Partnership

Right on track

by Jennie Saxe

Take a drink on Amtrak!

Take a drink on Amtrak!

I love traveling by train. Here in the Northeast, I’m a little spoiled by the many rail transit systems that spider-web across the region. But with family in New England, my office in Philadelphia, and friends in Washington, DC, one of my favorite modes of transportation is Amtrak.

Here’s a fun water-related fact about traveling on Amtrak: every passenger rail car that has a café, restroom, or drinking fountain is considered its own public water system. Amtrak has about 1,500 of these mobile water systems, each of which must be monitored for water quality. Detailed maintenance procedures and monitoring plans are key to protecting public health, as trains roll from coast to coast.

Amtrak has been randomly sampling drinking water for over 20 years, and has been following a more detailed schedule and reporting results to EPA since 2012. Recently, EPA and Amtrak amended the 2012 agreement to extend the monitoring requirements and modify sampling schedules based on the results from all 1,500 cars to date: very few samples from 2013 and 2014 were positive for coliform bacteria (an indicator that something could potentially be wrong with the water) and no samples were positive for E. coli (a bacteria that signals contamination, and could make passengers sick).

Some additional protections are part of the agreement between EPA and Amtrak. Trains do not fill at stations that have a problem with their water supply, and passengers and crew would be notified if water testing showed a problem.

Riding the rails this summer? Grab your reusable water bottle and fill up! When it comes to protecting the health of rail passengers, Amtrak is right on track.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs.

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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Building Community Resiliency by Training the Next Generation

by Patrick A. Barnes

In 2011, the first of the baby boomers reached retirement age.  And for the foreseeable future, boomers will be retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day, nearly a quarter million a month.

In an effort to help compensate for its retiring workforce, the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB) launched several initiatives to reach individuals within communities of need to find future water/wastewater plant operators. One such initiative resulted in a very unique and timely partnership with Limitless Vistas, Inc. (LVI), supported by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

At LVI, our mission is to serve at-risk, underserved, and under-employed young adults, ages 18 to 29 years.  Through our program, participants obtain certifications, knowledge, skills, and hands-on experience in the environmental industry.  Near the end of their training, LVI participants serve in internships with S&WB and local environmental and engineering firms. These internships help the students learn more about potential careers within the environmental industry. It also gives potential employers a chance to work with non-traditional future employees and discover their talents and enthusiasm before offering them a job.

Granville Guillory has used this opportunity to truly excel.

Granville was 20 when he came to LVI after several personal hardships and dropping out of college. His aunt heard about the LVI program and suggested he give it a try.  During his interview, Granville indicated he wanted to work for S&WB and follow in his uncle’s footsteps.  According to Granville, his uncle had worked at the S&WB for most of his life and he was “set.” Granville was looking for the same type of stability in his life.

Granville, along with several other students, were there on June 21, 2012, when EPA announced that LVI was among the recipients of an EPA Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training grant. There, Granville discussed his desire to work for the S&WB. His sincerity and personal enthusiasm earned him a private tour of the facility after the press conference.

Later that year, Granville and seven other LVI members participated in an internship at the local facility, where he continued to impress the staff with his work ethic, curiosity, and natural intuition for the work. And his hard work paid off! After passing the Wastewater Operators State Board Exam, Granville and another student were asked to join Veolia North America (the plant operator) as full-time employees.

Now at age 23, Granville is excelling as a State of Louisiana Class III Wastewater Plant Operator and, as he puts it, “if things go wrong, it is my responsibility to help make them right before any serious damage to the furnace or an emission violation occurs.” Because of his performance and interest in furnace operations, he was asked if he would be willing to travel overseas to broaden his skills. Later this year, Granville will be traveling to Tokyo for six months to learn about a new and more efficient furnace that Veolia is planning to incorporate in its U.S. operations.

Granville also has taken on an active role in mentoring new LVI participants and interns. With his enthusiasm, they are able to see the bigger picture through discussions with him and strive harder to achieve their goals — just like Granville did.

I firmly believe that there cannot be true environmental justice without economic justice, and this tremendous need represents a unique opportunity for impacted residents to obtain meaningful jobs, thus putting them on a path to economic equality and ultimately, helping to build the socio-economic strength necessary for communities like Granville’s more resilient for the future.  It truly takes a unique team of partners working together across governments and with local communities and industry, to connect the dots for environmental workforce development and job training programs to succeed!

