country Americans enjoy taking to the road to popular vacation spots; visiting family or friends; or on day-trips to favorite destinations. My husband and I recently completed what has been an annual ritual for the last four years…driving my daughter from our home in New Jersey to college, just outside Pittsburgh.

The roughly five hour road trip (each way) covers almost the entire east-west length of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, taking us from one end of the state to the other. The more than 300-mile journey is an experience of spectacular and varied scenery from the densely populated and urbanized Philadelphia suburbs to the rolling hills, mountains and valleys of the western end of the state.

More than half of the trip goes through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. A watershed is an area of land that drains into a particular river, lake, bay or other body of water. Encompassing 64,000 square miles, with more than 17 million people living in its midst, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is one of largest watersheds in the country. It is supported by thousands of smaller creeks, streams and rivers. Each of these smaller waterways has its own watershed, sometimes referred to as sub or local watersheds.

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it didn’t just defend the big mighty waters like the Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River, or the Great Lakes, it also protected the smaller streams and wetlands that flow into rivers and lakes. The law recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need healthy headwaters upstream.

Under the Clean Water Act, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule, in March that strengthens protection for clean water that’s vital to our health and our economy. Science shows what kinds of streams and wetlands impact water downstream – so our proposal says that these waters should be protected.

One in 3 Americans—117 million of us—get our drinking water from streams, creeks, and wetlands currently lacking clear protection. Safeguarding smaller streams is also crucial for our economy in areas like tourism, manufacturing, energy, recreation and agriculture.

So even when “just driving through” an area, be mindful that actions in one place can impact waterways hundreds of miles away.

 

About the author: Bonnie Turner-Lomax is the communications coordinator for the Region’s Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division. She enjoys theater, traveling, and taking long road trips with her family.

 

 

 

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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Recreating Pennsylvania’s Past Along the Lehigh River

Whether you prefer biking or kayaking, there are lots of great places for recreation on mid-Atlantic waterways.

Whether you prefer biking or kayaking, there are lots of great places for recreation on mid-Atlantic waterways.

by Virginia Thompson

On a beautiful mid-July day, my husband and I biked the 25-mile Lehigh Gorge Trail along the Lehigh River in the Lehigh Gorge State Park. Donning our helmets and supplied with, food and drinking water, we started at White Haven and traveled downstream through the Pocono Mountains to Jim Thorpe, PA – following the same ground as the “Iron Horse” that pulled logs and coal for fueling America’s industrial growth.

Along the way, we saw remnants of the canals and locks dating back to the nineteenth century that helped move goods to large urban areas, such as Philadelphia. While the area was mostly known for lumbering and coal, it was also widely recognized for its scenic beauty. Wildlife was so abundant in this area that John Audubon visited Jim Thorpe in 1829 to sketch.

Biking along, I imagined what scenery folks riding the rails might have seen in those days. Just then, I saw several railroad tracks tucked between a wall of rock of Mount Pisgah and the river. Unbeknown to me, one of the tracks was still active and I was startled by a train coming around the bend, demonstrating the power of “rails with trails.”

Though over-logging and catastrophic fires have reduced many of the communities that relied on lumber and shipping to distant memories, the beauty, history and recreational opportunities offered by some of these towns have granted them a kind of twenty-first century rebirth.

For example, the economy of Jim Thorpe, formerly Mauch Chunk (“sleeping bear” to the Leni Lenape Indians, who resided there), is now based largely on its water-oriented recreational resources. In addition to bicycling like we did, white-water rafting down the Lehigh River is also a popular option.

But, while we’ve seen significant improvement in the quality of our rivers and streams in the four-plus decades since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, many of our waterways remain impaired by pollution. Whether you are white-water rafting, kayaking, or enjoying our rivers and streams in other ways, there are resources to help you find out about water quality in the area you plan to visit.

You can check the lists of impaired waters prepared by your state, or put technology to use by downloading apps that tell you what, if any impairments, impact a particular body of water.

Do you check on water quality before you head out for water-related recreation? Let us know what tools you find most useful!

 

About the author: Virginia Thompson hails from northeastern Pennsylvania and is the EPA Region 3 Coordinator for the Exchange Network, a partnership of federal and state governments providing improved access to environmental data to make better and more timely decisions.

 

 

 

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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Rain is Natural, But Run-Off is Not

by Andrea Bennett

Potted daylilies and ivy in a parking area help transform an impermeable surface into one that captures rainwater.

