Stormwater

Join us to Chat About Green Infrastructure

By Aaron Ferster

Rain + pavement = stormwater runoff.

Rain + pavement = stormwater runoff.

Rain can fall as a drizzle, a steady patter, or a deluge. It can bring life to crops, recharge aquifers, and douse wildfires. But in many instances and places, it can also bring trouble.

Stormwater—particularly flowing over urban and suburban landscapes with their abundance of pavement, roofs, and other impermeable surfaces—is a major source of pollution reaching the nation’s waterways. As it flows from the land and into storm drains, such runoff absorbs excess nutrients, oils, and other contaminants. Large storms and Spring melt events can also overwhelm municipal sewer systems, leading to overflows that include not only tainted runoff, but raw sewage as well.

The end result can mean impaired water bodies locally as well as far downstream.

EPA scientists and engineers are helping. Their research is advancing low-cost, innovative solutions, “green infrastructure,” that communities can tap to improve stormwater management and protect the health of their waterways.

Green infrastructure refers to techniques that enhance or mimic nature to absorb, pool, slow, and cleanse stormwater where it falls. It can take many forms, from rain barrels and local rain gardens to watershed-scale strategic plans that identify collective actions of “best practices” to employ across communities.

EPA researchers are providing the data, knowledge, and tools needed to advance green infrastructure for healthier, more sustainable communities. They are leading the effort to identify and quantify the beneficial impacts of green infrastructure and share what they learn with Agency partners.

Rain garden

EPA researchers are studying green infrastructure, such as rain gardens.

To learn more about green infrastructure and ask questions, please join our researchers tomorrow (October 29, 2014) from 2:00-3:00pm ET on twitter. Questions should be sent to #EnvSciChat.

You can also read more in our latest EPA Science Matters Newsletter: Green Infrastructure Research.

About the Author: EPA science writer Aaron Ferster is the editor of It All Starts with Science.

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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Green Infrastructure Helping to Transform Neighborhoods in Cleveland and Across the Nation

By Alisha Goldstein

By Alisha Goldstein

Every community wants clean water. And most communities would like more green space that allows residents to enjoy the outdoors and makes neighborhoods more attractive. Green infrastructure – a natural approach to managing rainwater with trees, rain gardens, porous pavements, and other elements – can help meet both these goals. It protects water quality while also beautifying streets, parking lots, and plazas, which attracts residents, visitors, and businesses.

This week, we are releasing a new report, Enhancing Sustainable Communities with Green Infrastructure, that can help communities develop a vision and a plan for green infrastructure that can transform their neighborhoods and bring multiple benefits. It can be useful to local governments, water utilities, sewer districts, nonprofits, neighborhood groups, and others interested in innovative approaches to managing stormwater to reduce flooding and bring other environmental, public health, social, and economic benefits.

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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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Greening America’s Capitals: Protecting Water, Boosting Resiliency, Strengthening Economies

Protecting water quality from polluted runoff is just one of the challenges many towns and cities face. Since 2010, our Greening America’s Capitals Program has helped 18 state capitals and the District of Columbia create sustainable community designs that incorporate green infrastructure. These projects can help clean the air and water, increase resilience, stimulate economic development and assist economically distressed neighborhoods, and make existing neighborhoods more vibrant places to live and work.

Today, we announced five new recipients of this technical assistance: Austin, TX; Carson City, NV; Columbus, OH; Pierre, SD; and Richmond, VA. Along with benefiting these communities, the projects are intended to serve as models for other communities that are trying to grow in sustainable ways.

A 2008 EPA study put the national cost of water infrastructure for managing combined sewer overflows and stormwater at more than $105 billion. As communities make choices about infrastructure investments in the face of growth and shifting climate patterns, green infrastructure offers a beneficial and cost-effective alternative. Green infrastructure can complement gray infrastructure by reducing and treating stormwater at its source while delivering a variety of environmental, social, and economic benefits.

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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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A Commitment to Keep Our Waters Clean and Safe

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it gave EPA the responsibility to protect public health and the environment from pollution stemming from farms and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). We take this charge seriously and have dedicated one of EPA’s six National Enforcement Initiatives to preventing animal waste from CAFOs from contaminating water. If not managed properly, animal waste can impair drinking water sources, transmit disease-causing bacteria and parasites, and pollute the rivers and lakes on which we all depend.

In 2011, an EPA review of a poultry CAFO owned by Lois Alt in West Virginia determined that when it rained, manure and other pollutants were discharging into a nearby creek that flowed into the Potomac River. The discharge required a permit under the Clean Water Act which would have defined safeguards to minimize pollution.

EPA issued an administrative order to address this pollution. The Alt CAFO then clarified existing management practices and adopted new ones in its operations to reduce runoff of manure, and then challenged the order in court. After EPA’s follow-up inspection and correspondence with Ms. Alt confirmed that the changes would reduce pollution, EPA withdrew the order and requested the court to dismiss the case because the dispute was over. It was time to move on and focus on more pressing issues of environmental and public health protection.

