Haskell Indian Nations University’s ecoAmbassadors Bolster Composting and Waste Reduction

By Travis Robinett

Not long ago, a student group called the ecoAmbassadors at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan., set out to enhance the university’s composting system with the help of an EPA partnership and grant assistance through EPA’s Tribal ecoAmbassadors Program. I recently had the pleasure to see firsthand the successful implementation of these students’ hard work.

Haskell student Steven Peña asks about composting methods at a recent meeting between students, EPA Region 7 and KDHE at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. Liz Blackburn, EPA tribal solid waste coordinator (right), is helping Haskell build a composting program from the ground up.

Haskell student Steven Peña asks about composting methods at a recent meeting between students, EPA Region 7 and KDHE at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. Liz Blackburn, EPA tribal solid waste coordinator (right), is helping Haskell build a composting program from the ground up.

Haskell University has improved its composting system this semester, with support from EPA and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Liz Blackburn, tribal solid waste coordinator with EPA Region 7’s Air and Waste Management Division, set up a meeting recently between Haskell students and Arthur Fink, KDHE composting expert, who was consulted on their plan. He explained how best to monitor and adjust the pile, helping waste break down into healthy compost. Food waste collection for the new system began in early March 2017.

Region 7 has assisted students in bringing composting to Haskell since 2015, building on previous joint efforts from a Memorandum of Agreement between EPA and the university. Blackburn said she’s proud to continue strengthening that partnership.

KDHE’s Arthur Fink gives expert advice to Haskell students on their composting plan recently. He’s standing beside wooden pallets for holding food waste as it breaks down, allowing airflow through the compost pile. The oxygen keeps food waste from decomposing in anaerobic conditions and emitting methane.

KDHE’s Arthur Fink (right) gives expert advice to Haskell students on their composting plan recently. He’s standing beside wooden pallets for holding food waste as it breaks down, allowing airflow through the compost pile. The oxygen keeps food waste from decomposing in anaerobic conditions and emitting methane.

“It’s exciting, because I think improving waste management is the best way to target pollution prevention and reduction,” she said.

In 2015, Haskell’s ecoAmbassadors set out to improve the school’s food-waste management with grant assistance through EPA’s Tribal ecoAmbassadors Program. The composting system is a major piece of their waste reduction plan, which arose after fall 2015 assessments at Haskell’s dining hall showed how much food could be composted.

Haskell started composting shortly afterward with a one-bin system, but the students wanted to improve their methods. So they sought out ideas from a variety of places, including EPA and nearby Tribal Nations.

A compost thermometer shows the temperature under the surface. Compost piles can get hot. If the pile reaches about 140 degrees, the heat will kill most pathogens and denature any seeds. If it dips below 120 degrees, and food isn’t broken down, that’s the time to turn and mix the compost.

A compost thermometer shows the temperature under the surface. Compost piles can get hot. If the pile reaches about 140 degrees, the heat will kill most pathogens and denature any seeds. If it dips below 120 degrees, and food isn’t broken down, that’s the time to turn and mix the compost.

Based on what they learned, students built three adjacent bins with reused untreated wood pallets. The pallets allow for airflow, which keeps the compost from producing methane. Having three bins allows for older piles to break down while a new one begins.

According to EPA’s composting website, it takes anywhere from two months to two years for food waste to become dark, nutrient-rich compost. Fink said to help it break down, one key aspect to focus on is temperature. He brought a long composting thermometer, which measures the temperature underneath the pile’s surface.

“At 140 degrees Fahrenheit, most pathogens will be destroyed,” Fink said. “It also denatures any seeds.”

KDHE's Arthur Fink explains the benefits of adding the proper amount of wood chips to the compost pile recently at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. The wood draws moisture from the decaying food and helps it break down, though it shouldn’t be too dry when added to the pile.

Fink explains the benefits of adding the proper amount of wood chips to the compost pile. The wood draws moisture from the decaying food and helps it break down, but it shouldn’t be too dry when added to the pile.

If the temperature drops to 120 degrees and the waste hasn’t broken down yet, he said it’s time to turn the pile.

One of the big benefits of composting and diverting food, Fink said, is that food takes up a lot of landfill space and is heavy to transport. Also in landfills, food often breaks down without oxygen, giving off methane as a byproduct.

