groundwater

Five Ways Streams and Wetlands Keep Us and Our Environment Healthy

You may have heard that we’re proposing a rule to clarify which streams and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act. Right now, 60 percent of our streams and millions of acres of wetlands lack clear protection from pollution and destruction.

You might not think that your local stream or that wetland in the woods is a big deal, but the water that flows through it could end up hundreds of miles away as someone’s drinking water or where people swim or fish. Streams and wetlands aren’t just a little piece of our water system; they’re the foundation. They generate a large portion of the water that ends up in our lakes and rivers – so what happens upstream affects everything that lies downstream, including the water that flows by our homes and out of our taps.

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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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When It Comes to Water, We Are All Close Neighbors

By MJ Eggers, MJ Lefthand, SL Young, JT Doyle and A Plenty Hoops, with contributions from  other team members: UJ Bear Don’t Walk, A Bends, B Good Luck, L Kindness, AKHG McCormick, DL Felicia, E Dietrich, TE Ford, and AK Camper.

Little Big Horn river

Little Big Horn River, Montana. Photo by John Doyle.

Until the 1960s, many families on the Crow Reservation still hauled river water for home use, a practice most of us remember from our childhoods.  As agriculture expanded and river water quality visibly deteriorated, wells and indoor plumbing became available and rural families switched to home well water.

In many parts of the Reservation, this was a hardship, not a blessing: the groundwater tapped for home wells is high in total dissolved solids and often so rich in iron and manganese that it’s undrinkable. The hard water build-up or “scale” also ruins hot water heaters. We have learned that the majority of home wells (55%) have water that presents a health risk, due to mineral or microbial contamination or both.

As a country, we may imagine our citizens have universal access to safe drinking water—but for millions of rural residents with poor quality well water, and who can’t afford cisterns, treatment systems, or all the bottled water they might want—this simply is not the case.  In our communities, people are cooking with poor tasting, contaminated water, and living with the health consequences.

In 2004, Tribal members who were—and still are—passionate about and dedicated to addressing community-wide water quality issues and health disparities joined forces as the Crow Environmental Health Steering Committee. They recruited academic partners and Little Big Horn College science majors to help.

We have been working together to research what is contaminating local groundwater and surface waters, what the health risks are from domestic, cultural, and recreational uses of these water sources, and how best to educate the community about the risks.

Archival image of Crow women getting water from river

Crow women getting water for camp from the Little Big Horn River, close to present day Crow Agency, Crow Reservation, Montana. Photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of the American Indian (N13758). Photo by Fred E. Miller.

One challenge is that various traditional practices involve respectfully consuming (untreated) river and spring water right from the source. Maintaining these cultural practices “is part of what makes us Crow,” so, instead of expecting people to simply give them up, we are collaborating with the Tribe on pursuing additional funding opportunities to address the pollution sources affecting our rivers and a culturally-important spring.  We are also helping to make clear that traditional uses of river water, including drinking it untreated, need to be considered in planning, risk assessments, and policy decisions.

We are working to restore the health of our rivers and of our community.  We realize it takes passion, commitment, mutual support and a broad-based, grassroots effort.  We have learned that we are all close neighbors when it comes to water.  How we treat our water is the respect we show to our neighbors, and how we would want them to treat us.

About the Authors: MJ Lefthand, SL Young and JT Doyle are members of the Crow Environmental Health Steering Committee (CEHSC). The Committee is made up of Crow Tribal members with varied expertise in environmental science, water resources, health, law and culture. MJ Eggers is an academic partner from Little Big Horn College and Montana State University Bozeman.   A Plenty Hoops works for the Crow Tribal Environmental Protection Program.  Additional contributors are members of the CEHSC, academic partners or student interns.

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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How Much Water?

