drinking water

America’s Heartland Depends on Clean Water

By Mark Hague

The Heartland thrives on clean water, a resource we must both conserve and protect. Agricultural interests, public health officials, recreational small businesses, and all the rest of us rely on clean water for our lives and livelihoods. While EPA oversees the protection of water quality under the Clean Water Act passed in 1972, every Heartlander understands its value to our daily lives.

Mark Hague

Mark Hague

During the past 43 years, EPA, the states, and local partners have worked tirelessly to clean up once polluted rivers and streams. While we’ve come a long way and dealt with the biggest issues, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have worked together to solve what remains through a new Clean Water Rule.

This new rule will help us further ensure clean waters are available to everyone here in the Heartland and downstream. The rule more clearly protects the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of our nation’s water resources.

In developing the rule, we held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country and reviewed more than one million public comments.

One of our most important challenges is protecting those smaller tributaries and wetlands that are a part of the vast interconnected system of some of our big rivers, like the Missouri and Mississippi. Our small waters are often out of sight, yet still serve an integral role in ensuring clean water for all Americans and our environment.

We rely on these smaller wetlands to provide uptake of nutrients, moderate flow in times of flooding, and serve as important habitat for species that spawn or rely on larger bodies of water, like the Missouri River.

Agriculture relies on clean water for livestock, crops, and irrigation. With the Clean Water Rule, EPA provides greater clarity and certainty to farmers and does not add economic burden on agriculture.

There is no doubt our water quality has improved. As a community and an agency, we must continue to protect both large and small tributaries. Clean water is a powerful economic driver affecting manufacturing, farming, tourism, recreation, and energy production. In fact, people who fish, hunt, and watch wildlife as a hobby spent $144.7 billion in 2011. That’s equal to one percent of the gross domestic product. The fact is, we rely on the flow of clean water to provide for this economic engine.

Finally, we all rely on the healthy ecosystems in these upstream waters to provide us with quiet, natural places to fish, boat, swim, and enjoy the outdoors. Hunters and anglers enjoy pristine places, and fishing rod makers and boat builders enjoy more business. And, of course, when drinking water is cleaner, people are healthier. We all win!

The Clean Water Rule will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Learn more at www.epa.gov/cleanwaterrule.

About the Author: Mark Hague serves as the Acting EPA Region 7 Administrator. He is responsible for overseeing the overall operations within the region and the implementation of federal environmental rules and regulations, and serves as a liaison with the public, elected officials, organizations, and others. Mark has 35 years of experience with EPA.

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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The Safe Drinking Water Act: A Playbook for Public Health Protection

by Jennie Saxe

hoop close up other angleCollege basketball fans have witnessed this phenomenon countless times over the past few weeks: the game-changer. The play in a game where the momentum shifts. After this play, the outcome of the game is a lock…or all of a sudden, it hangs in the balance.

There are many game-changers in the world of water protection, and the Safe Drinking Water Act, passed 40 years ago, is one of them. Before this legislation, “Team Pollution” had momentum: the early history of drinking water is marked by outbreaks of waterborne disease and inadequate water treatment systems. But when the Safe Drinking Water Act passed, the pendulum swung the other way, in favor of “Team Protection.”

In the mid-Atlantic region, we’re acutely aware of the protections that the Safe Drinking Water Act and its amendments have brought us. The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund has allowed upgrades to water treatment plants from White Sulphur Springs, WV, to Ulster Township, PA, and countless places in-between. Source water protection partnerships, like the Potomac Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership and the Schuylkill Action Network, focus on protecting drinking water at its source. And an updated Total Coliform Rule will further protect public health in large and small communities across the region.

More than 27 million people in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region rely on public water systems protected by the Safe Drinking Water Act. From cities in Pennsylvania to rural parts of Virginia, from municipal water systems in Washington, DC, to the smallest mobile home parks, schools, and rest stops across the region, this law protects everyone that relies on that water for drinking, cooking, and more.

