TMDL

Taking out the Trash

by Tom Damm

 

Trash and litter in our waterways can be harmful to our health, the environment, and the economy.

Trash and litter in our waterways can be harmful to our health, the environment, and the economy.

When EPA representatives met with 4th graders in Maryland last year to observe their work as “stream stewards,” many of the students had the same comment – there’s too much trash in the water.

One young girl told us, “People need to protect our world from getting dirty…because some people throw trash on the ground and they don’t pick it up so we need to tell them to recycle so we don’t get pollution in the water.”

That’s the basic idea – although in far more technical terms – behind steps taken by the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia under the Clean Water Act to control trash impacting two major rivers – the Anacostia and the Patapsco.

Trash and debris washed or dumped into our waterways pose more than aesthetic problems. They’re a serious health hazard to people, wildlife and fish and can have economic impacts. Trash harms birds and marine life who consume small pieces, mistaking them for food. In fact, a shard of a plastic DVD case was identified as the cause of the recent death of an endangered sei whale in Virginia’s Elizabeth River. Some of the waste contains chemicals and pathogens that affect water quality.

In 2010, the Maryland and District of Columbia environmental agencies combined to develop strict pollution limits, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), for trash in the Anacostia River. It was the first – and is still the only – interstate trash TMDL in the country.

And then earlier this month, EPA approved a TMDL submitted by the Maryland Department of the Environment for parts of the Patapsco River to deal with trash problems in Baltimore area streams and its famous harbor. The department worked closely with the City and County of Baltimore and with environmental stakeholders on the final product.

One of the ways trash is already being removed from Baltimore Harbor is through an innovative water wheel that collects it. Check out this video and story to see how it works.

And visit this site for tips on what you can do to keep trash out of waterways.

 

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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I’ll Trade You: Water Quality Science Edition

By Marguerite Huber

Landsat image of Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay watershed includes six states and the District of Columbia. Image: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

The outcome of a trade can sometimes be the luck of the draw. You may not have gotten a better sandwich for the one you traded at lunch, or the all-star pitcher your team acquired in that mid-season trade may turn out to be a bust.

On the other hand, the best kind of trade is one where everybody wins. EPA researchers are helping bring just that kind of trade to improve water quality.

Chesapeake Bay is an expansive watershed that encompasses some or all of six states and the District of Columbia. High levels of nutrients flowing in from all over that expansive watershed decrease oxygen in the water and kill aquatic life, creating chronic and well-known dead zones.

To help, EPA established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which sets a cap on nutrient and sediment emissions to restore water quality, ensure high quality habitats for aquatic organisms, and protect and sustain fisheries, recreation and other important Bay activities.

Recent innovations in Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere have promoted a new type of trading, called water quality trading, to meet watershed-level reductions in nutrient pollution. The goal is to facilitate individual flexibility and responsiveness while creating incentives to reduce overall nutrient flow from both agricultural and urban areas.

Here is how water quality trading would work…

Farmers and wastewater treatment plants have the opportunity to team up to collectively meet the water quality goal by reducing nutrients. While both entities have their own baseline nutrient emission level they must shoot for, they can gain tradable credits if they do better. A farmer that plants nitrogen-absorbing crops such as barley and wheat can sell the credits they gain to a wastewater treatment plant that needs to reduce its own emissions.

Silhouette of kids on dock at sunset

A healthy Chesapeake is a win for everybody!

Trading is based on the widely different costs it can take to control the same kind of pollutant, depending on its source and location. For example, upgrading wastewater treatment plants and ripping up urban streets to replace leaky stormwater drainage pipes could cost billions of dollars. On the other hand, planting new or different crops is much less expensive.

Like the TMDL itself, the development of the water trading system began with science. EPA-supported scientists and economists developed a computer model to find the least costly mix of pollution-reduction options across the watershed for meeting the TMDL. The model also has been used to explore how different trading policies could help to meet TMDL requirements, and as the basis for analyzing policies leading to the nutrient trading guidelines for Chesapeake Bay.

