Case load brings recognition to EPA lawyer

By Amy Miller

Attorney Jeff Kopf was called to the deputy administrator’s office to talk about cases he had settled with towns or companies who had violated environmental laws. Getting called to the boss’s office is not an every day occurrence for a lawyer in EPA New England’s office, so he wondered why these cases were drawing attention.Kopf

When he arrived at Deb Szaro’s office, Jeff found, rather than a discussion of legal matters, a group of colleagues there to congratulate him. Jeff, now in his 19th year at EPA New England, was being recognized as “Employee of the Month” for his work in settling five separate cases that will ensure cleaner water for communities around New England.

Every month EPA recognizes an employee whose work has made a significant contribution to public health or environmental protection and most recently it was Jeff.

A native of Brookline now living in Newton, Jeff, generally handles cases involving the Clean Water Act. This focus on water is a natural outgrowth of his initial interest in environmental work.

Before joining EPA, he worked at a wildlife rehab center near Seattle, Wash. There he washed sea birds covered in oil from a large oil spill off the coast. He also learned skills related to capturing and caring for injured urban wildlife such as raccoons, opossums and seagulls, and he learned how to track released animals with radio tracking devices, including eagles, black bears and coyotes. Then he went to Boston College Law School with a focus on environmental law.

“I like working with communities to solve big waste water and stormwater infrastructure problems to come up with a solution,” said Jeff, a Brookline native now living in Newton. “I always like those cases that prevent oil spills from getting into the environment.”

In addition to the five enforcement actions Jeff finished under the Clean Water Act, he also oversaw the completion of a sixth case by an honors fellow he mentors. And besides the impressive number of cases he handled in just one recent month, Jeff was lead attorney for a total of 19 Clean Water Act cases finished in the fiscal year (which ended Sept. 30.)

“This incredible level of productivity, and the direct environmental results that he achieved in August alone, deserved recognition,” said Deputy Regional Administrator Deb Szaro

Four of the cases closed recently by Jeff – in Worcester and Halifax, Mass., and in Derby and Bridgeport, Conn., – were with municipalities. Two others – Foster Materials in Henniker, N.H., and Townsend Oil in Georgetown, Mass. – involved companies. The cases for the most part included violations involving illicit discharges, for instance an industry not fully complying with its stormwater permit, not using best management practices or not following spill prevention rules.

The cases include actions in: Worcester, which will address unauthorized discharges to Lake Quinsigamond and the Blackstone River by putting in place a plan to manage stormwater; Bridgeport, Conn., which discharged untreated sewage to the Bridgeport Harbor and Pequannock River, will address sewer overflows; Halifax, which agreed to address violations of its discharge permit at the town’s water treatment plant; Derby, Conn., which has discharged untreated sewage into the Naugatuck and Housatonic Rivers, and will put in place a program to address ongoing sewer overflows; Foster Materials, which has a sand and gravel mine and production facility in Henniker, NH, and pay a $20,000 fine for discharging sediment-laden water into the Contoocook River; and Townsend Oil, which operates a fuel oil bulk plant in Georgetown,., and to pay $30,000 to settle claims it failed to maintain and fully put in place a spill prevention plan.

Jeff acknowledged it is “certainly nice to be recognized,” but noted that enforcement cases involve collaboration, an aspect of his job he particularly values.

“Part of what I enjoy here,” he said, “is working with the technical staff the engineers who helped me put those cases together and helped in settling them.”

More information on how EPA enforces the Clean Water Act (https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/water-enforcement) and how EPA works with companies to avoid oil spills from occurring (https://www.epa.gov/oil-spills-prevention-and-preparedness-regulations)

Amy Miller works in the office of public affairs at EPA New England.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

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Forum Targets Basic Water Needs in Appalachia

by Lori Reynolds

Courtesy: Eric Vance, EPA

Courtesy: Eric Vance, EPA

Big Stone Gap, Virginia is about as far as you can go in EPA’s mid-Atlantic Region.  But it was worth every mile of travel to help communities in Appalachia find ways to pay for badly-needed water and wastewater infrastructure.  The EPA Water Finance Forum was all it was intended to be – and so much more.

The forum held in mid-June was designed as a peer-to-peer type of transfer with panels of local presenters sharing information about funding opportunities, innovative solutions, and success stories.

I was anxious to meet the many people I had spoken to and corresponded with over the prior four months while planning for the forum.

