Education

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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The Scenic Towpath of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (C&O) National Historical Park

by Andrea Bennett

 

A biker on the C&O towpath. Photo credit: C&O Canal NHP via Flickr.

A biker on the C&O towpath. Photo credit: C&O Canal NHP via Flickr.

Recently I was in the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal National Historical Park, on the towpath that runs between the Potomac River and the canal itself.  The C&O Canal is over 184 miles long and was constructed almost 100 years ago to transport coal, lumber and agricultural products. The families that operated the boats used mules to tow them along the canal, at a rate of 5 cents per mile. Each night, the family would pile into the boat with the cargo – and the mules!

By 1924, goods were moved by trains, and the canal was no longer used as it had been, but people still enjoyed the recreational opportunities of the towpath, which led to its declaration as a National Historical Park in 1971. Over 4 million people visit the park each year, which links Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, D.C.  Bikers and hikers can continue from Cumberland on the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) rail-trail all the way to Pittsburgh; the path also crosses the Appalachian Trail at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. It’s a particularly special place to visit because of the wide variety of recreational opportunities it offers: while I was birding, I saw people biking, hiking, dog walking and jogging and, down the towpath a bit, there were others camping.  The towpath is so popular because it’s in a leafy green cool forest, it’s easy to traverse, and it’s next to the beautiful Potomac River.

Knowing that the Potomac River is a drinking water source for millions, and that it is treasured for its recreation value, how can we keep the river and the park clean and healthy so that it can be enjoyed into the future?

The goal of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) is to protect the land and water resources within the Potomac River Basin. ICPRB and EPA are two members of the Potomac Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership (DWSPP), a coalition focused on protecting the Potomac River as a drinking water source.  Practices that protect this national treasure range from picking up trash and properly disposing of household hazardous waste, to maintaining wastewater treatment plants and managing stormwater runoff through planting vegetated buffers.

Partnerships like this are a valuable way to keep our rivers and watershed healthy, so that they can continue on as great places for vacations as well as important sources of drinking water.

 

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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There’s Something Different about the Jordan River

By Seung-min Kang

Most people are fully aware that helping out our neighbors and the environment benefits everyone and deserves recognition.  However, the thought of doing a good turn or even getting recognized for it often is not enough to attract people’s interest or ignite their sense of stewardship. If it were, people would clean up their local river after work rather than watch TV.

To raise awareness and promote community engagement in the local watershed, the Jordan River Commission (JRC), in partnership with Salt Lake County and the Center for Documentary Expression and Art (CDEA) in Salt Lake City, Utah, developed an innovative idea for a new outreach program funded by EPA’s Urban Waters Small Grants Program. Their project offers an approach which is not only valuable in meeting water quality goals for the Jordan River Watershed, but unique in the way it captures the community’s attention and encourages their active participation.

Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE) student, Rachael Ainsworth takes photos while on a field trip to the Jordan River

Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE) student, Rachael Ainsworth takes photos while on a field trip to the Jordan River

The Jordan River flows west of the city, in an area populated by a number of low-income, ethnically-diverse neighborhoods in contrast with the City’s more affluent, less diverse east side. Within these neighborhoods, a quarter of the residents are school age, ranging from 5 to 19. However, the river had never been a safe and healthy place for these kids to play, nor could the community enjoy the riverfront because of continuing problems with mounting garbage and illegal dumping, as well as declining water quality.

JRC and CDEA decided to clean up this “diamond in the rough” to allow kids and their families the chance to enjoy up close and personal the beauty of a clean environment. The partnership took a unique path —  engaging neighborhood youth to positively impact water quality by increasing their awareness of the watershed and empowering them to make changes. Their 8-week long in-school Artists/Scholars-in-Residence program includes classes in environmental literature, photography, and writing. The program intentionally bucks the notion that all environmental learning programs are science-based.  Yet it introduces students to the connections between science and history, science and art, and ecology.

SLCSE students work on designing their projects for the JRC's website.

SLCSE students work on designing their projects for the website.

This is a great chance for students who are not interested in science to interact with the environment while learning new skills. In addition, student’s photographs, stories, poetry and other information are integrated into the partnerhip’s mobile website, which is accessible for many low-income residents whose only access to technology is through their cellphones.  Armed with just a smartphone, each student helps map the Jordan River trail and identify “interpretive stops” that provide information about the specific areas.  All of the spots on the trail have a numerical stop number where people can learn about each stop by typing its number into the website.

