Flooding

Strength in Numbers: Tackling Environmental Challenges By Collaborating with the Neighbors Next Door

by Johnny DuPree

Rural communities in Mississippi face a seemingly insurmountable number of challenges to gaining access to a variety of resources. Access to healthcare and infrastructure is particularly difficult. In 2009, nearly one in five Mississippians lacked health insurance.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Mississippi has the highest rate of heart disease and cancer deaths in the country, and also ranks among the top for stroke, diabetes, and kidney disease related deaths.  Mississippians are extremely vulnerable to environmental and public health issues, and are at high risk for going without the basic necessities required for healthy lifestyles. Furthermore, the wide range of extreme weather events, most notably Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 2008 flooding of the Mississippi River, has compounded the difficulties many individuals already face throughout the state.

Affordability is the main issue that plagues most rural Mississippi communities.  Community projects that require hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars are challenging at best, nearly impossible at worst. Perhaps most troubling is the fact that members of communities where the median income level for a family of four barely reaches $25,000, do not have the ability to meet the basic needs required for healthy lifestyles. Healthy food, access to health care, updated infrastructure, and uncontaminated water supplies are essential to every community, but are also very costly for many small Mississippi towns to tackle on their own.

The Mississippi Conference of Black Mayors has committed to the cause of environmental protection and economic stability for all communities. The formation of a network of more than 40 mayors with health care providers, private businesses, entrepreneurs, local legislators, and community members, has created an atmosphere of collaboration that promotes innovative ways of dealing with these challenges.  The backbone of this regional collaboration is that there is strength in numbers – that the issues facing these communities cannot be solved by a single town alone.

Our regionalized approach has allowed for the swapping and sharing of ideas, practices, resources, and strategies across communities.  Communities are beginning to pool resources that provide water, waste control, food, and electricity resources to all residents.  Take for example my city, the City of Hattiesburg, where we have agreed to share trucks and other similar resources with neighboring towns to facilitate the transport of needed materials. Other towns have committed to sharing water infrastructure to serve areas that are particularly isolated.  The Mississippi Conference of Black Mayors created Surplus Donation, a new initiative that allows for donations of surplus items between “active member mayor cities.”

Part of our action plan focuses on increasing community awareness and education about environmental issues in the state of Mississippi.  Others have taken notice of our successful collaboration. In 2014, the Mississippi Conference of Black Mayors received a $1.4 million EPA grant to reduce lead exposure and mitigate the negative impacts of old, inadequate housing stock for low-income, minority families and children throughout the Mississippi Delta.  With the funding provided by EPA’s Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving (EJCPS) Cooperative Agreements Program, the MCMB will create a network of African American mayors, health care providers, and community members to develop a “Lead Contamination Action Plan” that will help to identify the homes that have significant exposures, work with area health care facilities to test children’s toys and clothing for lead residue, and develop and implement lead abatement measures.

This effort includes identifying and reducing sources of environmental health and safety risks across rural Mississippi communities. One well-documented example stems from the clustering of Mississippi’s swine concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) in low-income, minority communities—and the negative health impacts that accompany them. The waste from large-scale industrial hog farming can contain pathogens, poisonous heavy metals, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can reach nearby homes and drinking water sources. To make matters worse, the odors and fumes from the hog waste often drift to nearby communities, carrying with it respiratory and eye irritants including hydrogen sulfide and ammonia.

Location and demographics should not prevent anyone from gaining the same access to important resources.  Rural Mississippi towns have found that resource pooling enables small, rural communities the opportunity to receive the utilities they need at a more reasonable cost.  We believe that if you can help people in Mississippi, you can help anyone in the United States. We have all of the issues here in Mississippi, if you can solve them here, you can solve them everywhere.

About the Author: Johnny Dupree, President of the Mississippi Conference of Black Mayors, has served as Mayor of the City of Hattiesburg, Mississippi since 2001.  Prior to that, he served 10 years as a member of the Forrest County [MS] Board of Supervisors.