Upon arriving, I was pleasantly greeted by mountains which seemed to rise up at my feet; the beauty of the area is undeniable.  Some from the EPA regional office asked, “Why Appalachia?”  The answer was simple.  Appalachia is a big part of EPA’s mid-Atlantic Region, including Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and all of West Virginia.  And it’s an area where the water and wastewater infrastructure needs are great and the challenges complex (rural area, with low population density, mountainous terrain, difficult geology, and limited water and economic resources).

Courtesy: Eric Vance, EPA

Courtesy: Eric Vance, EPA

Although progress has been made, there are still homes and families in Appalachia that do not have public water and reliable sewage treatment.  Yes, in the year 2016, there are citizens living in the United States of America where raw sewage runs directly into streams.  I can hardly imagine a life without readily available water from the tap and indoor plumbing to flush away waste.

A presenter at the forum complemented the challenges by describing the “mountain ethic” as “see a problem, come together and find a solution,” which put into words what I sensed.  Highlights about the value of water and stories about its impact on the quality of life recalled for me why I dedicated my career to water protection.  I’m excited about the Water Finance Forum marking the beginning of a longer relationship and commitment to help people and communities, who often feel forgotten, not only acquire, but sustain reliable water and wastewater services.

In the coming weeks and months, we will have an opportunity to strengthen the connections we made through the Water Finance Forum.  As one presenter put it, “the work takes commitment, dedication, and a willingness to work hard.”  Since these are the very same qualities demonstrated by the people who proudly call Appalachia home, I’m confident that our investments in the Appalachian Region will succeed.

 

About the Author:  Lori Reynolds works in the region’s Office of Infrastructure and Assistance, which provides funding to states for water and wastewater infrastructure.  She is naturally drawn to water, working in the Water Protection Division, swimming in pools and open water as part of a Master’s swim team, and as an Aquarius.

 

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Go With the Flow—Green Infrastructure in Your Neighborhood

By Chris Kloss

Ten years ago, we didn’t see much green infrastructure for water resources around our neighborhoods. It was more of a novelty than a focused approach to sustainable development and construction. A few cities started using and experimenting with green infrastructure techniques such as rain gardens, permeable pavement, and bioswales which are landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water. The green was a complement to the gray infrastructure, the established system of underground tunnels and sewers. Together, green and gray infrastructure provided a holistic approach to manage stormwater for cleaner water.

Tools, Strategies and Lessons Learned from EPA Green Infrastructure Assistance Projects booklet coverAs the word spread about the early successes of these communities, a growing cadre of public works pioneers joined the movement to apply its principles and techniques to managing their water resources. EPA joined in their discussions, providing support to these pioneers through our technical assistance program. Today, EPA is releasing a summary report of the results from this program that we hope leads to even greater growth in green infrastructure.

Tools, Strategies and Lessons Learned from EPA Green Infrastructure Assistance Projects 

Many of the green infrastructure thinking and practices we see today are not new. Gardens, rain barrels and permeable pavement were standard practices for harnessing and managing water hundreds of years ago. They were old-time technology that let water do what it naturally does —seep back into the earth where it can flow back naturally to streams and rivers, replenish groundwater, or be absorbed by plants and trees.

Communities are now relearning these techniques, and green infrastructure is working for communities across the urban spectrum, from smaller cities like Clarksville, Georgia to midsized, midwestern cities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin and large metropolitan regions like Los Angeles, California.

The summary document outlines how these and other community green infrastructure projects are successful. It also highlights benefits, offering examples for city managers to think creatively about how they can design their communities for better health, abundant water resources and improved quality of life.

We can all be part of better design for our communities. It just takes a different way of looking at things. When I’m out with my kids, I talk about how when it rains the water runs off streets, parking lots and other hard surfaces and flows down the stormwater drains into the sewer systems where it can’t be used for anything else. Now armed with the information, they’re always on the lookout for the missed opportunities in our neighborhood for letting the water go where it wants to, where it can do the most good for the watershed where they live.

I hope this report contributes to a movement where green infrastructure becomes standard practice. Every time we set out to design or build, repair or remodel our water systems let’s remember to think green infrastructure and let water do what it naturally does.

Learn more at www.epa.gov/greeninfrastructure and check out the 2016 Green Infrastructure Webcast Series for in-depth presentations throughout the year.

About the Author: Chris Kloss is Acting Chief of the Municipal Branch in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. The branch oversees the wet-weather permitting programs (stormwater, combined sewer systems, and sanitary sewer systems) and the green infrastructure program. Chris has nearly 20 years of experience in the clean water field including time in the private and nonprofit sectors prior to joining EPA.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

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 views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.