Green Solutions

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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May is the time for Sprinkler Spruce–Up!

Sprinkler Spruce-up

By Kim Scharl

As we approach summer, some of us start to think about watering our lawns and gardens to keep them looking their best.  Do you get tired of dragging out the hose every day or letting your sprinkler cool off the sidewalk? These tips will help you use water more wisely!

Residential outdoor water use in the United States accounts for more than nine billion gallons of water each day, mainly for landscape irrigation.  When it comes to making certain that your home’s irrigation system is in good working order, a little maintenance goes a long way.

You can spruce up your irrigation system by remembering four simple steps—inspect, connect, direct, and select:

Inspect. Check your system for clogged, broken or missing sprinkler heads. If you are not the do–it–yourself type, go with a pro—look for an irrigation professional certified through a WaterSense-labeled program.

Connect. Examine points where the sprinkler heads connect to pipes or hoses. If water pools in your yard or you have large wet areas, you could have a leak in your system. Did you know that a leak as small as the tip of a ballpoint pen (about 1/32 of an inch) can waste about 6,300 gallons of water per month?

Direct. Are you watering the driveway, house, or sidewalk instead of your yard? Redirect sprinklers to apply water only to the grassy or planted areas.

Select. An improperly scheduled irrigation controller can waste water and money. Update your system’s watering schedule with the seasons, or select a WaterSense-labeled controller to take the guesswork out of scheduling.

During the month of May, WaterSense wants you to remember to “Spruce up your Sprinkler” by replacing a standard clock timer with a WaterSense-labeled irrigation controller that can save an average home nearly 8,800 gallons of water annually.

If every home in the United States with an automatic sprinkler system installed and properly operated a WaterSense-labeled controller, we could save $435 million in water costs and 120 billion gallons of water across the country annually by not overwatering lawns and landscapes! For more, check out information from EPA on WaterSense-labeled irrigation systems and these simple water saving tips.

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

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

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Take a second to fix some leaks!

Water SenseBy Kimberly Scharl

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

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

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

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

Take the Pledge!

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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It’s all about the Network: Funding Agricultural Practices that Restore Clean Water

A network of technical professionals visit a PA dairy farm that received financial assistance to install agricultural conservation practices which are good for business and local water quality.

A network of technical professionals visit a PA dairy farm that received financial assistance to install agricultural conservation practices which are good for business and local water quality.

 

by Kelly Shenk

 If you are a farmer in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, there are some great workshops providing information on ways to finance conservation practices to restore local waters and the Chesapeake Bay. The University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center  is holding a series of Agricultural Finance Workshops in Delaware and West Virginia and the Upper Susquehanna region in Pennsylvania later this year.  In January and February, I participated in the Ag Finance workshops that were held in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and found them extremely informative.

These workshops provide a wealth of knowledge about programs to assist in reducing nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution. I learned that while funding is available, certain procedures need to be followed closely.  Some of the types of funding available include: USDA Farm Bill funding; state agricultural cost share funding; federal and state loan programs; public and private grant programs; and tax credits.  There are also creative ways to combine these funding mechanisms that reduce the amount you, as a farmer, would pay.

Take for example, fencing in the Shenandoah Valley. Fencing is a low-tech way to protect waterways by keeping cattle out of streams. There are a number of programs to help fund stream exclusion and we heard about several at the workshop:  Farm Bill programs, the VA agricultural cost share program that covers up to 100% of the cost of stream exclusion, and other programs for farmers who need more flexibility in the type of fence and width of buffer installed. There’s even a program to pay farmers $1 for every foot of fence they have paid for themselves to cover the maintenance costs.

 The workshop presenters are familiar with each other’s programs, so they know how to “piggy back” programs to minimize the cost to farmers.  Most importantly, they know the producers in their region and understand their issues.  They discuss the available options with the farmer, decide on a plan of action, and then identify the program or mix of funding programs that will meet the farmer’s needs.  With this approach, the technical network helps farmers address issues with the least amount of cost, hassle, paperwork, and confusion.