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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Southern New England Coastal Towns Prepare for Climate Change

We pulled into a parking lot in downtown Wickford, Rhode Island. A nearby car was parked in three inches of water, and salt water bubbled up through the storm drain. The tide was high, but not extraordinarily high. These days, occasional flooding of a parking lot is more of an annoyance than a real threat. But what about in the future?

A car parked in salt water in Wickford, RI. The parking lot storm drain routinely backs up at high tide.

A car parked in salt water in Wickford, RI. The parking lot storm drain routinely backs up at high tide.

 

Rhode Island was the second stop on my Adapting to Climate Change learning tour. Last summer I visited several Cape Cod communities to see how they are dealing with accelerating beach erosion and other adaptation challenges, including chronic flooding from sea level rise, warming ocean temperatures, storm surge risk and habitat decline. More recently, I toured Rhode Island with the same objective, but with a special focus on developing decision-making tools to help communities become more resilient.

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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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Community-driven Revitalization: Tying it Together in Freeport, Illinois

by Melissa Friedland

The East Side of Freeport, Illinois, is a remarkable place. This African-American neighborhood has been home to families for generations. Residents have a strong sense of community and deep affection for the area. However, frequent flooding from the Pecatonica River has not just damaged homes but impacted the community’s economic vitality. The community also has vacant former industrial areas, petroleum contamination, and has been subject to illegal dumping at the CMC Heartland Superfund site. These have exacerbated the legacy of racial segregation, strained relationships with civic leadership, and diminished access to community amenities.

In 2013, community members began to tackle these challenges. Their goal: to make it possible for Freeport’s East Side to again support quality housing, thriving businesses, and public amenities. At the outset, stakeholders identified two key outcomes for the project – reducing flooding impacts and addressing floodway regulations. Properties in the neighborhood’s floodplain are subject to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state floodway regulations as activities such as rebuilding and improving housing and commercial space after flood events are considered. Residents have indicated that addressing these challenges could lay the foundation for pursuing additional neighborhood revitalization goals.

To help make this happen, EPA’s Superfund Redevelopment Initiative (SRI) and Region 5 office sponsored a reuse planning process for the CMC Heartland site and other contaminated properties in the neighborhood. The year-long effort brought local residents and business owners together with city officials and federal agency staff.

Building trust and relationships was the first priority, as a legacy of poor communication and strained relations between the community and the local government threatened to derail progress. A pro-bono Cultural Competence training brought city staff and neighborhood residents together. Breakthroughs followed, as participants shared their experiences and people realized that everyone at the table was interested in addressing past challenges and ensuring a brighter, more sustainable future for the East Side. The training was an early turning point that enabled participants to understand each other’s perspectives and plan for the future.

Reducing Flood Impacts

011080410 FEMA assists IEMA with flood assessments

With good working relationships in place, the work shifted to understanding where and how flooding was affecting the neighborhood. During several working sessions, residents and city staff developed a detailed map that incorporated community feedback about areas of concern as well as technical floodplain information. In a follow-up session, participants explored ways to manage stormwater differently. Where traditional gray infrastructure approaches rely on pipes, sewers, and other physical structures, green infrastructure uses vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage stormwater runoff at its source, protecting water quality, and benefiting communities through improved air quality, enhanced recreational opportunities, revitalized neighborhoods, and even enhanced climate resiliency.

Participants then prioritized a set of goals for reducing flood impacts, including addressing areas where floodwaters enter homes and block street access, ensuring safe access to a neighborhood school, tackling areas of standing water, and designing green infrastructure features to beautify the East Side neighborhood and the Stephenson Street entrance corridor.

Addressing Floodway Regulations

East Side residents, city staff, and elected officials knew that engaging with FEMA was essential to reducing flooding impacts and supporting community revitalization. Parties developed a joint statement describing how the neighborhood’s economic vitality and housing quality have been impacted over time by its location in the floodway where residents contend with recurring major and minor flood events. East Side residents would like to work with FEMA on the best possible ways to maintain and improve their homes.