By Pam Lazos

Despite its ubiquitous nature, less than 1% of water is available for human use. The rest is salt water (oceans), frozen water (polar ice caps), or inaccessible water (groundwater that’s trapped). We need water to grow or produce everything we eat or drink as well as the products we use. How much water do we need? Some examples: 1 slice of bread – 1 gallon; 1 pound of chicken – 10 gallon; a cup of coffee – 2 gallons; 1 pound of corn – 50 gallons; 1 pound of eggs – 20 gallons; 1 pound of hamburger – 450 gallons; 1 sheet of paper – 3 gallons; a cotton shirt – 100 gallons; 1 pound of wheat – 60-100 gallons.

In an area with limited water resources, simply conserving water that comes from the tap may not be enough. A more sustainable lifestyle approach could help. For instance, would you change the type of food you eat, what clothes you buy, and what products you use, if you needed to pay an additional charge based on the amount of water used?

If the amount of water needed for one serving of beef was 450 times more than to produce one serving of bread, would you eat more bread and eat less beef? If you had to pay $30 for a hamburger, would you still buy one?

Thinking about the true cost of our lifestyle on the environment can be enlightening. What are the impacts of the choices we make? Armed with new knowledge, we can make decisions that are better for the environment. It makes perfect sense. It makes WaterSense. Tips for conserving water

About the author: Pam Lazos works in Region 3’s Office of Regional Counsel chasing water scofflaws and enforcing the Clean Water Act. In her free time, when her family allows, she writes both fact and fiction, but mostly she likes to laugh.

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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Arsenic Arresters

By: Hudson, Brett and George

“Water is the one substance from which the earth can conceal nothing; it sucks out its innermost secrets and brings them to our very lips” (Jean Giraudoux, 1946). Water is essential for all dimensions of life. The quality of water in rivers and underground has deteriorated, due to pollution by waste and contaminants from cities, industry and agriculture.  Over one billion people lack safe water. Since water is so essential to our health, then we should strive to make our drinking water as safe as we can from contaminants.

We are a sixth grade team of three students from Whiteface, Texas. We read an article in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal concerning the high levels of arsenic in a family’s drinking water, which comes from their private well. It led to serious health problems for the entire family. Our team began researching the topic and learned that arsenic is a semi-metallic element and originates in many geological formations.  It is found in soil, river sediments, and the water supply in some regions. The groundwater of the Ogallala Aquifer supplies all our water at the tap, and for irrigating cotton, peanuts, and wheat crops of Texas. Arsenic-contaminated groundwater constitutes a health problem.  The EPA acceptable level of arsenic in drinking water is 10 parts per billion (ppb).  Inorganic arsenic is a human carcinogen that is linked to liver, lung, kidney, bladder and skin cancers as well as Type 2 diabetes. Arsenic, according to the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program, is considered the number one environmental chemical of concern for human health in the U. S. and worldwide.

In the agricultural region where we live, the drinking water has arsenic values from 11-30 parts per billion. Our team is researching and testing different methods to reduce the amount of arsenic in our drinking water and our soil. We are working with environmental scientists from Texas Tech University and West Texas A & M University to find solutions.

Is there anyone else concerned about this problem? Is any research being done in your area?  Are you an expert in this field who would share information with us? We are called the Arsenic Arresters and we are interested in educating others and decreasing the risk of arsenic contamination.

Hudson, Brett, and George enjoy working outside, being with family, playing basketball, and playing Minecraft when they’re not saving the world from arsenic contamination!

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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Working Together for a Successful Cleanup Leads to Revitalization and Economic Opportunity for a Utah Community

By Craig Boehr

The Midvale Slag Superfund Site, located in Midvale City, Utah, is adjacent to the city’s downtown area and is about twelve miles south of Salt Lake City. Smelters operated on the site from 1871 through 1958, which resulted in the contamination of soil and groundwater with heavy metals. EPA representatives, the Midvale City government, and the site’s owner all worked together to successfully clean up the site and transform the once contaminated property into a thriving multi-use redevelopment project that has revitalized the local economy.

