Rain Barrel

Celebrating the 45th Earth Day

by Jennie Saxe

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was held as a national “teach-in” on environmental issues. That day, rallies and conferences were held across the country to get Americans engaged in environmental protection. For a look at the first Earth Day rallies in Philadelphia, check out the history and videos compiled by the Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia, including footage from news reports on the first Earth Week.

As we celebrate the 45th Earth Day, staff in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office are participating in many events that honor the environmental education focus of the day. Even though the Healthy Waters blog is all about water, our Earth Day outreach featured much, much more!

Last Saturday, dozens of EPA employees took advantage of the beautiful weather to lace up their sneakers for the Clean Air Council’s Run for Clean Air. This race, beginning near the iconic steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, follows the Schuylkill River – a source of drinking water for the City of Philadelphia – for much of its route.

EPA staff shared information on sustainability at the Philadelphia Phillies' Red Goes Green game.

EPA staff shared information on sustainability at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Red Goes Green game.

Yesterday, EPA celebrated Earth Day all across the region. Employees shared tips to protect the environment with rail commuters at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, with students at the National Constitution Center, with sports fans at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Red Goes Green game, and with everyone working and living at Fort Meade in Maryland.

EPA educated students on native plants and more at the National Constitution Center's Earth Day event.

EPA educated students on native plants and more at the National Constitution Center’s Earth Day event.

But wait…the week isn’t over yet! Look for EPA at Temple-Ambler’s EarthFest on Friday, April 24, and at Core Creek Park for the Bucks County Earth Day celebration on Saturday, April 25.

In case EPA’s Earth Day outreach didn’t make it to your neighborhood this year, check out these links for a “virtual Earth Day” experience:

  • Save water and money with WaterSense labeled products
  • Protect local waterways by disposing of expired medication properly
  • Use less water in your landscaping by planting species native to the mid-Atlantic – they’re easy to grow and create habitat for birds and butterflies
  • Keep pollution out of our streams by using green infrastructure to soak up rainwater in your yard

Earth Day doesn’t have to come just once a year! Let us know how you plan to make #EarthDayEveryDay.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. For Earth Day, she’s installing rain barrels to slow the flow of rainwater across her yard.

 

 

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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Make Purple Your Favorite Color!

Purple pipes offer an easy way to distinguish recycled water from the potable water distribution system.

Purple pipes offer an easy way to distinguish recycled water from the potable water distribution system.

by Alysa Suero

What comes to mind when you think of purple? Likely you conjure images of grapes, flowers, or your favorite socks. How about a purple pipe? Most states require pipes to be colored purple if they carry reclaimed water. Reclaimed water is an important component in water conservation and one that is rapidly gaining in popularity for many uses.

Reclaimed, or recycled, water is highly treated wastewater that’s used again for a variety of purposes such as irrigation, industrial processes, and cooling towers. Often the treated water flows through purple pipes to the end user. Purple pipes offer an easy way to distinguish recycled water from the potable water distribution system.

There are many benefits to using reclaimed water. Using it for golf course irrigation or toilet flushing, for example, reduces the demand on our fresh water resources, reduces the nitrogen loading to the watershed from the wastewater treatment plant, and offers the end user a financial savings since it’s often cheaper to use reclaimed water than to operate a ground water well or purchase potable water from the local water supplier. It also saves energy that would otherwise be used to treat raw water at a drinking water treatment plant.

Reclaimed water in those purple pipes isn’t just for physical processes, either. Highly treated reclaimed water can be used to indirectly augment drinking water sources. In the mid-Atlantic, the Upper Occoquan Sewage Authority has been discharging recycled water into a stream above the Occoquan Reservoir since 1978. The sewage authority can send as much as 54 million gallons per day to the reservoir ensuring that a potable water supply source is consistently ready to serve Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria, Virginia.

As an individual, you don’t need a purple pipe to recycle water in your own home. Try watering your garden with rain water collected in a barrel. Feed your houseplants with water from your half-full water glass instead of pouring it down the drain. Every time we reuse water, whether through purple pipes from a wastewater treatment plant or even in our own home, we’re taking another step to conserve our precious water resources, and that’s a “plum” reward we can all appreciate.

About the author: Alysa Suero is a licensed professional geologist in the Water Protection Division’s Drinking Water Branch. When not in the office, Alysa, who was recently married, enjoys cooking, family game night, organizing closets, and caring for her two rabbits.