If the Safe Drinking Water Act is the playbook for protecting public health, each one of us can be part of Team Protection. Make a big play – check out what you can do to protect drinking water.

 

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 spent her first 7 years at EPA working in the Region’s drinking water program.

 

 

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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FracFocus Report: Helping us Paint a Fuller Picture

By Tom Burke

Only a few years ago, very little was known about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. Congress asked us to embark on a major effort to advance the state-of-the-science to accurately assess and identify those risks. Today, we are releasing a new report to provide a fuller picture of the information available for states, industry, and communities working to safeguard drinking water resources and protect public health.

The Analysis of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Data from the FracFocus Chemical Registry 1.0. is a peer-reviewed analysis built on more than two years of data provided by organizations that manage FracFocus, the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Operators disclosed information on individual oil and gas production wells hydraulically fractured between January 2011 and February 2013 and agency researchers then compiled a database from more than 39,000 disclosures.

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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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Protecting our Drinking Water for Everyone

By Dr. Peter Grevatt

Like families in almost every city and town across the U.S., everyone in my house counts on the idea that we can just reach for the tap any time we’re thirsty or need some water to cook dinner. And, there hasn’t been a single day when safe drinking water wasn’t readily available to me or my family at a remarkably low cost.

While most Americans enjoy this same luxury every day, this past year two major drinking water systems were shut down when harmful toxins contaminated their drinking water systems. These incidents in Toledo, OH, and Charleston, WV, resulted in over 800,000 residents having to find an alternative supply of safe drinking water for as long as five days. And, in both cases, this led to National Guard deployment to provide emergency drinking water to long lines of residents.

Unfortunately, Charleston and Toledo are not the only places in the United States where this occurred in the last year, reminding us of the critical importance of protecting the sources of our drinking water.

While today’s drinking water treatment systems can remove most contaminants, in some cases, they’ve been overwhelmed by contaminants introduced upstream from the customers they serve. In these instances, many lower income residents bear the greatest burden of losing access to safe drinking water. Without effective source water protection programs, the cost of providing safe drinking water is placed solely on the downstream drinking water plants and their customers, many of whom can’t afford to shoulder this extra treatment cost, let alone the economic losses of closing businesses and schools during a drinking water emergency.

All Americans should have access to safe drinking water. We can all help to make sure this is the case by helping to protect our source waters where we live and for our downstream neighbors.

About the author: Peter Grevatt is the Director of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. The Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water in collaboration with states, tribes and its many stakeholders, is responsible for safeguarding America’s drinking water.

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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Celebrating National Groundwater Awareness Week

By Dr. Peter Grevatt

One of my favorite ways to travel is by bicycle. So, when I visited southern California last month, I jumped at the chance to ride along the San Gabriel River to see how Los Angeles County sustainably manages their drinking water supplies to support their growing population.

A recent defining experience for communities in California, and many other regions of the county, has been drought of an intensity that hasn’t been seen in generations. The severity of this drought has forced communities to address questions about their ability to meet their basic water needs. A common theme for many has been the critical role of a reliable supply of ground water in their ability to survive and thrive into the future.

I followed my ride along the San Gabriel with a visit to the extraordinary treatment facility operated by the Orange County Water District. Through a partnership with the Orange County Sanitation District, this facility takes highly treated wastewater and purifies it with a three-step advanced treatment process. This water is used to replenish their groundwater basin, preventing seawater intrusion and helping to supply drinking water to over 600,000 people.

I also visited the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel in San Diego County, a small tribal community that is facing a diminished ground water supply. Chairman Perez and members of the Tribal leadership described their efforts toward water conservation, leak detection and repair, and identifying new drinking water supplies to support the needs of their Tribal members.

Communities large and small are taking on the challenge of ensuring a reliable water supply. Clean ground water will play a vital role in their long term solution, as it currently does every day for over 100 million Americans.

