Area of Concern

Farm Conservation Practices are Working in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Farmers are implementing conservation practices that are both good for their business and improving water quality

Farmers are implementing conservation practices that are both good for their business and improving water quality

by Kelly Shenk

As the agricultural advisor for EPA’s mid-Atlantic region, I’ve had the opportunity to accompany the EPA mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator in talks with farmers throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed through roundtable discussions and tours of their farms. We’ve observed their successes, challenges, and opportunities.  It’s encouraging to see how engaged farmers are in implementing conservation practices that are both good for their business and improving water quality.

Last month the Chesapeake Bay Program reported that pollution controls put in place over the last four years have resulted in an estimated 7% reduction of nitrogen, 11% reduction of phosphorus, and 6% reduction of sediment in the Bay Watershed.

Agriculture is responsible for about one-third of these reductions because producers have stepped up their conservation practices such as cover crops that take up residual nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil after crops are harvested. Other effective conservation practices include tillage that prevents nutrients and sediment from running off of cropland; and fencing to keep cows out of streams.

While this progress is encouraging, there’s still much that needs doing to restore the Bay.  Using 2009 as a baseline, the Chesapeake Bay TMDL or pollution diet calls for having measures in place by 2017 to achieve at least 60 percent of the pollution reductions necessary for restoring the Bay to water quality standards.  The Bay jurisdictions are in the process of achieving this objective through upgrading of wastewater treatment plants and septic systems, increased implementation of agricultural conservation practices, improving urban stormwater management, and addressing air pollution sources. All sources are tackling their share of the challenge

The pace of the Bay jurisdictions’ pollution reduction efforts will get quicker moving forward.  For agriculture, I think the keys to success are strong state programs, targeted federal and state financial and technical assistance, incentives that engage more producers, and continued innovation.

We’re encouraged by some of the progress that’s already being made.  We are seeing increased financing for high priority practices promoted by the States such as stream exclusion and cover crops.  States are strengthening their programs for addressing water quality concerns from small animal operations.  We’re also seeing incentives such as Ag Certainty programs to engage more producers in conservation practices.

In my time out in the field, I am always inspired at the creativity and innovation of farmers.  With a good knowledge of the States’ pollution reduction goals, targeted financial and technical assistance, and the flexibility to reach water quality goals in a way that works for their business, I’m confident they can get the job done.  But it will take all of us working together in all sectors, building on the progress that we’ve made thus far, and staying on track to reaching our goals of restoring our local waters and the magnificence of the Chesapeake Bay.

Kelly Shenk is EPA Region III’s Agricultural Advisor

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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It’s all about the Network: Funding Agricultural Practices that Restore Clean Water

A network of technical professionals visit a PA dairy farm that received financial assistance to install agricultural conservation practices which are good for business and local water quality.

A network of technical professionals visit a PA dairy farm that received financial assistance to install agricultural conservation practices which are good for business and local water quality.

 

by Kelly Shenk

 If you are a farmer in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, there are some great workshops providing information on ways to finance conservation practices to restore local waters and the Chesapeake Bay. The University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center  is holding a series of Agricultural Finance Workshops in Delaware and West Virginia and the Upper Susquehanna region in Pennsylvania later this year.  In January and February, I participated in the Ag Finance workshops that were held in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and found them extremely informative.

These workshops provide a wealth of knowledge about programs to assist in reducing nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution. I learned that while funding is available, certain procedures need to be followed closely.  Some of the types of funding available include: USDA Farm Bill funding; state agricultural cost share funding; federal and state loan programs; public and private grant programs; and tax credits.  There are also creative ways to combine these funding mechanisms that reduce the amount you, as a farmer, would pay.

Take for example, fencing in the Shenandoah Valley. Fencing is a low-tech way to protect waterways by keeping cattle out of streams. There are a number of programs to help fund stream exclusion and we heard about several at the workshop:  Farm Bill programs, the VA agricultural cost share program that covers up to 100% of the cost of stream exclusion, and other programs for farmers who need more flexibility in the type of fence and width of buffer installed. There’s even a program to pay farmers $1 for every foot of fence they have paid for themselves to cover the maintenance costs.