I left these workshops encouraged by the dedicated cadre of technical professionals that are out in the field every day working with farmers to find solutions to protecting water quality while keeping farmers farming.

For more information on future workshops, contact:  Jill Jefferson, University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center, at jilljeff@umd.edu.

 

Kelly Shenk is EPA Region III’s Agricultural Advisor. 

 

 

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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Rain Gardens in the Winter

My rain garden in February

My rain garden in February

By Sue McDowell

Back in April, 2013, I wrote a blog about the benefits of rain gardens.  Now with almost half the country engulfed in winter and freezing temperatures, should we just forget about our gardens for now?

In a way, yes. Your rain garden should take care of itself throughout the winter months and be refreshed for the spring.

If you recall from the previous post, a rain garden is a garden designed as a shallow depression to collect water that runs off from your roof, driveway and other paved areas. The gardens are filled with varieties of native plants and shrubs that are both water and drought tolerant.  It’s a sustainable and economic way of dealing with rainfall as nature intended – all year round. It might not look like it, but your garden still works hard throughout the winter months.  In the winter, rain gardens continue to manage rain water (or snow melt) by holding the water briefly to allow slower infiltration.

Winter rain gardens are similar to any garden – the flowers die back, waiting for spring to re-emerge.  Most rain garden designs plan with winter in mind, such as using native grasses, dry seed pods from native coneflowers (Echinacea) and black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) .

By not cutting back last year’s growth, the rain garden can provide food and cover for winter birds such as sparrows and juncos.   Adding a fresh layer of mulch and raking out any leaves will keep the rain garden functioning during the cold months and ready it for the spring growth.

Here’s a bonus tip: when you do ready your rain garden for the spring, you can put the leaves and cuttings you remove from your rain garden in your home composter. If you’re not composting, but plan to start when the weather warms up, the brown leaves and cuttings will be a perfect starter food for your compost pile.

What are some of your observations of your rain garden through these winter months?

About the author: Susan McDowell joined the EPA family in 1990.  Her work on community-based sustainability throughout her career includes the award-winning Green Communities program which has traveled across the United States and internationally.  She brings her ‘ecological’ perspective to her work including Pennsylvania’s nonpoint source pollution program the mid-Atlantic National Estuaries, and the G3 Academy (Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns).

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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Braving the Weather to Promote Green Infrastructure in Philadelphia

By Bob Perciasepe

Crossposted from EPA Connect

CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley and EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe in snow storm in Philadelphia following STAR grant announcement

CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley and EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe in snow storm in Philadelphia following STAR grant announcement

Yesterday, I was up in Philadelphia joined by CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley and Mayor Nutter to announce nearly $5 million in EPA grants made possible through the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program. These investments are going to five universities, and aim to fill gaps in research evaluating the costs and benefits of certain green infrastructure practices.

The projects to be invested in, led by Temple University, Villanova University, Swarthmore College, University of Pennsylvania and University of New Hampshire, will explore the financial and social costs and benefits associated with green infrastructure as a stormwater and wet weather pollution management tool.

From rain gardens and permeable pavement to using absorbent landscape materials to soak up rainwater and more, the knowledge we gain will pay dividends not just for Philadelphia, but for cities all across the country. Green infrastructure can save money, promote safe drinking water, and build more resilient water systems—especially in the face of climate change.

