Runoff

EPA Releases Resource to Help Guide Green Infrastructure

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

Rain barrel captures roof runoff in Santa Monica, CA. (Copyright Abby Hall, US EPA)

Rain barrel captures roof runoff in Santa Monica, CA. (Copyright Abby Hall, US EPA)

Imagine you are a municipal sewer system operator in an urban area. You probably would be well aware of the millions of gallons of untreated water that enter your combined sewer systems creating a big old mess in your local water bodies. But what if there was a cost effective solution available? And even better than low-cost, what if the solution made your community pretty and created a great community for people to live, work and play? You would jump on it, right?

Well, many communities with combined sewer overflows have been using green infrastructure – rain barrels, rain gardens, greenways, green roofs etc. – as an attractive way to reduce the stormwater runoff that goes into a sewer system. (We have blogged about it many times before.)  Green infrastructure helps reduce capital costs – traditional grey infrastructure made of pipes and other systems is often cost prohibitive – and has been shown to also reduce operational costs at publicly owned treatment works.

EPA scientists helped develop a resource guide to help more communities manage stormwater and wastewater with green infrastructure. The resource, released Greening CSO Plans: Planning and Modeling Green Infrastructure for Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Control (pdf),” will help communities make cost-effective decisions to maximize water quality benefits. The resource explains how to use modeling tools such as EPA’s Stormwater Management Model to optimize different combinations of green and grey infrastructure to reduce both sewer overflow volume and total number of overflow events.  The guide also has relevant case studies to showcase how different communities are using green infrastructure.

Hopefully using this resource can help you plan green infrastructure solutions and provide a variety of tools that can help you measure and reduce stormwater runoff.

For more information about green infrastructure at EPA, please visit: http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/greeninfrastructure/index.cfm

You can also learn more about green infrastructure research and science here:

http://www2.epa.gov/water-research/green-infrastructure-research

 

About the author: Lahne Mattas-Curry works with EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources team, drinks a lot of water and  communicates water research to anyone who will listen.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Take Cover! (With Vegetation)

By Marguerite Huberbuffer

Take cover!

It’s a phrase you yell to protect against something headed your way. But did you ever think that phrase could be applied to pollutants? Well, it can – vegetative cover acts as a defense against non-point source (NPS) pollutants, protecting our lakes, streams, and water bodies.

Vegetative filter strips and riparian buffers  are conservation practices that help control the amount of sediment and chemicals that are transported from agricultural fields into water bodies. They slow down the speed of runoff and capture nutrients, keep more nutrient-rich topsoil on farmers’ fields, and reduces impacts on downstream ecosystems.

To improve water quality in large watersheds, conservation managers need to know what the problems are, where the pollutants originate, and what conservation practices work best.  However, investigating all of these factors at the watershed-wide level is a very difficult and complex task. This is why EPA is working with partners to supplement an existing watershed simulation model to estimate the efficiency of riparian buffers.

USDA’s watershed simulation model, Annualized Agricultural Non-Point Source Pollution (AnnAGNPS), is used to evaluate the effect of farming and conservation practices on pollutants and help decide where to put these practices.  AnnAGNPS also predicts the origin and tracks the movement of water, sediment, and chemicals to any location in the watershed.

To supplement this model, researchers from EPA, USDA, and Middle Tennessee State University developed a Geographic Information Systems–based technology that estimates the efficiency of buffers in reducing sediment loads at a watershed scale.

With the addition of this AGNPS Buffer Utility Feature  technology to the USDA model, researchers and watershed conservation managers can evaluate the placement of riparian buffers, track pollution loads to their source, and assess water quality and ecosystem services improvements across their watersheds.

Riparian buffers and other vegetative cover, such as filter strips, are considered an important, effective, and efficient conservation practice that has been shown to protect ecosystem services at a local level. However, their full impact on a watershed-scale is still subject to ongoing research.

 

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Progress in Communities: It All Starts with Science

This week is the 43rd Anniversary of the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, and we are marking the occasion by revisiting how our collective efforts on behalf of the American people help local communities become cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable. As the Assistant Administrator for the Agency’s Office of Research and Development, I can’t help but see a strong undercurrent of science and engineering in every success story.

