Clean Water

Reasons We Need the Clean Water Rule

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy

Today, EPA and the Army are finalizing a Clean Water Rule to protect the streams and wetlands we rely on for our health, our economy, and our way of life.

As summer kicks off, many of us plan to be outside with our friends and families fishing, paddling, surfing, and swimming. And for the lakes and rivers we love to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them have to be clean, too. That’s just one of many reasons why this rule is so important. Here are several more:

Clean water is vital to our health. One in three Americans get drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection from pollution without the Clean Water Rule. Finalizing the rule helps protect 117 million Americans’ health.

Our economy depends on clean water. Major economic sectors—from manufacturing and energy production to agriculture, food service, tourism, and recreation—depend on clean water to function and flourish. Without clean water, business grinds to a halt—a reality too many local small business owners faced in Toledo last year when drinking water became contaminated for several days.

Clean water helps farms thrive, and the rule preserves commonsense agriculture exemptions. Farms across America depend on clean and reliable water for livestock, crops, and irrigation. Activities like planting, harvesting, and moving livestock across streams have long been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation; the Clean Water Rule doesn’t change that. The final rule doesn’t create any new permitting requirements for agriculture, maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions, and even adds exclusions for features like artificial lakes and ponds, water-filled depressions from construction, and grass swales—all to make clear our goal is to stay out of agriculture’s way. Just like before, a Clean Water Act permit is only needed if a water is going to be polluted or destroyed—and all exemptions for agriculture stay in place.

Climate change makes protection of water resources even more essential. Impacts from climate change like more intense droughts, storms, fires, and floods—not to mention warmer temperatures and sea level rise—threaten our water supplies. But healthy streams and wetlands can protect communities by trapping floodwaters, retaining moisture during droughts, recharging groundwater supplies, filtering pollution, and providing habitat for fish and wildlife. With states like California in the midst of historic drought, it’s more important than ever that we protect the clean water we’ve got.

Clear protections mean cleaner water. The Clean Water Act has protected our health for more than 40 years—and helped our nation clean up hundreds of thousands of miles of polluted waterways. But Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 threw protections into question for 60 percent of our nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands. Using the latest science, this rule clears up the confusion, providing greater certainty for the first time in more than a decade about which waters are important to protect.

Science shows us the most important waters to protect. In developing the Clean Water Rule, the Agencies used the latest science, including a report summarizing more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies—which showed small streams and wetlands play an important role in the health of larger downstream waterways like rivers and lakes.

You asked for greater clarity. Members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, scientists, and the public called on EPA and the Army to clarify which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act. With this rule, the agencies are responding to those requests and addressing the Supreme Court decisions. EPA and the Army held hundreds of meetings with stakeholders across the country, reviewed over a million public comments, and listened carefully to perspectives from all sides. All of this input shaped and improved the final rule we’re announcing today.

Just as importantly, there are lots of things the rule doesn’t do. The rule only protects waters historically covered under the Clean Water Act. It doesn’t interfere with private property rights, and it only covers water—not land use. It also doesn’t regulate most ditches, doesn’t regulate groundwater or shallow subsurface flows, and doesn’t change policy on irrigation or water transfers.

These are just a few of the many reasons why clean water and this rule are important—learn more here, and share yours with #CleanWaterRules.

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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Protecting Clean Water

By Robert Goo

Clean water is important to me because understanding how to protect water resources is my job and enjoying water activities is my favorite hobby. As an environmental protection specialist for the EPA, my work centers on how to change the way we design our cities and manage our water resources.  In my personal life, I love being on the water, whether I’m swimming, surfing or paddling my large fleet of canoes, kayaks or paddleboards. I also volunteer for local water conservation organizations such as the Friends of Sligo Creek and Team River Runner which helps active duty and veteran service members heal through water paddle sports.  Since I spend so much time in the water I will be glad when the Clean Water Rule is finalized because it protects the streams and wetlands that flow down into the rivers where I paddle.

All my life I’ve been drawn to water — first as an explorer of streams as a child and then as an adolescent fisherman. As an adult, I spend much of my free time pursuing aquatic sports. Having clean water is very important to me as a diver, kayaker, surfer and paddle boarder since I am frequently immersed or under water. My daughter Kira often paddles and surfs with me and I don’t want her to get sick from sharing these activities with me.

Since I am in or on the river all year round,except when it’s frozen solid, I see how the seasons affect water quality and the flow of the Potomac River as it flows through Washington, D.C.  In the winter, the river is usually very clear and you can see its bottom. During spring and fall the creeks swell and the rains wash construction- and development-related sediment into the river.  As a result the water is often muddy and filled with debris, trash and plastic containers and pieces of polystyrene. When it’s 100 degrees outside, the river level drops and often turns green from algae growth that is stimulated by an excess of nutrients that wash into the river from lawns and farmlands.