As is often the case, reuse projects that involve liability concerns require creative uses of enforcement tools in order to secure the successful clean up of sites. At Midvale Slag, EPA’s attorneys and project managers negotiated a consent decree with Midvale City and the site’s current owner, which was signed in 2004. The consent decree included innovative provisions that allowed the owner to pay for cleanup and be incrementally reimbursed with money from a special account set up for the site. The account was funded through settlements with responsible parties (those who had contributed to the contamination at the site), and the money could only be used for cleanup purposes. This enforcement approach enabled the site’s owner to clean the site up at a lower cost and laid the groundwork for Midvale City’s vision for future development.

The consent decree also established long-term stewardship principles at the site by clarifying parties’ ongoing cleanup roles and responsibilities, and addressed the concerns of potential future owners by including a section on the bona fide prospective purchaser (BFPP) liability protection. Under Superfund, BFPPs are not liable as an owner/operator for cleanup costs, reducing a potential barrier to future redevelopment at a contaminated site.

Through these efforts, a once stagnant, contaminated property has been transformed into a valuable part of Midvale City. Currently, the site includes:

  • A 95,000-square-foot grocery store,
  • 175,000 square feet of Gold and Silver LEED-certified office space,
  • More than 1,000 completed residential units,
  • A Utah Transit Authority (UTA) light rail station,
  • An 18-acre park with local and regional trails, and
  • 20 acres of open space with a wetland mitigation area.

According to Midvale officials, it is estimated that the cleanup has already resulted in approximately 600 new jobs and about $1.5 million in annual property tax revenues. For more information on how the EPA helped to turn the Midvale Slag site into a community asset, please see our recently-published case study.

About the author: Craig Boehr is an attorney in the Office of Site Remediation Enforcement, which is the enforcement office for the Superfund program.

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 Many Faces of Superfund

By Barnes Johnson

Sitting adjacent to one of the rarest ecosystems in the world—a freshwater beach dune system—is the Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC) Superfund site. Within its boundaries lies Waukegan Harbor, once called by some “the world’s worst PCB mess.” I recently traveled to the OMC site, and the visit reminded me of the multi-faceted nature of Superfund cleanups—how they affect not only the environmental well-being of a community but also its economic and social spheres.

Multiple industrial activities contributed to the OMC site’s contamination, which affects the groundwater, soil and lake sediments. These activities assaulted the harbor and surrounding area not only with PCB contamination but also industrial solvents, heavy metals and other toxic organic compounds for decades.

I went to Waukegan with my Superfund colleagues and others from EPA’s Upper Midwest Regional office to mark an important milestone in the OMC site’s Superfund cleanup: the kick-off of the final dredging to eliminate the harbor’s last vestiges of contaminated sediment. The dredging is also a critical step in removing the harbor as an “area of concern” from the list of toxic hot spots identified in the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The effort in Waukegan is a great example of cross-office collaboration between EPA’s Great Lakes program and its Superfund program.

The land use variation surrounding the OMC site, which currently includes industrial, marine and recreational uses, brings impressive landscape texture. Once cleaned up, the City of Waukegan hopes to expand the site’s land use to include residential and retail components, aspirations which are part of the site’s overall redevelopment. This reuse will lead to economic opportunities including jobs and a broader local tax base; it will complement the economic contribution the Superfund cleanup itself has already afforded through the creation of 280 jobs.

I was also struck by the complexity of the OMC cleanup. The final dredging project, anticipated to be completed by the summer of 2013, will remove over 150,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment.

I was impressed by the substantial influence and commitment of the Waukegan citizens’ advisory group (CAG), which was formed more than 20 years ago. The CAG’s focus extends beyond the Superfund aspects of the harbor; through more than 240 meetings, the group has tackled a broad set of issues challenging the harbor’s well-being and has demonstrated its commitment to restoring both the community and this vital ecosystem.

