sustainability

Water Wednesday – Fix a Leak

By Jeffery Robichaud

watersense

Drip, drip, drip…hear that? It’s the sound of your money escaping through a leaky faucet. This week is Fix a Leak Week. (It’s also National Salt Awareness Week in the UK so be sure to watch your salt intake, too.) I thought I would put together a quick blog entry to cover relevant information about Fix a Leak Week here in Region 7, but our Headquarters office had already turned the tap:

Household leaks can waste more than 1 trillion gallons of water annually nationwide, so each year we hunt down the drips during Fix a Leak Week. However, remember that you can race over to your plumbing fixtures and irrigation systems, fix the leaks, and save valuable water and money all year long. From family fun runs to leak detection contests to WaterSense demonstrations, Fix a Leak Week events are happening from coast to coast and are all geared to teach you how to find and fix household leaks. For more information, visit EPA’s Fix a Leak website and EPA’s WaterSense website. If you have any questions, contact the WaterSense Helpline at (866) WTR-SENS (987-7367) or send an email to watersense@epa.gov.

Last year, I finally got off the dime and took care of some things around my house. I fixed one of our toilets that would occasionally run because of a loose seal between the stopper and the opening, expending what little handyman skills I possess. I also put several aerators (small replacement pieces for faucets that minimize water flow) on sinks that my boys tend to let run longer than they should. Finally, I called my sprinkler company to have them look at what I thought might be a leak. Sure enough, they were able to make a quick fix to one of the pipes. These quick fixes saved me significant money, as I noticed about an 8-10% reduction in my water use from the previous year.

This year, we sprung for a new dishwasher, since our old builder’s model was on its last legs. Besides being an Energy Star product, it uses considerably less water than our 10-year-old model. In April, I’ll be able to compare our bill to last year’s and see how much we saved. Next up is the washer and dryer (although I’m sure my wife and I will want to finish off the rest of the kitchen appliances first). Maybe I’ll save that for next year and can knock some more off my water usage.

So get out there and Fix a Leak. It just makes good (Water)Sense! Check out the Fix a Leak Week 2015 Event Map to find out what’s going on near you!


Fix A Leak app on Facebook
Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. He has saved considerable water this month by not washing his exceptionally dirty truck.

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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Pipe Dreams: Advancing Sustainable Development in the United States

by Apple Loveless and Leslie Corcelli

Standing Sewage in Lowndes County, Alabama

Raw sewage outside a home in Lowndes County, Alabama (source: http://eji.org/node/629)

When most of us think or speak about people who lack access to adequate drinking water and wastewater treatment — if we think or speak of them at all– it usually brings to mind folks in developing countries half way across the globe. Just as an upcoming United Nations Summit on development goals seeks to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all,” we want the people of those countries to have the basic human rights that we may take for granted daily at our taps and toilets. Unfortunately, we often overlook communities in our own backyard who lack access to clean water and sanitation.

Here in the United States, communities that lack access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation can be found in colonias along the U.S.-Mexico border, in rural Alaska Native Villages, in Appalachia, and in the Black Belt of the southern U.S. In EPA’s Sustainable Communities Branch of the Office of Wastewater Management, we focus on these communities.

Last year, we visited Willisville, a small, historic, rural community in southwestern Loudoun County, Virginia, considered one of the wealthiest counties in America. Yet in unincorporated Willisville, many of its largely low income, African-American families lived without indoor plumbing, relying instead on privies and outhouses, and drawing their water from shallow wells, as their ancestors had done since the community’s founding just after the Civil War. In 1998, the Loudoun County Health Department found that the majority of homes in Willisville had inadequate drinking water supplies, and failing or non-existent sewage systems. Additionally, the poor soil quality was not compatible with the installation of traditional septic systems, while more costly alternative systems were out of the price range of residents.

Bringing adequate infrastructure to Willisville had presented funding, planning, and installation challenges. In 2007, a joint venture of the County, the local water authority, and the community, provided an on-site community wastewater collection and treatment system that replaced outhouses and failing drain fields. The County covered most of the cost of connecting homes to the system, drilling new wells, and adding bathrooms, kitchen sinks, and washing-machine hookups. Yet even with these improvements, additional challenges remained. Simply providing indoor plumbing to existing homes, for example, would have driven up property values so much that the average resident wouldn’t have been able to afford the taxes. However, due to the determination of key individuals, Willisville residents were able to work with the County and nonprofit organizations to modify the tax base to allow residents to afford the new services.