About the author: Patrick A. Barnes, President of BFA Environmental is a professional geologist and founder of LVI.  Patrick recently was honoured as a White House Champion of Change Community Resiliency Leader.  Patrick first envisioned LVI in 1997 after years of performing environmental engineering services to poor communities working as an EPA Technical Assistant Grant (TAG) advisor and after working on several Brownfields redevelopment projects in the Southeast.  

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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A Decade of Partnership for the Nation’s River

: A view of the Potomac River at Great Falls. Photo credit: C&O Canal NHP via Flickr.

A view of the Potomac River at Great Falls. Photo credit: C&O Canal NHP via Flickr.

by Vicky Binetti

This year, members of the Potomac River Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership are marking the tenth anniversary of their 2004 partnership resolution. I recall the excitement as water utilities from the middle Potomac, and federal, interstate and state government representatives signed a giant version of the partnership’s framework document at Little Seneca Reservoir in Maryland, pledging to work together to protect the quality of the Nation’s River, the source of drinking water for more than 5 million people.

On that September day, our aspirations were high: to develop a unified voice for the protection of drinking water sources, provide a forum to enhance understanding of important water quality issues, and build a team to coordinate action on priority concerns. Over the past 10 years, partnership members have joined forces to conduct unique sampling studies for pathogens and emerging contaminants. We’ve conducted workshops on runoff of salt-laden stormwater from winter storms; on the potential risks posed by newly recognized contaminants, and ways to reduce their presence in water supplies; and on the potential for nutrient pollution from agricultural and urban sources to contribute to harmful algal blooms. We’ve developed coordinated early warning systems and emergency response strategies; conducted exercises to simulate real disasters; and shared lessons learned and contingencies planned in dealing with floods, droughts and power failures. We’ve examined the success and value of land conservation efforts in the basin, and probed the simple elegance of how forested lands protect downstream water quality.

After a decade in partnership, our experience tells us that even as our understanding has increased, challenges remain. As our population has grown, and land and water use have become more intense, the need for safeguarding sources of our water supply remains a priority. Whatever challenges lie ahead, this partnership will build upon a foundation of strong science and collaboration.

So, in this same year that we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, let’s also raise a toast – with tap water, of course – to 10 years of protecting the Potomac River.

 

About the author: Vicky Binetti is Associate Director of EPA Region 3’s Water Protection Division, with responsibilities including public drinking water system compliance, source water protection and underground injection control in the mid-Atlantic states. At home in southern New Jersey, Vicky is a member of the Environmental Commission and Open Space Advisory Committee.

 

 

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 Power of Positive Energy

By Kristinn Leonhart

Let me just start by saying, “I love my job!” It’s incredibly rewarding to come to work every day as a public servant, helping the Agency whose mission it is to protect public health and the environment. Occasionally, I even get to go out in the field like I did last week for our ENERGY STAR Change the World with Community Service Tour.

ENERGY STAR partners host fun educational events across the country all year long. Earlier this year, a colleague had a bright idea. Let’s ask our partners to work together to make a difference in people’s lives through energy efficiency and community service during the month of October, leading up to ENERGY STAR Day on October 28th. Several partners answered our invitation, and we are impressed by the events they put together for our first-ever Community Service Tour.

“Stop” number 3 was in Edgewood, Maryland at a Boys & Girls Clubs of Harford County (BGCHC). ENERGY STAR partner BGE (the local utility company) joined with other partners, Samsung Electronics, The Home Depot, and BEMO Energy Solutions to bring new positive energy to the club and give the club an energy efficiency upgrade and makeover. BGCHC provides after school care to about 4,000 kids, ages 6 to 18 throughout the year, and membership costs only $20 per year so these upgrades will be making a huge impact on the students and community! Matt Buecker from BGE told me that when he was calling to invite other local companies to join BGE in upgrading the facility, all he had to say was that he was working with ENERGY STAR, Samsung and The Home Depot, and they wanted to help. He said the power of having three big brands behind this project helped immensely. A local furniture store, Gardiner’s, donated furniture to the club. C&J Contractors donated their time installing the new energy-efficient lighting throughout the club. The new lighting is projected to save the club $5,000 this year in utility bills. Art with a Heart painted a splendid mural in one of the classrooms. The local grocery store donated food and dessert to the club for the family night unveiling of the project.

