Green Infrastructure

Native Plants: Special Effects for the Environment

by Bonnie Turner-Lomax

Native plants from the mid-Atlantic area

Native plants from the mid-Atlantic area

Celebrating “the Magic of the Movies,” the 2015 Philadelphia Flower Show opens this weekend at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Each year, the Flower Show provides a prelude to spring, and a temporary escape from the cold and snow of a typical Philadelphia winter for its hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Watching a good movie can provide a great two-to- three hour escape where the unreal becomes convincingly real. Whether it’s a fictional land inhabited by mythical creatures; a time and place long forgotten; or a futuristic world in a distant galaxy, movie magic and special effects can make anything and everything appear real.

This year, EPA’s Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit “Now Showing at a Garden Near You,” featuring a cast of aquatic plants including azaleas, laurels, dogwoods, pitcher plants, phlox, and many other varieties of flora native to the mid-Atlantic region, demonstrates a magical yet very real, healthy and balanced garden ecosystem.

Using native plants from your area can provide many benefits for the environment including a source of food and habitat for pollinators, beneficial insects and other wildlife. Native plant communities also provide a sustainable way of fighting off colonization by those pesky invasive species.

Since natives require relatively little maintenance, they help save both time and money, and using native plants contributes to a healthy ecosystem that provides important ecological services like flood abatement, and filtering and replenishing groundwater.

If you plan to visit the Philadelphia Flower Show, stop by the EPA Exhibit and see how you can create a sustainable escape by applying “special effects” that will make your yard beautiful to look at, while reducing pollution and maintenance costs at the same time. The Philadelphia Flower Show runs from February 28 through March 8, 2015.

 

About the Author: Bonnie Turner-Lomax is the Communications Coordinator in the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division of EPA’s mid-Atlantic region.

 

 

 

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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Slowing the Spinning Wheel

electric meterby Ken Pantuck

Whether we live in houses or apartments, we all probably share the same sense of hesitation when we open our monthly electric bill…especially after some frigid winter months.

Keeping the environment and our household budgets in mind, it makes sense to consider ways to reduce these bills with more efficient appliances, and conservation measures to use less energy whenever possible.

Just like homeowners and renters, most operators of large water and wastewater treatment plants are always looking for ways of lowering energy consumption and the costs that come with it, and reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in the process. The difference is that their power requirements are enormous.

Did you know that nationally, electricity accounts for 25 to 40 percent of the operating budgets for wastewater utilities and approximately 80 percent of drinking water processing and distribution costs? In fact, drinking water and wastewater systems account for nearly four percent of all the energy use in the United States.

EPA’s Net Zero Energy team is helping utilities to lower their costs by reducing waste, conserving water, and lowering power demand.

I recently attended a meeting at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the regional planning group for in the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia where energy conservation and reductions were the chief topics. Each authority had used experts in the field to assist them in examining energy saving actions, and estimating the costs of implementing them.

While many of these energy projects involved little or no cost, others carried a more significant price tag. Each authority selected what actions would get them the biggest “bang for the buck” within their capital improvement budgets, and would pay for themselves within one to 10 years in energy savings.

While many large water and wastewater authorities are already benefiting from these energy saving measures, some of the smaller ones are just starting to learn about them. A couple of EPA publications entitled “Energy Efficiency in Water and Wastewater Facilities” and “Planning for Sustainability: A Handbook for Water and Wastewater Utilities” can provide the necessary first steps for a community or authority to begin such an effort.

Why not encourage your local utility to check out the savings?

About the Author: Ken Pantuck is the team leader for the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Innovative Technologies 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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Oyster Bay Goes Green with New Rain Garden

The newly installed rain garden at Oyster Bay’s Western Waterfront will capture, treat, and infiltrate polluted stormwater runoff before entering nearby Oyster Bay, and eventually Long Island Sound. Photo credit: Amy Mandelbaum, New York Sea Grant/ Long Island Sound Study.