Over the past four plus decades, EPA scientists and engineers, along with their partners from across the federal government, states, tribes, academia, and private business, have supplied the data, built the computer models and tools, and provided the studies that have helped communities take action to advance public health and protect local environments.

In every area of environmental and human health action, EPA researchers have helped local communities make progress. While examples abound, here are just a few:
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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Cabin Branch: Let the Healing Begin

By Nick DiPasquale

Most of us who live in an urban or suburban setting really don’t know what a healthy stream looks like.  In some cases we can’t even see streams that run under our roads and shopping centers because they’ve been forced into pipes; out of sight, out of mind.

Cabin Branch pre cleanup

In 2005 a major volunteer cleanup removed 40 tons of tires and debris from Cabin Branch. (photo courtesy of Severn Riverkeeper Program)

The remnants of streams we can see have been filled with sediment and other pollution and the ecology of the stream has been altered significantly.  The plants and animals that used to live there have long since departed, their habitat having been destroyed.  This didn’t happen overnight.  The environment is suffering “a death by a thousand cuts.”

I recently got the chance to visit the Cabin Branch stream restoration project, not far from my neighborhood in Annapolis.  The project is being undertaken by the Severn Riverkeeper, and is one of many stream restoration projects taking place throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Keith Underwood outlines the progress of the Cabin Branch Regenerative Stream Conveyance restoration project for members of the Chesapeake Bay Program and Maryland Department of Natural Resources .  The project was initiated by the Severn Riverkeeper Program. (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

Keith Underwood outlines the progress of the Cabin Branch Regenerative Stream Conveyance restoration project for members of the Chesapeake Bay Program and Maryland Department of Natural Resources . The project was initiated by the Severn Riverkeeper Program. (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

Cabin Branch discharges to the streams and wetlands of Saltworks Creek and the Severn River, which carries the polluted runoff into the Bay.  Aerial photos taken after a modest rain are dramatic testament to a severely damaged ecosystem causing the Severn to run the color of chocolate milk. This same phenomenon is repeated in streams and rivers that run through thousands of communities throughout the watershed.

Polluted runoff is a major source of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Severn River and throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Projects like the one at Cabin Branch restore the natural habitat , slows the sediment erosion and allows more nutrients to be absorbed into the soil and plants. (photo courtesy of Severn Riverkeeper Program)

Polluted runoff is a major source of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Severn River and throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Projects like the one at Cabin Branch restore the natural habitat , slows the sediment erosion and allows more nutrients to be absorbed into the soil and plants. (photo courtesy of Severn Riverkeeper Program)

It was gratifying to see the Cabin Branch project first hand – one of many efforts to heal the damage done unknowingly over many decades of development.  Like many projects of this nature, the Severn Riverkeeper Program had to overcome some bureaucratic red tape to get the permits they needed, but their perseverance will be worth the impact in helping clean local waters and the Bay.

The structural features of these projects are designed to safely handle a 100-year storm, while at the same time maximizing baseflow in normal conditions.  The next step will include planting native plants and monitoring the post-restoration flow of nutrients and sediment.  (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

The structural features of these projects are designed to safely handle a 100-year storm, while at the same time maximizing baseflow in normal conditions. The next step will include planting native plants and monitoring the post-restoration flow of nutrients and sediment. (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

Fortunately, we are learning better ways to manage stormwater runoff through low impact development and use of green infrastructure which help to mimic the cleansing functions of nature.   It will take some time before this patient is restored to good health, but we are on the mend.

About the Author: Nick DiPasquale is Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. Nick has nearly 30 years of public policy and environmental management experience in both the public and private sectors.  He previously served as Deputy Secretary in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Director of the Environmental Management Center for the Brandywine Conservancy in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and as Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

You can also see this post and much more Chesapeake Bay content on the Chesapeake Bay Program 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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Around the Water Cooler: Green Infrastructure Making News

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

EPA will help Philadelphia monitor water quality in rivers to measure the effectiveness of green infrastructure.

