Stormwater

Putting Your Rain Barrel Down for a Long Winter’s Nap

By Steve Donohue

In addition to raking all those leaves, another job I do every fall is put my rain barrel away for the winter.  If you have a rain barrel, you’ll want to do this before a hard freeze can damage your barrel, valve, or overflow piping.

Emptying my rain barrel on a Fall afternoon

Emptying my rain barrel on a Fall afternoon

I have had a rain barrel for many years and often leave it up until after Thanksgiving, and I have never had a problem with freezing where I live near Philadelphia.

But when it’s time to pack it up for the season, your first step should be to drain the barrel as much as possible by removing plugs and opening the valve.  Every inch of water represents 10 or more pounds, so save your back and be patient!  While it is draining, I disconnect the downspout, clean the screens and filters, and remove the overflow piping.

Next, I open and check the inside of the barrel for sediment.  You’ll want to remove this dirt and organic matter to prevent clogging your valve and to start off clean next spring.  I swish the remaining water in the barrel to loosen the sediment and quickly turn the barrel upside down over my mulched bed to keep it off the grass.  Even fully drained, you might want an extra pair of hands to wrestle your barrel off its platform.

I store my rain barrel inside my garden shed for the winter, but you can cover it in place or turn it upside down in the yard.  The key is to keep water out that could freeze and damage it or the fittings.

The last step is to reconnect the downspout to direct water away from your foundation and prevent erosion.  As with any roof drainage, if possible, direct it away from impervious surfaces like concrete and asphalt to slow it down, spread it out, and soak it in.

With your rain barrel safely tucked away for winter, you can relax, kick your feet up and watch some football…at least until it’s time to start shoveling snow.

To learn more about rain barrels, visit http://www.epa.gov/reg3esd1/garden/rainbarrel.html or watch this video about the benefits of rain barrels

About the author: Steve Donohue has been an environmental scientist at EPA for over 20 years. Currently, he works in the Office of Environmental Innovation in Philadelphia where he is focused on greening EPA and other government facilities.

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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A Chance to Walk the Walk When it Comes to Green Infrastructure

By Tom Damm

What happens in my hometown doesn’t stay in my hometown.

Actions on the land and in the waters of Hamilton Township, N.J. have an effect on the Delaware River, which is a major focus of our cleanup work in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region.

As a possible blog idea, I wanted to look into the pollution impacts of stormwater that enters the sewer drain across from my house.  When I accessed my township website for a contact number, I found something even more interesting.

Class is in session with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program.

Class is in session with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program. Photo courtesy of Jess Brown, Rutgers.

I learned that Hamilton is Ground Zero for a new initiative by Rutgers University to promote green infrastructure techniques that soak up stormwater before it reaches the sewer system and creates nasty problems in our streams and streets.

Better yet, Rutgers was recruiting volunteers to be part of the action in Hamilton and elsewhere.

Green infrastructure is one of the hottest topics I write about at EPA.  We’ve helped communities in our region become national leaders in using green strategies to slow the flow of stormwater.

Now I had the chance to get directly involved.  So I signed up for the training offered by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program.

The course was designed to develop a corps of paraprofessionals to help Rutgers engineers and scientists identify sites ripe for rain gardens and other green techniques to “keep the rain from the drain.”  The classroom training took place at Duke Farms, a model of environmental stewardship, and at Rutgers, where we also stepped outside to examine how a parking lot could be fitted with green features.

Instructor Chris Obropta described the problems posed by stormwater, the solutions offered by green infrastructure, and the role we would play initially in scouting out potential locations through aerial maps, photos, site visits and other analysis, and then writing up our findings.

I have a head start in Hamilton.  Our town officials are supportive of the initiative and the program already has found 72 candidate sites in our six sub-watersheds, including hard surfaces at my local Little League field and firehouse.  Large rain gardens have been installed at two of our high schools, providing real life lessons for students.

With certificate in hand, I’m looking forward to taking the next steps with the folks from Rutgers.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

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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Celebrating Mushrooms, Farmers, and Watersheds in Kennett Square

By Christina Catanese

“What’s that smell?” I asked, as we got out of the car in front of my friend’s house in Kennett Square, PA.

“Oh, the mushroom compost?” Jaclyn said. “I don’t even smell that anymore.”

