Philadelphia

Capturing Rain and the Imagination

By Shawn M. Garvin

It’s fitting and perhaps perfect timing for EPA’s mid-Atlantic Regional Office to be opening up a new educational exhibit in our Public Information Center titled, “The Art and Science of Rain Barrels.”   Record-setting amounts of rainfall this past June in Philadelphia and Wilmington serve as a reminder of the challenges communities face in solving wet weather problems such as flooding, sewer overflows and run-off of pollutants and debris into urban creeks, streams and rivers.

No pun intended, but for most of us, wet weather problems ‘hit home’ when our basements flood…or when our commutes to work and school are disrupted and delayed, and when outdoor events and recreational activities get postponed or cancelled.   All the more reason why EPA, the Philadelphia Water Department, the Energy Coordinating Agency and the nonprofit Mt. Airy Art Garage teamed up to create this current EPA exhibit.

One of the rain barrels on display at the EPA exhibit

One of the rain barrels on display at the EPA exhibit

We want to foster greater awareness of the health, environmental, and economic benefits that can be gained by better managing potentially harmful rainwater runoff.  The Art and Science of Rain Barrels is one way our organizations are engaging Philadelphia residents in the City’s Green City, Clean Waters plan to transform many of Philadelphia’s traditional hardened surfaces to green areas, ultimately making local waters cleaner, and communities healthier, vibrant and more attractive places to live and work.

It’s been a little over a year since EPA and the City of Philadelphia embarked on this new Green City, Clean Waters partnership, and momentum and support for the plan’s goals continue to grow.  It’s exciting to see community-based organizations, regular citizens, and students jumping in to make a difference.  The City of Philadelphia is encouraging its residents to install rain barrels to reduce stormwater runoff.   A rain barrel is a structure that collects and stores stormwater runoff from rooftops. The collected rain water can be used for irrigation to water lawns, gardens, and street trees.   Although these systems store only a small volume of stormwater, collectively, they can be effective at preventing large volumes of runoff from entering the sewer system, potentially causing overflows and impairing local waterways.

That’s the message we want to drive home through our exhibit.  The display features two mock city row-homes, one which uses a traditional aluminum gutter and down spout to convey rainwater from the roof to the ground; the other which uses a rain barrel connected to the down spout to capture and store rainwater for beneficial use.

We’re grateful to our partners for loaning us other rain barrels that are on display, several of which are hand-painted or artfully designed by students and seniors from Philadelphia.  These unique rain barrels illustrate that these structures can be useful and appealing.

I encourage you to check out EPA’s Public Information Center rain barrel exhibit, located at our Mid-Atlantic Regional Office, 1650 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103, M-F, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

About the Author: Shawn M. Garvin is EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator responsible for ensuring the protection of human health and the environment in Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

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 Celebration Ten Years in the Making

By Alysa Suero

A large gazebo on the grounds of the Audubon Center in Mill Grove, Pennsylvania, was buzzing last week, and not just from the sound of bees pollinating the flora.  It was also the site of the Schuylkill Action Network’s 10th anniversary celebration.

The SAN is a partnership between EPA, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Philadelphia Water Department, the Delaware River Basin Commission, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, conservation districts, local officials, watershed and non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders who share a common goal for the watershed.  Since its inception in March 2003, this group has successfully worked together to improve and maintain Schuylkill River water quality.  Its 10th anniversary ceremony was an opportunity to reflect upon the history of the organization and congratulate its on-the-ground partners who are actively working to keep the water clean.

An unexpected highlight of the ceremony was the appearance of a rescued owl, coolly perched on the arm of an Audubon Society volunteer.  With a spin of his head and a hoot of thanks, even the owl seemed to recognize the hard work of all who strive to keep his watershed clean.