 

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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Rain is Natural, But Run-Off is Not

by Andrea Bennett

Potted daylilies and ivy in a parking area help transform an impermeable surface into one that captures rainwater.

Potted plants in a parking area help transform an impermeable surface into one that captures rainwater.

While we know that forests, meadows, and other plantings help slow the flow of rainwater and filter out pollutants, some towns (including mine) still have zoning laws prohibiting homeowners from replacing impermeable surfaces with vegetation.

These ordinances may not make the most sense from an environmental standpoint, but they can inspire homeowners to get creative about adapting impervious surfaces around the house to absorb rainfall and prevent polluted run-off.

For example, in my case, I realized that putting plants on top of an impermeable surface, mimicking more natural ground cover, could make a real difference. The daylilies and ivy we now have in our parking area are helping to soak up rain before it becomes run-off.

When rain falls onto impervious surfaces that have pet waste, leaked oil, and lawn chemicals, they transport that polluted run-off to local creeks and rivers. By keeping the rain from contacting the pollution on land, or slowing down the movement of polluted stormwater, we give our local waterways a better chance of staying healthy.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension has crunched the numbers on how much runoff a medium-size house and lot in Virginia could generate, and they might surprise you.

They found that a 1,600 square foot roof and 750 square feet of driveway and sidewalks results in a total of 2,350 square feet of impervious surface. With just a half-inch of rain, more than 700 gallons of water would run off – enough to fill about 15 bathtubs! During a bigger or longer storm event, even more rain would turn to run-off.

There are even more ways to keep rain from turning into polluted run-off. Around your home, you could build a rain garden; install permeable surfaces; sweep your driveways and walkways; pick up litter; and fix oil and antifreeze leaks from automobiles.

As for me, I plan to install a rain barrel to help capture rainwater to reuse in my yard. Keep an eye out for local rain barrel workshops in your town: these workshops explain how to construct a rain barrel from a plastic 55-gallon drum, so you can use the water it collects to water plants.

What else can you do around your home to make sure rain doesn’t turn into polluted run-off? Let us know in the comments.

 

About the Author: Andrea Bennett is a biologist with EPA. Andrea enjoys birding, kayaking and playing the mandolin and she is a member of her local watershed protection team.

 

 

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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Putting Your Rain Barrel Down for a Long Winter’s Nap

By Steve Donohue

In addition to raking all those leaves, another job I do every fall is put my rain barrel away for the winter.  If you have a rain barrel, you’ll want to do this before a hard freeze can damage your barrel, valve, or overflow piping.

Emptying my rain barrel on a Fall afternoon

Emptying my rain barrel on a Fall afternoon

I have had a rain barrel for many years and often leave it up until after Thanksgiving, and I have never had a problem with freezing where I live near Philadelphia.

But when it’s time to pack it up for the season, your first step should be to drain the barrel as much as possible by removing plugs and opening the valve.  Every inch of water represents 10 or more pounds, so save your back and be patient!  While it is draining, I disconnect the downspout, clean the screens and filters, and remove the overflow piping.

Next, I open and check the inside of the barrel for sediment.  You’ll want to remove this dirt and organic matter to prevent clogging your valve and to start off clean next spring.  I swish the remaining water in the barrel to loosen the sediment and quickly turn the barrel upside down over my mulched bed to keep it off the grass.  Even fully drained, you might want an extra pair of hands to wrestle your barrel off its platform.

I store my rain barrel inside my garden shed for the winter, but you can cover it in place or turn it upside down in the yard.  The key is to keep water out that could freeze and damage it or the fittings.

The last step is to reconnect the downspout to direct water away from your foundation and prevent erosion.  As with any roof drainage, if possible, direct it away from impervious surfaces like concrete and asphalt to slow it down, spread it out, and soak it in.

With your rain barrel safely tucked away for winter, you can relax, kick your feet up and watch some football…at least until it’s time to start shoveling snow.

To learn more about rain barrels, visit http://www.epa.gov/reg3esd1/garden/rainbarrel.html or watch this video about the benefits of rain barrels

About the author: Steve Donohue has been an environmental scientist at EPA for over 20 years. Currently, he works in the Office of Environmental Innovation in Philadelphia where he is focused on greening EPA and other government facilities.

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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Calculating the Impact

By Andy Dinsmore

What happens when all of the rain from a storm can’t soak into the ground on my property?  Where does it go?  Is that runoff causing any problems?