The district court nonetheless heard the case. After more than a year of legal proceedings, the district court issued a decision that offers an overly broad view of the Clean Water Act’s exemption for agricultural stormwater.

Although EPA thinks that the district court decision is wrong, we also think that it is time to stop spending resources on litigation about this CAFO. EPA is not going to appeal this decision; our resources are better spent remedying more serious, ongoing pollution across the country.

The briefs we filed in this case – and many others – state that Congress established CAFOs as point sources, and that when CAFOs discharge pollutants from the production area into waters of the United States, as the Alt operation did, the law requires permit authorization.

EPA stands by this position.

Pollution from CAFOs flowing into local waterways when it rains is an environmental and public health risk. The law gives EPA the authority to require that agriculture operations with large numbers of animals in a small area that discharge pollutants to U.S. waters obtain a permit, to reduce their environmental impact. EPA remains committed to working with the agricultural community to ensure compliance with this legal requirement and to pursue enforcement when necessary. One district court decision does not change either the law across the country or EPA’s commitment to protecting water quality.

A smart and strategic enforcement program requires us to make choices about where to spend our time for the biggest benefit to the public. We stand firm on this commitment to protect public health and the environment.

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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A Revolutionary Resolution in Philadelphia

by Randy Pomponio

Fairmount Water Works   Randy Pomponio with representatives from: Philadelphia City Council, Clean Water Action, Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership, Sustainable Business Network

EPA’s Randy Pomponio with representatives from: Philadelphia City Council, Clean Water Action, Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership, Sustainable Business Network

One does not have to look far to find history in the City of Philadelphia. Whether it’s the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross House, or America’s first zoo, Philadelphia has played a pivotal role throughout our nation’s history.

Earlier this year, Philadelphia again made history when its City Council unanimously passed a resolution, sponsored by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, supporting EPA’s and the Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed Waters of the U.S. rule clarifying streams and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act. This environmentally historic event gives Philadelphia the distinction of being the first U.S. city to pass such a resolution in support of clean water.

On August 6, I was privileged to be part of an event recognizing this important milestone at Philadelphia’s historic Fairmount Water Works. As I shared the stage with members of Philadelphia City Council; Clean Water Action; the Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership; and the Philadelphia Sustainable Business Network, I was reminded of the type of diverse partnership that called for additional clarity in defining protected waters.

While the Clean Water Act has protected our right to safe and pristine waters for more than 40 years, determining protections under the Act for streams and wetlands became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. Many different entities representing local governments, industry, and environmental groups asked EPA for clarification of what is a “water of the United States.” The proposed rule responds to the request and is designed to clear the confusion and provide a more definitive explanation.

This is critical because the health of our larger water bodies – our rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the network of streams and wetlands where they begin. These streams and wetlands benefit all of us by trapping floodwaters, removing pollution, recharging groundwater supplies and providing habitat for fish and wildlife. They’re also a source for outdoor recreation activities, providing essential economic benefits. One in three Americans and more than 1.5 million Philadelphians get at least some of their drinking water directly or indirectly from seasonal, headwaters, or rain dependent streams.

The City of Philadelphia and its partners made history in promoting clean water. Your input can help ensure that future generations enjoy a history of clean and healthy waters. EPA is accepting public comments through October 20, 2014.

 

About the Author: Randy Pomponio is the Director of the EPA Region 3 Environmental Assessment & Innovation Division. He enjoys learning about our fascinating ecosystems and experiencing them through hiking, fishing, scuba diving, and best of all, sharing them with his children and grandchildren.

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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EPA: Protecting Water: A Precious, Limited Resource

Summer is when many families head to our oceans, lakes, and streams to fish, swim, and enjoy our nation’s waters—bringing water quality and safety to the top of our minds. EPA has a critical mission to make sure our nation’s water resources are safe for drinking, for recreation, and for aquatic life.

Earlier this summer, I asked EPA employees to share the innovative work they’re doing to protect our nation’s water resources. I’d like to share some of their great stories with you.
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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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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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The Scenic Towpath of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (C&O) National Historical Park

by Andrea Bennett

 

A biker on the C&O towpath. Photo credit: C&O Canal NHP via Flickr.

A biker on the C&O towpath. Photo credit: C&O Canal NHP via Flickr.

Recently I was in the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal National Historical Park, on the towpath that runs between the Potomac River and the canal itself.  The C&O Canal is over 184 miles long and was constructed almost 100 years ago to transport coal, lumber and agricultural products. The families that operated the boats used mules to tow them along the canal, at a rate of 5 cents per mile. Each night, the family would pile into the boat with the cargo – and the mules!