It wasn’t an unpleasant smell, but an earthy aroma that permeated the air the same way the culture of mushroom farming pervades this small Pennsylvania town.

Mushrooms are a way of life in Kennett Square.  Often called the Mushroom Capital of the World, mushroom farms in this area of Southeastern Pennsylvania produce the vast majority of mushrooms produced in the United States, outdone only by China in mushroom farming worldwide.  I heard some figures that mushroom farms in Chester County produce over a million pounds of mushrooms a week!

Enjoying a beautiful day in the Kennett Square community

Enjoying a beautiful day in the Kennett Square community

Every year, this proud tradition of mushroom farming is celebrated at the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival.  I attended this year’s festival a few weeks ago, where I expected to and did eat many types and forms of mushrooms (including but not limited to the classic deep fried mushroom balls, the higher brow mushroom gorgonzola hummus, and even cream of mushroom ice cream).

What I didn’t expect was to learn so much about mushroom farming itself, and its role in the health of the watershed of the Delaware River, Red and White Clay Creek, and other local streams.  Part of the festival was an exhibition that walked through the process of growing mushrooms.  It really gave me an appreciation of the amount of work these farmers have to do to grow their crops.

A mushroom farmer harvests white button mushrooms from his exhibition at the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival

A mushroom farmer harvests white button mushrooms from his exhibition at the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival

It all starts with the substrate (the material the mushrooms are grown in), which generally consists of the waste products from other agriculture industries.  This mix of manure, hay, straw, wood chips, cottonseed meal, cocoa shells, and gypsum has to be kept at just the right temperature, pH, and light conditions in indoor mushroom farms, so the right fungi thrive and the wrong ones that could spoil the crop do not.  Once the mushrooms sprouted, I couldn’t believe how fast they grew, sometimes doubling in size in a single day!

After mushrooms are harvested, the substrate material can’t be used for mushroom farming anymore.  As at any farm, this compost can be a source of runoff and enter streams if not managed properly.  Source water protection efforts in the Delaware River Basin identified mushroom farms in the watershed as a partnership opportunity to help reduce nutrient pollution and potential sources of Cryptosporidium, a pathogen often found in manure that may cause disease.  These efforts work with farmers and conservation districts to set up ways to manage this runoff and protect sources of drinking water.

Phase 2 Compost: what the spent mushroom substrate looks like after mushrooms have been harvested and before it comes to your lawn or garden

Phase 2 Compost: what the spent mushroom substrate looks like after mushrooms have been harvested and before it comes to your lawn or garden

With its high capacity to hold water and nutrients, mushroom compost can be used as compost in many applications, like crop and garden fertilization, erosion control, and stormwater management.  Fall is the best time to seed new lawns and fertilize, so if you’re embarking on this process, consider mushroom or other organic soil amendments for your plants.  Like any fertilizer, mushroom compost must be applied appropriately to avoid nutrient pollution.

 

By the end of the day at the festival, I didn’t notice the smell of the mushroom compost much anymore, either.  When I did catch a whiff, it reminded me that this compost (like the mushroom ice cream I ate) was just one stage of a much larger process of mushroom farming.  It wasn’t the beginning or end, but part of a continuing cycle of growing, harvesting, consuming, and composting…all while boosting local economies and protecting local waters along the way.

 

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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Calculating the Impact

By Andy Dinsmore

What happens when all of the rain from a storm can’t soak into the ground on my property?  Where does it go?  Is that runoff causing any problems?

These are questions many people may be asking themselves.  In developed areas, that runoff likely enters into a storm sewer (a pipe) which outlets directly to a stream.  And too much runoff after a storm can cause severe damage to our streams, such as bank erosion and habitat loss.

Screen shot of Stormwater Calculator

Screen shot of Stormwater Calculator

But do I know how much runoff is coming from my property?  A new tool from EPA, the National Stormwater Calculator, has made it much easier to figure out.  It uses a simple, step-by-step process to assess a property (land use, soil features, and rainfall) and give an estimate for runoff.

I used the tool to evaluate my property and found it to be very user friendly.  I just entered my address and a window showed my property location.  Then I selected my soil type and landscape features using the incorporated links and overlays.  I gave my best estimates for the percentage of trees, grass, and impervious surfaces (my roof and driveway).  The calculator then showed me approximately how much runoff my property produces in a year.

