Lakes

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.

More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Do You Choose Clean Water?

By Travis Loop

Do you choose clean water? If so, we need your voice. And the voices of your friends.

Clean water is important – for drinking, swimming, and fishing. We need it for our communities, farms, and businesses. But right now, 60 percent of our streams and millions of acres of wetlands across the country aren’t clearly protected from pollution and destruction. In fact, one in three Americans—117 million of us—get our drinking water from streams that are vulnerable. To have clean water downstream in the rivers and lakes in our neighborhoods, we need healthy headwaters upstream. That’s why we’ve proposed to strengthen protection for our water.

We hope you’ll support our clean water proposal. To help you do that, and get your friends to also voice their support, we’re using a new tool called Thunderclap; it’s like a virtual flash mob.

Here’s how it works: you agree to let Thunderclap post a one-time message on your social networks (Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr) on Monday, September 29 at 2:00 pm EDT. If 500 or more people sign up to participate, the message will be posted on everyone’s walls and feeds at the same time. But if fewer than 500 sign up, nothing happens. So it’s important to both sign up and encourage others to do so.

Here’s the message we’re asking you to let us post on your behalf: “Clean water is important to me. I want EPA to protect it for my health, my family, and my community. www.epa.gov/USwaters”
To sum up, you can participate through these two steps:

  1. Sign up to join the Thunderclap for Clean Water: http://thndr.it/1rUOiaB
  2. Share the link to the Thunderclap with your friends and followers so we get at least 500 people sharing the message:
    a. Facebook
    b. Twitter
    c. Tumblr

Watch EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy talk about our proposal to protect clean water: http://bit.ly/1h5JgjW

Read about the proposal to protect clean water: epa.gov/uswaters



About the author: Travis Loop is the communications director for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He chooses clean water for his kids and for surfing.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

SPARROWs, Lakes, and Nutrients?

By Jeff Hollister

Dock extending into a lake with forested background.Based on the title above, you probably think I don’t know what I am talking about. I mean really, what do sparrows, lakes, and nutrients have in common? In this case, a lot. So much so, an inter-agency team of EPA researchers in Narragansett RI, and a colleague from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in New Hampshire have been working together to better understand how these three seemingly disparate concepts can be linked together. Some of the results of this work are outlined in a recent publication in the Open Access journal, PLos One

The sparrow I am referring to isn’t small and feathered, it is a model developed and refined by the USGS. Since the late 1990’s, USGS has been developing SPARROW models which have been widely used to understand and predict the total amount of nutrients (among other materials) that streams are exposed to over the long-term. This is known as “nutrient load.” The models are important because they provide a picture over a very large extent of where nutrients might be relatively high.

However, when it comes to lakes, SPARROW doesn’t directly provide the information we need. For our research on lakes, we need reasonable estimates of the quantity of nutrients in a given volume of water (i.e., nitrogen and phosphorus concentration), not long term nutrient load for the year. This is important, because the higher the nutrient concentrations at any given time, the greater the chance of triggering algal blooms—and more blooms mean a greater probability of toxins released by algae reaching unhealthy levels.

In order to better estimate the nutrient concentrations, we needed to use the SPARROW model for total load, but also account for the differences between load and concentration. Our solution: combining field data, data on lake volume and the SPARROW Model.

In our paper “Estimating Summer Nutrient Concentrations in Northeastern Lakes from SPARROW Load Predictions and Modeled Lake Depth and Volume,” recently published in PLoS One, we describe how we combined modeling information from SPARROW, summertime nutrient concentrations collected during EPA’s 2007 National Lakes Assessment, and estimated lake volume (see this and this for more).

The end result of this effort is better predictions, by an average of 18.7% and 19.0% for nitrogen and phosphorus, respectively.

What is the meaning of this in terms of our environment, and importantly, the potential human health impacts? If we are able to better predict concentrations of nutrients it will hopefully also improve our ability to know where and when we might expect to see harmful algal blooms, specifically harmful cyanobacterial algal blooms. Cyanobacteria have been associated with many human health issues, from gastro-intestinal problems, to skin rash, and even a hypothesized association with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (for example, see this). So, in short, better predictions of nutrients, will, in the long run, improve our understanding of cyanobacteria and hopefully reduce the public’s exposure to a potential threat to health.

About the author: Jeff Hollister, a co-author on the study outlined in this blog post, is a research ecologist with an interest in landscape ecology, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the statistical language R, and open science. The focus of Jeff’s work is to develop computational and statistics tools to help with the cyanobacteria groups research efforts. Jeff is also an outspoken advocate for open science and open access among his colleagues.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Seeing Green (and Predicting It)

By Dustin Renwick

Thick mat of green algae at the shore of a lakeWhen you live near a coast, summer means beaches. A relaxing inland getaway often involves the cool waters of a lake.

Except when the shoreline turns green.