Unfortunately, the situation that had plagued Willisville can be seen in other communities around the country.

Take for example, Lowndes County, Alabama, a mostly rural minority community with a 27 percent poverty rate. In 2002, it was estimated that 40 to 90 percent of households had either no septic system or were using an inadequate one. In addition, 50 percent of the existing septic systems did not work properly. The community had been built on highly impermeable clay soils that do not quickly absorb water, making installing sophisticated and advanced septic systems very cost prohibitive. It was not uncommon to see raw sewage in fields, yards, and ditches. Inadequate wastewater management became a public health hazard and an environmental issue that could no longer be ignored. In 2011, the situation was the subject of a United Nations Human Rights Council inquiry.

In 2010, EPA entered into a four-year financial assistance agreement with the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise to develop a decentralized wastewater management plan for rural Lowndes County. The grant demonstrates the use of affordable or new technologies in an effort to address the inadequate disposal of raw sewage in Lowndes County. The grant not only signifies an important first step to improving the area’s basic sanitation services, but it provides a model to help protect water quality and human health in this community and others around the country.

Most people living in the United States enjoy access to safe water and sanitation. Yet, there are many communities like Willisville and Lowndes County for which the opposite is true. Providing funding and technical assistance to underserved communities can help them tackle the complex issues of improving their water and wastewater infrastructure. But it’s not a task that can be undertaken by a single individual. These efforts will require multi-stakeholder engagement and the collaboration of public, private, and academic partnerships with the affected communities to achieve environmental justice. We’ve seen the success first hand, and we know it’s possible.

Apple Loveless has a graduate degree in environmental management with a focus on water resource planning and management, and is adapting to life in the Mid-Atlantic region. Leslie Corcelli has a graduate degree in environmental science and policy, and lives in northern Virginia with her partner and a menagerie of rescue animals. Apple and Leslie are Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) research participants in the Sustainable Communities Branch of EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management.

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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Building Partnerships Between Colleges and Underserved Communities

By Michael Burns

During my 30-plus years with the federal government, I have held many great positions, such as Deputy Director of the Army Reserve Base Operations Division, and Executive Director of the Navy’s Southeast Region. I have enjoyed each and every position, but I never felt that I was giving back to communities as much as I would have liked.

Students from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College explore downtown development opportunities with the City of Ashburn master planner.

Students from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College explore downtown development opportunities with the City of Ashburn master planner.

Five years ago, I worked for the National Park Service, and attended a meeting with various federal agencies to work together on American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects where we met with the Mayor of Hayneville, a small town in southern Alabama. The Mayor described how she had many infrastructure issues to address, but expressed concern about her city’s capacity to pass federal audit requirements that come with the funding needed to address the issues. She said a Certified Public Accountant told her it would cost about $20,000 to ensure she passed the audit. For a small, poor town of 1,080, such a fee was beyond their means. I thought about it, and remembered that a university only thirty minutes away could possibly help them. Unfortunately, due to work commitments, I was unable to follow through with the idea.

Many small, underserved communities, like Hayneville, are in need of resources to improve their environment and quality of life. However, they often lack the technical expertise in engineering, transportation, and infrastructure planning to pursue initiatives in a progressive and sustainable manner.

Eighteen months later, I was talking to folks from EPA Region 4 about this idea of connecting underserved communities with the talents of college students and faculty. They asked if I would be willing to collaborate with EPA. I agreed, and began to reach out to colleges and universities.

With no budget or funding to provide to the schools, it was tough going! Our first breakthrough came when the U.S. Department of Energy agreed to provide stipends to students through its Massie Chair of Excellence Program at Tennessee State University. The students worked with the City of Cooperstown, Tennessee, helping it upgrade its financial recordkeeping and develop an economic development plan. With this effort, we were able to prove that the college-community partnership concept was not only valid, but we could help make a difference in small, underserved communities. But the lack of funding continued to plague our efforts.