I’m constantly reminded of how important clean water is because I’m in the water several times a week.  My passion for water motivates me to promote solutions that can protect and restore water resources while also achieving other societal goals. As I glide down the river or sit on a swell looking at the beach, it’s clear to me that forests and beaches represent natural design principles that can be incorporated into the way we build our cities and transportation systems. I see opportunities on almost every urban surface, whether  it’s a street, roof, lawn or sidewalk to put down  permeable pavement, plant a rain garden, add a green roof or a street tree that can filter pollutants and keep them from polluting the waters I swim and paddle in. I’m thankful for the opportunity to work on our agency solutions that I believe will become standard procedures in the future. The solutions will produce beautiful and multi-functional landscapes and buildings that simultaneously provide for our transportation needs, reduce energy use, increase our resilience to climate change and promote economic development and healthy communities.

About the author:  Robert Goo is an environmental protection specialist in the Office of Water in Washington, D.C. and his focus is promoting water sensitive designs using green infrastructure and low impact development approaches. Before coming to EPA, Robert worked as a programmer analyst at the University of Michigan’s Kresge Hearing Research Institute and at Washington University in Saint Louis, MO for the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. He lives in Takoma Park, Maryland with his daughter Kira who shares his love of snowboarding, mountain biking and surfing. He is also an avid community gardener and bikes to work year round.

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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Tell Us Why #CleanWaterRules

By Travis Loop

I’m lucky to work every day for clean water. It’s vital to everyone’s life and an important issue for our country. But, it’s especially fulfilling to work for clean water because it’s central to who I am as a person.

I’m a father. I have two young boys and their health and well-being is my top priority. They need clean water to drink at home, in school, and around the community. We live in Annapolis, Maryland, and spend plenty of time by the Chesapeake Bay and the streams, creeks, and rivers that feed into it. We want that water to be clean as we splash along the shoreline, kayak on the bay, or pitch a tent in camping areas.

1BoysInWater

I am a surfer. When I’m catching waves off places like Assateague Island in Maryland or Cape Fear in North Carolina I don’t want to get sick from pollution. Some of my surfing friends have had bad experiences in polluted waters because surfers spend more time in the water than regular beach goers, swimmers, and divers. Surfers know that even though the ocean is massive, the water along the coast can be impacted by pollution from rivers or bays, or runoff from city streets after a storm. Not cool.

2Surfing

I’m a dog owner. I have a chocolate lab who loves to jump in the water, whether it’s the heat of the summer or when there’s ice on the shoreline. Dogs can be vulnerable to certain pollutants also and they need to swim in clean water to protect their health. It’s awesome watching my sons delight in their dog charging in and out of the water, and then showering them as he shakes off.

3DogInWater

I’m a beer drinker. I enjoy sampling the amazing selection of microbrews produced in the U.S., from lagers and ales to porters and stouts. Beer is more than 90 percent water and brewers depend on a reliable supply of clean water to craft their products. But you don’t have to take my word for it – there is an alliance of brewers speaking out for clean water.

4Beer

So for all these reasons and more, I say that clean water rules.

My daily duties at my job have taught me so much about the protection of clean water. Despite the advanced knowledge gained at our agency, it still comes back to what I learned in elementary school – water flows downhill. We need clean water upstream to have clean water downstream. We can’t protect our rivers, lakes, and coastal waters if we don’t protect our streams and wetlands.

That’s why we’re finalizing the Clean Water Rule. Right now 60 percent of streams and millions of acres of wetlands aren’t clearly protected. We all live downstream and need that water to be clean.

People often ask me about the best thing they can do for clean water. I say to spread the word about how much it matters to you and your family and friends. Here is an easy way to do that:

  • Take a photo holding this #CleanWaterRules sign.
  • Post it to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with #CleanWaterRules and give your reason why.
  • Encourage family and friends to do the same.

#CleanWaterRules

I look forward to seeing how many of you agree that clean water rules.

About the author: Travis Loop is the Communications Director for EPA’s Office of Water in Washington, D.C. He previously worked on Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts at EPA’s Annapolis office and covered environmental issues as a newspaper reporter and editor in North Carolina and Hawaii.

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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Latest Science Informs Final Clean Water Rule

By Ken Kopocis

At EPA, we utilize the latest and best available science to inform our decisions. This extends to our rule to protect clean water that we are developing jointly with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We aim to release it in spring 2015.