By 1924, goods were moved by trains, and the canal was no longer used as it had been, but people still enjoyed the recreational opportunities of the towpath, which led to its declaration as a National Historical Park in 1971. Over 4 million people visit the park each year, which links Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, D.C.  Bikers and hikers can continue from Cumberland on the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) rail-trail all the way to Pittsburgh; the path also crosses the Appalachian Trail at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. It’s a particularly special place to visit because of the wide variety of recreational opportunities it offers: while I was birding, I saw people biking, hiking, dog walking and jogging and, down the towpath a bit, there were others camping.  The towpath is so popular because it’s in a leafy green cool forest, it’s easy to traverse, and it’s next to the beautiful Potomac River.

Knowing that the Potomac River is a drinking water source for millions, and that it is treasured for its recreation value, how can we keep the river and the park clean and healthy so that it can be enjoyed into the future?

The goal of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) is to protect the land and water resources within the Potomac River Basin. ICPRB and EPA are two members of the Potomac Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership (DWSPP), a coalition focused on protecting the Potomac River as a drinking water source.  Practices that protect this national treasure range from picking up trash and properly disposing of household hazardous waste, to maintaining wastewater treatment plants and managing stormwater runoff through planting vegetated buffers.

Partnerships like this are a valuable way to keep our rivers and watershed healthy, so that they can continue on as great places for vacations as well as important sources of drinking water.

 

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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Tools for Recreation on our Rivers

by Virginia Thompson

Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row is a hot spot for recreation in Philadelphia, as well as a National Historic Landmark.

Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row is a hot spot for recreation in Philadelphia, as well as a National Historic Landmark.

Growing up in the Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania, I learned the power of rivers:     Hurricane Agnes wiped out parts of my town when the river overflowed its banks.  In calmer times, the river provided a beautiful respite.  Now living in the Delaware River Basin, I enjoy the Schuylkill River, which dissects Philadelphia, for its recreational value throughout the year:  regattas, festivals, walkers, joggers, bikers, and rollerbladers all take advantage of the City’s connection to the river.

My real introduction to the Schuylkill River, however, came three years ago when our high school daughter began rowing crew.  Only then did I learn how river flow, wind, precipitation, and flooding affect such a smooth, beautiful sport.  Days that seemed ideal to spectators often turned out to be challenging conditions for those on the water.

Never was the disconnect between those on land and those rowing on the water more pronounced than at the recent Stotesbury regatta, the world’s largest and oldest high school regatta, held annually on the Schuylkill River.  The first day of the regatta was rainy with torrents of water backing up storm drains, but the rain’s impacts to the rowers were fairly minimal most of the day with warm air, negligible wind, and calm water.

By late in the day, the sky cleared, winds picked up and the rain moved out.  Anticipating improved rowing weather, we were surprised by the cancellation of the day’s remaining races due to “deteriorating river conditions.”  By the next morning, conditions were much worse:  near-flood stage water chocolate brown in color, with the rushing current carrying huge logs and other visible and hidden debris that could pose serious problems.  Surprisingly, the placid, cool, sunny morning was unfit for rowing.  By afternoon, the debris had mostly cleared and rowing resumed.  For the City Championships the next day, the water was significantly lower, little debris was visible, and the water was calmer.  The disparity between the weather and the river conditions was so pronounced because it took time for the upstream floodwaters and debris to flow down the Schuylkill to Philadelphia.

Knowing the current conditions of the river is important for all recreational users.  Fortunately, the Philadelphia Water Department hosts a website service, Philly River Cast, which provides a recreation-focused forecast of water quality in the Schuylkill River.  The River Cast predicts levels of pathogens likely to be in the water carried from upstream based on precipitation, and provides a simple green-yellow-red indication of the river’s suitability for recreation.

While we can’t control the weather, at least we have a tool to help us be prepared for the conditions and able to make smart decisions.

 

About the author:  Virginia Thompson is currently the Coordinator of the Exchange Network, a partnership of federal and state governments providing improved access to environmental data to make better and more timely decisions.  She enjoys swimming, gardening, and bicycling on rail-trails.

 

 

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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Reducing the Impact of Stormwater Challenges

Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA Office of Water

Stormwater pollution is a dilemma all across the country – even in beautiful mountain towns like Aspen, Colorado. Pollutants such as oils, fertilizer, and sediment from the steep mountains that tower over the town, can be carried via stormwater and snowmelt and deposited into waterways like the Roaring Fork River. This has a huge impact on the ecosystem.

Last month, I toured the Jennie Adair wetlands, a bio-engineered detention area designed to passively treat stormwater runoff in Aspen. I saw firsthand how the city is working to deal with its stormwater challenges. Before this project, stormwater did not drain to a water treatment facility. It used to flow directly into the Roaring Fork River and other water bodies within the city limits, having significant impacts on the water quality.

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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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