Steven Peña, a student in Haskell’s American Indian Studies Program, said he hopes this effort is successful enough that in two to three years, the university can build something more permanent with concrete.

“Also, composting is something you can use at home,” Peña said. “We’re hoping people here take this habit with them.”

About the Author: Travis Robinett has been a Student Intern at EPA Region 7 since June 2016. He is a second-year graduate student at the University of Kansas (KU), working toward a master’s degree in environmental assessment, and holds two bachelor’s degrees in journalism and English from KU. Travis has a passion for sustainability, public service, teaching, volunteering, and the great outdoors.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

What Does a Tribal Liaison Do in Region 7?

By Heather Duncan, Region 7 Tribal Liaison

The relationship between a federal employee and a Tribal representative is based on the same tenets as any other: respect, trust, and lots of honest communication. A large collection of history, policy, and case law defines the relationship between the federal government and Tribal governments. Because each Tribe’s interests and concerns are unique, I have no typical days – and that’s one of my favorite things about my job.

Tribal flags logoSince November 2014, I’ve been serving in a temporary position filling a vacancy in our Region 7 Office of Tribal Affairs. As part of these duties, I serve as a liaison between EPA and five of the nine Tribal nations in our Region. I also negotiate and manage several financial agreements with our Tribal partners.

To an outsider looking in, my day may look calm, spent sitting in a meeting room or in front of a computer. Behind the scenes, most of my day as a liaison is spent translating. I translate the opportunities, needs, and requirements of the federal government into actionable goals and tasks for the Tribes to consider. Likewise, I work to understand and translate the needs and priorities of the Tribes to create better opportunities and policies at EPA.

Outside of my Agency work, I do not have a background or experience with Tribal governments or cultures. I grew up an Iowa farm girl in an agricultural community inherently skeptical of the federal government. Neighbors may disagree with one another but are quick to unite to improve their community’s resilience. At home, handshakes are binding agreements and individuals are judged by their honesty and ability to follow through on their commitments. Growing up in an agricultural community has been excellent training for my experiences in our Office of Tribal Affairs. In many ways, working with the Tribes feels like home.

In my role as a Tribal liaison, it’s important to recognize the cultural and economic influences in scientific conversations and to share those insights as EPA discusses new policies and programs.

I have about two months left in my temporary assignment. In those remaining days, my desire is to do the right thing – one day at a time.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Listening to Heartland Voices: The President’s Climate Action Plan

KarlBrooks Karl Brooks

Leader Blog

This month, Region 7 will be doing a lot of what this agency does best: listen, learn, and lead.  The reason:  the President has tasked the EPA to take the point on one of the most important  challenges facing our generation of Americans:  cutting carbon pollution that harms our health, impedes our industrial competitiveness, and poses serious challenges to Heartland communities that depend on agriculture.

The President in June announced a national Climate Action Plan.  The President’s Plan assigns EPA a big job in accomplishing these vital goals: cutting carbon pollution from power plants, building a transportation sector for the 21st century, encouraging use of cleaner and avoidance of dirtier energy, and preparing this country for climate change’s impacts on weather and water.

Continue reading

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Here in the Heartland

KarlBrooks Karl Brooks

130815-Iowa State Fair-2 1

Here in the Heartland, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cares about fairs. All kinds of fairs:  local, county, and the “big ones” for our four states. In a region that provides a huge share of the nation’s and the world’s food, forage, fiber, and fuel, these annual gatherings in late summer and early fall give ag producers and their families a great chance to show off their work and to educate their city cousins about the realities of growing food.

Since I became the Regional Administrator for EPA’s Region 7 office, I have attended the Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri State Fairs. I spent a great day in Des Moines last month at “the fair with which none can compare,” the Iowa State Fair. Hope the attached pictures show how much fun I had, and also how much new EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy valued her day at the Fair.
Continue reading

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Horse of a Different Color

By Cynthia Cassel

Well, it’s getting close to that special season again; when our view of the world around us goes from sepia to brilliant color and little flowers sing a welcome to us when we step out the door.  Oh, wait, either I’m having those annoying delusions again or I’m confusing real life with a certain movie.

Either way, I’m pretty happy that when twister season begins we can see it happen in all its powerful glory.  You may think I’m crazy (having delusions was kind of a hint), but I love to watch storms and particularly ones that portend a tornado.   Our tornado drill earlier this week also brought this to mind, although it was a bit strange to look out the window at fields of snow as sirens blared. 