Our biggest advance came when Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, a small college in Tifton, Georgia, agreed to provide economic development plans for two small cities in Georgia with no financial support from the federal government. The College understood the value of giving its students such a rich experiential learning opportunity in which they could take what they learned in the classroom, apply it to real world problems, and come up with real-world solutions. The school also understood that such opportunities were more important than simply extending financial support to these cities. Just as critical was that the program gave their students a leg up when looking for employment after graduation – they not only could talk in interviews about what they learned, but about what they had DONE. In addition, the school is now an important pillar of the community. It is looked upon as an organization that can and has made a visible difference in these communities.

The briefing the school gave the communities about concepts and plans for economic development was fantastic! It has offered to help these communities develop grant proposals to move forward, and get the resources they need for improvements.

As a result of the growing success of the program, I was hired at EPA Region 4 to expand EPA’s College/Underserved-Communities Partnership Program (CUPP), which develops long-term partnerships between local colleges and universities and underserved cities and communities. Through the program, schools provide technical support to communities at no cost to them. Small rural communities are able to use this assistance to address important issues – like energy savings projects, land reuse, and economic development – that will support the long-term viability of their communities.

We continue to add colleges and universities to this effort, and in future blog posts we will talk about plans and projects that are moving these underserved communities forward. We are also looking for schools that wish to voluntarily be a part of this program. Do you know a school, or does your school want to make a difference in the lives of those who need the help the most? Let us know!

About the Author: Michael Burns is Senior Advisor to the Regional Administrator for EPA Region 4 in Atlanta, Georgia. Previously he worked for the U.S. National Park Service, where he served as the Acting Superintendent of the Tuskegee Institute Park and worked with communities in Alabama.

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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Survive, Adapt, and Grow: EPA, Rockefeller Foundation Team Up for Resilient Cities

By Lek Kadeli

“City Resilience: The capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a system to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.”

Rainbow over a cityscape

EPA is a platform partner for 100 Resilient Cities.

EPA recently announced a partnership to help communities across the United States and around the world achieve that very definition of city resilience by supporting 100 Resilient Cities, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation. Agency sustainability scientists and other experts will help urban communities take actions today to realize vibrant and healthy futures.

100 Resilient Cities was launched in 2013 to provide urban communities with access to a network of expertise, innovative tools, and models that will help them meet and bounce back even better from serious challenges—from chronic stresses such as air pollution and diminishing access to clean water, to more sudden events including floods, “superstorms” and other weather events, and acts of terrorism.

To support the partnership, EPA researchers will work directly with urban communities to share a variety of innovative tools and initiatives they have developed to meet just such challenges. For example:

  • The National Stormwater Calculator, an easy-to-use, online tool will help communities effectively tap innovative green infrastructure techniques to reduce nutrient pollution and the risk of local flooding, while also planning for the increase of stormwater runoff that is expected due to climate change.
  • EnviroAtlas, is a multi-scale, geographical-based online mapping, visualization, and analysis tool that integrates more than 300 separate data layers on various aspects of how natural ecosystems benefit people. The tool provides communities with a resource for developing science-based, strategic plans that sustain the ability of “ecosystem services” to absorb and mitigate stresses—a critical aspect of resiliency.
  • The Triple Value Systems tool provides an interactive model built on the dynamic relationship among economic, societal, and environmental impacts. Simulations illustrate the tradeoff and benefits of different decisions, supporting consensus building in pursuit of sustainable, resilient communities.
  • Incorporating a new generation of low cost, portable, and low maintenance air quality sensors into community-based air quality monitoring and awareness resources, such as “The Village Green Project,” will help individuals take action to protect their health, and community leaders to reduce the impacts of poor local air quality.
  • CANARY Event Detection Software, developed by EPA researchers in partnership with colleagues from Sandia National Laboratories, is an early warning system for detecting contaminants in drinking water. Recognized as a top 100 new technology by R&D Magazine, it helps water utilities continually monitor for threats and take early action to minimize disruptions.
EPA's Village Green Project, a solar-topped bench with air sensors

The Village Green project

EPA’s leadership advancing the science of sustainability and resiliency makes us a natural fit for supporting 100 Resilient Cities. Joining the network of other “platform partners” will help us share our research results and best practices and expand the impact of what our partners and we learn. We are thrilled to be part of this important effort advancing more sustainable and resilient communities, and look forward to a future where cities across the globe survive, adapt, and grow—no matter what.