These communities make clear that effective groundwater management will play a central role in keeping our communities healthy. During National Groundwater Awareness Week (March 8-14, 2015) let’s take time to celebrate all the great work across the country that is being done to protect our nation’s groundwater, so that communities can rely on this precious, limited resource now and in the future.

About the author: Peter Grevatt, Ph.D. is the director of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.

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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Got an Environmental Science Question? Ask an EPA Scientist!

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

 

Front loader loads road salt into a large dump truck.

What happens to all that salt? Image courtesy of Maryland State Highway Administration

Have you ever had a question about something you saw and wished you had an expert you could ask? This happens to me all the time, so I decided to take advantage of working at EPA and start a new blog series called ‘Ask an EPA Scientist.’

I’m kicking off the series with a question that’s been on my mind recently.

Walking in a winter wonderland can be magical – but what about driving in one? Not so great. As I was driving (very slowly) through a snowstorm last week, I started wondering: What happens to all that road salt after the snow melts? Is it bad for the environment?

To find out, I asked EPA ecologist Paul Mayer, Ph.D. who conducts research on riparian zones and stream restoration. He and two Agency colleagues recently published a paper (Cooper et al. 2014) looking at the effects of road salt on a local stream.

Below is what he told me.

EPA Ecologist Paul Mayer, Ph.D. at a stream restoration research site.

EPA Ecologist Paul Mayer, Ph.D. at a stream restoration research site.

Paul Mayer: Road salts are an important tool for making roads safer during ice and snowstorms. Every winter about 22 million tons of road salt and other de-icers are used nationwide. Some washes from roadways into nearby bodies of water. This is a growing concern for the health of our urban watersheds because it can affect water quality and aquatic organisms.

I’ve been part of a study collecting surface and ground water data in Minebank Run, an urban stream in Maryland, since November 2001. We found that salt levels (chloride and sodium) there are chronically elevated throughout the year.

Road salts can accumulate and persist in our waterways, often even into the summer months. We found that the levels are significantly higher downstream of a major nearby road (I-695 beltway), suggesting that this roadway is a significant source of salts in the watershed.

This is a concern for Minebank Run because such salinization may reduce the benefits of restoration work that has been done, limiting the benefits the stream provides the local community and across the watershed. Increased salinity in freshwater systems can also damage or kill vegetation. Other research has indicated that road salts represent a risk to the safety of drinking water sources in the Baltimore area and elsewhere (Kaushal et al. 2005).

The implication of our research and others’ is that stream ecosystems in areas where road salts are routinely applied are at risk of environmental damage and that human health may also be at risk if water supplies are affected.

Kacey: I’m glad I asked! I also found some additional information that includes what we can do to reduce the impact of road salt:

 

Ask an EPA Scientist!
Do you have your own environmental science questions you’d like to see featured on our blog? Please email them to Fitzpatrick.kacey@epa.gov, post them in the comments section below, or tweet them to @EPAresearch using #EnvSciQ. We’ll pick as many as we can to pass along to our scientists, get them answered, and share the Q&A here on this blog. Stay tuned!
About the Author: Curious science writer Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor working with EPA’s Science Communication team, and a frequent contributor to It All Starts with Science.

References Cited

Cooper, CA, PM Mayer, BR Faulkner. 2014. Effects of road salts on groundwater and surface water dynamics of sodium and chloride in an urban restored stream. Biogeochemistry 121:149-166. DOI: 10.1007/s10533-014-9968-z (Accessed at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10533-014-9968-z)

Kaushal, et al. 2005. Increased salinization of fresh water in the northeastern United States. PNAS 102:13517-13520. (Accessed at http://www.pnas.org/content/102/38/13517.abstract.)

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

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Advancing Sustainable Development in the United States

By Apple Loveless and Leslie Corcelli

A United Nations summit to adopt sustainable development goals will take place this September. Among these is a proposed goal to “ ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all,” which expresses global intent to provide adequate water and sanitation to everyone.

