Prevention

An Rx for Unused Pills

Click here to get EPA tips on how to dispose of your medicine.By Brian Hamilton

If you’re like most Americans, you may have some expired or unused medicines sitting in your house and you’re not sure what to do with them.

The Drug Enforcement Administration knows this is a big problem.   That’s why the DEA is hosting a National Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, October 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at many different municipal locations.   Last year, nearly 4,000 local agencies participated in the event and collected over 309 tons of pills.

So what does this have to do with Healthy Waters?

Prescription and over-the-counter drugs poured down the drain or flushed down the toilet can pass through wastewater treatment plants and enter rivers and lakes, which may serve as sources downstream for community drinking water supplies.  In homes that use septic tanks, medicines flushed down the toilet can leach into the ground and seep into ground water.

In addition to the National Drug Take Back Day, check with your municipal or county government’s household trash and recycling service to see if there are other drug take-back programs available in your community.

Click here to learn more about the National Drug Take Back Day and find take back locations. Also click here to get EPA tips on how to dispose of your medicine.

About the Author: Brian Hamilton works in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support at Region 3. He helps manage the Healthy Waters Blog, and assists in reviewing mining permits and does other duties as assigned. Brian grew up in Central Pennsylvania. He has worked for the EPA since July 2010.

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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Balm Before the Storm

By Tom Damm
Click here to view the EPA press release on the Clean Water Act permit

When it comes to efforts to keep sewage, polluted stormwater and trash from reaching District of Columbia waterways and eventually the Chesapeake Bay, the past few weeks in the nation’s capital have been quite eventful.

EPA was on stage for two major announcements in the District that will have a big impact in cleaning up the Potomac and Anacostia rivers and Rock Creek, and improving the health of the downstream Bay.

The first event marked the signing of an EPA Clean Water Act permit that includes green infrastructure features designed to make the city more absorbent to rainwater – or “spongier” in the words of District Department of the Environment Director Christophe Tulou.

The second event signaled the start of DC Water’s massive series of underground tunnels that when complete will capture nearly all of the sewage overflows from the sewer system during heavy rains.  The project was prompted by a federal consent decree.

Both initiatives will not only promote clean water, they’ll also create jobs and improve the quality of life in the District.

With efforts like these, we’re looking forward to the day when one of the biggest concerns posed by a storm in D.C. is whether the Nationals game is played or not.

Stay tuned.

Click here to view the EPA press release on the Clean Water Act permit

Click here to view the DC Water project press release

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, he held state government public affairs positions in New Jersey and worked as a daily newspaper reporter.  When not in the office, Tom enjoys cycling and volunteer work.  Tom and his family live in Hamilton Township, N.J., near Trenton.

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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Invasion of the European Water Chestnut!

waterchestnut1

By Gwen Supplee

I’d like to tell you about alien invaders…no, not Martians from outer space, but plants from the other side of our own planet.  In this case, it’s not an unidentified flying object we’re worried about, but an invasive floating plant.

The European water chestnut (Trapa natans) is an invasive, partially submerged aquatic plant that was introduced to the U.S. in the 1920s from Eastern Europe. It has spread through watersheds within the Chesapeake Bay watershed such as the Potomac River, Sassafras and Bird rivers of Maryland, and the lower Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.  Recently, it has begun to impact smaller, local watersheds closer to EPA’s Philadelphia regional office where I work, such as the Perkiomen Creek Watershed in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Why should you care – aren’t water chestnuts those yummy things that you can find in Chinese food? Not these water chestnuts! The European water chestnut consists of multiple rosettes, with long cord-like stems that can be as long as 16 feet, forming dense floating mats and making the waters  a pain for boating and fishing. As if impeding your recreation out on the open water wasn’t enough, the seedpods typically have four barbed spines that are sharp enough to penetrate shoes as you scamper in the shallow waters of impacted areas. Ouch!

waterchestnut2As far as the native ecosystem is concerned, the floating foliage severely limits the passage of light into the water, reduces oxygen levels in the water, and reduces growth of native aquatic species, all of which are needed to maintain a well-functioning aquatic ecosystem. And these water chestnuts are definitely not good to put in your salad or stir fry.

How prolific is this invasive plant? Each plant produces up to 20 seedpods per rosette and each seedpod can live for up to 12 years. In one year, one plant can produce 300 new plants! European water chestnuts prefer slow-moving and nutrient-rich waters, like man-made or natural ponds, and shallow creeks. The water chestnut begins to flower in late July.  The nuts ripen one month later and seed production continues into the fall.

