Green Solutions

Home Energy Audits are Easy and Worth Your Time

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator

I had a great visit recently with a couple of eager young energy consultants sent by my electric utility, and I’m feeling rather good about the results. I learned that all in all, my 2,500-square-foot colonial home is reasonably energy efficient. And I learned that I can invest just $1,000 to make improvements that will more than pay me back in three years.

Since EPA New England is encouraging residents across the region to take advantage of home energy audits, I asked my utility, National Grid, to audit my house. I wanted to find out first-hand what happens in these audits, which, by the way, are often offered for free.

Even though I am the regional administrator at EPA’s New England office, my experience was pretty much what any homeowner could expect – if you ignore the two suited, but very polite executives that trailed me and the consulting engineers eagerly checking on everything from my boiler, insulation and wiring to my refrigerators, stoves and windows.

The entire visit was actually quite fun, but then, I love this kind of stuff. And in just two to three hours I found out that the areas where I thought I was doing well with energy efficiency were not always that great. I learned that my 93-year-old four-bedroom colonial could use a bit more insulation, and that it hosts an attic fan that turns on when it shouldn’t. I was also surprised to hear that the high-priced, energy-efficient air conditioner I so proudly purchased was installed wrong. The installers hadn’t connected the duct work correctly, so I’ve been cooling a 100-degree attic, in addition to our living space.

If I correct these issues, about 60 percent of the $2,500 cost of improvements will be paid for by tax credits and government subsidies, leaving me with just a $1,000 bill. Oh and, they also gave us 10 free LED light bulbs to replace less efficient ones.

Subsidies and programs already in place in New England put us ahead of the curve of national policy. The US Clean Power Plan, which EPA expects to finalize this summer, will require all states to draft a plan to help cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. EPA suggests states look at using less fossil fuel, using fossil fuel more efficiently, cutting back on demand and increasing the use of low emission, no–emission or renewable resources. Every state can tailor its own best plan based on their needs.

Each state has its own incentives, and many provide free audits. EPA also offers the ENERGY STAR Home Advisor, an online tool to help consumers save money and improve their homes’ energy efficiency through recommended home-improvement projects. Simple actions, like upgrading a bathroom showerhead, can save thousands of gallons of water a year, which translate to lower water and energy bills.

I asked for a utility audit because I wanted to take part in a program EPA encourages. I wanted to see what is was like to have a home energy audit. It was so satisfying I felt compelled to wander over to neighbors, utility folks trailing behind me, and share with them the lessons I had learned from my audit. I know the improvements I make may only be a tiny difference in the nation’s emissions, but if each of us makes a few recommended changes, it quickly adds up to a big deal.

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 Pollinator Week: Choose Native Plants

By Gayle Hubert

I discovered a few years ago that I’m a sixth generation resident of Platte County, Mo. I was living in a house unknowingly within five miles of where my third and second great-grandfathers are buried. It’s funny how we end up going back to our roots. My family’s roots grow best on our native land. So it is with my native plants.

As I was digging one day in my yard in Parkville, I marveled at the plant I was putting into the ground, back into the native Missouri soil it loves so well. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than putting these plants back home where they belong. My plants get their strength from the tan clays of the Midwest.

National Pollinator Week is June 15-21, and I felt compelled to write about one of my greatest passions: native plants. This week was designated to build awareness of the declining pollinator populations in the hope that we’ll begin to choose native plants for our landscapes, as one of many things we can do to help pollinators.

Why pollinators are important

Clockwise from lower right: Indian Pink, Wild Hairy Petunia, Caterpillar, American Beautyberry, Tiger Swallowtail on Purple Coneflower (center)

Clockwise from lower right: Indian Pink, Wild Hairy Petunia, Caterpillar, American Beautyberry, Tiger Swallowtail on Purple Coneflower (center)

Our choice of plants is even more important considering the connection they have to pollinators and to our food supply. Pollinators are responsible for one third of the food we eat, and for pollinating the plants that supply us with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients like antioxidants found in tea, fruit, and vegetables. Pollinators are also responsible for the meat and dairy we eat, because those animals eat the alfalfa, clover, and other plants pollinated by bees and other pollinators.