Overall, water quality trading depends on cooperation across the watershed to help achieve faster, less expensive pollutant reductions that improve the Bay’s water quality. It’s a win-win for everybody.

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

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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Bay Website Focuses on Action

By Tom Damm

Click here to view a brochure produced by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee featuring examples of local actions to cut nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution.

There’s a new look to EPA’s Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet” website.

The pollution diet, or Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), was established by EPA in December 2010, based largely on action plans provided by the watershed’s six states and the District of Columbia.

The website now has a greater focus on activities at the local level happening around the 64,000-square-mile Bay watershed to reduce pollution impacting the Bay and its vast network of connecting rivers and streams.

One of the new additions is a brochure produced by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee featuring examples of local actions to cut nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution.

Check out those case studies and the other new items on the site, and let us know what you think.

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

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

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Revitalizing WETropolitan Areas

By Christina Catanese
2011-06-24_UrbanWaters_055

Have you ever wondered why development on edges of rivers so often seems to cut people off from the water, rather than giving them access to it?  In Philadelphia, when I walk across the Walnut Street bridge over the Schuylkill River, I sometimes wonder why rivers, the lifelines of our cities, are often under-utilized as a community resource.

Recently, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and leaders of other federal agencies were in Baltimore to launch the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, an exciting new federal partnership to help surrounding communities reap the environmental, economic and social benefits that living near a water body can provide.

Revitalizing urban waters stimulates local economies by helping businesses, promoting tourism, raising property values, and creating jobs.  Access to safe and attractive urban water resources can also improve the quality of life for people living in urban areas, especially in underserved communities.  The value that urban water resources can provide is enormous, particularly in difficult economic times.

EPA’s role in the partnership will focus on using science and the law to protect and preserve water quality and provide assistance in assessing and addressing the legacy of contamination. Learn more about how EPA is participating in the Urban Waters Partnership.

To begin its efforts, the partnership identified seven pilot locations. Two of these are in the Mid Atlantic Region – the Anacostia Watershed and the Patapsco Watershed – and each has strong restoration efforts underway.

The Anacostia River Watershed is one of the most urbanized watersheds in the country. It’s also home to 43 species of fish, over 200 species of birds, and more than 800,000 people.  Current initiatives in the watershed include planting trees, restoring urban streams, and education and jobs for DC youth.  EPA has been partnering with DC and Maryland to reduce trash in the river with the Anacostia River Trash TMDL (as you’ve heard about in our previous blogs).

If you live or work in an urban area, how do you see urban waterways being utilized…or not?  What’s your vision for how urban waters can play a role in our lives, environment, and economy?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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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Regional Geographic: Mapping Our Waters for Environmental Protection

By Christina Catanese

Recovery Act Funded water projects in PennsylvaniaAt the EPA, we use geography all the time.  We have maps hanging all over the walls of our offices, showing the locations of wastewater facilities, delineations of watersheds, and impaired streams, just to name a few.  Very rarely does a day go by when I don’t use a map of some kind to do my job.  Because EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment requires a good spatial understanding how human populations interact with their environment, mapping and geography are integral to our work.

So, how does the EPA use geography?  Here are just a few highlights:

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (or “stimulus” bill) provided additional funding for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, which are administered by EPA to the Mid-Atlantic States.  These funds are then allocated to local projects like updating aging wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.  Visit the infrastructure  website and click your state on the map on the bottom right side of the page to see maps of Recovery Act-funded projects.  Project locations are flagged on the map with balloons or pins according to the type of project (Clean Water, Drinking Water, projects with a green component) occurring at each location.  This map also includes a short description of each project and the funds allocated to it.  Maybe there is a project going on near you that you didn’t even know about!   You can also visit the EPA Recovery site to see maps with summaries of funding and job creation associated with Recovery Act projects.