The newly installed rain garden at Oyster Bay’s Western Waterfront will capture, treat, and infiltrate polluted stormwater runoff before entering nearby Oyster Bay, and eventually Long Island Sound. Photo credit: Amy Mandelbaum, New York Sea Grant/ Long Island Sound Study.

By Amy Mandelbaum and Mark A. Tedesco

Did you ever stop to think where water goes after it leaves your downspout? If you’re like most people, once stormwater is out of sight, it’s out of mind. Most likely, the stormwater rushes down your driveway, onto the street, and to the nearest storm drain. If you don’t live in the Big, I mean, Green Apple, then that drain goes directly to your local waterway, whether it be a lake, creek, river, bay, estuary, or even the ocean. So, what’s the big deal?

Well, that stormwater isn’t so clean by the time it makes it to your local waterway, as it picks up litter, nutrients, and plenty of other things along the way. This polluted stormwater runoff goes directly into the water without having a chance to be cleaned.

So, what can we do about it? That’s where green infrastructure comes into play. Green infrastructure is essentially mimicking what nature did before we started building gray infrastructure, such as gutters, roads, pipes, etc. Out of the many green infrastructure practices, one of the best for filtering polluted stormwater runoff is a rain garden: a shallow, vegetated basin that captures, treats, and infiltrates polluted stormwater runoff within a day. It is designed to treat the first inch of rain, which is the most polluted, and the plants, soil, and mulch filter the polluted stormwater runoff before it enters your local waterway.

The Town of Oyster Bay realized the need to redirect the polluted stormwater runoff from the roadway along the waterfront before going into nearby Oyster Bay, a Long Island Sound Stewardship Area, and eventually Long Island Sound. The Town sought and received a Long Island Sound Futures Fund grant to install a rain garden, all while educating the local community. The rain garden was installed in October, with assistance from other local organizations and volunteers. As part of the project, a corresponding rain garden training program is also offered for homeowners, municipal officials, and landscape professionals. This rain garden now serves as a demonstration to the local community and its visitors of a green infrastructure practice that can be easily incorporated into the landscape.

So, the next time it rains, I hope you take a closer look at your downspout.

If your town would like assistance mitigating the effects of stormwater runoff, contact your local Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO) office in New York or Connecticut.

About the Authors: Amy Mandelbaum is the New York Outreach Coordinator for the Long Island Sound Study. She works for New York Sea Grant in Stony Brook, NY. She received her Ed.M. in science education in 2012 and a B.S. in environmental science in 2007 from Rutgers University.

Mark Tedesco is director of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Island Sound Office. Mr. Tedesco is responsible for supporting implementation of a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Long Island Sound, approved in 1994 by the Governors of New York and Connecticut and the EPA Administrator, in cooperation with federal, state, and local government, private organizations, and the public. Mr. Tedesco received his M.S. in marine environmental science in 1986 and a B.S in biology in 1982 from Stony Brook University.

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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Financing Faster, Cheaper, Greener Urban Stormwater Management

Partnerships, market-based incentives, and private sector investment are all key elements of driving effective and affordable urban stormwater innovation.

Partnerships, market-based incentives, and private sector investment are all key elements of driving effective and affordable urban stormwater innovation.

By Dominique Lueckenhoff

Cities and towns across the region are facing huge infrastructure needs to manage urban stormwater runoff, a growing contributor to water pollution. That’s why EPA convened a Sustainable Stormwater Financing Forum in Washington, DC on December 9.

This first-of-its-kind forum – described as “ground-breaking”, “visionary”, and “unique” – hosted representatives of federal, state, and local governments, non-government organizations, and academia, along with private sector engineers, developers, and finance industry representatives. How important was it that all of these different organizations came together? Seth Brown of the Water Environment Federation (WEF) may have said it best: “Making connections between these sectors is vital for the future growth of innovative financing/funding approaches that are needed for the successful management of urban stormwater runoff.”