This week our Office of Research and Development released its final assessment of the science on how streams and wetlands are connected and affect downstream waterways. Referred to as the connectivity report, it is a review of more than 1,200 pieces of independent, peer-reviewed, and published scientific literature.

In short, this research shows us how streams and wetlands impact the rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal waters they flow into. About 60 percent of stream miles in the U.S. only flow seasonally or after rain, but they have a considerable impact on downstream waters. And approximately 117 million people – one in three Americans – get their drinking water from public systems that rely on these streams. Streams and wetlands provide many benefits to communities – they trap floodwaters, recharge ground water supplies, remove pollution, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. They’re also economic drivers because they support fishing, hunting, agriculture, recreation, energy, and manufacturing. Science shows that these streams and wetlands are vital to our health and the environment, so we are committed to protecting them as we develop our final Clean Water Rule.

EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers wouldn’t finalize the Clean Water Rule until the final science report was available, but have factored in science findings throughout the process of drafting the Clean Water Rule, including:

  • Release of the draft connectivity report in 2013.
  • Input from EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board at public meetings in 2013 and 2014 and in written comments submitted by the SAB in October 2014.
  • Regular updates on changes to the connectivity report from our Office of Research and Development during fall 2014.

As our agencies work to finalize the Clean Water Rule, we are considering all scientific research we’ve reviewed in addition to the nearly 900,000 public comments that were submitted. We have listened carefully to the feedback from everyone on the draft proposal during the seven months it was open for comment. We greatly appreciate the valuable input and thoughtful suggestions, and will be making changes to the final rule as part of our commitment to getting it right. Our goal is to find a balance that reflects the best science, is reasonable for all parties, and protects the clean water we depend on.

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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The Importance of Effective Community Engagement for Sustainable Infrastructure

By Hiwot Gebremariam

Maintaining water infrastructure is a constant challenge, but effective community engagement practices can help. I am a first-hand witness of the usefulness of these practices. Growing up in Ethiopia, I saw community bathrooms and water wells properly maintained only when communities were appropriately consulted and empowered.

I notice parallel situations in my career, too. While working for the United Nations in 2009/2010 on promoting public-private partnerships, I remember a water and sewerage project in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania that failed because consumers were not properly consulted on user rates.

At EPA, I am part of the Infrastructure Task Force’s solid waste sub-workgroup that investigates strategies for engaging with American Indian/Alaska Native tribes and villages to promote sustainable solutions for solid waste issues, including open dumps. Indeed, evidence shows that utilities need to undertake effective community engagement to achieve sustainability goals.

This is also seen in some programs that I work on: the Clean Water Indian Set-Aside, Alaska Rural and Native Village Grant Program and the U.S.-Mexico Tribal Border Infrastructure Grant Program. The positive impacts of these programs, which increase access to safe drinking water and wastewater services, are being seen in public health and ecosystems’ improvements.

To sustainably maintain this infrastructure, effective community engagement practices are universally essential. Community engagement should consider communities’ specific needs, technical capacities, cultural and socioeconomic conditions. They should involve community members and social institutions at all phases in the decision-making process from the design, construction and completion to the operation and maintenance of projects.

At the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council public meeting held in early October this year, participants, including tribal representatives, echoed this argument. EPA is undertaking initiatives to enhance meaningful community engagement. As we observe Native American Heritage Month this November, I remain proud to participate in EPA’s initiatives that provide needed infrastructure in tribal areas and to work with people who constantly aim to make a difference.

About the author: Hiwot Gebremariam has two graduate degrees in economics and environmental science and policy analysis. She currently works as an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) research participant in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. She grew up in Ethiopia and now lives in Maryland with her husband and three boys.

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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A Plastic Problem in the Chesapeake

Maybe you’ve heard of “micro plastics.” They’re created when plastic products eventually break down into tiny particles that drift in our ocean waters and can be eaten by fish and other wildlife.

They’re a big problem globally, as is trash from plastic products in general. As much as 80 percent of trash in the ocean comes from sources on land, and up to 60 percent of this trash is plastic.

I got an offer from two conservation groups to tag along as they trawled the upper Chesapeake Bay waters to assess the extent of plastics pollution. As an oceanographer, I always cherish the days that I get to take my off my tie and get back out on the bay, so I was eager to join them.

I predicted that we wouldn’t find much. My theory was that the Chesapeake Bay is too dynamic, with its constant tides, winds and currents, as opposed to the somewhat quiet open ocean circulation patterns that can concentrate plastics pollution.

I was wrong.

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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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Local Government Officials Weigh in on the Clean Water Proposal

Across the country, thousands of local governments manage our nation’s water resources, so their input is critical to shaping our proposal to protect clean water. Last spring, Administrator McCarthy asked the 28 members of EPA’s Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) to provide frank and candid recommendations on how the clean water proposal intersects with the important issues and priorities facing local officials.