SAN owl

Photo Courtesy of the Schuylkill Action Network

The SAN’s “vision for collaboration” emerged as the prominent theme during the ceremony, where awards were presented to individuals and local watershed groups who implemented outstanding projects to meet this goal.  Tackling varied and difficult issues from acid mine drainage to storm sewer overflows to excess nutrients, the award recipients were met with thunderous applause and even a standing ovation.  Presenters and winners alike, including a middle school, an ecologist, and a water supplier, all highlighted the uniqueness of the SAN and its approach.  Credited for uniting a “crosscut of society and the environment,” SAN itself was cheered for bringing together a diverse population who found common ground in their appreciation for the watershed and their shared desire to see it thrive for generations to come.

With a successful ten years already in the history books, several of the day’s speakers posited the future of the organization.  We learned that our nation’s population growth is expected to increase by 50 percent by the year 2050, and most of the growth will be seen within 100 miles of the coasts.  The Schuylkill watershed is firmly within that boundary. Undaunted, the SAN partners pledged to build upon their successful joint ventures and continue to work together to ensure that the Schuylkill watershed is a high quality water resource in the year 2050 and beyond, for humans, owls, and all who call this watershed home.

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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All Aboard for Earth Week

By Tom Damm A group of us got Earth Week off on the right track Monday when we set up EPA information tables at one of the busiest train stations in the country – 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. It was part of the third annual Amtrak-EPA Earth Day Fair, and commuters and school kids cruised the aisles, stopping by to ask questions, pose with mascots like Swampy the Frog, and check out displays on a variety of environmental topics.

A view of the festivities at 30th Street Station on Earth Day 2013

A view of the festivities at 30th Street Station on Earth Day 2013

Water issues were well represented.  We had information on green landscaping, WaterSense products to save water and money, and our Net Zero Energy push to help water and wastewater utilities cut energy costs. At my table, I had fact sheets on the importance of streams and wetlands, particularly small streams that feed bigger ones and play a key role in the quality of water downstream. Visitors were attracted by the sign, “How’s Your Waterway? Check it out Here.” I demonstrated on my laptop how they could determine the health of their local streams, creeks and rivers with EPA’s new app and website, “How’s My Waterway?.”  We just plugged in their zip code and in seconds their nearest waterways showed up on the screen with information on their condition. “I always wanted to know that.  I fish.  Thanks!,” was one response. You still have a few days to get involved in Earth Week activities happening in your area. And if you don’t get a chance to join in this week, remember, Every Day is Earth Day. About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

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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Serving Communities by Cleaning Streams

By Rebecca Schwartz and Christina Catanese

In the Philly area and looking for ways to celebrate Earth Day a little early?

Mayor Michael A. Nutter and the Philadelphia Streets Department announced that the 6th Annual Philly Spring Cleanup will be held on Saturday, April 13.  This annual event is a way to involve Philadelphia residents in their local neighborhoods and parks, all while making the city a beautiful, clean place for both residents and visitors to enjoy.  It’s a day when Philadelphia residents are encouraged to volunteer a bit of their time, enjoy the outdoors, and connect with their neighbors and neighborhoods.  By taking part in cleaning up our communities, we all gain a sense of ownership and civic pride in our urban environment, which translates into stronger communities as well as greater sustainability and health.

EPA Employees at a recent ELN marsh clean up event

EPA Employees at a recent ELN marsh clean up event

It’s important for us to serve our communities even when we’re not on duty at EPA.  So this weekend, EPA’s Region 3 Executive Leaders Network (ELN) is partnering with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to host a cleanup at Tacony Creek State Park.  A group of EPA employees, friends, and relatives will be spending the afternoon beautifying a stretch along the newly built bike path – and you’re invited to join us!   Here are the details:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

10:00am to 2:00pm

Meet at the corner of East Ruscomb Street and Bingham Street, Philadelphia, PA

We’ll be picking up trash and removing invasive plants along the new bike path!  Volunteers should wear long pants and bring enough water for the afternoon.  Gloves will be provided, but please bring your own if you have them.  Kids are welcome, so bring your friends and family!