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.  When the sirens beckon, I reluctantly take my snarling cat and my purring husband down to our safe place in the basement.  Maybe I got that last sentence backward, but you get my drift.

But before I head downstairs, I love to sit on the back porch and watch the sky.  The towering cotton balls of cloud standing in bas relief against a deep grey sky signal the beginning.  As the sky darkens, I’m always transfixed by how many shades of purple-slate nature’s ceiling can take on.  The best of all is when everything turns that bilious yellow-green like a dragon about to heave his last meal.  It’s scary and wondrous all at the same time.

And I watch with utter fascination as a line across the sky sends tendrils of cloud downward toward the earth.  I watch the bottom line of those clouds carefully and patiently to see which of those tiny tendrils might descend and grow, heralding the beginning of another anxious season.  I always feel a thrill when before my very eyes I witness the birth and death of a tornado as a tendril forms, descends, then is sucked back into its mother-cloud.

What makes twister season so enthralling to me is the overwhelming power of it all.  The simple fact that a cool breeze becomes a strong wind then becomes a force of such great destruction that it flattens whole towns.  I’m always gob-smacked by that feeling of breathlessness when suddenly the wind stops dead; the air becoming thick and heavy.  The humbling effect of clouds that are so very beautiful to behold can become so alarmingly black that street lights come on in a display of confusion.  How a lovely sunny day turns into an angry hissing mess that makes adults run to hide like little children. 

We are forced to take cover, and yet, there is a longing deep in my heart to watch it all play out.  My husband thinks I should have chosen meteorology as my career path.  I have no desire to stand in a TV studio blathering on about the weather-I want to watch as it unfolds.  If I had to watch a screen I probably would watch the beautiful site Casey shared last year, where you can literally watch the wind from your computer.

Don’t even get me started about our booming Kansas summer thunderstorms.  I get up in the middle of the night to traipse out to the back porch and just sit in amazement at the show.  It helps that Mother Nature hasn’t included any obnoxious commercials with this fabulous production.

So, my friends come join me sometime while I watch and listen to one of the most amazing and terrifying events that our atmosphere has to offer.  I’ll put on a pot of coffee and you bring the cookies.  To really appreciate what’s happening you have to be willing to sit patiently for a while.  There’s plenty of room on my back porch and I’d welcome your observations in the “Merry Old Land of Oz”, home to over 3,700 tornados.

Cynthia Cassel is a SEE Grantee where, for 3-1/2 years, she has worked with the Wetland and Streams team in the Water branch.  Cynthia received her BS from Park University and lives in Overland Park where she regularly carries a bag of rocks so as to remain safely earthbound.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

30mph/365 – Living in the Windy State

By Cynthia Cassel

I was born in the great state of Kansas and I will most likely die here too.  While there are some good things to say about Kansas, what I say next may be shocking to you.  I love and hate this place simultaneously.

Whether you are cold-natured or one of those folks who walk around in shorts and flip-flops all winter long, there is no getting around the single most uncomfortable and annoying aspect of this state; the never-ending, never even waning…wind.    You can bundle against the cold, you can strip like Gypsy Rose Lee when it’s summertime but you can never ever,  ever get relief from this gawd-awful wind.

Chicago is nicknamed ‘The Windy City’ but that’s really a misnomer.  Chicago got that bad rep due to an editorial in the New York Sun in the 1800’s referencing the hyper-loquacious nature of Chicago politicians.  Since the nickname could be applied to every U.S. city, this must be the windiest planet in the galaxy–but I digress.

In a recent Kansas City Star article about the Flat Ridge Wind Farm being built in southern Kansas,  John Graham, CEO of BP Wind Energy said, “Kansas is blessed with very strong winds.”  I don’t think the words blessed and strong winds belong in the same understatement, but that’s just my opinion.

What occurred to me this afternoon, as I desperately tried to keep my feet connected to the ground, was the possibility of another  Great Dust Bowl era.   As I write this,  the wind is blowing a steady 26.4 mph from the West Southwest.  We’ve had a couple of years of miserably dry summers and relatively dry winters. While farming practices have changed and improved since 1930, we still have daily gusts that could scour the paint off your car.   What will happen to the land?  According to an article in the K-State Research and Extension News written by Kathleen Ward  (Windy? Kansas? Well, Yes. And No 1/30/06), that during the Dust Bowl, “Experts estimate western Kansas also lost twice the dirt moved in digging the Panama Canal.”