When we think about inadequate drinking water and wastewater treatment, it usually brings to mind developing countries. But in our work in the Office of Wastewater Management, we see examples in rural Alaska, Appalachia, the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as smaller communities like Willisville and Lowndes County.

Willisville is a small minority community in southwestern Loudoun County, Virginia. In the late 1990s, the Loudoun County Health Department surveyed Willisville to determine its water and wastewater needs. It found that the majority of residences had inadequate drinking water supplies and failing or non-existent sewage systems. Most residents used privies and outhouses.

Simply providing indoor plumbing to existing homes would have driven up property values so much that the average resident wouldn’t have been able to afford the taxes. However, Willisville was able to work with the county and nonprofit organizations to increase taxes incrementally, enabling owners to afford the payments.

In the end, the residences and an area church got indoor plumbing, a cluster system was installed to treat wastewater, and private land was purchased to build a drainfield.

In Lowndes County, Alabama, inadequate wastewater management had become a public health hazard and environmental issue that could no longer be ignored. Mostly rural and primarily African-American, Lowndes County did not have a centralized wastewater management system, and is built on impermeable clay soils that made septic systems cost prohibitive. The county also has a 27 percent poverty rate. Many of the county’s residents disposed of raw sewage in fields, yards and ditches. It was estimated that 40 to 90 percent of households had either no septic system or an inadequate one.

Beginning in 2010, we entered into a four-year financial assistance agreement with the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise to develop a decentralized wastewater management approach for rural Lowndes County. This grant is an important first step towards improving basic sanitation services in Lowndes County.

There are many communities like Willisville and Lowndes County in the United States. Funding and technical assistance can help them improve inadequate water and wastewater services. It takes collaboration by local, state and federal government to achieve environmental justice for those in underserved communities.

About the authors: Apple Loveless has a graduate degree in environmental management with a focus on water resource planning and management, and is adapting to life in the Mid-Atlantic region. Leslie Corcelli has a graduate degree in environmental science and policy, and lives in northern Virginia with her partner and a menagerie of rescue animals. Apple and Leslie are Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education research participants in the Sustainable Communities Branch of EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management.

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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Who will win the big game?

by Steve Donohue

"Green" up for the big game!

“Green” up for the big game!

Sadly, my beloved Philadelphia Eagles will not be in the big game this year – again! But we can all be winners by conserving resources and saving money on game day and every other day.

Last year 111.5 million viewers watched the game. If all these fans used WaterSense toilets (which use 1.28 gallons per flush, gpf, or less) instead of the old 3.5 gpf models we could save enough water to fill Lincoln Financial Field up to the Club Box level with just one flush!

If you’re thirsty during the game you can drink bottled water at 50 cents or more each, or thanks to the Safe Drinking Water Act, your local utility, and other partners, you can simply turn on the tap and get safe, clean water delivered right to your kitchen for about ½ cent a gallon. That’s hundreds of times cheaper and you don’t have to carry the bottles home or dispose of them after they are used.

Game day savings aren’t limited to water, though. If all the households that watched the game got rid of their old beer refrigerator in the garage they would not only save about $150 a year but collectively enough electricity to power over 1.6 million homes!

And, speaking of drinking, if everyone who watched the big game recycled just 1 can we could save a weight of aluminum equal to 260 times the weight of the entire Eagles roster and save enough electricity to power a television for over 2,500 years!

Finally, everyone loves a party but the cleanup…not so much. If you’re hosting a large gathering and have left over, unspoiled food, please consider donating it to a local charity and helping the over 48 million Americans who live in food-insecure households.

Greening your party for the big game is a win for your wallet and for the environment. Try out these tips on Sunday and every day!

 

About the author: Steve Donohue has been an environmental scientist at EPA for over 25 years. Currently, he works in the Office of Environmental Innovation in Philadelphia where he is focused on greening EPA and other government facilities.