About the author: Barnes Johnson is the Deputy Director of the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation and has been with EPA for over 25 years in a variety of positions. In addition to Superfund, Barnes’ EPA work has included positions in the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air, and the Office of Solid Waste (currently named the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery). He holds a masters degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Management and Applied Statistics.

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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Paving the Way in American Manufacturing

By Nancy Stoner

On a cold February day, I stood in a driveway in an industrial complex in Bladensburg, MD, just outside the nation’s capital. Water from a 500-gallon container was gushing onto the ground in front of me. But rather than forming large puddles and flowing across the parking lot, the water was simply disappearing – not into thin air, but into a special system of permeable pavers called PaveDrain.

Instead of letting rain flow off hard surfaces and carry pollution into local waterways and stormdrains, this innovative product captures it and allows it to slowly filter into the ground. Ernest Maier, a Bladensburg, MD company, manufactures the PaveDrain system and had hosted me for a demo. They are exactly the type of company that President Obama spoke about in his State of the Union address when he laid out a blueprint for an economy that is built to last – one built on American manufacturing, American energy and the skills of American workers.

When the President laid out proposals for how we’ll bring about a new era of American manufacturing, with more good jobs and more products stamped Made in the USA, Ernest Maier is the type of company the President was talking about – a successful American company that manufactures products in America and employs American workers.

This system of permeable pavers that greatly reduce water pollution can be found at the nearby town hall in Bladensburg, in residential driveways in Pennsylvania and in the parking lot of a Ford factory in Louisville. In addition to manufacturing products that reduce water pollution and recharge groundwater, Ernest Maier is taking steps to use clean energy and protect the environment – reusing water at the factory, putting biodiesel in their off-road vehicles, utilizing recycled materials, and working with The Conservation Fund to offset carbon dioxide emissions.

Manufacturers of environmental technology are critical to an economy built to last. In fact, the U.S. is the world’s largest producer and consumer of environmental technology goods and services. The U.S. environmental technology industry is a significant economic engine comprised of approximately 119,000 firms, 99 percent of which are small and medium-sized companies. According to the Department of Commerce, the U.S. environmental technology industry in 2008 generated approximately $300 billion in revenues, $43.8 billion in exports, and supported almost 1.7 million jobs.

Let those numbers soak in…they show that our environment and economy can thrive together.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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Protecting Drinking Water with SSAs

Check out the SSAs in the Mid Atlantic Region!By Trey Cody

Did you know that 90% of people who live in the Mid-Atlantic Region drink water that comes from public systems regulated by EPA and the States?  Besides regulating, how else is EPA protecting your drinking water?  One way is with the Sole Source Aquifer program.  What exactly is this program?  The Sole Source Aquifer program helps to protect ground water that serves as the primary drinking water source for a community.  This can be done when the ground water supplies at least 50% of the drinking water consumed in the area overlying the aquifer with no alternative sources that could feasibly supply all who depend on it.  Once a Sole Source Aquifer is designated, projects receiving federal funding in these areas are subject to EPA review to ensure that they are deisgned with minimal threat to the ground water.  EPA regional offices review comprehensive applications which provide extensive data about the aquifer to designate such sources as a Sole Source Aquifer.

Currently there are six designated Sole Source Aquifers in the Mid-Atlantic Region. They are:

Just because a drinking source in your community has not been designated as a Sole Source Aquifer does not mean that it shouldn’t be.  In many cases, valuable and sensitive aquifers have not been designated simply because nobody has petitioned EPA for such status.

Interested in applying to designate a Sole Source Aquifer in your community?  View EPA’s Sole Source Aquifer designation petitioner guidance.  What are your thoughts on such a program?  This is only one way EPA is continuing to maintain safe drinking water.  Check out EPA’s web site to learn about more about ways EPA is protecting drinking water here in the Mid-Atlantic.

