Storm Drains

A Philadelphia Story: Using Green Infrastructure to Slow the Flow

By Tom Damm

Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner Howard Neukrug, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Region 3 EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin, U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, and Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler at the signing of the partnership agreement; photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Water Department.

Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner Howard Neukrug, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Region 3 EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin, U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, and Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler at the signing of the partnership agreement; photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Water Department.

The only good thing about sitting through a miserable, wind-blown drizzle watching the Phillies lose to the Dodgers Monday night was that the rain wasn’t heavy enough to bring out the tarp.  That would have meant a later night than expected for our EPA group and a groggier commute in the morning.

When it comes to downpours in Philadelphia, though, there are much greater concerns than some inconvenienced baseball fans… maybe even greater concerns than the Phils’ slow start to the 2012 season.

More than half of the city’s sewers carry both storm water and sewage, and when the system gets inundated during a rain event it can overflow, sending a stew of contaminants into streams and rivers.

What to do? In Philly’s case, the goal is to slow the flow.

Our EPA Administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, came to Philadelphia in April to sign an agreement with the city that represents a $2 billion investment in methods to intercept rainwater before it chugs into the sewer system with pollutants in tow.

Considered a national model, the 25-year Green City, Clean Waters plan will sprout green roofs, tree-lined streets, porous pavement, grassy swales and other features, transforming many of the city’s hard surfaces into absorbent green areas.

The city’s spongier footprint will not only mean fewer sewer overflows, it’ll also help spruce up the community and give a boost to the economy.

If eventually one of the biggest concerns from a storm is waiting out a rain delay at Citizens Bank Park, I can handle that.

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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Dogs Are Great, But…

By Amy Miller

My dog is cute, but she poops.

I knew when I decided to get a dog that she would poop. Every day.

So I called my friends with dogs. What do you do with the poop, I asked. And then I started hearing the numbers. The official, how-bad-is-dog-poop-for-the-environment numbers. It turns out: Bad.

My big black dog would create as much as 7.8 billion – that’s right billion – coliform bacteria per day. I don’t really know what that number means, but it’s big and bad.

The dirty statistics continued. As much as 90 percent or more of the fecal coliform in urban stormwater in one study was of non-human origin, and most of this was dogs. Plus pet waste can cause algae and weeds. And it can get on your shoes.

Many people think it is OK to put their dog’s doo in a storm drain, where it can run directly into nearby rivers, lakes or oceans. Worse yet, some people put plastic bags holding the waste into storm drains.

Towns around the country are putting up signs to educate the millions of us who have dogs. They are signing laws to encourage us to pick up the poop and passing out bags to make it easier. Unfortunately, nearly half the dog owners who don’t pick up poop said it was the disgusting nature of the job – not ignorance or laziness – that stopped them. And by the way, men were less likely to scoop than woman.

Although most people knew dog waste can be a water quality problem, most also thought it was the least important local water quality problem Not so.

To deal with our distaste for scooping, some towns are setting aside areas where the waste can decompose while other towns are designing areas with high grass doggy loos.

Update, December 13:

In her original post, Amy quoted her stormwater friends at EPA as saying that “as long as there is no chance that the poop will drain into a waterway, my lawn and the woods are AOK.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and I’m sorry for the confusion.  While scooping the poop can be a real chore, whether in your yard or on a walk, please promptly dispose of your pet’s waste in the trash or down the toilet, where it will be properly treated. When pet waste is left behind, it washes into storm drains and ditches, and there’s nowhere it’s ok to just leave it. From drains, it can move straight to local lakes and rivers, taking harmful bacteria with it.

With a little extra effort, dog owners everywhere can play a big part in helping keep our neighborhoods and waters clean, healthy, and pollution free.

— Editor

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

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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Balm Before the Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned.

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

Click here to view the DC Water project press release

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

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

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Toast to Tap Water

Toast to Tap Water

Thirsty?  Why not reach for a glass of tap water?  It’s the planet’s original source of refreshment and hydration, and it’s a vital component of our daily lives.  Americans drink more than one billion glasses of tap water per day!  In fact, children in the first six months of life consume seven times as much water per pound as the average American adult.