(from left) Howard Neukrug, Commissioner of Philadelphia Water Department, Samuel Mukasa, Dean of UNH College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Ramona Trovato, EPA Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator of Research and Development, Dan Garofalo, UPenn Sustainability Director, Nancy Sutley, CEQ Chair,   Stephen Nappi, Associate Vice Provost for Technology and Commercialization at Temple University, Bob Perciasepe, EPA Deputy Administrator, Reverend Peter Donahue, President of Villanova University, Maurice Eldridge, VP of College and Community Relations at Swarthmore College, Shawn Garvin, EPA Region 3 Administrator, and Jim Johnson, EPA Director of NCER

(from left) Howard Neukrug, Commissioner of Philadelphia Water Department, Samuel Mukasa, Dean of UNH College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Ramona Trovato, EPA Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator of Research and Development, Dan Garofalo, UPenn Sustainability Director, Nancy Sutley, CEQ Chair, Stephen Nappi, Associate Vice Provost for Technology and Commercialization at Temple University, Bob Perciasepe, EPA Deputy Administrator, Reverend Peter Donahue, President of Villanova University, Maurice Eldridge, VP of College and Community Relations at Swarthmore College, Shawn Garvin, EPA Region 3 Administrator, and Jim Johnson, EPA Director of NCER

Results from these university research teams will supplement a growing body of knowledge that EPA’s own researchers are uncovering. From monitoring and performance evaluation to creating models and a toolbox of green infrastructure resources for decision-makers, this research will be valuable to the city of Philadelphia and beyond.

We’re especially proud of the great work going on through Philly’s Green City, Clean Waters program. Our ongoing partnership between our researchers, EPA regional staff, academia, and the City of Philadelphia under Mayor Michael Nutter is a model for others to follow. We’re helping make real progress at the community level. Community progress isn’t just what guides our actions—it’s a measure of our success in fulfilling EPA’s mission of protecting public health and the environment.

And we’ll continue to rely on that kind of collaboration—especially when it comes to climate change. Luckily, Philadelphia has made major progress, thanks to Mayor Nutter’s efforts in cutting carbon pollution and preparing the city for climate impacts. As a member of President Obama’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, Mayor Nutter’s advice will be critical to make sure  our climate preparedness and resilience policies respond to the needs of communities. The advice we get from the Task Force is an important component to our national Climate Action Plan to combat climate change broadly.

We have come a long way in the 40 years since the Clean Water Act. But with new challenges like climate change—we need push forward with community-focused, innovative solutions. That’s why locally focused partnerships like Green City, Clean Water, and ground level solutions like green infrastructure, are paving a pathway for progress.

I’m confident that through our STAR program, investments in these projects will go a long way to developing innovation solutions to stormwater management, wet weather pollution, and building more resilient, safer water systems for all.

Bob Perciasepe is the EPA’s Deputy Administrator.

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 Potomac Watershed – From All Sides

By Ellen Schmitt and Susan Spielberger

More often than not, watersheds cross political boundaries.  Take the Potomac River for example.  It drains an area of 14,670 square miles in four states: Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia.  As part of the larger Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the Potomac River delivers a significant amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment to the Chesapeake Bay.

Morning fog over the Potomac River. Photo courtesy of Flickr photographer jm6553 from EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project

Morning fog over the Potomac River. Photo courtesy of Flickr photographer jm6553 from EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project

Besides its contribution to downstream nutrient pollution, the Potomac basin itself faces a number of threats to its source water quality. One of these threats is a rapid growth in urban population which accounts for 81% of the basin’s 6.11 million residents, and is expected to grow by more than 1 million people over the next 20 years.

The environmental challenges presented by the Potomac River, as well as other mid-Atlantic waters often require the attention of different EPA programs.   Here’s what two of us do to protect “the Nation’s River” here in EPA, Region 3.

Ellen:

I work in the Drinking Water Branch and we’re working with the Potomac River Basin Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership to protect the river and its tributaries as sources of drinking water.  Protecting the source water in the first place is the best preventative step to providing safe drinking water.   Hand and glove with this are the other usual steps including treatment at water plants, a safe drinking water distribution system, and increasing the awareness of consumers of protecting drinking water sources. This approach makes sense because some substances can’t be removed at water treatment facilities and it’s often much less expensive to treat the water if contaminants are kept out in the first place.  Examples of source water protection activities are: keeping manure from farms out of streams to reduce the potential for pathogens entering the water; having a response plan in the event of a spill of hazardous materials; and working with transportation agencies to reduce the amount of salt spread on the region’s roads during the winter.