BGC before and after

The BGCHC basketball court before and after brighter, ENERGY STAR certified lighting was installed during the event.

 

Volunteers painted the entire club. BGCHC staff asked the kids to help select new themes and colors for the rooms. The kids chose various superheroes for each of the rooms. They couldn’t really see from one side of the gym to the other before the new lights were installed. Samsung donated three ENERGY STAR-certified TVs, a new refrigerator, and 10 new tablets to the club. The Home Depot helped with painting the club, as well as provided beautiful landscaping and painted benches outside the club.

Boys and Girls club

 

Talking to Ashira Quabili, a Development & Marketing Associate at BGCHC, helped me understand that after school care includes teaching children about potential career opportunities. Their motto is “Great futures start here,” and they’re not kidding. They have an amazing STEM program (science, technology, engineering, and math). The kids create and program underwater robots and send them on missions. The students just released the BGCHC’s first mobile app – a decision-making app designed to walk anyone through how to make good choices. The kids also shared a video of how much they like STEM– watch them in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aecIpiirznI. You will smile!

Matt thought it was the power of big brands that helped him make the event a success. I’d like to tell him that he, Ashira and the BGCHC staff, and everyone who volunteered in the weeks leading up to the energy-efficiency makeover of the club are the real superheroes. Those kids’ futures certainly will be brighter for years to come thanks to BGE, BGCHC staff, Samsung, The Home Depot, Gardiner’s, Art with a Heart, and C&J Contractors. That’s the power of positive energy.

Check out the other events on the Change the World, Start with ENERGY STAR Tour at: energystar.gov/changetheworldtour.

Kristinn Leonhart is the ENERGY STAR Brand Manager and a big fan of saving money and energy and keeping life simple.

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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Powerful Partnerships

By Walter Higgins

The Selbyville Wastewater Treatment Plant is one of five that had an energy audit.

The Selbyville Wastewater Treatment Plant is one of five that had an energy audit.

This blog, the second of two Healthy Waters blogs this week, focuses on energy efficiency to reduce carbon pollution, a driver of climate change.

The power of partnerships means making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. When it comes to adapting to a changing climate and slowing the changes already underway, we’ve found that partnerships provide one of the best tools we have.

EPA has partnered with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and Delaware Health and Social Services (DHSS) and other partners to assist water and wastewater treatment plants, and the communities they serve, save energy and money.

These facilities use a lot of energy to treat and move drinking water and wastewater, and they are typically the largest energy consumers for municipal governments, accounting for 30 percent of all the energy they consumes. Energy efficiency and renewable energy from these facilities also cuts carbon pollution as outlined in EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

Over the past year, the Delaware Water/Wastewater Energy Efficiency Partnership has conducted energy assessments of drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities. These energy assessments have helped operators and managers better understand energy usage at their plants, and identified low- or even no-cost options for achieving reductions. The partnership has shared these energy-saving practices with a wider audience through workshops for plant operators and managers.

The assessments have also generated a list of potential energy-saving projects offering serious savings, but with a higher initial price tag. Where can utilities find money to fund these projects? The partnership will offer a free workshop focused on funding energy efficient projects at water utilities on September 30. This workshop is a great opportunity for town managers in and around Middletown, Delaware, to hear about financing options for energy efficiency at water and wastewater utilities.

We hope our partnership with Delaware agencies inspires similar partnerships in other parts of the mid-Atlantic region and across the country. These types of energy efficiency projects at water and wastewater utilities have demonstrated undeniable environmental, economic and public benefits and provide fundamental investments in a more sustainable way of life.

About the author: Walter Higgins has been with EPA since 2010, working in the Water Protection Division on grants that fund water quality and drinking water projects. He also works with water and wastewater facilities on energy efficiency. Walter recently earned his Pennsylvania certification as a wastewater operator.

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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Green Infrastructure Research All-STARs

by Ken Hendrickson and Jennie Saxe

 

An example of green infrastructure to help in managing urban stormwater.