In a presentation to FEMA in 2014, the group invited agency staff to join a dialogue to focus on finding solutions. In addition, a plan that focused on flood impact reduction and neighborhood revitalization was developed with the support of the EPA Superfund Redevelopment Initiative and Region 5. More information can be found in the final report.

Through its work with communities, EPA’s goal is make a visible and lasting difference. The East Side project shows how these efforts can lead to new partnerships, vital innovations, and long-term revitalization.

About the author: Melissa Friedland manages EPA’s Superfund Redevelopment Initiative, an EPA initiative that helps communities reclaim cleaned-up Superfund program sites.

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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Addressing Tomorrow’s Emergency with Today’s Plans

Eroded coastline near the Shinnecock Nation’s territory on Long Island, NY

Eroded coastline near the Shinnecock Nation’s territory on Long Island, NY

By Irene Boland Nielson

Fourth in a five-part series on climate change issues.

Native Americans have long understood the need to be caretakers of the earth and were among the first to recognize the signs of climate change. It is no surprise that some tribes are leading the way to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

One such tribe is the Shinnecock Indian Nation on the South Fork of Long Island. They experienced firsthand the potentially devastating impacts of climate change when Superstorm Sandy slammed into the area in October 2012. Shoreline scouring and flooding of roads, burial grounds and basements during Sandy showed that climate change poses immediate threats to the Shinnecock. The Nation is now taking broad steps to adapt to climate change and setting a good example for other island communities.

First, the Shinnecock looked to neighbors and peers, and held a community workshop to discuss climate threats. The tribe worked with funding from the EPA, in partnership with the St. Regis Mohawk, a Tribal Nation straddling the St. Lawrence River between the U.S. – Canada border. Next, they used climate vulnerability assessments from the Peconic Estuary and convened all Shinnecock department heads to identify climate threats to their Nation. This is important, since tomorrow’s emergency needs are linked with long-term community plans for the future.

Global rise of sea levels is the most confidently projected climate threat, since water expands when warmer like a heated teapot. (See yesterday’s blog on sea level rise.) With rising seas, by 2050, a storm with one percent chance of happening any year could inundate almost half of the Nation, including some evacuation routes. The Shinnecock’s climate adaptation plan calls for restoring their shoreline as a frontline of defense against flooding with native plants, as well as upgrading overwhelmed culverts to protect sacred burial grounds. Precious coastal water aquifers are also vulnerable to encroaching saltwater. The Shinnecock will reduce water contamination by replacing tribal cesspools with a closed community sewer and wastewater treatment facility. The plan also calls for improving the Nation’s food security by reestablishing community farming and protecting vital shellfish beds and reducing fossil fuels, open burning, idling, and tree loss.

Cleaner air, shorelines protected by natives plants, energy and food security are all hallmarks of resiliency in the Shinnecock Indian Nation Climate Change Adaptation Plan. Island communities should follow the example set by the Shinnecock Indian Nation and make plans to protect themselves and their neighbors from climate change impacts.

About the Author: Irene Boland Nielson is the Climate Change Coordinator for the New York City based office of the U.S. EPA. She joined the EPA as a Presidential Management Fellow and has worked on a range of issues, including the Agency’s Strategic Plan, a memorandum of agreement with Department of Defense for a sustainable Guam, and the EPA Climate Adaptation Plan. Currently, she co-chairs the EPA Region 2 Climate Change Workgroup, administers Climate Showcase Community grants and works to promote sustainability in communities.

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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After Hurricane Sandy

By Christina Catanese

Today in Philadelphia, life is beginning to return to normal after Hurricane Sandy.  Our buses, subways, and trains are up and running, most of the fallen tree branches have been cleared away from the streets and sidewalks, and the sun has even peeked through the clouds to help us all start to dry out.  But our concerns remain with those in other parts of the northeast facing a more difficult recovery.  Natural disasters are a reminder to all of us of the power of nature and the importance of being prepared.

Hurricane Sandy's approach to the Northeast United States.  Photo courtesy of NASA.