About the Author: Lek Kadeli is the Acting Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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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40 Years of the Safe Drinking Water Act: The Small Systems Challenge

By Mindy Eisenberg, Protection Branch Chief

When I meet operators and managers of water systems from small cities and towns, I’m always impressed by the tremendous pride they take in their local water services.

Today, more than 94% of the country’s 156,000 drinking water systems are small, serving fewer than 3,300 people. But maintaining those systems can be a real challenge. Having such a small customer base can make it tough to pay for needed repairs, hire and retain qualified operators or plan for future needs. Also, a large number of small water systems are actually schools, campgrounds or restaurants, so water service is not their primary function.

In 1996, the Safe Drinking Water Act was amended to create new programs with small systems in mind. Now we partner with states to help these small systems reliably provide safe drinking water to their customers.

One of the ways the Safe Drinking Water Act helps small systems is through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. Each year, we allocate funding to states, and then states use the money to finance drinking water infrastructure projects at low interest rates. States can also use some of these funds to provide training for operators and managers of small systems, help them with energy conservation and water efficiency, and implement source water protection programs.

We administer a national Training and Technical Assistance Grant for small drinking water systems. This year, we awarded over $12 million to technical assistance providers to help small systems with training and on-site technical assistance.

We also produce guides and tools for small drinking water systems. Projects include a software tool to track scheduled maintenance activities and develop a plan to manage their physical infrastructure (or assets); a series of fact sheets highlighting water and wastewater internships, community college programs and mentoring for new operators; and several fact sheets to help small systems with energy and water efficiency.

As we mark the 40th Anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, we’re as committed as ever to helping small drinking water systems to deliver safe and reliable drinking water to their communities. Their operators and managers should be proud. Against some tough odds, they do a commendable job.

About the author: Mindy Eisenberg is the Chief of the Protection Branch in EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. Her branch is responsible for overseeing the Public Water System Supervision program, Tribal drinking water infrastructure program, Capacity Development program and Operator Certification program, as well as managing training and technical assistance grants to assist small systems.

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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On a Roll with “SustainableJoes”

By Kelly Witter

EPA's Kelley Witter talks sustainability inside an ELF.

EPA’s Kelly Witter talks sustainability from an ELF.

One of the many reasons I love working at EPA is that I enjoy being around people who share my passion for the environment. But when your day job is devoted to environmental protection it’s easy to be complacent about becoming more sustainable. After all, feeling guilty about the occasional slip up, such as not being able to compost my banana peel at lunch, is not enough.

Then, last week, Stephen Szucs of SustainableJoes.com rolled into Durham on a solar- and pedal-powered trike called an ELF. In an instant, he inspired me and many of my colleagues to “rethink” with our actions, not just our words. Stephen is traveling from Canada to Key West, essentially couch surfing the continent, on a “Rethink” tour to expand the conversation on sustainability and to help drive behavior change.

Stephen aims to create the world’s largest sustainability network and make sustainability EASY. He is spontaneous – always looking for an opportunity to engage the public in conversation about his sustainable journey and how little things can make a difference if a lot of people do them. Each person Stephen meets is asked to make a personal sustainability pledge, and he has collected nearly 2000 pledges thus far in in his 5,000 km journey.

He strives to share his message with everyone—especially students. As the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) outreach coordinator for EPA’s laboratory campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, I had the opportunity to have Stephen join me at a Durham middle school to evaluate student proposals on world peace. He was all in. And there we were, listening to proposals and sharing sustainability with a real judge, a school board member, and a sheriff.

Next stop was the Food Truck Rodeo at Research Triangle Park. To get there, a group of seven of us traveled from EPA—by bike and ELF. We definitely generated some sustainability conversation when our pedal/solar powered posse rolled in. The “Rethink” tour truly embodies the Gandhi quote, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

OK, so was I inspired to action by SustainableJoes rolling into my life for three days? Did I rethink anything? I did. Nothing huge (yet), but I did rethink and redo a few things this weekend: 1) I used a solar clothes dryer (hung my laundry out on the lawn furniture); 2) My kids and I used rakes to clean up the leaves from our yard; and 3) I joined Durham’s new, soon-to-be food co-op.