Many pollinator populations are declining, and one reason is that the number and variety of native plants they evolved with are declining too. Pollinators grow up with native plants, use them for food and shelter, and they often prefer only natives. Some non-native varieties are less hardy and have been genetically altered so much that bees and other pollinators can’t find the pollen because they no longer recognize the structure.

Not only do native plants provide nutrients and homes to pollinators, they also help the environment by thriving without adding expensive fertilizers, chemicals, or sprinkler systems. I believe they are some of the hardiest living things on earth.

The advantages of going native

Gayle’s first native garden in its third year, with her son Nate

Gayle’s first native garden in its third year, with her son Nate

I’ve witnessed their amazing powers to return to full bloom after being mowed down by mistake, eaten by deer and rabbits, and dug up by dogs. They’ve withstood drought, killing frosts, subzero cold, and scorching heat. They wait patiently until floodwaters disappear and stand tall downstream of a raging current. They can be trampled, transplanted, pummeled by hail and still thrive in some of the driest, hardest, and most compact soils on this planet – the clay soil of the Heartland. Their strength is in their roots.

I started gardening with natives at our first home in a corner of the backyard that I had no idea what to do with. The plot sat for a couple of years until I attended an event at a local nursery, where I bought my first native flower seed that began my garden. I was hooked on natives from that day on.

Gayle’s current native garden

Gayle’s current native garden

I was in awe of every bloom because I’d never seen these plants before. Each one had its own unique character and beauty. And then, to my astonishment, came dozens of butterflies, along with hummingbirds, Goldfinches, Cedar Waxwings, Indigo Buntings, and many more winged visitors. Native plants will lure critters you never knew existed.

Ten years later, we moved to a new home that was a challenge because of the strict covenants and neighbors’ preferences to manicured green lawns. However, I wanted to share my knowledge and designed my native flower beds in areas where the grass doesn’t grow. I even incorporated non-natives into the scheme.

It’s been 12 years since I installed that garden. To my amazement, I still get plenty of compliments about my native garden from passers-by. I‘m constantly adding and moving things around, but isn’t that what gardening is all about?

Create your own natural, native garden

I encourage you to incorporate a few native plant species into your own landscape. You can delight in the same wonderful blooms, joy, and diversity these plants have given me, and at the same time, give the pollinators the plants they grew up with. And if you don’t own land, you can still grow them in pots and give them to friends and family to place in their landscapes.

There are many native plant varieties that substitute nicely for the familiar non-natives we see every day, and will offer more value to you and the ecosystem. For example, Serviceberry or Dogwoods will swap for the Bradford Pears, and besides spring blooms, they display additional fall color and are less susceptible to ice damage. Golden Currant can replace your Forsythia, with thousands of yellow blooms and a wonderful clove fragrance! Not only that, it blooms in March when little else does.

Tuck a few new native plants here and there among existing non-natives, like I’ve done. You can use prepared garden designs or design your own hummingbird garden, Monarch waystation, or pollinator garden. Have fun with it!

Choose a native plant as a substitute for a non-native. They’re good for pollinators, the environment, and your wallet!

Helpful links:

About the Author: Gayle Hubert serves as an Environmental Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Air and Waste Management Division. She is currently assigned to the Waste Enforcement and Materials Management Program. Gayle received her bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Missouri.

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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Making a Difference through Green Streets Funding

 EPA, the Chesapeake Bay Trust and MD DNR announced $727,500 in grants to 15 organizations via the Green Streets, Green Towns, Green Jobs Grant Initiative

EPA, the Chesapeake Bay Trust and MD DNR announced $727,500 in grants to 15 organizations via the Green Streets, Green Towns, Green Jobs Grant Initiative

by Tom Damm

Transforming lives is something Sarah’s Hope in Baltimore does every day as an emergency homeless shelter for families.