 A safe water supply is critical to protecting health.  In the United States, community water supplies are tested every day.  EPA has drinking water regulations for more than 90 contaminants.  Collectively, water utilities in this country treat nearly 34 billion gallons of water daily!

 Try to imagine your daily routine without tap water.  How would you shower without it?  Could you wash your fruit and vegetables?  Clean your clothes?  Scrub your dishes?  Tap water touches every aspect of our lives, from the products we use to the food we eat.  Even firefighting would be impacted without tap water.  Firefighters depend on a reliable water system with high pressure and volume.  In most communities, water flowing to fire hydrants is conveyed by the same system of water mains, pumps and storage tanks as the water flowing to your home.

 Many communities are implementing protection efforts to prevent contamination of their drinking water supplies.  These communities have found that the less polluted water is before it reaches the treatment plant, the less extensive and expensive the efforts needed to safeguard the public’s health.  You can help to protect your public water supply, too.  Limit your use of fertilizers and pesticides, clean up after your pets and don’t throw trash in storm drains.  For more ideas, visit our webpage for actions you can take today.

 So raise your glass, toast the extraordinary effort that goes into ensuring a safe public water supply, and celebrate National Drinking Water Week from May 1st to May 7th, 2011.

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 field isn’t the only thing green at the Nationals’ Stadium

Nationals Park as seen from the Anacostia River. Low-flow faucets and dual-flush toilets were projected to save 3.6 million gallons of water each year.The San Francisco Giants were crowned the World Series Champions earlier this week, but if Planet Earth was crowning a champion, it would probably be the Washington Nationals.
The Washington Nationals are in their third season in their new home at National Park in D.C.  Nationals Park is America’s first green certified professional sports stadium.  Perhaps the stadium’s biggest fan is the Anacostia River.  The river borders the stadium and architects took special measures to reduce the impact that the stadium has on the river.  A 6,300 sq. ft. green roof was built over the concession area that will help reduce storm water runoff.  To prevent trash and debris generated at the stadium from reaching the river, screens were constructed in storm drains around the stadium to catch these materials.  Huge sand filters built beneath the stadium filter storm water before it is pumped to the public treatment facility.  The stadium also employs low flow faucets and dual flush toilets which save millions of gallons a year. 

The Nationals are hitting a homerun for the Anacostia River. What are you doing for your local river or watershed? Use the EPA website “Surf your Watershed” to find your local watershed and citizen-based groups that are making efforts to keep your water clean.

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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Why Not Have a Fund-Raising Car Wash?

By Nancy Grundahl

stormdrainsWe’ve all seen them and have maybe even helped out. It’s those by-the-side-of-the-road fund-raising car washes, usually with high school or college students having a good time on a weekend afternoon soaping up cars. But, have you ever thought about where the soapy runoff water goes? Sure, it probably runs down to a storm sewer, but what about after that? Did you say, “To a water treatment plant”? If you did, you just might be wrong. In many communities stormwater empties out directly into a stream, river or wetland. That’s right. All that dirty soapy water with residues of gasoline and motor oil may be taking a short trip through some pipes into your local environment, where it could cause damage.

What to do? In planning your event investigate what will happen to the wastewater. Walk around. Are there storm drains? If so, is anything stenciled on them, like “Don’t Dump. Flows to Stream” or “No Dumping — Drains to the River”? Some communities have stenciled their drains to let people know where the water goes.

If you can’t find storm drains or if nothing is stenciled on the ones you find, try calling your local government and, if you have one, the sewage authority for your area. Ask them where the water will go and what damage it might cause.

If the risk for polluting is high, you might want to change your plans. But, if you still want to go forward:
• Use an environmentally-friendly biodegradable soap.
• Lighten up on the amount of soap you use — water is a natural solvent.
• Use buckets and dump the dirty water down a sink drain.
• Use a hose with a shut-off nozzle (this will also conserve water)
• Wash cars on a grass, gravel or other permeable surface so the dirty water will soak into the ground instead of running off.

And, check out these resources from Maryland.

Make Your Car Wash Event Eco-Friendly from the Maryland Department of the Environment

Facts About ….Car Washing Fundraisers from Maryland Public Schools

These tips are also appropriate for those of us who wash our own cars.

So, how do you get the dirt off of your car? Are you environmentally aware when taking sponge and hose in hand?

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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