Tacony Creek is a small stream in one of Philly’s urban watersheds that eventually flows into the Delaware River.  Small streams like this one make a big difference in their communities: providing a place to recreate, supporting strong economies, providing drinking water, protecting against floods, filtering pollutants, and providing food and habitat for many types of fish.  Small streams can have a big effect on downstream water quality as well, as they all come together to feed into the larger river system.

If you can’t get to this event but want to contribute to cleaning up Philadelphia, find a Philly Spring Cleanup project in your neighborhood online at www.phillyspringcleanup.com.

Not in the Philadelphia area?  Let us know what’s happening to clean up river and stream areas in your community!

About the Authors: Rebecca Schwartz is an ORISE Intern in the Office of NPDES Permits and Enforcement working on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation permits.  She graduated from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill with an MS in Ecology, and serves as a member on ELN’s Community Service Crew for the Mid Atlantic Region. Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

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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Soak it Up! Philadelphia Designs Showcase Rain as a Resource

By Ken Hendrickson

Sitting in the auditorium at the Academy of Natural Sciences and watching the presentations of the nine finalists in the Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! design competition, you could feel the excitement in the air.  The pecha kucha presentation format gave the evening a rhythm and cadence, but the design teams gave it substance.  All of the nine finalist teams had creative ideas and I didn’t envy the judges’ position of having to pick the final three winning teams – but in the end, they did.  Throughout the evening as I viewed the design boards, talked to the designers, and watched the presentations, I had the same three thoughts.

My view from the audience at the Soak It Up! Awards

My view from the audience at the Soak It Up! Awards

First, stormwater is exciting, or perhaps more accurately, green infrastructure design solutions to urban stormwater are exciting.  The design solutions treated stormwater as a resource and made it a visible and important part of each site and, by extension, the city.  What is exciting is that not only did these teams provide real, workable, and affordable solutions to addressing one of our most pressing water quality concerns, these designs would also make the city a better place to live and work.

My second thought had to do with collaboration.  I was impressed at the level to which these teams had embraced the collaborative approach to design.  While the competition did specify that teams needed to include a civil engineer, an architect, and a landscape architect to be eligible, the finalists seemed to take this integrated and collaborative design approach a step further.  I couldn’t help but wonder about the process that lead to these designs.  What future partnerships, collaborations, and design solutions might be born as a result of this competition?

Which brings me to my final thought about the Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! design competition: that these designs are not just attractive imagery and impressive reports.  They represent a shift in the way we view urban stormwater and the solutions we design to control it.  Each of these designs has a story and they are stories that everyone with an interest in clean water and livable communities deserves to hear.

In an effort to help make these stories available to all, the G3 Academy (Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns) is partnering with the Community Design Collaborative to host a webcast on April 4th featuring the design competition winners.  The webcast is free and open to anyone.  For more information and to register for the webcast, please visit this link.

Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! is a joint effort of the Community Design Collaborative, the Philadelphia Water Department, and EPA to inspire innovation in green stormwater infrastructure.  This design competition was the latest product of the partnership between EPA and the City of Philadelphia to advance green infrastructure for urban wet weather pollution control.  For additional resources on green infrastructure, visit the EPA green infrastructure website.

How does stormwater affect your community, and how would green infrastructure help?  Do the designs from the Philadelphia: Soak It Up! design competition inspire ideas for where you live?

About the Author: Ken Hendrickson has worked at the EPA since 2010 and is the Green Infrastructure staff lead in the Office of State and Watershed Partnerships.  Ken has a background in landscape architecture, geology, and watershed management.  He enjoys working to empower communities to improve their environment and finding solutions that create more resilient social, environmental, and economic systems. When not in the office, Ken enjoys challenging and rewarding outdoor activities and creative indoor hobbies.

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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Help Us Find the Best Students for Our 2013 Summer Program

By Nancy Grundahl

Do you know a student currently in 7th grade who lives in the Washington, DC, Baltimore or Philadelphia metropolitan area and wants to learn more about the environment? Is that student among the best and the brightest?  Then please encourage them to apply for our Student Environmental Development Program (SEDP). Applications for this summer’s sessions must be postmarked by April 23.