An example of green infrastructure to help in managing urban stormwater.

A few weeks ago, Major League Baseball (MLB) held its annual All-Star Game. This is a chance for the best players from across MLB to work together and showcase their talents. EPA recently had a chance to host an “all-star” event of its own. On July 24, EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region and EPA’s Office of Research and Development hosted a kick-off meeting of researchers who received Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants. Since this was a kick-off meeting, it felt like less like a mid-season break, and more like spring training.

Like a baseball team focused on winning the pennant, these researchers are all focused on one goal: understanding the performance and effectiveness of green infrastructure in an urban setting. Five colleges and universities received a total of nearly $5 million from EPA to focus research on green infrastructure in Philadelphia. These research projects, announced on a snowy day this past January, will support the groundbreaking Green City, Clean Waters Partnership agreement between EPA and the City of Philadelphia.

Why would the research teams meet when the research hasn’t yet begun? This type of meeting provides researchers with a full picture of all of the research that is planned, and allows researchers to identify opportunities for collaboration. In this way, the individual teams can better understand where, how, and what their peers will be investigating. Proposals were developed several months ago, and it’s important to discuss the plans, processes, and research sites that have been refined since the projects were funded.

While the research may be conducted by these “academic all-stars,” it is much more than an academic exercise: the research is happening on the ground in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, and – by making it easier and cheaper to protect water quality through greening communities – the benefits will go to the residents of the city. In addition to the more than 30 researchers who attended to present their plans, dozens more people learned about the research plans by attending via webinar – maybe they will be inspired to pursue green infrastructure projects in their communities.

In research, as in baseball, with hard work comes important results. We’re certain that when we check back with these researchers in a few years, they will have many more insights to share.

 

About the authors: Ken Hendrickson and Jennie Saxe work in the Water Protection Division of EPA’s Region 3 office in Philadelphia.

 

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 is a team effort

Pike Creek, which once had steep, eroded banks, is now restored with willow trees along the edges.

Pike Creek, which once had steep, eroded banks, is now restored with willow trees along the edges.

by Andrea Bennett

In spring time, I always look forward to seeing the flowers blooming, baseball season beginning, and celebrating National Drinking Water Week. Just like in baseball, protecting sources of drinking water takes a team effort. Teams win when all the players work together.

I like to kayak and bird on the White Clay Creek, which runs through Pennsylvania and Delaware, in the Christina River Basin. In addition to being a great place for recreation, this creek provides sources of drinking water to over 500,000 people in 3 states. It’s critical that streams like the White Clay Creek and its watershed are protected; one in three Americans get their water from public systems that rely on seasonal, rain dependent, or headwater streams.

Public agencies, private organizations, and local volunteer groups all work together to protect the waterways by planting shrubs and trees along stream banks to hold soil in place. Reducing the dirt that washes into a stream during a storm keeps the bottom of the creek cleaner so insects in the water can thrive and provide food for fish. Less sediment in the water also makes it easier for drinking water treatment plants to treat the water.

Municipalities, like the Borough of Avondale, Pennsylvania (near the headwater tributaries of White Clay Creek) are also part of the team. One way the Borough protects its water resources is by applying “Dump No Waste – Drains to Stream” notifications on stormwater inlets.

Nonprofit agencies are not sitting on the bench either.  The William Penn Foundation provides funds to the Water Resources Agency of the University of Delaware (UDWRA) and Stroud Water Research Center to plant trees along the small tributaries to White Clay Creek, partnering with the White Clay Creek Steering Committee.

In the Christina River Basin, state agencies such as Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection partner with federal agencies like EPA to help pull together the “game plan” to protect and improve water quality.

Together, the team is working toward the same goal: ensuring that your water is clean and healthy. This week is a particularly good time to celebrate this team effort: National Drinking Water Week (May 4-10) is a great time to learn about your local drinking water source and ways that you can also be a team player in protecting waterways in your community.

About the Author: Andrea Bennett is a biologist with EPA.  Prior to joining EPA, she conducted ornithological research and produced films. Andrea enjoys birding, kayaking and playing the mandolin and is a member of her local watershed protection team – the Lower Merion Conservancy.

 

 

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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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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