The information these students have gathered is now being made available to thousands of Salt Lake County residents to encourage them to explore the Jordan River. Moreover, people can alert officials about maintenance or water quality concerns by using the “Report an Issue” button on the website. Thus, by using popular technology, JRC and CDEA leave the door open for anyone to be involved in exploring, cleaning, and maintaining the river.

Everyone should have access to public rivers, and it is up to us to make sure that they are maintained for this generation and generations to come. This great program shows that people do care, and by empowering local students and using the right technology, JRC and CDEA are enabling affected residents to make a visible difference in their community and to take charge of protecting their watersheds.

The SLCSE class under a native Fremont Cottonwood tree

The SLCSE class under a native Fremont Cottonwood tree

About the author: Seung-min Kang is an intern in the Urban Waters Program in EPA’s Office of Water. She is from Seoul, Korea and attends Ewha Womans University, where she is studying English language and literature and plans to graduate in February 2015. Since she thought that she didn’t know anything about the environment, which is one of the critical social issues, she decided to work for EPA to challenge herself and learn. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Take Action for Wetlands

by Stephanie Leach

Citizen science projects enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research.

Citizen science projects enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research.

 

This May is the 24thAmerican Wetlands Month, a time for us to appreciate the beautiful diversity of our wetlands as well as Americans’ long and evolving history with them. While we have not always recognized wetlands as ecologically valuable places, we are now fortunate to have a large body of cultural and scientific knowledge, as well as technologies that allow us to access this voluminous information, to guide us in the exploration of our aquatic resources and even allow us to aid in their protection.

You can find many opportunities to advocate for wetlands in your area, including volunteering with community groups to restore or monitor wetlands or even participating in what are known as citizen science projects. Citizen science is when individuals without professional expertise assist in the collection of data. Participation in a citizen science project can mean surveying a specific location over a certain time period, volunteering to collect samples from designated streams, or even simply making note of an observed species. Increasingly, citizen science is taking the form of crowdsourcing over the internet, whereby ordinary people submit their observations to organizations in order to create a large-scale representation of the biodiversity present across time and space.

Some examples of citizen science projects that enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research include: Frogwatch USA, Project Feeder Watch (to report overwintering birds), The Orianne Society (salamanders), Bandedbirds.org (banded shore birds) and other location-specific projects dedicated to rare or invasive plants. What’s more, several of these projects have smartphone apps which users can consult for more information or even use to submit their observations.

American Wetlands Month offers us an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been and take action to protect our aquatic resources as we move forward. For more information, visit EPA’s American Wetlands Month website. What groups or projects are you involved with that help you learn about and protect wetlands in your area?

About the Author:  Stephanie Leach works in EPA Region 3’s Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division as an intern from the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking, and learning as much as she can about the natural world and how to protect it.

 

 

 

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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EPA, Schools and Communities Work Together to Reduce Asthma

Reposted from It’s Our Environment

By Dr. Teresa Lipsett-Ruiz

Visitors to Puerto Rico often come to bask in the island’s warmth and waves. But, our tropical environment also contributes to the asthma problem that affects about 1 in 10 people here.

In close partnership with EPA, our university-based indoor air quality program builds partnerships with students, schools and the community to improve the environmental conditions in schools and reduce student absences caused by asthma. It has worked!  Over the past 6 years, the schools that we’ve worked with have seen significant decreases in the number of missed school days.

Mountainous areas such as the Puerto Rican municipalities of Caguas and Gurabo are surrounded by humid valleys known as “asthma hotspots,” yet asthma education is not always available there. In response, we created a program with EPA that focuses on three key elements: (1) information resources and checklists, (2) school “walkthroughs,” and (3) partnerships with school officials and the community to physically remove indoor environmental asthma triggers.

Our program relies on EPA’s Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools for Schools guidance and Spanish-language indoor checklists to educate the community and schools on managing environmental asthma triggers. Working with the Puerto Rico Department of Education, we hold IAQ Workshops on asthma triggers.

During school walkthroughs, we often find pest problems—cockroaches, rats and mice—as well as moldy, wet cardboard boxes overflowing with paper. We then formulate a plan to address these asthma triggers.

At first, some teachers were skeptical. They were worried that this was another burden piled onto their busy schedules. Enthusiasm grew, however, when the students and the community began to help. As the old saying goes, “many hands make light work.” The school community came together for a “mega green cleaning” of the school. To check our effectiveness, we collected mold samples before and after our plans were put in place and mold counts dropped significantly.