Some of my fellow bloggers and I have highlighted a variety of ways “green infrastructure” has helped cities save money, and showcased the impact it has had on helping communities become more sustainable.

We’ve even featured a video of EPA scientist Dr. Bill Shuster at work exploring the benefits of rain gardens and other “green infrastructure” techniques to reduce stormwater runoff from reaching local waterways.

We’re not the only ones who have noticed the potential of green infrastructure. A recent update on the online publication Yale Environment 360 highlights Philadelphia as a possible model for the rest of the country.  In June 2011, the city approved the Green City, Clean Waters program, a 25-year, $2-billion plan to reduce combined sewer overflows.

In April 2012, EPA signed off on the project. This is noted as one of the most comprehensive green infrastructure efforts in the country. EPA will help Philadelphia monitor water quality in surrounding rivers to measure the effectiveness of the green infrastructure efforts.

In another recent article, “Save New York by Making it Soft,” New Yorker magazine writer Thomas De Monchaux explores how establishing wetlands around Manhattan could “create new ecosystems, facilitating greater ecological connectivity, improving water quality, and enhancing opportunities for habitat growth.”

Do you have an example or an idea for tapping green infrastructure around where you live? Please share them in the comments section below.

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry works with EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources research team and is a frequent “Around the Water Cooler” contributor.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Scientist at Work: Bill Shuster

EPA Scientist Bill ShusterAs a research hydrologist, EPA’s Dr. Bill Shuster conducts interdisciplinary studies that integrate elements of hydrology, soil science, ecology, economics, and law to develop stormwater and wastewater management techniques.

His current work involves the design and testing of “green infrastructure” approaches to urban stormwater management, exploring residential and neighborhood-based technologies such as rain gardens and rain barrels, and how they may impart sustainability through social equity, economic stabilization, and environmental quality.

How does your science matter?

We have a tremendous problem with wastewater management in this country. During wet-weather events, our older combined sewer systems tend to overflow, sending polluted septic flows into our nation’s rivers and streams.

My work matters because it is seeking solutions to that problem by helping us better understand what role green infrastructure—rain gardens, rain barrels, cisterns, urban soils in vacant lots, etc.—can play by absorbing and holding stormwater, reducing polluted runoff, and reduce sewer system overflows.

If you could have dinner with any scientist, past or present, who would it be and what would you like to ask them about?

I would have dinner with Linus Pauling Exit EPA Disclaimer or E.O. Wilson Exit EPA Disclaimer – I can’t decide. I would love to get some insight into how they take their ideas and frame them into research questions, as well as how they would each approach a research problem. I use the word “consilience” Exit EPA Disclaimer with some frequency, and so I tip my hat to E.O. Wilson, and his great book by the same name.

Click here to keep reading Bill’s profile.

For more Scientist at Work profiles, go to www.epa.gov/research/scientistsatwork.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Take Winter with a Grain of Salt

By Christina Catanese

It’s about that time of year when the Mid-Atlantic region starts preparing the snow plows and pulling out the road salt. In most of our region this winter, we’ve had a lot of warm days and no big “snowmageddons” so far, but the season is still young!

When big snow storms strike, how do you fight back? Methods like shoveling, snow plows, snow blowers, and applying sand and deicing salt keep roads clear and people safe. But did you ever think about the environmental impact of clearing snow and ice?

Although rock salt is an effective way to clear roads and driveways, issues can arise when the snow is gone and the salt is left behind. As the snow melts in the spring, the salt dissolves and runs off the road into storm drains and nearby water bodies. This can harm aquatic life like fish and plants. Human health can be impacted as well if the salt reaches drinking water supplies.

Many towns have moved from applying to salt to highways and are now applying brine, which has less environmental impact.  Check out this link to learn more about some innovations in snow removal, including a method being piloted by Maryland that sprays a mixture of sugar beets and brine onto highways.