Hurricane Sandy's approach to the Northeast United States. Photo courtesy of NASA.

After a storm like Sandy, there are a number of things you can do to stay safe when it comes to water.

  • If you have concerns that your drinking water has been contaminated, don’t drink it.  Drink bottled water if it is available and hasn’t been exposed to floodwaters.  Otherwise, boil your water for one minute at a rolling boil to get rid of pathogens.  Learn more about emergency disinfection here.
  • Avoid contact with flood water, as it may have high levels of raw sewage or other hazardous substances.
  • If you have a private well and it has been flooded, do not turn on the pump due to danger of electric shock.  Do not drink or wash with water from the flooded well until it has been tested and deemed safe.
  • If you have a septic system and it has been flooded, do not use the sewage system until water in the soil absorption field is lower than the water level around the house.
  • For water and wastewater facilities, check out these suggested post-hurricane activities to help facilities recover.

Get more information on what you can do to protect health and the environment after severe weather and flooding.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

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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Lassoing a Whirlwind: Managing Flow on the Missouri River

By Larry Shepard 

 

When Casey and Jeff asked me to write a blog entry, I was staring at my screen saver which was a picture of a lake sturgeon isolated by the dramatic draw down of the river below Gavins Point dam near Yankton, South Dakota. Along with its more famous cousins, the pallid and shovelnose sturgeons, the lake sturgeon is a prehistoric fish struggling to survive in the altered environment of today’s Missouri River. How this interesting “Jurassic Park” specimen ended up in a pool of water in the Missouri River for folks to gawk at makes for an interesting story. 

Photo courtesy South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks

It’s been an awfully dry summer this year but during the Summer of 2011, the Missouri River basin was saturated from a Spring rain, particularly the upper basin in North Dakota and Montana. Combined with a high snow pack and late season snows in the mountain ranges feeding Great Plains streams, atypical Spring rains produced record amounts of runoff into the six reservoirs managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. 

In an effort to protect the infrastructure of the 1950s and 1960s era constructed dams holding back all this excess precipitation and to prevent dam over-topping and possible catastrophic failure, the Corps released water downstream into the lower basin. Normal releases from Gavins Point (the southernmost dam) in mid- Summer are typically about 32,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), but in July 2011, Gavins passed about 160,000 cfs. That amount of water had never been released through the dam and its impact on the dam structures was unknown. 

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3185/5833927841_3f68030c93.jpg 

The resulting high water levels innudated the floodplain, displacing residents and damaging crops and property. Levees built to restrict the river to a narrow channel could not hold back the larger volumes of river water, particularly those levees constructed close to the river bank creating ‘pinch points’ for river flow. Repeated failure of several levees, particularly at ‘pinch points’, during multiple high water events has caused the Corps to begin consideration of levee ‘set-backs’ to address an unsustainable levee design which would also open up the floodplain to accommodate more river flow and improve aquatic habitat.  

Photo by Larry Geiger

Fast forward to early 2012, and the volume of releases from dams raised concerns about possible damage to structures, and the Corps determined that close inspection at particular locations to verify condition and assess any damage was necessary. This was the case at Gavins Point near Yankton, South Dakota where the Corps actually closed the spillway in order to allow inspectors to assess damage. That is, no river water flowing through the dam, resulting in an extreme photographic contrast from the Summer of 2011. 

Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks

When the dam was closed in May 2012, the reach of the river extending down almost to Sioux City was transformed, exposing natural and man-made features not seen since the dam was finished in 1955. River organisms were stranded, including many mussels, not commonly found in the lower river. 

Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks

River scientists know how the lower river’s substrate is dominated by ‘dunes’ of sand which roll and jump along the bottom which was unique to see firsthand. These ‘waves of sand’ create a very dynamic environment for aquatic organisms living in the sediment and coasting above it. It also presents challenges for human engineering to adapt river structures to a moving bottom. 

Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks

If you are ever in the vicinity of any of the six big Army Corps dams on the Missouri River, call the Corps office at the dam and see if there’s an available tour of the facility. They are each unique in their design and how they are placed in the ‘natural environment.’ My personal favorite is Fort Peck dam near Glasgow, Montana, the uppermost dam operated by the Corps. It was constructed in the 1930s during the Great Depression and its powerhouse has an ‘art deco’ design. 

Larry Shepard is an environmental scientist in EPA Region 7’s NEPA program reviewing environmental impact statements and environmental assessments primarily focusing on river-related federal projects. Shepard hails from the shores of Beal Slough in Lincoln, Nebraska, which flows to Salt Creek, then to the Platte River, then to the Missouri River and finally to the Mississippi River.

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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Responding to Water Impacts of Climate Change

By Christina Catanese

Comment on EPA's Draft Climate Change Strategy hereWhen we hear predictions such as temperature increases of 3 degrees Celsius, and 13 inches of sea level rise resulting from climate change, we wonder what that means for us and our communities. If the ocean is at your front door, the threat is pretty clear. But for the rest of us, the implications are not so apparent. For example, did you know that climate change could impact the systems that bring us our drinking water and prevent flooding and sewer overflows?

While the impacts will vary significantly from one region to another, climate change is almost certain to cause more extreme weather events, including changing precipitation patterns and increased severity of drought and flooding. Greater frequency and intensity of rain events could also overwhelm our systems that are designed to deal with them.

As temperatures increase and sea levels rise, salt water is likely to intrude in to surface and groundwater,  resulting in more water impairment.  This can make the already challenging job for our drinking water treatment operators even tougher, and cause treatment costs to rise, which would impact our pocketbooks. Learn more about the impacts of climate change on water resources here.

How should EPA’s water programs respond to climate change? In response to these challenges, EPA recently drafted the 2012 Strategy Response to Climate Change to address impacts to water and how they could affect EPA’s water programs.  And we’re looking for your input.

You have until May 17th to provide your comments on this draft strategy.  Find out how to comment here!

Making sure that EPA’s programs continue to protect human health and the environment even in changing climate conditions will require collaboration from all of us.  We hope you’ll join us in facing up to this challenge!

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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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After the Storm

By Denise Owens

After the departure of Hurricane Irene, I was left with tons of damage and cleanup. My basement was my first concern. I couldn’t believe the amount of water I was seeing, but with the electricity off, I had to wait until the morning to actually see what was damaged.

I knew my first priority was to get the water out as quickly as possible because of the danger of mold . The electricity being out for a week made it harder, but I just had to get it done.

With the water gone, the next step was to remove the carpet to get the basement dry. Then I realized the walls were damaged. Since my home is older, I had paneling instead of drywall; it also had to be removed. Proper clean-up was necessary to avoid mold showing up later.

After I cleaned the basement, I just didn’t feel safe or comfortable with my results, so I hired a professional company to come out and do a thorough cleaning. After the company cleaned for hours, they assured me that I wouldn’t have any further problems and my basement was mold-free.

I didn’t realize it would take me so long to get things back to normal, but I’m so happy that my basement is mold free!

About the author: Denise Owens has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency for over 20 years.

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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Being Prepared

By Tom Damm

It wasn’t prophetic, just prudent to do a Healthy Waters blog earlier this year on preparing for water emergencies.  Since then, the Mid-Atlantic region has been pounded by a hurricane and drenching storms that have wreaked havoc in flooded communities across the area.

It’s time to revisit and broaden that topic since September is National Preparedness Month.  We can’t be reminded too often of the need to be ready for natural disasters and other emergencies.

That was clear when our EPA offices in a Philadelphia high-rise started to vibrate in the recent earthquake, and we trudged down flights of steps to evacuate and get over to a staging area.

The Department of Homeland Security encourages all of us to:

As we move on after marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, there will be activities across our area to promote emergency preparedness at home, at work and in the community.

Take advantage of these opportunities and check out these websites sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and EPA for more information.  And share with us any practical steps you’ve taken to be prepared.

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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