The forum covered topics from partnerships to market-based incentives and private sector investment, all key elements of driving effective and affordable urban stormwater innovation. DC’s Stormwater Retention Credit program and the Philadelphia Water Department’s Greened Acre Retrofit Program were two of the localized programs discussed with the audience. Without a doubt, the highlight of the forum was an in-depth discussion of a community-based public-private partnership recently adopted by Prince George’s County in Maryland. Under an agreement, the County will partner with the private company to pilot $100 million of green infrastructure projects. According to Prince George’s County, the projects are designed to “provide cost savings, create thousands of local jobs and boost economic development.”

Sustainable solutions to urban stormwater runoff have the potential to spur local economic development, create jobs, and improve quality of life for communities, all while protecting the environment. It was inspiring to hear from experts and leaders in the field about the innovative approaches that will be critical to addressing complex environmental problems – like urban stormwater runoff – today and into the future.

About the author: Dominique Lueckenhoff is the Deputy Division Director of the Water Protection Division in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office.

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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Survive, Adapt, and Grow: EPA, Rockefeller Foundation Team Up for Resilient Cities

By Lek Kadeli

“City Resilience: The capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a system to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.”

Rainbow over a cityscape

EPA is a platform partner for 100 Resilient Cities.

EPA recently announced a partnership to help communities across the United States and around the world achieve that very definition of city resilience by supporting 100 Resilient Cities, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation. Agency sustainability scientists and other experts will help urban communities take actions today to realize vibrant and healthy futures.

100 Resilient Cities was launched in 2013 to provide urban communities with access to a network of expertise, innovative tools, and models that will help them meet and bounce back even better from serious challenges—from chronic stresses such as air pollution and diminishing access to clean water, to more sudden events including floods, “superstorms” and other weather events, and acts of terrorism.

To support the partnership, EPA researchers will work directly with urban communities to share a variety of innovative tools and initiatives they have developed to meet just such challenges. For example:

  • The National Stormwater Calculator, an easy-to-use, online tool will help communities effectively tap innovative green infrastructure techniques to reduce nutrient pollution and the risk of local flooding, while also planning for the increase of stormwater runoff that is expected due to climate change.
  • EnviroAtlas, is a multi-scale, geographical-based online mapping, visualization, and analysis tool that integrates more than 300 separate data layers on various aspects of how natural ecosystems benefit people. The tool provides communities with a resource for developing science-based, strategic plans that sustain the ability of “ecosystem services” to absorb and mitigate stresses—a critical aspect of resiliency.
  • The Triple Value Systems tool provides an interactive model built on the dynamic relationship among economic, societal, and environmental impacts. Simulations illustrate the tradeoff and benefits of different decisions, supporting consensus building in pursuit of sustainable, resilient communities.
  • Incorporating a new generation of low cost, portable, and low maintenance air quality sensors into community-based air quality monitoring and awareness resources, such as “The Village Green Project,” will help individuals take action to protect their health, and community leaders to reduce the impacts of poor local air quality.
  • CANARY Event Detection Software, developed by EPA researchers in partnership with colleagues from Sandia National Laboratories, is an early warning system for detecting contaminants in drinking water. Recognized as a top 100 new technology by R&D Magazine, it helps water utilities continually monitor for threats and take early action to minimize disruptions.
EPA's Village Green Project, a solar-topped bench with air sensors

The Village Green project

EPA’s leadership advancing the science of sustainability and resiliency makes us a natural fit for supporting 100 Resilient Cities. Joining the network of other “platform partners” will help us share our research results and best practices and expand the impact of what our partners and we learn. We are thrilled to be part of this important effort advancing more sustainable and resilient communities, and look forward to a future where cities across the globe survive, adapt, and grow—no matter what.

About the Author: Lek Kadeli is the Acting Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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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Join us to Chat About Green Infrastructure

By Aaron Ferster

Rain + pavement = stormwater runoff.

Rain + pavement = stormwater runoff.

Rain can fall as a drizzle, a steady patter, or a deluge. It can bring life to crops, recharge aquifers, and douse wildfires. But in many instances and places, it can also bring trouble.

Stormwater—particularly flowing over urban and suburban landscapes with their abundance of pavement, roofs, and other impermeable surfaces—is a major source of pollution reaching the nation’s waterways. As it flows from the land and into storm drains, such runoff absorbs excess nutrients, oils, and other contaminants. Large storms and Spring melt events can also overwhelm municipal sewer systems, leading to overflows that include not only tainted runoff, but raw sewage as well.