Would I have done any of these things otherwise? Probably not, because it is easier to keep doing the same things in the same way, and that is what SustainableJoes is challenging us to rethink.

My take home messages are that we need to start from where we are, rethinking and moving forward and that, it doesn’t matter what we call it as long as we are doing the right thing.

About the Author: EPA environmental engineer Kelly Witter is the Director of STEM Outreach for the Agency’s laboratory campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Editor’s Note: Today (November 6, 2014), Kelly welcomes students from Wake, NC State University STEM Early College High School who will be shadowing her at EPA as part of “Learning about careers is STEMtastic!”—stay tuned for a blog about that in the near future.

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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This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circleCompetition can bring out the best in people or the worst in people. Anyone who’s been watching the World Series or following football this season knows what I mean.

But when it comes to competing for sustainability, everybody wins! Read about the student teams selected to compete for this year’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) Awards and more in the research highlighted this week.

  • EPA Announces Winning P3 Student Teams
    Since 2004, the P3 Program has provided funding to student teams in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, committing over $10 million to cutting-edge, sustainable projects designed by university students. Read more.
  • EPA Supporting Next Generation of Environmental Scientists Through 105 Fellowship Grants
    EPA announced that 105 graduate students across the nation will receive $8.6 million in Science to Achieve Results fellowship grants to conduct research on topics ranging from climate change and public health to water quality and sustainability that will have cross-cutting impacts in the environmental science field. Read more.
  • Turning Back Time: Repairing Water Infrastructure
    The estimated costs of fixing old, leaky, and cracked pipes through the traditional methods could cost water utilities in excess of $1 trillion dollars over the next 20 years. Innovative, lower cost technologies that could provide alternatives would have enormous impact, but how do utilities know where to turn before they make investments in long-term solutions? Read more.
  • Sustainability and Resilience: Making the Connection
    EPA’s Alan Hecht, Ph.D. offers a new, forward thinking definition of resilience for communities, companies, and others to consider and strive for in the paper Resilience: Navigating toward a Sustainable Future. EPA is looking at research tools and approaches that address and advance community resilience and climate adaptation. Read more.
  • Green Infrastructure Research
    Check out the latest issue of our newsletter EPA Science Matters Newsletter: Green Infrastructure Research and join EPA researchers on October 29 from 2:00-3:00pm ET on twitter to talk about green infrastructure! Questions should be sent to the hashtag #EnvSciChat.

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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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Sustainability and Resilience: Making the Connection

By Alan Hecht, Ph.D. Resilience

When most people consider “resilience,” they think about bouncing back from some sort of unwelcome catastrophe. Whether it’s “super storms” devastating coastal communities and disrupting millions of people along the east coast, wildfires in the mountain and western states, or natural disasters and related, human-caused emergencies such as the tsunami and Fukushima meltdown, recent events have magnified the importance of being prepared to ride out hard times.

For many, that has meant storing caches of nonperishable food, water supplies, and plenty of extra batteries. An emergency plan and meeting spot for all family members is also a great idea. But what is the best way to define resiliency for society as a whole? Can we incorporate actions into plans that not only make our communities more resilient to future catastrophes, but make us more prosperous and healthy now?

My colleagues and I at EPA have been exploring ongoing research to consider resiliency in a broader context, linking it with programs that help us and our partners identify challenges and advance a more sustainable future.

In January of 2013 EPA in cooperation with the National Science Foundation, the National Council for Science and Environment, and Dow Chemical hosted a workshop on resilience and sustainability. Papers from this workshop are now highlighted in a special issue of the Solutions Journal.

What's the best way to define resiliency?

What’s the best way to define resiliency?

In a featured paper in this issue: Resilience: Navigating toward a Sustainable Future, we share what we have learned and offer a new, forward thinking definition of resilience for communities, companies, and others to consider and strive for: “the capacity for a system to survive, adapt, and flourish in the face of turbulent change and uncertainty.” Along with my co-authors Joseph Fiksel (who also served as the journal’s guest editor) and Iris Goodman, we explore a variety of solutions for strengthening both resilience and sustainability in urban communities and industrial enterprises.