 The workshop presenters are familiar with each other’s programs, so they know how to “piggy back” programs to minimize the cost to farmers.  Most importantly, they know the producers in their region and understand their issues.  They discuss the available options with the farmer, decide on a plan of action, and then identify the program or mix of funding programs that will meet the farmer’s needs.  With this approach, the technical network helps farmers address issues with the least amount of cost, hassle, paperwork, and confusion.

I left these workshops encouraged by the dedicated cadre of technical professionals that are out in the field every day working with farmers to find solutions to protecting water quality while keeping farmers farming.

For more information on future workshops, contact:  Jill Jefferson, University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center, at jilljeff@umd.edu.

 

Kelly Shenk is EPA Region III’s Agricultural Advisor. 

 

 

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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Now featuring…water in the movies!

Brandywine River

Brandywine River

By Jennie Saxe

If you – like much of the mid-Atlantic region – have been cooped up during this relentless winter, you might find yourself looking for some movies to watch to pass the time until spring arrives. If you have an interest in water, there are some great water-related movies that you can snuggle up to on a snow day.

One of the classics is Chinatown (1974), billed primarily as a drama. Beyond the human drama of the film, there is a serious look at disputes over water in early 20th century southern California. A Civil Action (1998) focuses on the dangers of groundwater contamination. A more contemporary film, Quantum of Solace (2008), is an action movie that weaves in the theme of the increasing value of water.

If you’ve already seen all of these great films, why not pass the time by making your own movie? EPA is sponsoring a “Climate Change in Focus” video contest for middle school students. Since many of the effects of a changing climate will impact water resources, perhaps there’s a chance that these videos will be the next water-focused blockbuster film. Budding scientists and aspiring filmmakers can get more information on EPA’s A Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change website. The mid-Atlantic region has no shortage of important waters that can serve as inspiration for a video masterpiece.

Are you inspired to submit a video for the contest? Do you have any other water-related movies to suggest?

Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and is currently a Water Policy Analyst in the Water Protection Division of EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. When not in the office, Jennie enjoys spending time with her husband and 2 children and cheering for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.

 

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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Saving Water and Energy – the Trickle Down Effect on Your Wallet

By Matt Colip and Walter Higgins

Just like homeowners, wastewater and drinking water treatment facilities have to control their energy usage because their budgets are so tight.  While you and I can install attic insulation or turn off lights when they aren’t in use to lower bills, plans for reducing energy use can be a little more complicated at water and wastewater treatment facilities. Still, there are many strategies available to reduce energy usage at water treatment facilities.  Oh, and you can help too.

One way a treatment facility can trim down its energy use is to start from the source and reduce the overall community demand for drinking water and waste water to be treated.  Less water used in communities means a lower cost to you on your water and sewer bill.  By promoting the use of water efficient WaterSense products and water conservation practices by the citizens within their service area, water utilities can reduce energy use significantly. Just think about how much less water facilities would have to treat and the energy that could be conserved if all of us used even a little less!

Have you ever driven by a waste water plant and noticed a large flame coming off one of the stacks?  That’s gas that is produced in the operations of the plant and is typically burned off.  Instead of flaring, it can be beneficially used to run turbines that can generate heat and electricity for the plant (otherwise known as Combined Heat and Power).  Also, some facilities are beginning to install solar photovoltaic panels on the plant grounds to offset the total electricity used by the plant.

On May 8th, EPA, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, hosted an Energy Roundtable Conference in Harrisburg for wastewater treatment operators interested in reducing their facilities’ energy costs and ultimately their carbon footprint.  This conference highlighted several areas related to energy efficiency along with innovative solutions to wastewater treatment.

Interested in hearing more about what happened at the conference? The presentations can be found on our website. For additional information, please contact Walter Higgins at Higgins.walter@epa.gov, or by phone at 215-814-5476.