The Potomac Partnership is a unique collaboration, comprised of nearly 20 drinking water utilities and government agencies from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and DC focusing on source water protection activities addressing agriculture, urban run-off and emerging contaminants.

Susan:

I work in the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division.  In 2010, Congress provided EPA with two million dollars in funding to restore and protect the Potomac Highlands (a part of Appalachia), and EPA selected American Rivers to administer this grant program.  My role in this program is serve as the technical contact for the projects that have been funded – eight of them –  ranging from $150,000 to $300,000, that focus on improving natural resources and socio-economic conditions.

Projects include stream bank restoration in Staunton and Waynesboro, Virginia; land conservation projects in West Virginia and Pennsylvania where parcels with high ecological value are being protected through conservation easements; reclaiming mine land in the Monongahela National Forest by planting  native spruce trees; and constructing a green house/ shade house project in Frostburg, Maryland, on reclaimed mine land.

In selecting projects that will protect and restore the Potomac (as well as other mid-Atlantic waters), we emphasize a strategic approach to conservation – also known as the Green Infrastructure approach.   We emphasize the connectivity of forest “hubs” of high ecological value and their ability to either expand those hubs or connect the hubs together.  This is a more effective way to protect and restore natural systems because it strives to keep important areas intact and to restore ones that are degraded.

 

For more information about the Potomac watershed, check out this State of the Nation’s River Report from the Potomac Conservancy (PDF).  What kinds of activities are happening in the watershed where you live?  How else could it be approached, from all sides?

 

About the Authors: Susan Spielberger and Ellen Schmitt both work out of EPA’s Mid-Atlantic office in Philadelphia, PA.  Susan works in the Environment and Innovation Division in the Office of Environmental Information and Assessment, and Ellen works in the Water Protection Division’s Drinking Water Branch.

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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Putting Your Rain Barrel Down for a Long Winter’s Nap

By Steve Donohue

In addition to raking all those leaves, another job I do every fall is put my rain barrel away for the winter.  If you have a rain barrel, you’ll want to do this before a hard freeze can damage your barrel, valve, or overflow piping.

Emptying my rain barrel on a Fall afternoon

Emptying my rain barrel on a Fall afternoon

I have had a rain barrel for many years and often leave it up until after Thanksgiving, and I have never had a problem with freezing where I live near Philadelphia.

But when it’s time to pack it up for the season, your first step should be to drain the barrel as much as possible by removing plugs and opening the valve.  Every inch of water represents 10 or more pounds, so save your back and be patient!  While it is draining, I disconnect the downspout, clean the screens and filters, and remove the overflow piping.

Next, I open and check the inside of the barrel for sediment.  You’ll want to remove this dirt and organic matter to prevent clogging your valve and to start off clean next spring.  I swish the remaining water in the barrel to loosen the sediment and quickly turn the barrel upside down over my mulched bed to keep it off the grass.  Even fully drained, you might want an extra pair of hands to wrestle your barrel off its platform.

I store my rain barrel inside my garden shed for the winter, but you can cover it in place or turn it upside down in the yard.  The key is to keep water out that could freeze and damage it or the fittings.

The last step is to reconnect the downspout to direct water away from your foundation and prevent erosion.  As with any roof drainage, if possible, direct it away from impervious surfaces like concrete and asphalt to slow it down, spread it out, and soak it in.

With your rain barrel safely tucked away for winter, you can relax, kick your feet up and watch some football…at least until it’s time to start shoveling snow.

To learn more about rain barrels, visit http://www.epa.gov/reg3esd1/garden/rainbarrel.html or watch this video about the benefits of rain barrels

About the author: Steve Donohue has been an environmental scientist at EPA for over 20 years. Currently, he works in the Office of Environmental Innovation in Philadelphia where he is focused on greening EPA and other government facilities.

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

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