 

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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Delivering on the Promise of the Clean Water Act

By Gina McCarthy

(Cross Posted from EPA Connect)

On January 9th of this year, concerned citizens noticed a chemical odor floating down the Elk River Valley toward Charleston, West Virginia. State inspectors traced the odor to a Freedom Industries facility, where they found a storage tank leaking the chemical MCHM, used in coal processing.

Before the day ended, drinking water supplies for more than 300,000 people were contaminated. Schools closed. Hospitals evacuated patients. And the local economy ground to a halt.

West Virginia led the response to contain the spill within days. EPA provided technical assistance to help clear the water system, helped determine a water quality level that would be protective of public health, conducted air monitoring—and sent a Special Agent from our Criminal Investigation Division to the site. The Special Agent, in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Charleston and the FBI, conducted more than 100 interviews and launched a joint investigation into the cause of the disaster.

We found a pattern of negligence by the storage tank owners, who were obligated to inspect the tank, fix corrosion, and take action to contain potential spills. Their negligence resulted in one of the nation’s worst environmental disasters in recent memory.

Today, U.S. Attorney Goodwin, along with EPA and FBI officials, announced that four former officers of Freedom Industries have been indicted on Clean Water Act negligent misdemeanor charges, as well as for violating the Refuse Act. Freedom Industries, along with two other individuals, were separately charged with Clean Water Act crimes. The four indicted defendants face multiple years in prison if they are convicted, and the two other individuals each face up to one year.

When Congress enacted the Clean Water Act, it gave states primary authority to implement the laws and protect the environment, including safeguarding drinking water supplies for American communities. EPA works with states to deliver these benefits, including through criminal investigative work that holds serious violators accountable. Our efforts send a clear message to would-be violators that we’re serious about enforcing our laws fairly, leveling the field for companies that play by the rules and follow the law.

The spill occurred in the 40th anniversary year of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which protects drinking water sources and requires that water from our taps be clean. The law has been such a success, and we so often take safe drinking water for granted, that it’s easy to become complacent. But Freedom Industries’ illegal, negligent actions serve as a reminder that we need to vigilantly enforce our laws to protect safe water.

Just last week, the Source Water Collaborative, a group of 25 national organizations united to protect America’s sources of drinking water, launched a call to action—asking utilities, states, federal agencies, and local governments to do more to protect source water, and prevent disasters like the one in Charleston before they happen. EPA provides states with technical and scientific expertise, as we did in the aftermath of the chemical spill in Charleston. We’re also developing tools and resources for prevention, preparedness and response to spills or releases, and sharing them with states so they can meet their legal responsibilities.

Clean, reliable water is precious. It’s what lets our children grow up healthy, keeps our schools and hospitals running, and fuels our economy. Our efforts can’t undo the damage done to public health, the local economy, and the environment in Charleston. But by working together, we can help prevent spills like this one in the future, and protect our children’s health for years to come.

About the Author: Gina McCarthy is the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Appointed by President Obama in 2009 as Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, Gina McCarthy has been a leading advocate for common-sense strategies to protect public health and the environment.

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 Challenge: Put Technology to Work to Protect Drinking Water

You likely remember when, this past summer, half a million people who live in the Toledo, Ohio, area were told not to drink the water coming out of their taps for several days. A state of emergency was declared because of a harmful algal bloom, which released toxins into the water that could have made many people ill.

Algal blooms like the one near Toledo are partly caused by an excessive amount of nutrients in the water – specifically, nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients are essential for ecosystems, but too many of them in one place is bad news. Not only do harmful algal blooms pose huge risks for people’s health, they can also cause fish and other aquatic wildlife to die off.

Cleaning up drinking water after a harmful algal bloom can cost billions of dollars, and local economies can suffer. The U.S. tourism industry alone loses close to $1 billion each year when people choose not to fish, go boating or visit areas that have been affected. It’s one of our country’s biggest and most expensive environmental problems. It’s also a particularly tough one, since nutrients can travel from far upstream and in runoff, and collect in quieter waters like lakes or along coastlines. More

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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