Students who are accepted will spend six weeks learning about the environment from a science teacher, EPA employees and local environmental professionals. Classroom learning will be supplemented by hands-on learning activities and field trips.

Students will learn about environmental issues common to urban communities including contaminated fish consumption, children’s asthma, sun safety, lead, polluted drinking water and hazardous household waste. In addition, they will learn life skills such as public speaking, working with group dynamics and computer literacy. More than 1,000 students have completed our program so far and they have given us rave reviews!

How to apply? Students must be nominated by their middle school. Two letters of recommendation are required. Students are chosen based on their grades, attendance record, extracurricular activities and behavior. Is it competitive? It sure is – only 20 students will be chosen to participate this year for each location. The cost to the students? Zero!

To learn more, go to our website and start spreading the word. Help us find and develop future environmental scientists and engineers.

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy is currently the Web Content Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Region.

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

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In Philly, Plain Rain Barrels are SO Last Season

By Nancy Grundahl

If you were Michelangelo, what would your rain barrel look like? It certainly wouldn’t be plain. No, it would convey beauty, reflect creativity, stand out from the crowd, cause walkersby to catch their breath in amazement.

One of the designs (“Fish Flow”) that you can vote for in the Philadelphia Water Department's Rain Barrel Art Contest

One of the designs (“Fish Flow”) that you can vote for in the Philadelphia Water Department's Rain Barrel Art Contest

To raise awareness of the benefits of rain barrels, the City of Philadelphia is holding a rain barrel art contest, but instead of Michelangelo, the artists are local students. Students between the ages of 11 and 21 from the Laura W. Waring School and YESPHilly worked with artists from the Mural Arts Program and educators from Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center and the Philadelphia Water Department to create beautiful original artwork for decorating rain barrels. How will it work? The designs will be printed on shrink wrap that will then be wrapped around rain barrels distributed by the Water Department.

The contest has been narrowed down to 8 finalists and they’d like you to vote for your fav. The contest ends on February 13, so hurry!

Rain barrels are good ideas no matter where you live.  They help capture rain water that can be reused around the home. And they help prevent that water from rushing from your downspouts and into storm sewers, picking up pollution that winds up in your favorite streams and rivers.

Feel creative?  Tell us your ideas for beautifying rain barrels at your home!

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” 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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Life’s Most Persistent and Urgent Question

By Jaclyn McIlwain and Tom Damm

Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s compassion and commitment to service, citizens across the country will be volunteering their time and talents to improving their communities this Monday.

Still haven’t decided how you’ll pitch in?

If you live in the Delaware Valley, join us for a trash cleanup at the Bristol Marsh Preserve, located in Bristol Borough, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Trash collected during 2012's Bristol Marsh Clean Up

Trash collected during 2012's Bristol Marsh Clean Up

For the second year in a row, a group of our EPA regional employees will mark the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service by participating in the Heritage Conservancy’s annual Bristol Marsh Cleanup.  It’s one of the initiatives of our employee-led EPA Region 3 Emerging Leaders Network (ELN).  ELN’s Community Service Crew organizes and participates in service events in the greater Philadelphia area.

In the spirit of EPA’s mission and Dr. King’s imploration for service, the ELN and its members are committed to improving our natural spaces, where we gather, recreate, and recharge.

The Bristol Marsh Preserve is one of those special areas.

This freshwater tidal marsh – a type of wetland rarely found in Pennsylvania – offers important feeding grounds for migratory birds, waterfowl and wading birds.  It also provides spawning and nursery areas for fish, improves water quality by removing pollutants and adding oxygen, and supports a variety of recreational activities, like bird watching, nature study and fishing.

The cleanup from 10 a.m. to noon is being organized by the Nature Conservancy, the Heritage Conservancy and Bristol Borough.

Can’t make it to Bristol?  Service projects are happening across the country during this long weekend.    Click here for information on a project near you.

This Monday, take time to answer through action one of Dr. King’s most famous questions, “What are you doing for others?”