LGAC members came together to help the EPA “make the best rule possible.” The Agency and the LGAC absolutely share that goal, and that is what we seek to achieve by engaging with thousands of stakeholders before and during the public comment period.

I thank the LGAC members for their hard work and personal commitment in gathering input on the clean water proposal. On top of their regular responsibilities of managing cities and governing counties, they volunteered countless hours and traveled thousands of miles to engage with other state, local, and tribal leaders to craft a thorough report and set of recommendations. They sought input through a series of public meetings held in St. Paul, MN; Atlanta, GA; Tacoma, WA and Worcester, MA.

These meetings demonstrated overwhelming support from local officials for clean water and the EPA partnership with state, local, and tribal governments. Bob Dixson, Mayor of Greensburg, Kansas and chair of the LGAC, said that “The proposed Waters of the U.S. rule is an important tool for federal, state, tribal and local officials to use in our collaborative role in environmental stewardship.”

Susan Hann, City Manager of Palm Bay, Florida, found that “The EPA’s engagement with the LGAC broadened the community conversations regarding the proposed rule and is indicative of the Administrator’s call for a new era of partnerships.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed noted, “I know how vital it is to have the local voice heard at the federal level,” and he went on to say that “this is a critical time in which water is needed to strengthen our economy.”

On November 5, LGAC concluded its six-month review of the clean water proposal and passed its recommendations to Administrator McCarthy. Their report presents more than 50 recommendations to the Agency ranging from rule language, clarity of definitions, permitting innovation, and implementation.

Input from stakeholders is critical to our activities here at EPA and we gratefully receive the LGAC’s report, along with the comments of state, local, and tribal officials from around the country. They will certainly impact the final rule as the Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work to address concerns raised.

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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Green Infrastructure Helping to Transform Neighborhoods in Cleveland and Across the Nation

By Alisha Goldstein

By Alisha Goldstein

Every community wants clean water. And most communities would like more green space that allows residents to enjoy the outdoors and makes neighborhoods more attractive. Green infrastructure – a natural approach to managing rainwater with trees, rain gardens, porous pavements, and other elements – can help meet both these goals. It protects water quality while also beautifying streets, parking lots, and plazas, which attracts residents, visitors, and businesses.

This week, we are releasing a new report, Enhancing Sustainable Communities with Green Infrastructure, that can help communities develop a vision and a plan for green infrastructure that can transform their neighborhoods and bring multiple benefits. It can be useful to local governments, water utilities, sewer districts, nonprofits, neighborhood groups, and others interested in innovative approaches to managing stormwater to reduce flooding and bring other environmental, public health, social, and economic benefits.

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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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Do You Choose Clean Water?

By Travis Loop

Do you choose clean water? If so, we need your voice. And the voices of your friends.

Clean water is important – for drinking, swimming, and fishing. We need it for our communities, farms, and businesses. But right now, 60 percent of our streams and millions of acres of wetlands across the country aren’t clearly protected from pollution and destruction. In fact, one in three Americans—117 million of us—get our drinking water from streams that are vulnerable. To have clean water downstream in the rivers and lakes in our neighborhoods, we need healthy headwaters upstream. That’s why we’ve proposed to strengthen protection for our water.

We hope you’ll support our clean water proposal. To help you do that, and get your friends to also voice their support, we’re using a new tool called Thunderclap; it’s like a virtual flash mob.

Here’s how it works: you agree to let Thunderclap post a one-time message on your social networks (Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr) on Monday, September 29 at 2:00 pm EDT. If 500 or more people sign up to participate, the message will be posted on everyone’s walls and feeds at the same time. But if fewer than 500 sign up, nothing happens. So it’s important to both sign up and encourage others to do so.

Here’s the message we’re asking you to let us post on your behalf: “Clean water is important to me. I want EPA to protect it for my health, my family, and my community. www.epa.gov/USwaters”
To sum up, you can participate through these two steps:

  1. Sign up to join the Thunderclap for Clean Water: http://thndr.it/1rUOiaB
  2. Share the link to the Thunderclap with your friends and followers so we get at least 500 people sharing the message:
    a. Facebook
    b. Twitter
    c. Tumblr

Watch EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy talk about our proposal to protect clean water: http://bit.ly/1h5JgjW

Read about the proposal to protect clean water: epa.gov/uswaters



About the author: Travis Loop is the communications director for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He chooses clean water for his kids and for surfing.