We are not alone. The concept of resilience and its relationship to sustainability is now attracting a great deal of attention:

  • EPA is looking at research tools and approaches that address and advance community resilience and climate adaptation.
  • Policy makers, business executives, and community leaders are incorporating resilience into their planning operations.
  • Major companies are systematically strengthening the resilience of their global supply chains.
  • A network of urban planners, architects, designers, engineers, and landscape architects are developing creative and practical strategies to increase the resilience of cities.

These and many other leading organizations are taking steps today to prepare for the next “super storm” threatening their operations, while helping us find ways to achieve a sustainable future for us all. Read more about how leading government, non-government and business organizations are working toward a sustainable future in the face of climate change and global urbanization: Resilience: Navigating toward a Sustainable Future.

About the Author: A leader in sustainability research, Alan Hecht, Ph.D. is the Director for Sustainable Development in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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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Usability Testing, the Report on the Environment, and My Time at EPA

By Taylor Katz

As a student of Environmental Health at George Washington University, I was excited to be asked to contribute to the Agency’s Report on the Environment (ROE). The Report is a compilation of information on the best available indicators of national conditions and trends in air, water, land, human heath, ecological systems, and sustainability.

What makes the 2014 edition so unique from past versions, is that the 2014 Report on the Environment is entirely online. Through interactive graphs, maps, and charts, the website presents trends and measurements of physical and biological conditions within clearly defined geographic areas. Focal points are the Report’s six theme areas: Air, Water, Land, Human Exposure and Health, Ecological Condition, and Sustainability. It’s a hotspot for all things environmental and ecological health related.

EPA's Report on the Environment presents interactive maps and other graphics.

EPA’s Report on the Environment presents interactive maps and other graphics.

Because the Report can be a valuable resource for scientists, decisions-makers, and the public, the team that produced it wanted to ensure that users can find the exact information they want, when they need it. That’s where I come in.

I was asked to help improve the Report on the Environment website by conducting usability tests with EPA employees. To do this, we created two tests—one focused on the site’s indicators, and the other on navigating the site.

Five EPA employees participated in each test, and we gave each eight tasks to perform. For example, task one was: “your supervisor has assigned you to put together some information for a report about mercury. To start, you want to know the mercury levels in the U.S. population. Where would you look for this information?” As participants verbally communicated how they navigated through the site, we observed which tasks participants commonly struggled to complete. We recorded the results of each participant, which will ultimately help the team ensure the website is the best it can be.

Looking back on my summer, usability testing gave me more than just knowledge regarding the Report on the Environment. By meeting different EPA employees from different backgrounds, I gained an appreciation for the fact that everyone at the Agency has a core value of improving the environment and human health.

Working here allowed me to better understand the ins and outs of what really goes on at the EPA. I was able to familiarize myself with different offices, while also witnessing the real life applications of information that I study in textbooks and attend lectures on. This work helped me realize that regardless of one’s research or specialization, it takes the whole organization to produce a great product.

About the Author: Taylor Katz is currently a student at George Washington University and was a summer intern at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment.

 

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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EPA In Your Community (Pedal Away!)

By Brendan Corazzin
Region 7’s EJ Grants Coordinator

While biking may be an excellent way to exercise, it can also serve as a viable and inexpensive form of transportation that has many environmental and health benefits. Joe Edgell tells us it is easier than you think. Let me tell you about one of EPA’s Environmental Justice Small Grant awardees and the work they are doing in St. Louis to address the inequitable distribution of biking infrastructure in the city.

Example of a shared traffic lane. This picture was taken in Arlington, Virginia. Image by Brendan Corazzin.

Example of a shared traffic lane. This picture was taken in Arlington, Virginia. Image by Brendan Corazzin.

Often times, transportation is an overlooked environmental justice issue. It is not uncommon for low-income households to lack access to a personal vehicle and many low-income urban neighborhoods have poor access to public transportation. Entire communities are cut off from valuable public services and amenities. Lack of transportation means a lack of access to fresh foods, a lack of access to medical facilities, and poor access to jobs. In St. Louis, Missouri, a small non-profit organization, Trailnet, is working to reverse this trend by promoting bicycling as a viable mode of transit.