But this week, the focus at the safe haven was on a different type of transformation: replacing the asphalt and concrete on the property with an environmentally friendly community green space and outdoor playground area.

Earlier this week, EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin was at Sarah’s Hope to join partners in announcing funding for a key phase of the project.

A $75,000 grant from the Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns (G3) program will be used to tear up the hard surfaces in front of the property that during storms send rain water rushing into the street and drains, leading to flooding and pollution problems.   The surfaces will be replaced with lawn, shade trees, native plants, and other green features that will let the rain soak in and provide a welcome lift to this troubled neighborhood.

The atmosphere at the event was upbeat as the project partners, Parks & People Foundation, the City of Baltimore and St. Vincent de Paul, described their plans for the facility.

The G3 grant will tie into a larger Baltimore City project to create public open space, a playground area and a community garden at the site, which is now almost fully covered with impervious surface.  The work will improve the property for shelter residents and the community at large, and transform the appearance of the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood.

Many of the other grantees were also on hand at the event to talk about how the G3 funds will help expand urban tree canopies, create bioretention cells to capture stormwater, and install other types of green infrastructure in neighborhoods in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

By keeping rain water from coming into contact with pollution in the first place, green infrastructure improves the health of our waters, while effectively reducing flooding, and helping our communities adapt to the very real challenges of climate change.

The G3 program – sponsored by EPA, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, with assistance from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources – is in its fifth year. In this latest round of grants, 15 recipients will share in more than $727,000 in funding –  bringing the total aggregate investment in G3 grants to more than $11 million when matching funds are included over the five-years that the program has been in existence.

 

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

 

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 the 45th Earth Day

by Jennie Saxe

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was held as a national “teach-in” on environmental issues. That day, rallies and conferences were held across the country to get Americans engaged in environmental protection. For a look at the first Earth Day rallies in Philadelphia, check out the history and videos compiled by the Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia, including footage from news reports on the first Earth Week.

As we celebrate the 45th Earth Day, staff in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office are participating in many events that honor the environmental education focus of the day. Even though the Healthy Waters blog is all about water, our Earth Day outreach featured much, much more!

Last Saturday, dozens of EPA employees took advantage of the beautiful weather to lace up their sneakers for the Clean Air Council’s Run for Clean Air. This race, beginning near the iconic steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, follows the Schuylkill River – a source of drinking water for the City of Philadelphia – for much of its route.

EPA staff shared information on sustainability at the Philadelphia Phillies' Red Goes Green game.

EPA staff shared information on sustainability at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Red Goes Green game.

Yesterday, EPA celebrated Earth Day all across the region. Employees shared tips to protect the environment with rail commuters at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, with students at the National Constitution Center, with sports fans at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Red Goes Green game, and with everyone working and living at Fort Meade in Maryland.

EPA educated students on native plants and more at the National Constitution Center's Earth Day event.

EPA educated students on native plants and more at the National Constitution Center’s Earth Day event.

But wait…the week isn’t over yet! Look for EPA at Temple-Ambler’s EarthFest on Friday, April 24, and at Core Creek Park for the Bucks County Earth Day celebration on Saturday, April 25.

In case EPA’s Earth Day outreach didn’t make it to your neighborhood this year, check out these links for a “virtual Earth Day” experience:

  • Save water and money with WaterSense labeled products
  • Protect local waterways by disposing of expired medication properly
  • Use less water in your landscaping by planting species native to the mid-Atlantic – they’re easy to grow and create habitat for birds and butterflies
  • Keep pollution out of our streams by using green infrastructure to soak up rainwater in your yard

Earth Day doesn’t have to come just once a year! Let us know how you plan to make #EarthDayEveryDay.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. For Earth Day, she’s installing rain barrels to slow the flow of rainwater across her yard.