Sometimes a mat of algae clogs fishing lines. Other times, lake foam makes the swimming area appear as if someone poured in a few St. Patrick’s Day green beers.

Those algae serve a natural function in the ecosystem. Yet an icky, slimy scene can ruin plans for a day on the water when conditions – generally warm, stagnant water rich in excess nitrogen, phosphorus,or other nutrient pollution – sparks rapid growth.

Ross Lunetta, EPA research physical scientist, leads a team of research and application scientists who proposed a Pathfinder Innovation Project to validate a new algorithm that uses satellite data for predicting algal blooms in freshwater systems.

Specifically, the team’s project targets cyanobacteria, known to make humans and animals sick with symptoms such as respiratory distress and skin rashes. On the basis of algae cell counts, more than a quarter of lakes nationwide have enough cyanobacteria for moderate to high risk according to the most recent National Lakes Assessment Report in 2009.

Tallying the density of cyanobacteria cells in a water body can provide an estimate of potential exposure risk. But sampling more than a handful of the nation’s lakes can be costly and slow. Plus, current satellite data and its analysis fall short.

Existing field measurement programs were not designed to provide data that researchers can readily use to calibrate and validate satellite-based observations. And satellites can’t discriminate between the sizes or the many species of cyanobacteria, some of which don’t produce toxins.

“It’s not necessarily the same species in Maine as it is in Florida,” Lunetta said. “These things can be very different in size.”

Not knowing the cell volume, which is species specific, makes calculations of blooms cell counts, impacts, and risks a challenge.

The team is working with TopCoder, an online community to bring in outside expertise and innovation through competitions and challenges and expand the search for solutions.

TopCoder represents nearly a half million software developers and algorithm specialists. The company’s process breaks large challenges into small chunks that can be coded, developed, or designed individually. Then TopCoder stacks all the pieces back together into a finished solution.

Imagine a neighborhood full of tinkerers, parts collectors and coding whiz-kids who could gather at your garage to diagnose and fix your car when the “check engine light” flashed. Each person could solve a problem within his or her specialty, and the cohesive result benefits from these specific skills.

The team’s predictive algorithm will take a few more months to design and even longer to validate, but the potential benefits are clear. Water forecasts and public health officials could alert anyone who might consider a day at the lake, and researchers could focus their efforts.

“If you have limited resources, and you can only collect five samples but you have 50 lakes,” Lunetta said, “you can pick the ones the model tells you will most likely become a problem.”

About the author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

The Only Things Certain in Life…

By Cameron Davis

Every year around April 15, we’re all bound to hear too many times the old saying that there are only two things certain in life: death and taxes. Now we can add a third thing that’s certain about life…the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

It was signed 40 years ago on April 15. So maybe this year April 15 should be known as “Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement Day.”

The U.S. and Canadian governments are wrapping up their inter-agency reviews and are pushing to finalize the Agreement this spring. The new version will be more prevention oriented; building from older versions of the pact that focused more on cleaning up past problems (the updated Agreement will retain commitments for remediation, too, especially for Areas of Concern). The next generation of the Agreement will be more streamlined and user-friendly. It’ll have stronger commitments to tackle nutrients that are choking aquatic life and local economies in Lake Erie and other “priority watersheds.” It’ll have new commitments on climate change impacts, call for a net gain in habitat and face down invasive species. The stronger focus on prevention will be especially important with pest species that undermine the ecology and economy of the Lakes.

Check out footage of the original 1972 Agreement being signed (amidst Vietnam War protests outside), courtesy of colleague and Canadian negotiator, Mike Goffin of Environment Canada.

So, come this April 15, let’s not think of it as Tax Day. Let’s think of it as Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement Day.

PS: And, it doesn’t hurt that this year, federal taxes are actually due Tuesday, April 17…

To find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts, visit , or follow me on Twitter (CameronDavisEPA).

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Water Widgets for the Web!

By Trey Cody

Do you have a blog, website, wiki, social media profile, or other form of a web page? EPA has something that you might be interested in to jazz up your site! They’re called widgets (sometimes referred to as gadgets), and they are an easy way to keep your viewers interactive and entertained on your page.

“What’s a widget?”, you might be wondering.  A widget is small piece of Web programming code that makes something interesting appear on your blog or Web page. Widgets can feature updated information (like a clock, countdown, or news ticker) or let the reader perform an action (like use a search box). EPA’s widgets allow users to see or search for environmental concepts.

Some cool water widgets offered by EPA are:

  • WaterSense Tip – Get a new tip on water efficiency each month and get more information from the WaterSense Web site.
  • Natural Lakeshores – This widget provides a series of ten tips for improved lakeshore stewardship, focusing on natural lakeshores – lakeshores with plenty of native trees, shrubs, and overhanging vegetation. Native vegetation along lakeshores provides food, shelter, habitat and shade for fish and protects the lake from the damaging effects of erosion and polluted stormwater runoff. This contributes to improved water quality, which can in turn help increase the value of lakefront property.
  • Find Your Watershed – Enter your ZIP code to get information about the watershed(s) in that area.