What can you do to help stop the spread of these invaders? If there is European water chestnut (or other invasive aquatic plants) where you recreate:

Remove the aquatic plant from all parts of your boat, trailer, fishing gear and accessory equipment. Dispose of the removed material in the garbage.

Drain all water from your boat including your bilges, live wells, buckets and other water containers before leaving the water access area.

Wash your boat and gear thoroughly with regular tap water when you get home. Flush water through any part of the boat that contained water from the waterway including motor’s cooling system, live well and any other area that holds water. Dry equipment and boats in a sunny location before using them in a new body of water.

Volunteer with your local watershed organization if there is European water chestnut where you live.

waterchestnut3I recently had the pleasure of joining the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, which is organizing hand-pulling parties all summer long, in order to remove the plant before it begins to flower and go to seed. Not sure whether you have a watershed organization where you live?

You can surf your watershed to find out. The best way to keep invasive plants out of our waters is to be informed about what species are a threat in our region and in the rest of the country.  Do you know of invasive plants in the waters where you live and recreate?

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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Watts up? Bring ‘em down

To learn more, click here to register for a  June 16, 2011 webinar that starts 2:00pm http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=business.bus_internet_presentations.  Click on “View live web conference schedule…”   In the search tool, type “wastewater.”

EPA is offering your town a way to save money on energy costs.

Energy use at wastewater treatment plants (WWTP’s) and drinking water treatment plants (DWTP’s) contribute significantly to municipalities’ total electric bill.  These critical utilities operate large motors that run pumps and blowers used for treating and conveying water and wastewater 24/7.  These facilities offer opportunities for cost-effective operational changes and investments in energy-efficient technologies.

The first step to energy and cost savings is to benchmark current energy usage.  A free and easy way is for towns to use EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager.  This online tool allows managers of WWTP’s and DWTP’s to track energy usage, energy costs and associated carbon emissions and to compare energy usage with comparable plants.

The tool is also helpful in identifying efficiency opportunities within a facility. 

Towns will have an opportunity to learn more during a June 16 webinar.

Encourage your town to participate.  It’s free and it could lead to big savings.

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 Climes They Are a-Changin’

By Brent Heverly

Get more information about how climate change could impact water resources

Managing water resources is a challenging job under any circumstances.  You have to account for the many different uses of the water (drinking, industrial, agricultural, and ecological, just to name a few) and make sure that both the quality and quantity of the water are adequate to make sure all these sectors have enough clean water.  But changing conditions can make water management even more complex.  Climate change is (literally) a hot topic these days, with a lot of discussion of rising global temperatures, carbon emissions, and renewable energy.  But what impact could climate change have on water resources?

Here are just a few of the potential water-related effects of climate change in the U.S:

  • Changes in precipitation: greater variation of precipitation (increased heavy rainfalls as well as intense droughts), changes in the size of vital water bodies and wetlands, water quantity (reductions in ground and surface water), and water quality (increased runoff that causes erosion and sedimentation)
  • Increased water temperature: lower dissolved oxygen levels, increased algal blooms, and altered distribution in aquatic species (since most species are adapted to survive in a certain range of temperatures)
  • Rising Sea Levels: increased coastal erosion, displacement of coastal wetlands, and salt water intrusion in drinking water supplies

Want to learn more?  You can find much more information about the potential impact of climate change on water resources and EPA activities related to water and climate change.  EPA’s Watershed Academy has also done a number of webcasts on water issues related to climate change that are full of information.

So what is EPA doing about it? EPA has developed a national water program strategy for the adaptation to climate change, mitigation of greenhouse gases, as well as further research and education on how climate change relates to water, with 44 key action items.  EPA’s Climate Ready Water Utilities (CRWU) program provides resources for the water sector to develop and implement long-term plans that take climate change impacts into account.  Resources include a climate ready toolbox and a software tool to assess climate-related risk (Climate Resilience Evaluation and Assessment Tool, or CREAT).

There’s also the Climate Ready Estuaries Program, which focuses on the specific impact of climate change to these unique ecosystems.  In the Mid Atlantic region, we are lucky to have the Delaware Estuary as one of these distinctive natural resources.  To assess how vulnerable this estuary is to climate change and explore strategies to mitigate the risks, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary joined with EPA as one of six national pilots in the Climate Ready Estuaries Program in 2008. Last year a Climate Change and the Delaware Estuary report was published which examined three case studies (tidal wetlands, drinking water, and bivalve shellfish) as examples of natural resources that could be affected and have an impact on habitats, humans, and aquatic life.

What are others doing about it? There are efforts all across the nation. The Source Water Collaborative includes EPA and 22 other national organizations that have an interest in safe drinking water.  As you’ve heard in our previous blogs, the Source Water Collaborative is sponsoring the Delaware River Basin Forum on March 10th.  This basin-wide event will address the issues that affect water resource sustainability that millions in the region rely on every day.  One of the issues to be highlighted is the regional impacts of climate change.  Visit the DRBF website for event locations and more.