These are questions many people may be asking themselves.  In developed areas, that runoff likely enters into a storm sewer (a pipe) which outlets directly to a stream.  And too much runoff after a storm can cause severe damage to our streams, such as bank erosion and habitat loss.

Screen shot of Stormwater Calculator

Screen shot of Stormwater Calculator

But do I know how much runoff is coming from my property?  A new tool from EPA, the National Stormwater Calculator, has made it much easier to figure out.  It uses a simple, step-by-step process to assess a property (land use, soil features, and rainfall) and give an estimate for runoff.

I used the tool to evaluate my property and found it to be very user friendly.  I just entered my address and a window showed my property location.  Then I selected my soil type and landscape features using the incorporated links and overlays.  I gave my best estimates for the percentage of trees, grass, and impervious surfaces (my roof and driveway).  The calculator then showed me approximately how much runoff my property produces in a year.

The intent of the calculator is to compare current runoff estimates with reductions that would result from some simple practices, like redirecting your downspouts over your lawn, installing rain barrels, or making a rain garden.  More complex practices that may be used by industrial, commercial, or municipal properties are also available, such as curbside planters, green roofs, infiltration basins, and porous pavement.

I already have two rain barrels and a rain garden, so I ran the calculator twice.  The results of my two calculator runs (one without the rain barrels and rain garden and one with them) showed that I’m capturing an estimated 1.77 inches of runoff each year.  When I convert that to volume, it becomes 6,343 gallons of runoff that does not leave my property – enough to fill more than 100 average-sized bathtubs.  You can see the output from the calculator here.

So if you’ve asked yourself where your runoff goes, check out the calculator.  And then consider taking some basic steps to reduce your impact.

Maybe my next blog will have to be about how easy it is to build your own rain barrel and install it yourself.   But for now, be sure to check out our Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin’s recent blog about rain barrel art.

About the Author: Andy Dinsmore has been with EPA since 1997 and is currently the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Stormwater Team Leader, responsible for ensuring that regulated entities, such as construction sites, certain industrial facilities, and urbanized municipalities, properly manage their stormwater runoff and comply with their NPDES permits. Outside of the office, Andy enjoys gardening, playing racquetball, and spending time with his two children.

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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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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Drop It While It’s Hot!

By Christina Catanese

We had to break out the little inflatable pool this weekend – the multiple days of temperatures over 90 degrees just demanded it.  The cool water from the hose was refreshing, but when it came time to empty the pool, I couldn’t believe how much water it held and how long it took to drain it.  I captured some of it to water my droopy plants, but there was still more water than I could use.

Filling up the pool on a hot summer day

Filling up the pool on a hot summer day

During the summer, you might use four times as much water as you do during other months.  Your water bill likely reflects the extra water you need for your lawn and garden, and to keep yourself cool!  Your local waterways and systems are feeling the heat, too – the more water we use, the more has to be withdrawn and treated before it goes back to rivers and streams.

So what are some ways we can use less water in the summer?  Part of it is using the water effectively.

While up to 90 percent of the water used outdoors is for irrigation, having a beautiful landscape doesn’t have to mean using a lot of water.  Watering by hand is most efficient, but lots of us have automatically timed irrigation systems for convenience.  It turns out that homes with automatically timed irrigation systems use about 50 percent more water outdoors than those without. Your system can waste even more if it’s programmed incorrectly, a sprinkler head is pointed in the wrong direction, or you have a leak.  Lots of water can be lost through evaporation if you water at the wrong time of the day, and leaky hoses, dripping faucets, and improper landscaping can keep your garden from looking its best.  Here are some tips from WaterSense for watering wisely this summer.

Another way to use less water outside is to capture it yourself.  By using a rain barrel, you can capture free rainwater to use when you need it most to water your lawn and garden (but not for drinking or your kiddie pool).  Rain barrels can be purchased at your local hardware or garden supply store.  Better yet, many local government programs offer them at reduced prices.  Check out our short video and this longer video from GreenTreks for more on installing your own rain barrel.

You can even design your landscape to be water efficient.  Some plants are thirstier than others, so choose plants that are defined as low water use or drought tolerant for your area. These plant species will be able to survive in your climate with minimal, if any, need for supplemental watering.  See these simple tips for water-efficient landscaping for more ideas on lowering water use in your yard.  Visit this link to explore lists of native plants available for by state, and this one to see some Mid Atlantic resources.

So tell us: how are you dropping your water use this summer?