St. Louis Rain Garden Stop

During a bike ride with Trailnet staff and project partners, we stopped at a rain garden at 14th and Clinton Street in the Old North Neighborhood of St. Louis. Image by Brendan Corazzin.

In 2013, Trailnet, Inc. was awarded an EJ Small Grant to work with low-income neighborhoods across St. Louis on bicycle planning and advocacy. Historically, planning activities related to bicycle infrastructure have left out low-income and minority communities. As a result, the existing infrastructure does not serve the needs of these communities. Through a series of educational activities, planning workshops, and community events, Trailnet will encourage bicycling as a mode of transportation and bring community members to the table so they can be involved in the planning process. This past May, I was in St. Louis to visit with Trailnet regarding their project. Rather than driving a car from Kansas City to St. Louis, I decided to use alternative modes of transportation starting with a bike ride from my home in midtown Kansas City to the train station downtown. After a 5 hour train ride, I arrived in St. Louis at the downtown train station and over the next two days I experienced St. Louis’ biking infrastructure first hand.

I will admit, my experience lead me to the conclusion that St. Louis and Kansas City (where I live) have pretty similar biking infrastructure…which is less than impressive. Don’t get me wrong, both cities have invested quite a bit in bicycle planning and both cities support bicycling, but they’re still early in the process. Getting around the downtown area, where most of my activities were, was fairly easy. There are a few dedicated bike lanes in downtown and few more “shared traffic lanes”. A shared lane is really just a regular traffic lane with a bicycle emblem painted on it, alerting drives to the possibility that there may be a cyclist in the lane. I also rode in west St. Louis and on the south side of town, where again there were a few dedicated bike lanes and some shared traffic lanes. In North St. Louis, however, travel was a bit more difficult because there are only shared traffic lanes.

Scheomehl Pots

“Schoemehl Pots” are frequently found at the intersections of neighborhood streets in St. Louis. The pots were originally installed to divert traffic from residential streets and could be reused to improve biking routes. Image by Brendan Corazzin.

North St. Louis is predominately African American and low-income. This is where one could witness the historical presence of environmental injustice in transportation planning. While other parts of town are accessible by bike lanes and downtown has its fantastic bicycle station, a public bicycle storage and maintenance facility, North St. Louis is left with only shared traffic lanes. This problem is compounded by the fact that beginner riders typically lack the skill and confidence to ride in traffic. As a result, you have a community where bicycling could serve as a viable form of personal transportation – taking people to work, the grocery store, school, or church – yet ridership remains low. Admittedly, there are many reasons for low ridership, but better infrastructure is an important part of increasing bike usage and our grant to Trailnet will help!

By working with residents, city staff, and elected officials, Trailnet hopes to break down the barriers that are preventing the community from utilizing bicycles as a cheap, efficient, effective and safe means of getting around St. Louis. By bringing community members to the table, Trailnet has been able to gather important information about community needs and wants. This input will inform transportation planning in St. Louis and help shape a future that supports bicycling by establishing safe, low stress routes that connect points of interest important to the community. Environmental Justice is all about supporting communities so that they can use their voice and knowledge to create positive changes and improve their environment. The Environmental Justice Small Grants Program has a long history of supporting communities in their fight to improve their environment. To learn more about environmental justice and EPA’s EJ grant programs, check out EPA’s website.

This map was used during a public meeting in North St. Louis. Residents were asked to identify points of interest, streets they bike or walk on, and streets that they would bike on if conditions were more inviting. Image by Brendan Corazzin.

This map was used during a public meeting in North St. Louis. Residents were asked to identify points of interest, streets they bike or walk on, and streets that they would bike on if conditions were more inviting. Image by Brendan Corazzin.

Brendan Corazzin works in the Environmental Justice Program at EPA’s Region 7 office. He serves as the regional EJ grants coordinator. He lives in Kansas City’s Volker neighborhood and prefers to leave his car at home. He is an avid supporter of alternative transportation including walking, biking, and riding to work in a vanpool.

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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