As we’ve blogged about in previous posts, EPA is in the process of setting a strict “pollution diet” for the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  Just one look at a map of the Chesapeake Bay will tell you how large this clean-up effort is; the drainage basin of the bay itself is over 64,000 square miles and encompasses at least part of six different states.  A number of public meetings were held to get public comments on the new nutrient standards that are being set for the Bay; to facilitate attendance at these meetings for the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, EPA created a map of meeting locations.  The map has information on dates and times as well as driving directions through Google maps. Click the “Fall 2010 Public Meetings” tab.

“Surf Your Watershed” is a great way to learn about the watershed you live in.  Enter your zip code, and find out what watershed your area is part of and lots of information about it, including how healthy your waters are, maps, citizen groups that are active in the watershed area, and much more.  Surf’s up!

The Enviromapper for Water and Envirofacts have even more information about the waters of the United States.  The clickable and searchable map allows you to zero in on an area of interest and find out about water quality and locations of facilities that discharge into water bodies.

Have you used these environmental mapping resources before?  Can you think of any maps that EPA could provide to help you learn more about your environment and geography? How do you use geography and maps in your life or job?

November 14-20 is National Geography Awareness Week – Freshwater!  Let’s join together in learning about geography to help keep the waters of the Mid-Atlantic region healthy. This blog entry will also be posted as part of National Geographic’s National Geography Awareness Week Blog-a-thon.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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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Chesapeake Bay Road Trip!

Public Meeting Locations

By Christina Catanese

This fall, EPA will travel all around the Chesapeake Bay watershed to hold 18 public meetings to discuss the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), or the strict “pollution diet” to restore the Bay and its network of local rivers, streams and creeks.  After EPA issues the draft TMDL on September 24th, the agency will go on the road for the 45-day public comment period to get your feedback.  So pack some snacks in the car and throw on your favorite driving music, and join in the Chesapeake Bay public meetings road trip!

From the southeastern coast of Virginia all the way up to New York State, citizens in the watershed will have a chance to hear more about the new nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment limits for the watershed.  Starting at the National Zoo in Washington DC on September 29 and ending in Romney, WV in early November, public meetings will be held in each of the six states and D.C. that are part of the Chesapeake Bay’s far-reaching watershed.  One meeting in each state will also be broadcast online via webinar for those unable to attend in person.

Do you live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?  Are you interested in learning about the Bay TMDL and how it will help improve waters in your area as well as the nation’s largest estuary?  EPA wants to hear your suggestions as it seeks to protect human health and the environment by improving water quality in the bay and its vast drainage area.  And check out the Bay TMDL web site (http://www.epa.gov/chesapeakebaytmdl/) for information on how to submit formal comments to EPA on the Bay TMDL.

I’m planning to attend the meeting in Lancaster, PA on October 18…what about you? Visit the Bay TMDL website to find a public meeting near you.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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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Not Quite Trading Cards

How much do you know about the Clean Water Act? Take the Quiz! By Trey Cody

I don’t know about you, but when I think of trading I think of cards, coins, stamps, and other collectable items. I’m here to tell you about a different kind of trading going on in our Mid-Atlantic Region. It’s called water quality trading. You might ask, “How can you trade the quality of your water?” Water quality trading programs are fairly new, and are being implemented throughout the United States under the Clean Water Act. How Water quality trading works is, within a watershed there are sources of pollution (in many cases treatment plants and industrial manufacturing plants). When one source has a greater pollutant reduction need than another, a trade can be made allowing both sources to achieve the best possible water quality goals set for their specific watershed.

In the Mid Atlantic Region, there are currently 4 established trading programs. These are:

  • The Pennsylvania Trading of Nutrient & Sediment Credits
  • The Maryland Nutrient Trading Program
  • The Virginia Chesapeake Bay Nutrient Credit Exchange
  • The West Virginia Potomac Water Quality Bank and Trade Program
  • These programs are put in place to control the pollutants nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.