The intent of the calculator is to compare current runoff estimates with reductions that would result from some simple practices, like redirecting your downspouts over your lawn, installing rain barrels, or making a rain garden.  More complex practices that may be used by industrial, commercial, or municipal properties are also available, such as curbside planters, green roofs, infiltration basins, and porous pavement.

I already have two rain barrels and a rain garden, so I ran the calculator twice.  The results of my two calculator runs (one without the rain barrels and rain garden and one with them) showed that I’m capturing an estimated 1.77 inches of runoff each year.  When I convert that to volume, it becomes 6,343 gallons of runoff that does not leave my property – enough to fill more than 100 average-sized bathtubs.  You can see the output from the calculator here.

So if you’ve asked yourself where your runoff goes, check out the calculator.  And then consider taking some basic steps to reduce your impact.

Maybe my next blog will have to be about how easy it is to build your own rain barrel and install it yourself.   But for now, be sure to check out our Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin’s recent blog about rain barrel art.

About the Author: Andy Dinsmore has been with EPA since 1997 and is currently the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Stormwater Team Leader, responsible for ensuring that regulated entities, such as construction sites, certain industrial facilities, and urbanized municipalities, properly manage their stormwater runoff and comply with their NPDES permits. Outside of the office, Andy enjoys gardening, playing racquetball, and spending time with his two children.

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: Measure Runoff with EPA’s Stormwater Calculator


By Lahne Mattas-Curry

It’s been raining for what seems like weeks straight this summer. Each day as I leave the office, it’s not unusual for the skies to open up and let loose a torrential downpour. I have watched many people struggle to find their umbrellas in their bags or skip over the water pooling around street corners while running to the metro. While Washington, D.C., is one of the most beautiful cities in the country, when it rains, you just can’t escape the water flowing rapidly across the pavement and other impervious surfaces that make up our nation’s capital. Interested in water research, I wondered, “How much water actually runs off into the Potomac and the Anacostia rivers during each rainfall?”

Now, thanks to EPA scientist Lew Rossman, we can measure runoff amounts for specific locations. After answering some questions about a particular site, such as percent of impervious surfaces and soil composition, Rossman’s National Stormwater Calculator can estimate the amount of runoff and inform decisions about how to reduce runoff. The Calculator is a tool that can help developers, urban planners, landscapers, and other professionals determine what green infrastructure elements could best reduce the runoff.

Adding green infrastructure (we’ve talked a lot about green infrastructure here and here) is both environmentally and economically beneficial. From trees and plants to green roofs, rain barrels, and cisterns, these changes can help decrease the amount of pollutants threatening our waterways. With heavy rains increasing and continued development, runoff has become one of the fastest growing sources of water pollution around the country.

The Calculator is just phase I of the Stormwater Calculator and Climate Assessment Tool package announced in the President’s Climate Action Plan in June. An update to the Calculator will be released at the end of this year that links to several future climate scenarios.

You can access the National Stormwater Calculator here: http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/wswrd/wq/models/swc/

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry works with EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources Program and is a frequent “Around the Water Cooler” contributor. Besides playing in puddles after a rain, she spends a lot of time adding plants to her rain garden to reduce the runoff, and quite frankly, add beauty and value, to her own property.

 

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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Capturing Rain and the Imagination

By Shawn M. Garvin

It’s fitting and perhaps perfect timing for EPA’s mid-Atlantic Regional Office to be opening up a new educational exhibit in our Public Information Center titled, “The Art and Science of Rain Barrels.”   Record-setting amounts of rainfall this past June in Philadelphia and Wilmington serve as a reminder of the challenges communities face in solving wet weather problems such as flooding, sewer overflows and run-off of pollutants and debris into urban creeks, streams and rivers.

No pun intended, but for most of us, wet weather problems ‘hit home’ when our basements flood…or when our commutes to work and school are disrupted and delayed, and when outdoor events and recreational activities get postponed or cancelled.   All the more reason why EPA, the Philadelphia Water Department, the Energy Coordinating Agency and the nonprofit Mt. Airy Art Garage teamed up to create this current EPA exhibit.