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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Citizen Science Pathogen Monitoring in the NY/NJ Harbor Estuary Watershed

By Jim Ferretti

NY/NJ Baykeeper Lab

NY/NJ Baykeeper Lab

What’s the deal with bacteria?
Bacteria (along with soil erosion/runoff, and nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorus) are the leading types of pollution in our nation’s waterways. Pathogenic, or disease-causing microorganisms are associated with fecal waste and can cause a variety of diseases (typhoid, cholera, Cryptosporosis, etc) either through ingestion/contact with contaminated water or ingestion of shellfish. Not all bacteria are harmful (yogurt contains live bacteria cultures), but the presence of some indicator bacteria such as fecal coliforms and enterococci are a clue that potentially more harmful bacteria and viruses may be present in the water as well.

There are many different types of general pathogens that are dangerous to humans, including bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Measuring all of these potential harmful organisms is not practical, cost effective, and measuring methods are often complicated. Instead, specific surrogate bacteria (i.e., Fecal Coliforms, E. coli, and Enterococcus sp) that can be cultured or detected easily and can be related to the risk of human illness are used as “indicator” bacteria, because their presence indicates that fecal contamination may have occurred. The higher the number of indicator bacteria would increase the risk of finding increasingly more harmful assemblages of more harmful types of organisms in the water.

Common sources of bacteria in surface waters are from combined sewers (which can overflow in a rainstorm and dump untreated sewage directly into our waters) and runoff of animal waste (including wild animal droppings) from farmland and city streets.

Indicator Bacteria and Citizen Science
During the summer months, bacteria concentrations are measured at least once a week at most of our New Jersey and New York bathing beaches. There are many other waterways that are used for boating, fishing and even swimming that are also susceptible to bacterial contamination. Citizen scientists offer a great resource to fill data gaps, produce data that will be usable by the states for assessment purposes, engage their community and raise awareness of potential environmental issues.

There are a few common types of laboratory tests that are performed to measure bacteria, such as growing them on a filter, growing them in test tubes, or growing them in special trays until a color endpoint is observed. Many of these tests are outside the technical expertise of many citizen science groups.

Site Map of the NY/NJ Harbor Watershed Area used for the Citizen Science Pathogen Study

Site Map of the NY/NJ Harbor Watershed Area used for the Citizen Science Pathogen Study

The EPA has been involved in Citizen Science since 1988 (formally called Volunteer Monitoring). The number of Citizen Science groups across the nation and particularly in our region has risen sharply in recent years. In an effort to empower citizens in their community through collection of high quality data, the EPA has recently been involved in a technical role in a Citizen Science Pathogen (Bacteria) Study involving two citizen science groups from New York (Bronx River Alliance and Sparkill Creek Watershed Alliance) and two from New Jersey (Friends of the Bonsal Preserve and the NY/NJ Baykeeper). The goal of this grant based program from the Harbor Estuary Program and administered through the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission was to train citizen science groups, assist them in preparation of a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) or a plan that details all facets of their study, provide equipment and testing guidance manuals, perform on-site lab and field assessments, and provide a means to enter data into the national water quality data repository, WQX (formerly STORET).

Citizen Science Equipment Loan Program
Not only is this project important to the communities that are involved, this effort has provided the framework for future citizen science groups to conduct similar projects. Citizen scientists and communities may use the existing Quality Assurance Project Plan, Field and Lab Data Sheets, Excel spreadsheets for reporting, and technical guidance documents for sampling and analysis from this project that can be readily modified to fit their own pathogen monitoring program.

Another major hurdle for many citizen based science groups is the cost of equipment needed to collect the data. The cost for the lab equipment for a group to start a pathogen and water quality program similar to the one describe here is approximately $10,000. This cost is prohibitive to many citizen science groups so EPA is in the process of establishing an equipment loan program. The equipment loan program will offer citizen science organizations the opportunity to conduct water quality and/or pathogen studies with the benefit of borrowing on a short term basis (three to four months) lab equipment (incubators and sealers) and field equipment (water quality parameter meters and GPS units) plus the available technical documents (QAPP, testing guidance, and datasheets). Minus the cost of equipment, the actual per test cost for measuring bacteria is approximately $5-6 per sample.

So, prepare your QAPP, enroll in the equipment loan program, and have your group get out there and monitor!

About the Author: Jim Ferretti is a team leader for the Sanitary Chemistry and Biology Team for the Laboratory Branch in the EPA’s Division of Environmental Science and Assessment. He has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science from Rutgers University and a BS Degree in Water Analysis Technology from California University of PA. Jim has a diversified background in environmental studies and biological laboratory testing. He has been employed at the EPA since 1990, starting out in the water program in headquarters and moving to New Jersey in 1992.

 

 

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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