With the support of school officials, we implemented our program at 32 schools, which resulted in a 38 percent reduction in student absenteeism due to asthma. Based on these impressive results, we now are expanding the program in partnership with EPA. To learn more, listen to my presentation in EPA’s Back-to-School Webinar: Managing Asthma in Schools. Our communities are proud to have improved both their health and student attendance. We invite you to pursue similar programs in your schools and community.

Dr. Lipsett-Ruiz is the Dean of the School of Science and Technology in Universidad del Turabo in Puerto Rico. Her partnership with EPA has trained more than 150 teachers in 100 schools on practical steps to asthma management. The program leverages school clubs, blogs, conferences, theatre play, and role modeling exercises, along with EPA information resources to reduce student absenteeism due to asthma.

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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Earth Day every day…and everywhere!

by Jennie Saxe

 

Flo- the WaterSense mascot

Flo- the WaterSense mascot

While every day is Earth Day at EPA, the excitement over the past couple of weeks surrounding Earth Day offered EPA mid-Atlantic staff some special opportunities to partner with local organizations in celebrating our environment. Along with our water programs, EPA highlighted ways that everyone can Act On Climate, the theme for this year’s Earth Day. A changing climate means changes to our water resources, so it’s more important than ever that we all work to conserve and protect them.

This year, several of EPA’s sustainability programs, including WaterSense, were featured at the Philadelphia Phillies “Red Goes Green” game on April 17. Our WaterSense program was also particularly busy sharing information on conserving water and saving money with groups including: the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors in Hershey, Pennsylvania; hospital staff and visitors in Anne Arundel, Maryland; and Campbell’s employees in Camden, New Jersey.

We also had the chance to spread the word about how proper prescription drug disposal protects our water resources. National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day was held on April 26. In case you missed it, EPA has some quick tips on proper prescription medication disposal.

For commuters and visitors at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, EPA water programs hosted a table featuring resources you can use every day including: mobile apps for tracking marine debris and learning about water quality at beaches; information for homeowners on proper septic system maintenance; steps you can take to protect your private drinking water well; resources for finding out about the health of waterways in your community; and ways that you can prepare, should extreme weather impact your water supply.

Many of EPA’s programs wrapped up the week at EarthFest on Temple University’s Ambler, PA campus. EPA staff shared information on water, recycling, composting, emergency response, and more with the thousands of children, parents, and teachers in attendance.

Even though Earth Day 2014 is now in the books, here’s hoping that you, too, will make every day Earth Day.

 

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. For Earth Day, and every day, Jennie purchases renewable power, takes public transportation, and uses vinegar to clean pretty much everything. 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Take a second to fix some leaks!

Water SenseBy Kimberly Scharl

American households waste more than 1 trillion gallons of clean drinking water each year due to leaky pipes, toilets, showerheads and other fixtures. Fixing these leaks can be easy and inexpensive, and can save you nearly 10% on utility bills.  EPA’s WaterSense program spent the week of March 17-23 encouraging everyone to “chase down” plumbing leaks during the 6th annual Fix a Leak Week. To kick off the week, EPA hosted a Twitter Chat with tweets featuring Flo, the WaterSense mascot at different locations in the mid-Atlantic, challenging each location to participate in Fix a Leak Week. Flo appeared at the White House, the Liberty Bell and with the ponies at Assateague!

Throughout the rest of the week, my coworkers and I participated in several more events and activities.  At the Energy Awareness Fair at the Naval Support Activity Base in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, we highlighted the link between water savings and energy savings by promoting water efficiency in homes and communities. Using less water means water and wastewater utilities need to use less energy for their pumps.

We also visited Eyer Middle School in Macungie, Pennsylvania, to talk with sixth graders about saving water in their homes.  We used a WaterSense-labeled shower head to demonstrate its water savings as compared to a traditional fixture.  In preparation for our visit, the classes explored Recycle City to learn about other ways to save water and energy.

Even though Fix a Leak Week is officially over, any time is a good time to find and stop water leaks in your home.  And when it comes to repairing leaky fixtures, you don’t need to be a home repair expert. Common types of leaks found in the home are worn toilet flappers, dripping faucets, and other leaking valves–all often easy to fix. You might only need a few tools and hardware, and these fixes can pay for themselves in water savings. Check out this video by Spartanburg Water on detecting a leaky toilet.

Take the Pledge!

Join us and thousands of your friends and neighbors in taking simple actions to save water. Take the “I’m for Water” pledge, and make a commitment to saving this precious resource.

For more information on Fix a Leak Week and the WaterSense program, go to www.epa.gov/watersense. You can also follow WaterSense on Facebook and Twitter!