 

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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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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All I Want for Christmas is…Some Water Saving Tips

By Christina Catanese

This weekend was one of major holiday prep for me.  I did laundry.  I cleaned the house.  I baked.  I washed dishes.  I cooked.  I washed more dishes.  I did some holiday arts and crafts.  I had some friends over for dinner.  I washed even more dishes.  I did even more laundry washing the towels and sheets used by early holiday guests that had come and gone.  Around the third round of washing dishes (incidentally, my least favorite household task), I realized that most of the things I was doing involved using a whole lot of water.

‘Tis the season to be doing a lot of entertaining, and that can involve more water use than usual.  Here are some tips for conserving water and energy this holiday season:

While you’re eating:The dishes never end!

  • Don’t run the tap when washing dishes.  Plugging the drain, filling the sink with soapy water, and scrubbing and rinsing from there can reduce how much water you use cleaning all those holiday pots, pans, and dishes.
  • Most dishwashers will clean your plates just fine if you just scrape off food scraps and put them right in the dishwasher. So you don’t need to double down on your water use by rinsing dishes in the sink before putting them in the dishwasher.
  • Speaking of food scraps, food waste tends to spike in the holiday season.  This impacts our water resources indirectly – all the water and resources put into the growing, manufacturing, and selling of our food goes to waste if the food ends up in a landfill.  Learn more about how you can reduce food waste.  You can also add certain food scraps to a compost pile if you have one instead of using a garbage disposal, which uses water and adds the mashed up food to the wastewater stream to be treated.
  • To reduce the number of loads of dishes you have to do, make sure that your dishwasher is fully loaded every time you run it.  Use the water saving settings if your appliance has them.
  • Save water and the energy used by your hot water heater by thawing foods in the microwave or overnight in the fridge, instead of running hot water over them.
  • The amount of water wasted while you let it run until it’s cool can really add up.  To have nice cool water for your holiday meals, fill a pitcher with water a few hours before and store it in the fridge until dinner time.

While you’re cleaning:

  • Save water (and make that pile of laundry disappear a little faster) by only washing and drying full loads every time, and using the appropriate setting on your machine to the size of the load you’re washing.
  • Using cold water whenever possible can reduce the energy needed to wash your clothes, as well as your energy bills.

Happy Holidays!While you’re shopping:

  • If you’re anything like me, you’re doing some last-minute, crazed holiday shopping and could use some inspiration for gift ideas.  Water-efficient appliances can make great gifts!  Faucet aerators are small and reasonably priced – perfect for a stocking stuffer!  Water-efficient showerheads, too.
  • A rain barrel could also be a great gift to help your loved ones conserve water during the summer months, although you’ll need a pretty big stocking for that one, and it might not fit down the chimney.
  • Looking for a bigger ticket item and long-term investment?  Check out Water Sense for efficient toilets and other appliances, and Energy Star for efficient washing machines and dishwashers.

How are you saving water this holiday season?  Tell us in the comments section.

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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The Clean Water Act’s Big 4-0

By Tom Damm

Clean Water Act 40th Anniversary Banner

The Clean Water Act is celebrating its 40th anniversary next week.  Can’t think of the perfect gift?  We’ve got some ideas.

  • Save water around the home.   Save water and protect the environment by choosing WaterSense labeled products and taking simple steps to conserve.
  • Dig a rain garden or install a rain barrel. With a rain garden or a rain barrel, capture stormwater before it carries yard and street pollutants into sewer systems and out to local rivers and streams.
  • Volunteer in your community.  Find a watershed organization and volunteer to help. Use EPA’s Adopt Your Watershed to locate groups in your community.  If you can’t find a group to join or want to organize your own activity, check out the Watershed Stewardship Toolkit with eight things you can do to make a difference in your watershed.
  • Pick up after your pet.  Pet waste contains nutrients and bacteria that can wash into local waterways if left on the ground.
  • Do a stormwater stencil projectStencil a message next to the street drain reminding people “Dump No Waste – Drains to River” with the image of a fish. Stencils are also available for lakes, streams, bays, ground water and oceans, as well as the simple “Protect Your Water” logo with the image of a glass and faucet.

To celebrate this big milestone in the life of the Clean Water Act, get involved.  We can all do something to build on the remarkable strides made in water protection over the past four decades.

You can check out more items on the Clean Water Act’s “gift registry” here. And let us know of other steps you’ve taken to further clean and safe water.

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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