The end result can mean impaired water bodies locally as well as far downstream.

EPA scientists and engineers are helping. Their research is advancing low-cost, innovative solutions, “green infrastructure,” that communities can tap to improve stormwater management and protect the health of their waterways.

Green infrastructure refers to techniques that enhance or mimic nature to absorb, pool, slow, and cleanse stormwater where it falls. It can take many forms, from rain barrels and local rain gardens to watershed-scale strategic plans that identify collective actions of “best practices” to employ across communities.

EPA researchers are providing the data, knowledge, and tools needed to advance green infrastructure for healthier, more sustainable communities. They are leading the effort to identify and quantify the beneficial impacts of green infrastructure and share what they learn with Agency partners.

Rain garden

EPA researchers are studying green infrastructure, such as rain gardens.

To learn more about green infrastructure and ask questions, please join our researchers tomorrow (October 29, 2014) from 2:00-3:00pm ET on twitter. Questions should be sent to #EnvSciChat.

You can also read more in our latest EPA Science Matters Newsletter: Green Infrastructure Research.

About the Author: EPA science writer Aaron Ferster is the editor of It All Starts with Science.

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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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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This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circleCompetition can bring out the best in people or the worst in people. Anyone who’s been watching the World Series or following football this season knows what I mean.

But when it comes to competing for sustainability, everybody wins! Read about the student teams selected to compete for this year’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) Awards and more in the research highlighted this week.

  • EPA Announces Winning P3 Student Teams
    Since 2004, the P3 Program has provided funding to student teams in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, committing over $10 million to cutting-edge, sustainable projects designed by university students. Read more.
  • EPA Supporting Next Generation of Environmental Scientists Through 105 Fellowship Grants
    EPA announced that 105 graduate students across the nation will receive $8.6 million in Science to Achieve Results fellowship grants to conduct research on topics ranging from climate change and public health to water quality and sustainability that will have cross-cutting impacts in the environmental science field. Read more.
  • Turning Back Time: Repairing Water Infrastructure
    The estimated costs of fixing old, leaky, and cracked pipes through the traditional methods could cost water utilities in excess of $1 trillion dollars over the next 20 years. Innovative, lower cost technologies that could provide alternatives would have enormous impact, but how do utilities know where to turn before they make investments in long-term solutions? Read more.
  • Sustainability and Resilience: Making the Connection
    EPA’s Alan Hecht, Ph.D. offers a new, forward thinking definition of resilience for communities, companies, and others to consider and strive for in the paper Resilience: Navigating toward a Sustainable Future. EPA is looking at research tools and approaches that address and advance community resilience and climate adaptation. Read more.
  • Green Infrastructure Research
    Check out the latest issue of our newsletter EPA Science Matters Newsletter: Green Infrastructure Research and join EPA researchers on October 29 from 2:00-3:00pm ET on twitter to talk about green infrastructure! Questions should be sent to the hashtag #EnvSciChat.

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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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Tri, Tri, Tri Again for Clean Water

By Marguerite Huber and Dustin Renwick

From the left, cyclist Marguerite Huber, runner Dustin Renwick, and would-be swimmer Sarah Edwards.

From the left, cyclist Marguerite Huber, runner Dustin Renwick, and would-be swimmer Sarah Edwards.

When athletes register for a race, they invest money, time, and energy. My fellow EPA blogger, Dustin Renwick, and I signed up to be a part of a relay team competing in the Nation’s Triathlon here in Washington, D.C.

Dustin ran the 10k, I biked the 40k, but our swimmer didn’t even get wet.

Our teammate, and all of the other athletes, did not get to participate in the swim portion of the race because it had been cancelled due to unsafe water quality.

The night before the event, the local area experienced storms and heavy rainfall that caused a combined sewer overflow that sent a mixture of sewage and stormwater into the Potomac River just north of the triathlon swim starting line.

