Schuylkill

A Celebration Ten Years in the Making

By Alysa Suero

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

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

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

SAN owl

Photo Courtesy of the Schuylkill Action Network

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

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

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

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Good Beer? It’s in the Water

By Christina Catanese

If you’re a beer drinker, when you crack open a cold bottle or sip a freshly poured draft beer, the first thing you think about probably isn’t the quality of the water that was used to create your brew.  You probably notice the color, the aroma, the head, the flavor, the hops, the malt…but what of the water?

Photo Courtesy of the CDC

Photo Courtesy of the CDC

When I was in grad school, I worked at a microbrewery for some extra cash, and it changed what I thought I knew about beer.  I became familiar with the process of making beer: from malting, to mashing, to lautering, to boiling, to fermenting, to conditioning, and to filtering.  At each point in the process, water plays a key role, and it can make up over 95% of the finished product poured into your pint.

I had a lot of discussions with our brewer about how much the source water quality affects the brewing process and product.  There’s the obvious impact of the flavor of the water used in the brewing process, but the chemistry of the water can alter the process itself.

He described how yeast convert sugars into alcohol to ferment the beer, and how changes in water chemistry impact the activity of the yeast.  The chlorine that is added to most municipal drinking water to eliminate harmful bacteria can impact the flavor and aroma of beer, but the presence of bacteria can spoil a batch of beer.

I learned that the pH of the water also affects the sugar composition, which in turn affects how strong the beer will be.  Like hoppy beers?  Harder water brings out the hops’ flavor.  Softer water can result in milder flavored beers, so some brewers add water hardeners during the brewing process to amp up the hops and flavor.

Something as simple as a change in the treatment process at the local drinking water plant can have an impact.  So, too, can a new upstream pollution source or change in the health of the source water body.

You might wonder why breweries don’t just purify their water to start with some H2O that is as neutral as possible to start with.  But the thing is, what’s in the water is what makes the process work, and what makes gives each beer a unique regional character.  Overly purifying water through filtering or other methods takes everything out of the water, even the things a brewer wants to be there.

The brewery I worked at also strived to be a sustainable operation – the spent grains from the brewing process were picked up by a farmer to be used for livestock feed.  A few times, our brewer even asked me if he could borrow my hydrology and soils text books so he could have a better knowledge of how the health of the environment would affect the beer he made.

Throughout the history of beer making, brewers have been careful to site their breweries in the places with the highest quality water, and the health of a brewery’s home watershed is of prime importance to their brewers.

To recognize the connection of good beer with good water, the Schuylkill Action Network has partnered with brewers in the watershed to develop a special brew that pays tribute to its source water.

 

 

Have you ever thought about how water quality affects your happy hour?  What other unexpected ways does water impact our lives?

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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Water Treatment Ahead of its Time

By: Trey Cody

Fairmount Water Works

Fairmount Water Works, Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service

As in intern in EPA Region III’s Water Protection Division, there are always ample opportunities to learn about environmental protection. One of my most recent adventures was a trip to the Fairmount Water Works Interpretative Center in Philadelphia with other interns in my program.

The original Fairmount Water Works was considered at the time of its opening in 1815 to be a wonder of the world.  After witnessing its magnificent architecture and design, I would argue that it still is today. During the trip we learned about how, with advanced technology for its time, the Water Works facility allowed Philadelphia to be the first municipality in the nation to take on the responsibility of distributing fresh drinking water to the public. This was done with the use of two steam engines which pumped water from the Schuylkill River to a 3-million-gallon reservoir to house it.  In 1822, a 1,600-foot dam was built across the Schuylkill in order to direct water to three water wheels, which had replaced the steam engines.  Another innovation for its time was the use of hydropower–the facility itself was powered by the river.  And I learned that Fairmount Park was created to preserve open space to protect our water supply.

It is clear that the availability for clean drinking water has been a priority for centuries.  I knew that Philadelphia gets its drinking water from both the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, but it was nice to learn about the history behind this.  It gives me pride to know that the Mid-Atlantic Region was home to a facility ahead of its time that is still to this day a model for drinking water facilities across the U.S.

Do you know how your drinking water is treated and which source it comes from?  Do you have a similar story to a visit to a drinking water facility?  Leave us a comment and tell about it!

About the Author: Trey Cody has been an intern with EPA’s Water Protection Division since graduation from high school in 2010. He is currently attending the Pennsylvania State University.

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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An A+ for Water Protection

By Tom Damm

Cabrini College students and professor receive their award - click for more photos!

Cabrini College students and professor receive their award, photo courtesy of the Schuylkill Action Network

If you’re like me, you remember staring out the window on a nice spring day thinking how great it would be to have class outside – until your teacher snapped you out of your reverie.

For students recognized by EPA last week, the outdoors has been a classroom.

Three elementary and middle schools and one college in Pennsylvania were honored for environmental projects that offer lessons in protecting drinking water sources.

At Limerick Elementary School in Royersford, students held a watershed day and planted a protective buffer of 100 trees along the Landis Creek.

Also in Royersford, students at the Spring-Ford Intermediate School created a rain harvesting project to recycle and reuse water.

At Sandy Run Middle School in Dresher, more than 700 students were involved in a project to rip out invasive knotweed in Sandy Run and replace it with native trees and shrubs that will help restore the waterway.

And at Cabrini College in Radnor, students took a variety of actions to restore Valley Creek and did important stream and community research.

Awards to the schools and their students were presented at a National Drinking Water Week ceremony at the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association in Ambler, Pa.  The competition was sponsored by the Schuylkill Action Network, a team of agencies, including EPA, committed to cleaning up and protecting the Schuylkill River and its tributaries – a drinking water source for more than 1.5 million people.

Feel inspired?  Check out ways you can protect your local waters.

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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