Recreational Use

Get Up Close and Personal With Your River – Sojourn!

By Nancy Grundahl

Merriam-Webster defines a sojourn as “a temporary stay,” like, “We enjoyed a week-long sojourn on the river.”

Never been?  Now is the right time of the year. River sojourns are usually May through September in the northeast. Many environmental and watershed groups around the country are sponsoring sojourns to help people connect with their rivers, to see them up close and personal, to appreciate their importance and  understand their challenges.

Go for a day. Go for a week. Start from the headwaters and kayak downstream. No experience necessary.

Participants pay a small fee.  Often meals and overnight camping are included. Here is a link to a list of sojourns for 2012 compiled by the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers.

If you can’t make it to any of this year’s sojourns, you can do your own!  Here’s a description of the sojourn-worthy Potomac River Trail, and here are some ideas for sojourns in the Mid-Atlantic region and around the country

There are countless ways to recreate on, in, or near our waters this summer.  Have a great time rolling on the river!

And if you do, please send us some photos. Go to our State of the Environment Photography Project on Flickr.  Share your fun! And we’ll be sharing some of your photos on the blog during the summer months.

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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Algae: A Slimy Solution to Improving Baltimore Harbor’s Water Quality

By Nancy Grundahl

Algae are in the spotlight and – this time – for all the right reasons.  That slimy greenish stuff you sometimes see in lakes and at the beach is now being used in a pilot project to see if it can help clean up the water in the Baltimore Harbor.  Algae blooms are normally in the news as the result of excess nutrients that rob water of oxygen.  But this controlled growth of algae is part of an initiative that aims to make the Inner Harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020.

How does it work?  Algae that are naturally in the harbor flows over a mesh screen. There it attaches and grows, removing nutrients and carbon from the water in the process.  Every week, the algae are harvested and then can be used as a fertilizer or converted into fuel.

This innovative pilot is part of Baltimore’s Healthy Harbor Plan to make the harbor cleaner and greener.  And, if it works, plans are to expand the algal pad to at least an acre, filtering millions of gallons of water each day.  If you want to see what a smaller scale version of an algal turf scrubber looks like, view this lively video:

[youtube width=”640″ height=”480″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5w4R0sNPsc[/youtube]

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource.  Throughout the year, EPA will be highlighting different aspects of the history and successes of the Clean Water Act in reducing pollution in the past 40 years.  The month of June focused on Fishable Waters.

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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Connecting at the Water’s Edge

By Maryann Helferty

Young Red Belly Turtle seen at Lardner's Point

Young Red Belly Turtle seen at Lardner's Point

Late on a warm spring afternoon a few weeks ago, I walked along a newly restored tidal wetland and gazed at the young sedge grasses and arrowhead plants.  The line, “If you build it they will come” from the movie Field of Dreams passed through my mind.  Here at Lardner’s Point Park in Philadelphia, PA, both wildlife and people were reclaiming their spot at the water’s edge.

Earlier that week, the opening ceremony for the park celebrated the creation of 300 feet of shoreline access and four acres of open space.  After the ribbon-cutting, a visitor spotted a small baby turtle climbing up the fresh soil bank.  It was a red-belly turtle, a threatened species in Pennsylvania.  It had emerged from the river to welcome the park supporters, just as the early players from baseball’s past entered the cornfield ballpark of Kevin Costner’s dreams. A local water scientist reported that in ten years of boat surveys, he had not seen a young turtle of this species in this area.

Creation of the park was truly a Cinderella story, as the shoreline had been wrapped in a concrete bulkhead from its days as a ferry terminal, and was later fouled by an oil spill.  Over $500,000 in federal funding was dedicated to the restoration and mitigation project.

The ecological restoration of Lardner’s Point is about more than the re-emergence of a living marine ecosystem for plants and animals.  Along the industrial riverfront, open space is as rare as the threatened turtle. The design of this site features a fishing pier, connection to a bike trail and picnic tables.  Check out our podcast on the Lardner’s Point restoration to learn more.

These amenities bring a breeze of recreation to the dense, row-home neighborhood of Tacony nearby.  That’s why as part of the Urban Waters Movement, EPA is seeking to help communities — especially underserved communities — as they work to access, improve and benefit from their urban waters and the surrounding land.

As I left the pier, I said hello to a 10-year old boy carrying a fishing rod.  He happily reported that this was the first time he could walk with his grandfather and fish on the Delaware.  By reconnecting the river to wetlands and greenspace, the park was also connecting friends and family with great memories along the river.

With summer coming, how are you going to connect at the water’s edge?  May is American Wetlands Month, so take some time to learn how you can protect and restore wetlands near you.

About the Author: Maryann Helferty is a water quality scientist with the Mid-Atlantic Regional office of the EPA.  She has worked on groundwater and watershed protection in both the rural Pacific Northwest and the urban corridors of the Atlantic.  One of her passions is teaching urban youth about water through the poetry curriculum: River of Words.  You will find her this summer walking the water’s edge in the Wissahickon Watershed.

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

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Bay Website Focuses on Action

By Tom Damm

Click here to view a brochure produced by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee featuring examples of local actions to cut nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution.

There’s a new look to EPA’s Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet” website.

The pollution diet, or Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), was established by EPA in December 2010, based largely on action plans provided by the watershed’s six states and the District of Columbia.

The website now has a greater focus on activities at the local level happening around the 64,000-square-mile Bay watershed to reduce pollution impacting the Bay and its vast network of connecting rivers and streams.

One of the new additions is a brochure produced by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee featuring examples of local actions to cut nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution.

Check out those case studies and the other new items on the site, and let us know what you think.