And what is the Healthy Waters Blog doing about it? We’re striving to bring you the most current information possible on important issues like climate change that concern your water resources.  We’ll also have a live blog the day of the Delaware River Basin Forum with frequent updates of happenings at the central Philadelphia location and satellites.  Check back here throughout the day on March 10th!

So what are you doing about it? You can start by getting informed.  Tune into the conference, either by attending in person at any one of the locations, or by viewing the live webcast of the forum online from wherever you are!   Here’s even more you can do.

About the Author: Brent Heverly is a fourth year student at Drexel University studying environmental engineering. He is working at Region 3 under EPA’s Student Career Experience Program and hopes to convert to a permanent employee after graduation. He grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs near Perkasie, Pa. Someday Brent plans to thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail.

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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Plant a Tree, Save a River!

Riparian Buffer in an agricultural areaBy Christina Catanese

Since this is the Healthy Waters Blog, you might be wondering why we’re concerned about forests.  But unlike Vegas, what happens on the land doesn’t stay on the land – it affects streams and rivers, especially if the land is right next to the water.  It turns out that having forests right next to waterways (as opposed to developed or tilled agricultural land) is highly beneficial to water quality, ecosystems, and humans.  These vegetated strips of land are often referred to as “riparian buffers.”

I have always been astounded at the amazing power of trees and plants to provide so many benefits to our environment and communities.  Forested stream banks act like a sponge, filtering out excessive nutrients, sediment, and other pollutants that run off from the land that would be damaging if they entered a stream.  Shrubs and trees are also able to prevent stream bank erosion by anchoring the soils, keeping the banks stable and excess sediment out of the stream.  Buffers can even help mitigate flooding by absorbing and slowing down surface runoff.

Forested streams also provide enhanced habitat for wildlife.  Leaves, twigs, and other natural plant litter that fall into the stream provide food and habitat for organisms in the water, and the corridors of natural vegetation along stream banks allow land-based mammals and birds to thrive.

Riparian forest buffers also aid greatly in maintaining cool stream temperatures.  You know how much better it feels to stand in the shade of a tree on a hot day rather than out in the hot sun?  Well, stream organisms prefer their streams to be shaded as well.  Studies have shown that removing the canopy can cause the stream’s temperature to rise by as much as 15 degrees.  Warmer streams can’t carry as much dissolved oxygen, and some organisms can’t survive in these conditions.

That’s all nice for the fish, but what about people?  Riparian buffers also benefit human communities.  Wouldn’t you rather fish and swim in a healthy, forested, shady stream?  I know I would.  Forested streams stimulate local economies by enhancing fisheries and recreational opportunities.  The presence of riparian buffers can also result in higher property values in communities and add aesthetic value.  The water quality improvements from buffers also enhance the quality of our drinking water, so by preserving forests, we actually protect our water supply.The Delaware River Basin, for example, provides high quality drinking water to nearly 15 million people from New York to Delaware, largely because of the mature forest canopy that has been maintained upstream.  Preserving forests in the headwaters contributes to water quality both upstream and downstream water quality.  Another plus: buffer preservation and restoration are pretty cost-effective strategies for managing nonpoint source pollution.

Seems almost common sense given all the benefits, doesn’t it?  But there can be obstacles to implementation, like funding, competing land-use practices, political will, or lack of awareness of the benefits.  EPA encourages buffers as a best management practice through its Nonpoint Source Program,with tools and resources to incorporate buffer restoration in regional planning.

Reforesting streams in the Chesapeake Bay is also an important strategy for the basin’s nutrient pollution diet.  Learn how the Bay program and the basin states are working to restore 10,000 miles of riparian forest in the Bay’s watershed, and see how the states have incorporated riparian reforestation into their Watershed Implementation Plans. Watch a video by the Chesapeake Bay Program Office to hear more about how forests and the Chesapeake Bay are related, and what makes a forest healthy.

What do you think about forested versus unforested streams?  Have you noticed if streams and rivers in your area have trees or not?  Do you know of any initiatives to create and preserve riparian buffers?

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

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

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The Long and Winding and GREEN Road

Click here to visit the Green Highways Partnership website.The first question for most people I’m sure is “What is a ‘green road’?”  Do they paint the asphalt? What makes it green and why is it important?

Green streets and highways help mitigate the amount of pollution and damage caused by a road or highway to the environment. 