If you’re interested in EPA’s widgets, check out the widget page containing more fun environmental widgets for everyone!

Do you have any environmental widgets on your blog or page that are not from EPA?  What other kinds of widgets have you seen around the web that you’d like to see EPA create?  Let us know about your experience with them!

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Great Lakes Restoration: Charting a Path Forward

By Peter Cassell

Growing up in New Jersey, I always had access to the beach, which every New Jersean knows as the Jersey Shore. Then I went off to college and didn’t get to enjoy ocean anymore. After accepting a job in EPA’s Chicago office, I got a pleasant surprise. There were beaches right near my apartment. Once again, I had access to the water. Lake Michigan does not have that same salty smell as the beaches of Long Beach Island, New Jersey, but going to the beach just has a way of reminding me of home.

When I was not off enjoying and exploring what my new home had to offer, I was hard at work trying to learn about a central piece of my new job: the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. I received crash courses on emerging chemicals, invasive species and other issues affecting the lakes and soon realized that I had a precious resource right in my own backyard. Until I came here, I didn’t really grasp that millions of people rely on the lakes for everything from drinking water to their livelihoods to recreation with friends and family. I learned that the Great Lakes are more than just places on a map, they are a way of life.

I fell in love with the Chicago waterfront and was ready to help make the lakes better so that everyone can enjoy them. When EPA’s Great Lakes Advisor Cameron Davis asked me to help organize Great Lakes Week, I jumped at the chance to do something tangible. We worked for months with nonprofits, businesses and Great Lakes organizations to put on the most wide-ranging Great Lakes summit in history. Hundreds of people will gather in Detroit from October 11-14 to be a part of this historic event. With speakers including Administrator Jackson and former Vice President Al Gore, the week is poised to chart a path forward as we address key issues and work together to achieve results.

Even if you do not live in Metro Detroit, you can still participate by watching the events online at www.greatlakesnow.org or tweeting questions to @CameronDavisEPA with hashtag #AskGLW. We are even taking questions through Facebook at www.facebook.com/epagreatlakes.  Select questions will be featured at the Great Lakes Week Panel and Town Hall.

Do you have a favorite memory about your beach or have you done something to help keep it clean? Feel free to share it with me along with your thoughts on the Great Lakes in the comment section. To find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts, visit

About the author: Peter Cassell is a Press Officer in Region 5 who focuses on water issues, the Great Lakes and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

July is Lakes Appreciation Month- Join in the Celebration!

One of my favorite vacations as a kid was visiting Lake Wallenpaupack, PA. Our family had a house near the lake and we would spend afternoons canoeing on the water, playing on the beach, and strolling around the lake. July is one of the best months to visit lakes. It’s also Lakes Appreciation Month, a time to celebrate our nation’s lakes and dedicate ourselves to protecting them.

Every July, the North American Lake Management Society, Kent State University, and EPA sponsor the annual Secchi Dip-In. Secchi disks have alternating black and white quadrants and are used to measure water transparency. The disks are lowered into the water until the black and white sections can no longer be seen. During the Secchi Dip-In trained volunteers gather data about the health of their lakes and contribute it to a national database. The information gathered from the Dip-In is important for scientists and communities to understand trends in the health of our nation’s lakes.

The National Lakes Assessment, completed in April 2010, is the first-ever study of the condition of the nation’s lakes conducted by EPA and state and tribal partners. In this report, you can read about the biological condition of lakes, the quality of lake shoreline habitat, and much more. EPA also hosted a free Watershed Academy Webcast on July 15th called “Healthy Lakeshores Through Better Shoreline Protection.” This Webcast featured a landscape ecologist and two state lakes specialists who discussed voluntary and regulatory approaches to lake shoreline protection. An archived version will be posted soon at www.epa.gov./watershedwebcasts.

As I have grown older and learned about the threats to our nation’s lakes, I value even more my memories of Lake Wallenpaupack. I realize now that all our individual actions—even ones seemingly small and insignificant—can add up to big problems. I am grateful for the opportunity to be working with EPA on a campaign to educate people about EPA’s National Lakes Assessment and ways to help protect and improve lake water quality.

We all have an important role in keeping our lakes healthy and clean so we can continue to enjoy them. Examples of things we can do include: planting riparian buffers along the shoreline, limiting use of fertilizers, and installing rain gardens to collect runoff. You can learn more by visiting EPA’s Clean Lakes page, downloading our new lakes widget, and following @EPAowow on Twitter.

About the author: Allison Gold is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Fellow in the Policy, Communications, and Resource Management Staff in the Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watershed.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.