The District Department of the Environment informed race officials of the unhealthy conditions late that evening and due to the high levels of bacteria such as E. coli, they agreed to cancel the swim.

Although boating, kayaking, and paddle boarding are allowed in the Potomac River, “primary contact recreation activities,” like swimming, have been banned in the river within the District of Columbia since 1971, when District health officials and EPA sought to protect people and publicize the health hazards of local water bodies.

Since then, clean-up efforts have resulted in a cleaner Potomac. Special swimming events, such as the Nation’s Tri, could apply for exceptions to the rule as of 2007. Event organizers are required to monitor and analyze water quality samples prior to the event and submit a contingency plan in the event the District Department of the Environment determines the river is unsafe for swimming.

Despite the progress, sewer overflows can still harm river quality. The Nation’s Triathlon had to cancel the swim in 2011 as well.

Judging by social media reactions, most athletes felt the Nation’s Tri race officials made the right choice in cancelling the swim. Safety is important, no matter how many hours of training you have put in.

But the disappointment of several thousand athletes is only a symptom. This situation really calls attention to the need for improvement in our stormwater infrastructure.

The 772 cities in the U.S. that have combined sewer systems can all be challenged by heavy rains that rush over urban impervious surfaces and into their sewers. This results in stormwater and untreated waste polluting our water bodies.

EPA has worked to promote green infrastructure practices to help minimize and prevent stormwater events that can threaten public health, all while protecting the quality of rivers, streams, and lakes. Green infrastructure techniques such as green roofs, permeable pavement, and rain gardens help slow down runoff and help water more naturally filter out excess nutrients and other pollutants on its way into the ground.

These kinds of activities help protect human health and the environment. Hopefully one day soon, as race contestants, we can count on completing the bike, run, and swim through our nation’s capital and in similar events across the country.

About the Authors: When student contractors Marguerite Huber and Dustin Renwick are not biking or running through the District, they can be found helping the science communication and innovation teams (respectively) in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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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Around the Water Cooler: Green Infrastructure Research All-STARs

This post originally appeared on EPA’s Healthy Waters for the Mid-Atlantic Region blog.

by Ken Hendrickson and Jennie Saxe

green infrastructure

An example of green infrastructure to help in managing urban stormwater.

A few weeks ago, Major League Baseball (MLB) held its annualAll-Star Game. This is a chance for the best players from across MLB to work together and showcase their talents. EPA recently had a chance to host an “all-star” event of its own. On July 24,EPA’s Mid-Atlantic RegionandEPA’s Office of Research and Development hosted akick-off meetingof researchers who receivedScience to Achieve Results(STAR) grants. Since this was a kick-off meeting, it felt like less like a mid-season break, and more like spring training.

Like a baseball team focused on winning the pennant, these researchers are all focused on one goal:understanding the performance and effectiveness of green infrastructure in an urban setting. Five colleges and universities received a total of nearly $5 million from EPA to focus research on green infrastructure in Philadelphia. These research projects,announced on a snowy day this past January, will support the groundbreaking Green City, Clean Waters Partnership agreement between EPA and the City of Philadelphia.

Why would the research teams meet when the research hasn’t yet begun? This type of meeting provides researchers with a full picture of all of the research that is planned, and allows researchers to identify opportunities for collaboration. In this way, the individual teams can better understand where, how, and what their peers will be investigating. Proposals were developed several months ago, and it’s important to discuss the plans, processes, and research sites that have been refined since the projects were funded.

While the research may be conducted by these “academic all-stars,” it is much more than an academic exercise: the research is happening on the ground in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, and – by making it easier and cheaper to protect water quality through greening communities – the benefits will go to the residents of the city. In addition to the more than 30 researchers who attended to present their plans, dozens more people learned about the research plans by attending via webinar – maybe they will be inspired to pursue green infrastructure projects in their communities.

In research, as in baseball, with hard work comes important results. We’re certain that when we check back with these researchers in a few years, they will have many more insights to share.

About the authors: Ken Hendrickson and Jennie Saxe work in the Water Protection Division of EPA’s Region 3 office in Philadelphia.

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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