 

 

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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Progress Toward Cleaner Water Isn’t Just Pass-Fail

by Jon Capacasa
Imagine your child brings home a test with a failing grade. With time, her grades improve to a solid “C” or a “B.” Before the year is over, she earns an occasional “A.” Though she hasn’t achieved “straight A” performance, you celebrate her improvement with hopes it will motivate her toward future successes.

Looking back over 42 years of the federal Clean Water Act, there have been similar, incredibly positive improvements in the quality of our nation’s waters which deserve attention. No longer are rivers on fire or are streams serving as open sewers. Visible pollution is way down. However, the job of sharing the news about these improvements has been difficult.

Capturing progress is complicated by a “pass or fail” approach to declaring “attainment” – or full achievement – of water quality standards. In the world of water quality standards, waterbodies are either in non-attainment (an “F” grade) or full attainment (an “A”). Adding complexity, a waterway can be in attainment for some activities (like swimming, recreational use, and fish consumption) and not others. Telling the story of water quality improvements can be complicated; however, EPA is committed to telling more stories of incremental progress using hard data and good science.

One tale of improvement is the story of the Delaware River. In the 1970s, its water quality was so bad that the spring and summer dissolved oxygen (DO) levels in the Philadelphia-Camden stretch bottomed out to “zero” during many weeks. The lack of oxygen was a roadblock to migratory fish who could not navigate the river for spawning. Building on decades of work by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), basin states, and municipal wastewater treatment plants, EPA’s Clean Water Act construction funding and enforcement of proper discharge permits spurred a tremendous rebound for the river. Now, according to DRBC, there is less of a summertime drop in DO levels and the current standard is met much of the time. Shad can now run in the spring to spawn, without being blocked by a low-oxygen zone. However, achievement of the current DO standard is still only a milestone of progress, and not the final goal; protection of aquatic life may require additional protective criteria. Regardless, everyone involved in bringing this great turnaround deserves recognition. The Delaware River waterfront now attracts many visitors to it every year – a huge benefit to local businesses. In fact, the University of Delaware estimated the economic benefit of a healthy Delaware River to be over $10 billion a year.

There is less of a summertime drop in DO levels near the Ben Franklin Bridge and the current standard is met much of the time. Graphic courtesy of DRBC.

There is less of a summertime drop in DO levels near the Ben Franklin Bridge, (Philadelphia to New Jersey), and the current standard is met much of the time. Graphic courtesy of DRBC.

There is progress on another front, too: legacy contaminants in river sediments. Legacy contaminants, such as PCBs are remnants of past activities that remain in the environment and affect fish health. While they last for a long time, DRBC reports that PCB loadings are down significantly and a fish consumption advisory in Delaware was eased in late 2013.

The Delaware River is improving, but the job is far from done. In some ways, the job may be getting harder as we deal with new types of contaminants. Recognizing progress as it happens, without the constraints of a pass-fail approach, is a win for everyone: watershed groups gain support for their efforts and public and private groups realize early returns on their investments as water quality improves.

 

About the author: Jon Capacasa is the Director of the Water Protection Division in 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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The Promise of Permeable Pavement

by Jeanna Henry

Permeable pavement products can be used together with other green infrastructure.

When it rains, or as snow and ice melt, I frequently notice streams of water running off of my lawn, onto the street, into the storm sewer, and ultimately to a local waterway. I’ve also noticed an increase in flooded roadways and neighborhoods in my area even after a moderate to heavy rain. Unfortunately, stormwater is not just a localized issue, it is a problem across the country. As the saying goes: when it rains, it pours.

Flooding results in economic costs, human health impacts, and environmental damage in its wake. A major factor in more frequent flooding events is the increasing cover of impervious surfaces, such as roadways, parking lots and rooftops. Since these hard surfaces do not allow stormwater to naturally seep into the ground, most rainfall turns into runoff. With continuing development and growth, what options are available to minimize the effects of impervious surfaces? A more sustainable solution is to replace or substitute conventional pavements with permeable pavements – a green infrastructure tool.