About the Authors: Matt Colip works in the region’s NPDES Enforcement Branch and focuses primarily on enforcing wastewater and stormwater regulations. Originally a Texan, turned Pennsylvanian, Matt graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., with a BA in Special Studies – Public Health and is currently working on an MS in Environmental Protection Management at Saint Joseph’s University. Walter Higgins is in Region 3′s Water Protection Division where he manages grants that fund water quality and drinking water projects.  He is also involved in working with water and wastewater facilities on energy efficiency and has been with EPA since 2010.  Prior to EPA he was a soil scientist with the Montgomery County Health Department, in Pa.

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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Have an Idea for Urban Waters?

Click here to visit the EPA Urban Waters web site.By Catherine King

Do you have an idea that could restore urban waters but you need funding?  This could be your opportunity.

EPA recently announced it will provide up to $1.8 million for projects across the country to protect Americans’ health and restoring urban waters, by improving water quality and revitalizing communities.

The funding is part of EPA’s Urban Waters program which helps communities access, improve and benefit from their urban waters.  Urban waters are canals, rivers, lakes, wetlands, aquifers, estuaries, bays and oceans.  Examples of projects eligible for funding include:

·        training for water quality improvement or green infrastructure jobs,

·        educating about ways to reduce water pollution,

·        monitoring local water quality,

·        engaging diverse stakeholders to develop local watershed plans, or

·        promoting local water quality and community revitalization goals.

A web-based seminar on this funding opportunity will be held on January 5, 2012.  Proposals must be received by EPA by January 23, 2012.  Awards are expected to be made in the summer of 2012.  More information about these urban waters small grants and registration for the webinars is available on our national website.

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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Bay Website Focuses on Action

By Tom Damm

Click here to view a brochure produced by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee featuring examples of local actions to cut nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution.

There’s a new look to EPA’s Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet” website.

The pollution diet, or Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), was established by EPA in December 2010, based largely on action plans provided by the watershed’s six states and the District of Columbia.

The website now has a greater focus on activities at the local level happening around the 64,000-square-mile Bay watershed to reduce pollution impacting the Bay and its vast network of connecting rivers and streams.

One of the new additions is a brochure produced by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee featuring examples of local actions to cut nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution.

Check out those case studies and the other new items on the site, and let us know what you think.

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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And the Winners are…

By Tom Damm

appsforenv

The most ‘app’ealing entries in EPA’s Apps for the Environment challenge have been announced.

We gave you a heads up about the challenge in a blog post earlier this year. Click here to read it.

The challenge encouraged new and innovative uses of EPA’s data to create apps that address environmental and public health issues.  Developers from across the country created apps with information on a variety of topics, including water protection.   A few even developed games to help people learn environmental facts.

Click this link for information about the winning entries and other submissions. http://appsfortheenvironment.challenge.gov/submissions

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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An Rx for Unused Pills

Click here to get EPA tips on how to dispose of your medicine.By Brian Hamilton

If you’re like most Americans, you may have some expired or unused medicines sitting in your house and you’re not sure what to do with them.

The Drug Enforcement Administration knows this is a big problem.   That’s why the DEA is hosting a National Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, October 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at many different municipal locations.   Last year, nearly 4,000 local agencies participated in the event and collected over 309 tons of pills.

So what does this have to do with Healthy Waters?

Prescription and over-the-counter drugs poured down the drain or flushed down the toilet can pass through wastewater treatment plants and enter rivers and lakes, which may serve as sources downstream for community drinking water supplies.  In homes that use septic tanks, medicines flushed down the toilet can leach into the ground and seep into ground water.

In addition to the National Drug Take Back Day, check with your municipal or county government’s household trash and recycling service to see if there are other drug take-back programs available in your community.

Click here to learn more about the National Drug Take Back Day and find take back locations. Also click here to get EPA tips on how to dispose of your medicine.

About the Author: Brian Hamilton works in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support at Region 3. He helps manage the Healthy Waters Blog, and assists in reviewing mining permits and does other duties as assigned. Brian grew up in Central Pennsylvania. He has worked for the EPA since July 2010.

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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