One of the rain barrels on display at the EPA exhibit

One of the rain barrels on display at the EPA exhibit

We want to foster greater awareness of the health, environmental, and economic benefits that can be gained by better managing potentially harmful rainwater runoff.  The Art and Science of Rain Barrels is one way our organizations are engaging Philadelphia residents in the City’s Green City, Clean Waters plan to transform many of Philadelphia’s traditional hardened surfaces to green areas, ultimately making local waters cleaner, and communities healthier, vibrant and more attractive places to live and work.

It’s been a little over a year since EPA and the City of Philadelphia embarked on this new Green City, Clean Waters partnership, and momentum and support for the plan’s goals continue to grow.  It’s exciting to see community-based organizations, regular citizens, and students jumping in to make a difference.  The City of Philadelphia is encouraging its residents to install rain barrels to reduce stormwater runoff.   A rain barrel is a structure that collects and stores stormwater runoff from rooftops. The collected rain water can be used for irrigation to water lawns, gardens, and street trees.   Although these systems store only a small volume of stormwater, collectively, they can be effective at preventing large volumes of runoff from entering the sewer system, potentially causing overflows and impairing local waterways.

That’s the message we want to drive home through our exhibit.  The display features two mock city row-homes, one which uses a traditional aluminum gutter and down spout to convey rainwater from the roof to the ground; the other which uses a rain barrel connected to the down spout to capture and store rainwater for beneficial use.

We’re grateful to our partners for loaning us other rain barrels that are on display, several of which are hand-painted or artfully designed by students and seniors from Philadelphia.  These unique rain barrels illustrate that these structures can be useful and appealing.

I encourage you to check out EPA’s Public Information Center rain barrel exhibit, located at our Mid-Atlantic Regional Office, 1650 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103, M-F, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

About the Author: Shawn M. Garvin is EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator responsible for ensuring the protection of human health and the environment in Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

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: Wastewater Treatment (nothing to scream about…)

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

I came across this little gem the other day while working to promote EPA’s water science research.  A sci-fi novel set in a wastewater treatment plant? Brilliant. And the tagline: Where no one cares when you scream? Clearly author Dodge Winston has a lot to think about while at work as a wastewater plant operator in the San Francisco Bay area. I’ll bet, though, that most of us haven’t given the wastewater treatment plant in our communities much thought, yet wastewater treatment is a key contributor to keeping us healthy and the environment clean.

Do you know what happens to the wastewater when you flush the toilet or run the disposal, or even finish a load of laundry? The wastewater collection system consists of a network of pipes, pumps, and tunnels that connect our household plumbing to sewer lines and pump stations.  Eventually the wastewater is sent to the treatment plant for cleaning and distribution.

There are approximately 800,000 miles of public sewer lines in the United States, most installed after World War II. There are also close to 20,000 wastewater treatment pipe systems and 15,000 wastewater treatment facilities in the United States, most of them aging and certainly many that can’t handle a large storm without sending overflows of untreated wastewater into our waterways.

With this in mind, EPA engineers and scientists are developing tools, rehabilitation technologies and methods to increase long-term effectiveness of wastewater treatment systems. They also help municipalities and wastewater treatment plant staff keep our water clean, contributing to healthier people and a cleaner environment. EPA researchers are working  to keep our water sources free from chemical, biological, and radiological contaminants, too.

Here are a few of the tools and models our researchers have developed:

While these technologies and tools are targeted to wastewater treatment plant operators, there are things you can do at home to help keep our water clean and reduce the cost of cleaning our water at the wastewater treatment plant. Learn more about what you can do in your community here.

And for fun, check out this innovative tool the city of Oberlin, Ohio is using. You can see real-time use of electricity and water.

As an aside, this tool was developed by Lucid Design Group, which was founded by members of Oberlin College’s P3 team that organized a two-week “Dorm Energy Competition” where dorm residents competed to reduce their energy and water use and used the dashboards to monitor success back in 2005. Today, Lucid has customers around the country, including towns, building owners, corporations – and even Google – who want to monitor and reduce energy and water consumption.

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry is a frequent contributor to Around the Water Cooler, and she also helps promote the great work of EPA researchers in the Safe and Sustainable Water Resources program. And at lunch today she will drink about a gallon of clean, treated tap water.