About the Authors: Jaclyn McIlwain is a Life Scientist in the Office of NPDES Permits and Enforcement working on coal mine permitting.  She graduated from the University of Delaware with a BS in Environmental Science, and serves as the ELN’s Community Service Crew Lead for the Mid Atlantic Region.  Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

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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Our Environment, Then and Now

By Christina Catanese

Have you ever wondered what the places around you looked like 40 years ago?  Like, how long has that building been there?  Has there always been this much trash in this river?  Did there used to be more open space in this area?  We’ve asked these questions, too.

From the Documerica Archives: “The Polluted Schuykill River and Center City In Background, September 1973.”

From the Documerica Archives: “The Polluted Schuykill River and Center City In Background, September 1973.”

That’s why EPA is reviving Documerica, a photo documentary that captured American life and environmental conditions shortly after EPA’s creation in 1970.  We’re not only bringing back the old photos, we’re giving you a chance to give it a modern twist.

In Documerica, photojournalists throughout the country photographed subjects of environmental concern, resulting in a collection of over 15,000 images that gave a snapshot of our environment in the 1970s.

Now, through a photo project called State of the Environment, you have an opportunity to get behind the lens and submit photos that document our lives and our planet today.  You can try to match pictures taken 40 years ago with a current shot to mark the changes in your environment, or submit new photos that capture our current decade.  Find out here how to participate in this challenge and submit your images through our Flickr page!

You can also check out a selection of the Documerica photos as well as some of the State of the Environment photos submitted so far in a traveling exhibit called Documerica Returns.  There are a few places you can catch the exhibit in the southeastern Pennsylvania area in the next few weeks:

  • Franklin & Marshall College, atrium of Steinman College Center, now through November 20th
  • EPA Philadelphia Regional Office Public Information Center, 1650 Arch Street, November 26th-30th
  • Amtrak’s 30th Street Station, December 3rd-14th
From the Documerica Archives: “Oil Spill On Schuykill River, July 5, 1972, Following Hurricane Agnes, Covered Greenery On River Bank, July 1972)”

From the Documerica Archives: “Oil Spill On Schuykill River, July 5, 1972, Following Hurricane Agnes, Covered Greenery On River Bank, July 1972)”

I’m most curious to see photos of our waterways, then and now.  In the Philly area, I’d love to see a match of the pictures of the Schuylkill River in this post.

What places inspire you to grab your camera and capture the state of our world today?  What did you find when you browsed the Documerica archives of photos near you 40 years ago – were there any surprises?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

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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After Hurricane Sandy

By Christina Catanese

Today in Philadelphia, life is beginning to return to normal after Hurricane Sandy.  Our buses, subways, and trains are up and running, most of the fallen tree branches have been cleared away from the streets and sidewalks, and the sun has even peeked through the clouds to help us all start to dry out.  But our concerns remain with those in other parts of the northeast facing a more difficult recovery.  Natural disasters are a reminder to all of us of the power of nature and the importance of being prepared.

Hurricane Sandy's approach to the Northeast United States.  Photo courtesy of NASA.

Hurricane Sandy's approach to the Northeast United States. Photo courtesy of NASA.

After a storm like Sandy, there are a number of things you can do to stay safe when it comes to water.

  • If you have concerns that your drinking water has been contaminated, don’t drink it.  Drink bottled water if it is available and hasn’t been exposed to floodwaters.  Otherwise, boil your water for one minute at a rolling boil to get rid of pathogens.  Learn more about emergency disinfection here.
  • Avoid contact with flood water, as it may have high levels of raw sewage or other hazardous substances.
  • If you have a private well and it has been flooded, do not turn on the pump due to danger of electric shock.  Do not drink or wash with water from the flooded well until it has been tested and deemed safe.
  • If you have a septic system and it has been flooded, do not use the sewage system until water in the soil absorption field is lower than the water level around the house.
  • For water and wastewater facilities, check out these suggested post-hurricane activities to help facilities recover.

Get more information on what you can do to protect health and the environment after severe weather and flooding.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

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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