The other downside is that I keep getting accused of having bad posture.  It’s not bad posture that makes me walk like Grouch Marx.  I’m a small-ish person – it’s the only way I can keep from being blown over backward.

But back to the wind farms.  Whether you are a proponent of wind energy (in other words, you’ve got a big  gob of land you’d like to lease for a tidy profit), or a proponent of a form of energy that doesn’t thwack pretty songbirds into a stupor, you’ve got to admit Kansas will suffice as a good source of wind. Less dependence on middle eastern oil is the upside and the 274 wind turbines at Flat Ridge-2 can supply 1,600 homes with electricity.  Another plus is that projects like Flat Ridge and Flat Ridge-2 bring dollars into the state.   And even a curmudgeon like me has to admit that hundreds of snow white turbines all spinning at once looks like a lovely in-place ballet.

Another bit from the K-State Extension news article about wind:

A Lakin Eagle newspaper writer joked that a 2-gallon funnel could gather enough Kansas “zephyrs” to drill a 180-feet hole in solid sandstone – easily producing a well with “condensed air.”

Yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!  Find a way to make those turbines catch that wind, channel it into a great big funnel and use it for yet another positive purpose.  It wouldn’t be able to blow all of our lovely Kansas soil from here to New York and I could finally walk like a normal human being.

Cynthia Cassel is a SEE Grantee where, for 3-1/2 years, she has worked with the Wetland and Streams team in the Water branch.  Cynthia received her BS from Park University and lives in Overland Park where she regularly carries a bag of rocks so as to remain safely earthbound.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Bowl Games and Big (12) Data

By Casey J. McLaughlin

Our region struck out during bowl season this year but we can still look at some great sources for GIS data!  We started by sharing some of the great sources available from Nebraska; today I turn to our host state of Kansas (for those keeping track, Kansas State lost to Oregon).

I should probably remind readers that I am an alumnus of the University of Kansas (I’m glad for college basketball season — ROCK CHALK) which is also home to several state level geo-related entities.  The primary repository for Kansas’ GeoData is the Kansas Data Access Support Center (DASC).  If you’re looking for Kansas data, , KansasGIS.org is the place to go with everything from LiDAR to Cell Towers to Aerial Imagery to Geology to Water to Wells.  Most state offices who create GIS data, like the Office of Water, warehouse their data and metadata with DASC.

Aeromagnetic map of Kansas by Yarger, H.L., 1989: Kansas Geological Survey, Bulletin 226, sheet 2.

Not far from DASC (mostly just down the hall) is the Kansas Geological Survey (KGS).  KGS is the primary creator of oil and gas data, water wells, and aeromagnetic data.  Downloadable via KansasGIS.org, KGS itself connects users with data beyond just locations.  It houses some very relevant and useful data as well as hosts some interesting web maps:

ASTER image (07/06/07) of Coffeyville, KS from KansasView

Next up is KansasView, “a consortium of universities and federal, state and local government working cooperatively to advance the use of remote sensing and GIS technologies in the State of Kansas for education and research and to assist government agencies apply these technologies.” KansasView provides data and information about the Kansas landscape using remote sensed data.

The Kansas Biological Survey (KBS), one building south of DASC and KGS, focuses on holistic environmental analysis.  KBS hosts maps and webservices.  I would highlight the reservoirs datasets that KBS has compiled; each reservoir is listed and most have readily available data and maps of bathymetry – that way you can find the best fishing spots or know the answer when someone asks, “How deep do you think this is?” The GreenReport map depicts “greenness” over the entire county (REST service available).   I’ve heard several stories in the last week about winter wheat conditions in Kansas (specifically) and about potential flooding or drought activities in the spring and summer and this will be one way of monitoring conditions.

The Agency relies on state collected data and Kansas collects, maintains, and distributes a lot of great data.  I know there is much more available; what is on your wish list of Kansas data?

Casey McLaughlin is a first generation Geospatial Enthusiast who has worked with EPA since 2003 as a contractor and now as the Regional GIS Lead. He currently holds the rank of #1 GISer in EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.