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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Photo Essay: Old and New Environments Coming Together in Pittsburgh

Blog and Photos by Christina Catanese

A few months ago, home in my native Pittsburgh, I paid a visit with my family to a place I went to many times growing up – Phipps Conservatory.  My childhood recollections of the place mainly revolve around the stunning plant displays, and the plethora of colors and types of flowers that seemed to grow out of every possible surface.  I was enchanted by the re-creation of various ecosystems, like the tropical plant room that thrived even in the bleak Pittsburgh winter.  But during this visit, I encountered a new aspect of the Conservatory that changed how I saw the place, and indeed, my hometown itself.

The Center for Sustainable Landscapes was opened last year as Phipps’ hub for education, research, and administration.  Striving to be “one of the greenest buildings on earth,” the Center utilizes innovative technologies to generate all its own energy, as well as treat and reuse all water captured on site.

Taking a stroll through the Center for Sustainable Landscapes’ grounds. The center building’s exterior incorporates repurposed wood salvaged from barns in Western Pennsylvania.

Taking a stroll through the Center for Sustainable Landscapes’ grounds. The center building’s exterior incorporates repurposed wood salvaged from barns in Western Pennsylvania.

While a beautiful architectural construction, I was most impressed with the stormwater management measures the Center took, from the green roof, to rain gardens, to the pervious pavement used on the walkways.

Click “read more…” below to read the rest of this photo essay!

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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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School’s Not Out

By Tom Damm

It’s the first day of summer and school may be the last thing on your mind.

But here’s an opportunity to participate in an Academy – and you don’t need test scores, extracurricular activities or recommendations to get in – just a healthy interest in learning how to protect your local waters.

EPA’s Watershed Academy is a free, online source of information about the many issues that affect your rivers, streams and wetlands.Watershed Academy trifold photo

You can check it out on Tuesday, June 25, at 1 p.m. (Eastern) when the Academy is offering the first in a summer series of live webcasts on harmful algal blooms and nutrient pollution that pose environmental and public health threats.  Here’s a link to register.

Speakers will include experts from EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

And that’s just a taste of what the Watershed Academy has to offer.

Tuesday’s session will be the 74th monthly webcast sponsored by the Academy.  Topics have ranged from key national issues to actions you can take around the home to prevent pollution.  Streaming audio versions of past webcasts are available on the website.

The Academy also offers training courses and publications on water issues.

So don’t put those pencils and paper away just yet.  The learning may be just beginning.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

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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Rainy Day Lesson

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Dave Deegan

Like many New Englanders, we’ve been really busy lately with our garden. The warm growing months are so fleeting here that you have to be ready the minute you can plant veggies and herbs to harvest some good food later in the summer.

It’s been even more hectic this year, because my wife and I acted on our carefully-developed plans of long-overdue landscaping in our yard. But as any homeowner can tell you, there usually is no simple plan. If you do this, then it triggers that. And that. And something else.

As we thought about how we wanted our yard to be, we knew we needed to address some drainage issues: gutters were draining directly onto a walkway, and in the winter that’s a recipe for dangerous slick ice. So we excavated a channel for the gutter to drain under the walkway, leading into a dry well. Now the water will slowly infiltrate into the earth without turning into mud or ice where we need to walk.

We have another area nearby, where a gutter channels rainwater from our garage, and we thought, “this is a great spot for a rain barrel!”

Diverting rain by collecting it in a rain barrel, or channeling into a dry well (or a rain garden) has a lot of advantages besides our immediate need to address extra runoff in our garden. Stormwater runoff can collect a lot of bad stuff, especially in urban areas with lots of pavement and other hard impermeable surfaces. As water runs off roofs, parking lots and roads, it collects all the trace residues of chemicals, nutrients, silt and debris that have accumulated, and swiftly deposits it all in the nearest storm sewer, and from there it often goes directly into nearby streams, ponds or another water body. In other words, pollution.

It’s amazing how quickly our 55 gallon rain barrel fills up, just waiting for a dry spell when we need to water our garden. It’s been raining steadily for about the past six hours – not even pouring hard – and the rain barrel is full. That’s just one section of roof and gutter. It makes me realize how much water comes down in a typical rainstorm, and how much of a difference our household decisions can make to help solve a problem.

Find more New England resources on how to “Soak Up the Rain.”

More Green infrastructure solutions to stormwater

About the author:  Dave Deegan works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. When he’s not digging rocks out of his garden, he loves being outdoors in one of New England’s many special places.

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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