How do you save water during Fix a Leak Week and everyday? Let us know in the comments!

About the Author: Kimberly Scharl joined EPA in 2010, after moving to Pennsylvania from Mississippi. She is a financial analyst and project officer in the Office of Infrastructure and Assistance, and is the Regional Liaison for the WaterSense Program. Kim enjoys bowling and spending time 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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Recovering from a heavy dose of winter

By Jennie Saxe

Mounds of salt ready to be spread on roads

Mounds of salt ready to be spread on roads

Is this winter over yet? Fortunately, we’ve had a few days in the mid-Atlantic that make me think spring could be just around the corner. Even as we prepare to turn the page weather-wise, some remnants of winter will stick around. This year, one of those remnants is salt…lots of salt.

A couple of years ago, we brought you some information on smart ways to apply salt to keep the roads safe in winter weather and protect water resources at the same time. While that winter was relatively mild, winter 2014 has been another story. Municipal salt supplies are running low, and recently it’s been tough to find “snow melt” of any kind in neighborhood hardware stores.

With the snow now melting, the leftover salt is headed right toward our water supplies. Here are some of the impacts that increased salt can have:

  • Road salt runoff can increase levels of conductivity (a substitute measure of “saltiness”) in streams and cause stress to aquatic life like fish and macroinvertebrates – in high enough concentrations, salt runoff can be toxic to sensitive organisms
  • Salt increases the density of water which impacts the normal turnover processes in waterbodies – this can also affect aquatic life through depleting oxygen levels in deeper water and nutrient supplies in the upper part of the water column
  • Salt has more of an impact on freshwater systems than on those that are brackish or saline already
  • Salty runoff that enters drinking water supplies could cause elevated sodium levels that can have health consequences

If you’d like to see how one of our local waters, the Schuylkill River, responds to road salt runoff, the US Geological Survey (USGS) has some interesting data. Salt runoff from roadways or salt blown by the wind could be responsible for that conductivity spike in mid-February.  Since the chloride from road salt (sodium chloride) is not removed or transformed by natural processes, the only way to bring levels down is through dilution, usually by way of rainfall. Toward the end of February, you can see the conductivity levels decrease.

I’ve used some of our recent spring-like weather to sweep up the salt around our house. This will prevent even more salt from washing down the drain and into the creek near my house. Cities and towns can use street sweeping as a mechanism to remove excess salt from their streets at the end of the winter season.

Did you have any low-salt methods for handling the snow this winter? How are you keeping the left-over salt from getting into our waterways?

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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The Art of the Natural Garden”

example of a native plant

example of a native plant

 

by Todd Lutte

  It’s once again time to experience that first “breath of spring” at the Philadelphia Flower Show.  A local tradition with international recognition, the Philadelphia Flower Show has been a prelude to spring for more than 150 years with EPA’s mid-Atlantic Region being a part of that tradition for more than two decades.  As one of the city’s most anticipated annual events, the Flower Show brings thousands of garden enthusiasts to the floors of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in early March.

The theme for the 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show is “ARTiculture…where art meets horticulture”.   The EPA exhibit is titled “L’Art du Jardin Natural” which translated is “The Art of the Natural Garden”.  The display showcases native plants, wetlands and sustainable landscaping techniques in a passive setting

Art and the natural world have forever been intertwined in the human imagination but our scientific understanding of the complexity of these beautiful places has only become its own field of study in more modern times. Through this study, we have learned that our rivers, streams, and wetlands are not just pretty pictures—they are dynamic ecosystems that continually respond to cues from climate patterns, local hydrology, invasive species, human disturbances, and many other factors.

The beauty of these wild places is founded upon resilience as an amazing number of plant and animal species have evolved to fill special ecological niches across very different habitat types. While these native species benefit from clean waters, they also enrich the whole ecosystem through functions that control and abet plant cover, sediment supply, water quality, flood control, and biodiversity.

The use  of native plants has many benefits, including relatively low maintenance, which saves both time and money.  Pollinators, beneficial insects, and other wildlife rely on native plants for food and habitat, and invasive species are less likely to colonize an area with an established native plant community.

If you’re in the area, stop by and experience “L’Art du Jardin Natural”.  The 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show runs from Saturday, March 1st   through Sunday, March 9th at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia.

 

Todd Lutte is an EPA environmental scientist who works to enforce laws and regulations for the protection of wetlands. Todd is a key partner in creating EPA’s exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show

 

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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