Porous asphalt allows water to drain through it.

Porous asphalt allows water to drain through it.

Permeable pavements include pervious concrete, porous asphalt, and permeable interlocking pavers that mimic nature by capturing, infiltrating, treating, and/or storing rainwater where it falls. EPA considers these materials a Best Management Practice (BMP) for the management of stormwater runoff. Permeable pavements also provide multiple benefits beyond stormwater management and reducing localized flooding: they also have the ability to improve water quality; reduce the “heat island” effect in urban areas; reduce roadway hazards like ponding water and icing; create green jobs; and can increase the livability and resiliency of communities and increase property values when used with other green infrastructure. In fact, these benefits are already being realized throughout EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region.

Permeable pavements along with green infrastructure are effective ways to address flooding as well as supporting green, sustainable growth. So the next time it rains, think about where permeable pavements and other types of green infrastructure could fit into your community.

 

About the author: Jeanna Henry joined EPA in 2000 as an Environmental Scientist. She currently works in the Water Protection Division focusing on stormwater management through the use of Green Infrastructure. Jeanna loves nothing more than spending time outdoors with family and friends hiking, kayaking, or spending a day at the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

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 a Leak

Water-Sense - 2015by Kimberly Scharl

 

 

One trillion gallons.

That’s how much clean drinking water American households waste each year due to leaky pipes, toilets, showerheads and other fixtures. That’s enough water to fill 1,515 Olympic-sized swimming pools!

The good news: fixing these leaks can be easy, inexpensive, and can save you nearly 10 percent on your water bills. EPA’s WaterSense program encourages everyone to “chase down” plumbing leaks during next week’s 7th annual Fix a Leak Week, because leaks can run, but they can’t hide!

Fix a Leak Week is the perfect time to find and stop water leaks in your home. When it comes to repairing leaky fixtures, and you don’t need to be a home repair expert. Some common types of leaks found in the home, like worn toilet flappers and dripping faucets, are often easy to fix. You might only need a few tools and hardware, and these fixes can pay for themselves in water savings.

To kick off the week, EPA is hosting a Twitter Chat on Monday March 16th from 2-3 pm (eastern). Join the conversation by using the hashtag #FixALeak.

The celebration of savings lasts all week: the WaterSense Facebook page has a map of events happening all over the country to celebrate Fix a Leak Week. Here are two in the Mid-Atlantic Region:

On March 16, EPA will be on hand at the South Philadelphia store of The Home Depot – a WaterSense partner – to demonstrate water-saving improvement projects. Stop by to find out about water-saving projects and products.

On March 22, the City of Charlottesville, the University of Virginia, and the Albemarle County Service Authority will host a Fix a Leak 5K, an event where runners will chase a “running” toilet along the city’s main rivers and natural areas. The family-friendly event will also feature local vendors and non-profits sharing information on water and energy savings.

Share the savings

When you take the plunge to find and fix a leak in your home, share the news!

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

About the Author: Kimberly Scharl joined EPA in 2010, after moving to the mid-Atlantic region 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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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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What will you rethink?

by Jaclyn McIlwain

 

rethinkI love rocking a brand new pair of shoes, feeling fresh as I walk through Rittenhouse Square on my way to lunch at a hip restaurant. But, wait. Don’t I already have a pair of blue suede shoes? Didn’t I just go grocery shopping last night?

If you’re lucky enough to have the luxury of dining out and shopping in Center City, do you ever stop and think about where all of these products are coming from? The exotic food, the jeans you’re wearing. What went into these goods? Answer: natural resources, materials, and energy. In fact, 42% of carbon pollution emissions in the U.S. are associated with the energy used to produce, process, transport, and dispose of the food we eat and the goods we use. To build a more sustainable future, we almost certainly will need to rethink how we source, consume, and dispose of goods.