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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The Life of a Subway Car: From Mass Transit to Aquatic Habitat

diveblog1Do you ride a subway to work? Do you know anyone who lives in a city where subways or other rail mass transit systems are used? Subway and rail mass-transit systems are a very efficient and economical way to travel in a city.  Some of the largest mass transit systems in the U.S. are in the Mid-Atlantic and New England Regions of the EPA:  Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA), and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).  Each of these transportation agencies utilizes dozens of subway and regional rail cars, replacing their fleets as they age.

As cars are removed from service, you may wonder: “What happens to the rail cars after they’re decommissioned?” The answer is that some go to scrap yards to be dismantled and re-sold to manufacture other metal structures.  Others, such as the Red Bird fleet of New York’s MTA, have been used to form artificial reefs.  Several of MTA’s Red Bird decommissioned cars were sunk off Delaware’s coast, approximately 16 miles from the mouth of the Delaware Bay, to serve as an artificial reef.  This reef was first examined by EPA’s Dive Team in June 2009 as part of an ongoing effort to determine its benefits and status.  Artificial reefs can be colonized by organisms like corals and sponges and provide nursery habitat for wide range of finfish and shellfish, which can increase regional aquatic biodiversity and coastal tourism through fishing.

With these benefits in mind, the question remains: What man-made structures create the best artificial reef habitat?  In addition to subway cars, decommissioned boats and ships have been used as reef structures.  EPA is currently determining whether subway cars remain intact as solid, sustainable structures for aquatic life.  Specifically, we’re examining whether there’s a difference in the structural integrity and aquatic life use between carbon steel cars and stainless steel ones.

diveblog2EPA completed its second survey of Delaware’s Red Bird reef site on June 2 – 9.   I was one of fifteen EPA scientist/divers who surveyed the condition and function of the subway car artificial reef.  This was my first dive survey since joining EPA’s Dive Team in May of 2010, and it was an exciting experience.  At first glance you may think that such dives are easy – after all, how difficult could it be to dive and look at a bunch of subway cars?  The reality is that these cars were sunk in 85-95 feet of water, the temperature at the bottom is 48º F, and the visibility was only about 10 feet in any direction.  This means that first we had to locate individual cars from the surface and dive to them. Once anchored to the car, we used a wreck reel and swam in each direction to find other cars, all without losing track of the anchor line.  Having been through EPA Diver Training, I found that swimming in such an environment wasn’t too difficult, but it definitely took some getting used to. Throughout the week-long survey, the team collected information on the structural condition of the cars, percent cover of encrusting organisms, and height of aquatic growth on the cars at six specific reef locations.  The team utilized video and still photos to document findings.

The data we collected will build off of initial information EPA gathered during the first visit to the sites in June of 2009.  This data will be analyzed by EPA and its partner agencies and will ultimately contribute scientific data to the question of whether more artificial reefs, using subway cars and other clean, steel structures should be created. Click for more information about the concept of artificial reefs, and about EPA’s Dive Team.

Also check out this post about other research being done on the OSV Bold on the newest EPA blog – Region 2’s “Greening the Apple.”  We’re excited to welcome them to the EPA blogosphere!

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 Schuylkill River Movie – Starring YOU!

Schuykill Action NetworkAre you a student who lives or attends school in the Schuylkill River watershed?  Do you enjoy activities along the Schuylkill River or one of the streams that flow into it?  Have you ever left a movie theater thinking, “I could make movies”?  If you answered yes to these questions, then the Schuylkill Action Network wants YOU to make a film!

The Schuylkill Action Network (SAN) is a collaboration of more than one hundred organizations and individuals, including EPA Region 3, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Philadelphia Water Department, the Delaware River Basin Commission, and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.  The goal of the SAN is to improve the water resources of the Schuylkill River watershed.

To encourage people to return to the river for fun, the SAN is launching a student Schuylkill Stories video contest with the theme “This is My Watershed.”  If you’re a student in elementary, middle, high school or college tell us, in your original video 3-minutes-or-less, what you love about the Schuylkill River watershed.  From fishing to rowing to bird watching, sketching and picnicking, the 2,000 square mile watershed gives everyone plenty of opportunities for fun.  Creativity is encouraged!  Use your own video footage, animation, claymation or music to show the world what you love most about your watershed.

Is amateur filmmaking not really your thing?  Don’t forget about SAN’s other student competition, the annual Drinking Water Scholastic Awards.  The awards recognize schools in the Schuylkill River watershed that promote drinking water protection through educational programs or class projects.  Did you know that the Schuylkill River watershed has 52 drinking water intakes that collectively serve 1.5 million people?  Moreover, many are surprised to learn that schools are one of the largest combined property owners in the entire watershed!  What is your school doing to spread the word about protecting sources of drinking water?

For more information about both contests, including prizes and deadlines, visit the SAN website.

In the meantime, share your comments below about what you love to do in, on or by the Schuylkill River!

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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Gurgle, Gurgle

Annapolis, Maryland after sea-level rise

Annapolis, Maryland after sea-level rise

What would it be like to see the Mid Atlantic coastline as a town like Venice, Italy? If you live by the shore, there are scenes that may be even more spectacular.

Check out this series of slides by the Maryland Sea Grant College that visualizes the impact of sea level rise along the Maryland coast. The Maryland Climate Change Commission estimates that sinking land and rising seas driven by climate change could cause shoreline waters there to rise 1.3 feet by the middle of the century.

Several EPA regions, including the Mid-Atlantic, and our Office of Research and Development are planning a conference this spring to address the water-related impacts of climate change.

EPA Press conference on Green House Gases

EPA Press conference on Green House Gases

If you’re interested in their findings, let us know and we’ll report back to you. In the meantime, is your carbon footprint lighter these days? Tell us about it.

And take a look at the EPA Press Conference on Green House Gases

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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