    What are the benefits of trading?

    1. Cost-effective way to reduce pollution without compromising environmental protection
    2. Faster way to achieve pollutant reductions
    3. Use of trading as a tool may enable a watershed to achieve its water quality goals

    So…What do you think are other potential benefits to such a program being created?

    Learn more about EPA’s policy in their first “how-to” manual on designing and implementing water quality trading programs, or Take the Fact or Fiction Quiz.

    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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    Pick it up please — even if…!

    By Nancy Grundahl

    Is it my imagination or is there more trash hanging around outside these days than there was years ago? I was brought up to pick up any trash I happened upon, even if it wasn’t mine. The theory was that if everyone did, our community would always look wonderful — the “Keep America Beautiful” approach.

    2009 Anacostia Watershed Society's River Trash Cleanup Event!

    2009 Anacostia Watershed Society

    I still try to pick up any litter I see, but often it seems like I’m the only one. I am amazed at how many people at my train station will walk by an advertisement that has fallen out of someone else’s newspaper, a soda can left on a bench, or those plastic straps used to bundle newspapers. And, it would only take a few seconds of their time. Gosh, there are trash cans right there!

    Maybe they don’t understand where that trash can end up. It might be swept away to a nearby stream, affecting the quality of the water. That’s what has been happening in the Anacostia River watershed, part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, 85% of which resides within Maryland and 15% within the District of Columbia.

    Because of all the trash that’s been going into the Anacostia River it was designated as “impaired by trash” in early 2007, only the second river in the United States to receive this dubious recognition. An estimated 600 tons of trash and debris enter the river each year. There are trash cleanup days which really help, but wouldn’t it be better if everyone just took the few seconds every day to pick up the trash they see?

    Is litter a problem in your community? What have you tried that has worked and what hasn’t? Please share your experiences.

    About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” blog.

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

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    An Invitation

    Visit the Chesapeake Bay TMDL website

    Visit the Chesapeake Bay TMDL website

    Are you missing out on the discussion?

    EPA is setting a strict, binding “pollution diet” to restore the Chesapeake Bay and local waters.

    Its impact will stretch from upstate New York to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, affecting six states and the District of Columbia.

    The diet, formally known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, will be established by the end of this year with key milestones between now and then.

    Each month, EPA and a special guest or two are providing online updates on the Bay TMDL via webinar. Hundreds of people are tuning in to each session. It’s easy to connect.

    The next webinar is scheduled for Thursday, July 8 at 10 a.m. In addition to our EPA experts, we will get an update on Delaware’s plan and how the state is moving ahead on a plan to meet reduced pollution levels.

    Do you have other suggestions on how EPA can get the word out about this novel initiative?

    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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    Sticking to a Pollution Diet

    Click to visit the Mid-Atlantic Chesapeake Bay TMDL website

    Map of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

    Bob Koroncai and Rich Batiuk are diet gurus of sorts. It’s not love handles these veteran EPA officials are after. Their target is the excess pounds of nutrients and sediment that are clogging the arteries of the Chesapeake Bay and creating unhealthy conditions for the nation’s largest estuary.
    Like food, nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are good things at the right levels. But the bay and its rivers, streams and creeks are getting far too much of the stuff, choking off oxygen for fish and crabs, and blocking light needed by underwater grasses.
    Koroncai and Batiuk are taking their sweatsuits and whistles throughout the massive Chesapeake Bay watershed to help the states and the District of Columbia do what it takes to shrink their pollution waistlines. But the effort needs your help. There are many ways to lighten up on the nutrients you deliver to your local waters — from driving less to skipping the spring fertilizer. Check out this list of actions you can take to help protect your favorite river or stream.
    Have you taken any of these steps or others? Our EPA dieticians want to know.

    And for the latest information on the effort to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, sign up for our June 7 webinar and visit our website at www.epa.gov/chesapeakebaytmdl.

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

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