Potted plants in a parking area help transform an impermeable surface into one that captures rainwater.

While we know that forests, meadows, and other plantings help slow the flow of rainwater and filter out pollutants, some towns (including mine) still have zoning laws prohibiting homeowners from replacing impermeable surfaces with vegetation.

These ordinances may not make the most sense from an environmental standpoint, but they can inspire homeowners to get creative about adapting impervious surfaces around the house to absorb rainfall and prevent polluted run-off.

For example, in my case, I realized that putting plants on top of an impermeable surface, mimicking more natural ground cover, could make a real difference. The daylilies and ivy we now have in our parking area are helping to soak up rain before it becomes run-off.

When rain falls onto impervious surfaces that have pet waste, leaked oil, and lawn chemicals, they transport that polluted run-off to local creeks and rivers. By keeping the rain from contacting the pollution on land, or slowing down the movement of polluted stormwater, we give our local waterways a better chance of staying healthy.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension has crunched the numbers on how much runoff a medium-size house and lot in Virginia could generate, and they might surprise you.

They found that a 1,600 square foot roof and 750 square feet of driveway and sidewalks results in a total of 2,350 square feet of impervious surface. With just a half-inch of rain, more than 700 gallons of water would run off – enough to fill about 15 bathtubs! During a bigger or longer storm event, even more rain would turn to run-off.

There are even more ways to keep rain from turning into polluted run-off. Around your home, you could build a rain garden; install permeable surfaces; sweep your driveways and walkways; pick up litter; and fix oil and antifreeze leaks from automobiles.

As for me, I plan to install a rain barrel to help capture rainwater to reuse in my yard. Keep an eye out for local rain barrel workshops in your town: these workshops explain how to construct a rain barrel from a plastic 55-gallon drum, so you can use the water it collects to water plants.

What else can you do around your home to make sure rain doesn’t turn into polluted run-off? Let us know in the comments.

 

About the Author: Andrea Bennett is a biologist with EPA. Andrea enjoys birding, kayaking and playing the mandolin and she is a member of her local watershed protection team.

 

 

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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Our Friends, the Freshwater Mussels

Freshwater mussels found the Brandywine River

Freshwater mussels found in the Brandywine River

by Andrea Bennett

No, we can’t eat them, but they are kind of cute – as far as mussels go. And these little bivalves do something that we could only do if we spent millions of dollars constructing a filtration plant: they filter out pollution from our drinking water sources. In fact, one adult mussel can filter up to 15 gallons of water per day; a 6-mile stretch of mussel beds can filter out over 25 tons of particulates per year!

Mussels are sometimes referred to as “biosentinels” – a living indicator of the presence of chemical contaminants or microbial pathogens. Because the presence of freshwater mussels means that a watershed is healthy, they provide a low-cost way to monitor water quality.

I was lucky enough to go on a mussel monitoring outreach event in the Brandywine River with The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary. We visited a land-locked pond near the Brandywine, where we found adult eastern floater mussels, which can live to over 70 years old! We also found younger mussels – about 8 years old – but no “babies.” We then went to the Brandywine River, where we found eastern elliptio, but unfortunately, no young mussels. At both places, we found corroded and disintegrating shells.

Back in the early 1900s, there were about 14 species of native freshwater mussels in the Delaware River Basin. Now, it’s difficult to find anything but eastern elliptio in the Delaware watershed. Most importantly, you can’t find juveniles. Mussels reproduce by releasing larvae, called glochidia, which attach to the gills or fins of fish (the fish don’t know they are there). In about 3 weeks, the glochidia fall off the fish to grow into juvenile mussels. Research shows that mussels are still releasing the glochidia, but the juveniles are not surviving.

Scientists from the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, with support from EPA and other agencies, are looking into what’s making it difficult for freshwater mussels to reproduce and survive. In 2013, EPA published new recommendations for how much ammonia can be in surface water. These recommendations will help states work with dischargers and sources of non-point source pollution to better protect aquatic life, especially freshwater mussels.

You can get involved too! The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary has freshwater mussel volunteer monitoring activities. If you’re in southwestern Virginia, you might be interested in projects in the Clinch River, which has more freshwater mussel species than any other river in North America.

Protecting these small, barely noticeable aquatic animals – so they can live, reproduce, and filter the water – also protects us, by improving the quality of our waterways.

 

About the author: Andrea Bennett is a biologist with EPA. Andrea enjoys birding, kayaking and playing the mandolin and she is a member of her local watershed protection team.

 

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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