Greening a street may involve environmental practices and its surrounding habitat:

-Pervious (porous) pavement is used – This means that instead of straight runoff when it rains, the water percolates through the surface to reduce runoff- related problems and to help minimize the effect of paving an area.

-Stormwater management – Techniques such as Bio Retention and Filtration are used to minimize the impact of roads during storms.  These techniques help to re-route runoff from storm drains to specially landscaped areas on the side of the street.

-Recycled materials – By using recycled materials builders can reduce land filling, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Many reused and recycled materials perform as well or better than their conventional/virgin counterparts.

-Street lights use clean energy (i.e., solar or wind power)

-Increased native tree canopy and forest buffers

-Wildlife crossings to give safe passage for species

To learn more about green highways visit the Green Highways Partnership.

A particular project in the Mid-Atlantic that exemplifies green streets and low-impact development (LID) is in the town of Edmonston, Maryland.  They rebuilt their main residential street (Decatur Street) to be a green street.  Edmonston was a prime location to implement a project of this kind, due to its proximity to the Anacostia River and the Chesapeake Bay.  Edmonston is at the forefront of LID, being the first town in Maryland (and possibly on the East Coast) to build something of this kind.  Visit the Edmonston city website for more information on the project.

 Have any new ideas about what can be done to help ‘green’ your neighborhood?  Get out there and put them into practice! Plant trees at the edge of your yard, have a gravel driveway instead of a concrete one or plant a rain garden at the bottom of your gutter spout.  And don’t be shy about sharing what you’ve learned with your neighbors or in the comments section below.

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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How “green” Is Your Garden?

Rain GardenLike gardening?  Interested in attracting birds and butterflies?  Well, you can do all of this and help prevent stormwater from entering local streams.  By creating a rain garden, you can direct water from your downspouts to your garden and reduce your own water use as a bonus!
A rain garden is an attractive landscaped area with native plants that don’t mind a summer rain.  The rain garden is designed to naturally collect water that runs off your roof, driveway and other paved areas.  It is a sustainable and economic way of dealing with rainfall as nature intended.  Also, a rain garden slows down and reduces the volume of rainfall runoff before it enters the stormwater system. 
I’m inviting you to join the Mid-Atlantic National Estuary Program in their campaign, Rain Gardens for the Bays!  This unique campaign works closely with EPA Region 3, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Center for the Delaware Inland Bays, Maryland Coastal Bays, DE Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and other organizations, to green our neighborhoods and protect our streams and bays. 
By installing a rain garden, you are not only keeping rainwater on your property but you are saving time by lowering landscaping maintenance and doing your part to protect the environment at the same time.
Want double the water saving benefits? Connect a rain barrel to your downspout and use the collected water to keep your rain garden and other landscaping green and attractive to birds and bees.
For more information on how to create your very own rain garden visit Rain Gardens for the Bays

Have you installed a rain garden?  If so, tell us about your experience and register your rain garden here. Haven’t installed one yet?  Tell us why not, and if you would consider creating your very own rain garden.

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 Overhead

Sun Trust Bank Headquarters in Richmond, Virginia

Sun Trust Bank Headquarters in Richmond, Virginia

Green roofs are roofs that have plants and grasses on top of them. They offer a number of benefits including being an innovative tool to reduce stormwater runoff. Normally, rainwater rushes from rooftops and other hard surfaces into nearby streams and rivers. In highly urban areas, this sudden surge of water can erode the banks of these streams and rivers. Because of the vegetation on top of green roofs, the rainwater that would have poured from the roof is captured by the plants. Green roofs are becoming more popular — SunTrust Bank Headquarters in Richmond, Virginia installed one on its building. and a number of federal government buildings are also getting green roofs.

Is this an idea that’s ready to sprout?

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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Control Your Stormwater and Save Money, Use a Rain Barrel

Did you know that lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40% of total household water use during the summer? Rain barrels provide free water to use during these high water usage periods, saving most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water as well as saving money and energy. A rain barrel collects and stores rainwater from your roof that would otherwise be lost to runoff and diverted to storm drains and streams. Usually a rain barrel is a 55 gallon drum with a vinyl hose, PVC couplings, a screen grate to keep debris and insects out, and other off-the-shelf items.


Rain Barrel connected to a gutter downspout

Rain Barrel connected to a gutter downspout

It’s relatively simple and inexpensive to construct one and it can sit conveniently under any residential gutter down spout collecting and storing water for when you need it most — during periods of drought — to water plants, wash your car, or top off a swimming pool.

Do you use rain barrels? If so, we invite you to comment to us about it. If you don’t currently use one, would you ever consider installing one? If not, why not?



Check out some of these projects in Maryland, Virginia and other Mid Atlantic States.

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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