So when the next big winter storm strikes, strike back, but in an environmentally friendly way. Here are some recommended actions to reduce salt application:

car-snow1. Use the Right Material: There are many options beyond salt and sand, like less toxic chemicals and even things like clean kitty litter.
2. Use the Right Amount: More isn’t necessarily better. Warmer roads need less salt, and roads below 10º F will not benefit from rock salt at all. Applying less salt is also a more economical choice. Snow clean-up costs are reduced, as are damages to cars, roads, and bridges.
3. Apply at the Right Place: Apply salt where it will do most good, like hills, curves, shaded sections of road, and bridges. Use discretion when applying salt near sensitive streams or in drinking water source water protection areas.
4. Apply at the Right Time: Don’t wait until snow is falling to get started. It takes more salt to melt accumulated snow than it does to prevent accumulation.
5. Use Proper Storage Techniques: Salt and sand piles should always be covered to prevent runoff, and should be located away from streams and wetlands.
Read more about best management practices for applying and storing road salt while protecting water supplies here.

Is your municipality practicing smart salt application with these actions? Are you practicing them at your home? Do you know of any other environmentally-friendly ways to clean up snow? Let us know how you’re staying both safe and green this winter season.

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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Don’t Hate The Rain!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

If you live along the Eastern seaboard, you probably were overwhelmed by the incessant rain we had experienced for the two previous weeks. I guess many people suffered from cabin fever due to the dreary weather. Nonetheless, there are some benefits from the rain that we are now enjoying. What benefits, you may ask? Well, prior to these storms, there were areas in Maryland and other Eastern states that had deficits in precipitation for 2009. Groundwater levels had been approaching potential drought levels which seem to have been erased with the recent rains. Furthermore, just prior to these storms tones of brown and chartreuse dominated the landscape of lawns and gardens due to the various pollens in the air. Now, everywhere you look, the gardens have been painted with lush greens and bright spring blooms. Another added bonus, at least during the rain, the pollen is at its minimum—a temporary reprieve for allergy sufferers.

In spite of the benefits of spring showers, we should also be mindful to reduce runoff and non-point source pollution after the rain. Here are some tips:

·    Consider greenscaping to protect the environment.

·    Consider planting native shrubs and trees in your back yard to reduce erosion.

·    Wait for the storm to pass before fertilizing.

And lastly, one final benefit after the storm? We can always look forward to the sunshine. Have a great day!

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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No hay motivo para odiar la lluvia

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Si reside en algún estado a lo largo de la costa este de los Estados Unidos, probablemente ha estado apesadumbrado por la incesante lluvia que experimentamos por las últimas dos semanas. Creo que muchas personas se sentían algo claustrofóbicas debido al tiempo sombrío. No obstante, la lluvia trae muchos beneficios que tan sólo ahora estamos disfrutando. Usted se preguntará ¿cuáles beneficios? Bueno, antes de que comenzaran las lluvias, algunas áreas de Maryland y otros estados del este tenían un déficit de precipitación en los primeros meses del 2009. Los niveles de agua subterránea estaban registrando niveles de sequía potencial que fueron borrados por las recientes lluvias. Además, antes de estas tormentas, una variedad de tonos marrón y verde nilo dominaban los paisajes de céspedes y jardines. En la actualidad, por dondequiera que miramos, los jardines están pintados de unos verdes brillantes, frondosos arbustos rebosantes de la florecida primaveral. Y, ¿otro beneficio adicional? Pues, al menos durante las lluvias, los niveles de polen habían disminuido—un alivio temporal para aquellas personas que padecen de alergias.

A pesar de los beneficios de las lluvias de primavera, tenemos que ser conscientes de reducir las escorrentías y la contaminación de fuentes difusas después de la lluvia.

He aquí algunos consejos útiles:

·    Considere la jardinería ecológica para proteger el medio ambiente.

·    Siembre arbustos y árboles nativos en su jardín para reducir la erosión.

·    Deje que pase la tormenta antes de fertilizar.

Y finalmente, el mejor beneficio después de la tormenta? Siempre podemos esperar que salga el sol. ¡Que tenga un buen día!

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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