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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Region 3 Middle Schoolers Grow Greener in the Summer

some SEDP students

By Christina Catanese

While typical city kids spend their summer vacations far away both from school and nature, this year more than seventy students in three cities in the Mid-Atlantic Region participated in EPA’s Student Environmental Development Program (SEDP). This six-week program held every summer provides environmental and leadership training to eighth-grade students in the Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC metropolis areas.

The students (a diverse group of high-achieving rising 8th graders) had classes taught by experienced professionals from EPA and their local communities, providing the real world perspective of a college course at a much younger age. They covered a wide variety of environmental issues (from air pollution to lead to children’s asthma) and emphasized those directly relevant to the students’ communities. On the water side, students had modules on groundwater pollution, ocean science, and learned about the condition of the watersheds where they live. Field trips supplemented the classroom learning and provided firsthand experience with nature to kids who don’t get the opportunity on a regular basis. They also had workshops to cultivate leadership skills, such as public speaking and team building, so that they could better share the environmental knowledge they gained with others.

At the end of the program, the students perform self-developed skits on a topic of their choice at EPA Headquarters in Washington. This year, students presented their skits for EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe (in the past EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has also participated in the event). It was thrilling to watch the students transform from talking quietly and nervously in front of the group at the beginning of the program, to speaking with poise in front of such high level EPA officials – a great opportunity for growth!

Since SEDP began in 1993, 1,140 students have completed the program. And with the knowledge and excitement the students have brought back to their communities, the ripple effect has surely been felt far beyond just the students who directly participate.

I know I would have loved a program like this when I was in 8th grade, so if you know an aspiring middle school student who would enjoy participating in SEDP (or if you are interested in learning more about the program yourself), visit the program’s website for more information: http://www.epa.gov/region03/ee/sedp.htm

EPA thinks it is crucial to educate the next generation of environmental leaders, as well as learn from their fresh ideas and perspectives. What are your children or other young people in your community doing to help the environment? What can they teach you about environmental protection?

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

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

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Science Wednesday: Searching for a Sustainable Way to Remove Arsenic from Groundwater

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

Many people in Bangladesh use groundwater for their drinking water. In some parts of Bangladesh, arsenic levels in groundwater are more than 100 times the World Health Organization’s recommended limit of 10 parts per billion. Already, 40,000 Bangladeshis are showing signs of arsenic poisoning. Without intervention, 10% of the deaths in this country of 140 million people could be caused by arsenic poisoning.

I am part of the Berkeley Arsenic Alleviation Group (BAAG), a group aiming to provide affordable, sustainable technologies to remove arsenic from groundwater. Our goal is an efficient and cheap technology that removes arsenic and can be easily operated and maintained by local communities.

Our technology, partly funded by an EPA People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Award research grant, takes advantage of the fact that arsenic binds to rust. We first put iron into water and then use electricity to corrode the iron and produce rust. Then by filtering the water, or allowing the rust to settle, we can remove the arsenic.

From an engineering standpoint, the design efficiently and sustainably removes arsenic from water . But we can’t just drop it off and leave.

First, we need to figure out if the technology will be affordable for local communities. Are there cultural barriers that might prevent its use? Can this new technology be easily adopted and used?

To develop a sustainable solution to real-world problems, we need an interdisciplinary approach with collaboration among engineers, social scientists, and most importantly local communities.

Because local communities are so important, we are proposing a community-scale clean water center. It will be operated by the local community, for the local community—selling clean water at an affordable price (~$0.02 per person per day). It means partnerships with local people, the key to the sustainability of our technology.

We are now collaborating with local universities, local village leaders, local communities, and local entrepreneurs. By operating a treatment center themselves, the community will be empowered, leading to more likely acceptance and sustainable operations.

100L Electrode AssemblyAbout the author: Case van Genuchten is a graduate student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley and is a member of the Berkeley Arsenic Alleviation Group (BAAG).

Editor’s Note: To meet researchers and see demonstrations of this and other exciting P3 projects, visit the National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall in Washington, DC, April 24 and 25.

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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