Don’t be disheartened! There are a million ways to rethink your daily practices. By simply reexamining the choices you make day-to-day, you have the power to affect change and work toward a sustainable future: from shopping (“Could I borrow this from someone instead? Can I reuse something I already have in my home?”) to your daily routine (washing clothes in cold water and turning off the tap when brushing your teeth) to how you dispose of products and materials that you just can’t use any more (think: recycling and composting!) There’s no better time than Pollution Prevention Week to commit to actions that improve your health, help the planet and save money.

EPA is highlighting steps you can take toward sustainability during Philadelphia’s 2014 Park(ing) Day. Park(ing) Day is a national event held on the third Friday in September, where mundane metered parking spaces are converted into temporary miniature parks throughout the city. Park(ing) Day re-imagines the possibilities of 170 square feet of public space, celebrates parks and public spaces nationwide, and raises awareness of the need for more pedestrian-friendly spaces in urban areas.

Visit EPA’s temporary park and explore how you can save water, reduce waste, prevent pollution, and act on climate. There are a few more sustainability surprises waiting for you this Friday, September 19 at 18th and Sansom Streets, but I won’t give it all away. You’ll have to come see (and learn) for yourself!

What if we could transform the city for just one day? What if we could transform the way we make our purchases, for good? We can, and we are.

What will you rethink?

 

About the author: Jaclyn McIlwain has worked at EPA since 2010 in the Water Protection Division. A Philadelphia native, Jaclyn studied environmental science and is a graduate of the 2012 Pennsylvania Master Naturalist program. When not in the office, she can be found hiking, camping, or practicing yoga.

 

 

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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Evaporation: friend or foe?

Vegetation in stormwater swales and other green infrastructure allow natural processes - like evapotranspiration and infiltration – to manage stormwater where it lands.

Vegetation in stormwater swales and other green infrastructure allow natural processes – like evapotranspiration and infiltration – to manage stormwater where it lands.

by Jennie Saxe

I was mulching my garden recently, trying to remember why I had decided to spend my weekend this way, and I thought about how much mulch helps out plants during the hot, often dry summer.

In addition to keeping weeds at bay without chemicals, mulch provides the additional benefits of holding moisture in soil and preventing wide fluctuations in soil temperature. I also recently read about how evaporation can affect water supplies by causing significant losses during storage and transmission of drinking water supplies.

So, does that make evaporation the enemy?

Not necessarily: evaporation can also be a good thing. The process of transpiration by the plants is another key ingredient in and keeping our waters clean. Plants transpire by drawing water up from the soil, through roots, throughout the plant, and eventually releasing water to the air through the leaves.

Using green infrastructure mimics natural processes like infiltration and allows communities to reap the benefits of evapotranspiration, the combination of evaporation and transpiration processes in plants.

Green infrastructure utilizes plants for intercepting, capturing and reusing rainwater. For example, water that lands in the canopy of trees may evaporate before it comes in contact with pollutants which reduces the amount of water and pollution that would otherwise end up in sewers and streams.

Although trees can clearly make a huge impact, all types of vegetation in curb bump-outs, stormwater planters, green roofs, and rain gardens can use evapotranspiration to help keep stormwater and pollutants out of our sewer systems and waterways.

This is important because a heavy storm, especially in an urbanized area, can result in rapid runoff of stormwater from roofs, across sidewalks and streets, and many times into combined sewer systems, where it can contribute to sewer overflows – or directly into waterways where it can load streams with pollutants and sediment.

Rapid stormwater runoff can also lead to flooding and property damage. Green infrastructure techniques are one way to slow the flow of stormwater runoff, keeping huge volumes of stormwater out of sewer systems, reducing flooding, and preventing pollution from entering waterways.

So, while evaporation can be a friend or a foe, understanding when it can be helpful is critical to protecting our water resources.

 

About the author: 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 tending to a vegetable garden.

 

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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