Wastewater

Partnering with States to Cut Nutrient Pollution

By Joel Beauvais

Nutrient pollution remains one of America’s most widespread and costly environmental and public health challenges, threatening the prosperity and quality of life of communities across the nation. Over the last 50 years, the amount of excess nitrogen and phosphorus in our waterways has steadily increased, impacting water quality, feeding harmful algal blooms, and affecting drinking water sources. From the Lake Erie algae blooms to the Gulf of Mexico dead zone, nutrient pollution is impacting every corner of our country and economy.

In 2011, EPA urged a renewed emphasis on partnering with the states and key stakeholders to accelerate the reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution through state nutrient load reduction frameworks that included taking action in priority watersheds while developing long-term measures to require nutrient reductions from both point and non-point sources. Many states and communities have stepped up and taken action, supported with EPA financial and technical assistance. States have worked with partners to reduce excess nutrients and achieve state water quality standards in over 60 waterways, leaving nearly 80,000 acres of lakes and ponds and more than 900 miles of rivers and streams cleaner and healthier. And, in the Chesapeake Bay region, more than 470 wastewater treatment plants have reduced their discharges of nitrogen by 57 percent and phosphorus discharges by 75 percent.

We’ve made good progress but this growing challenge demands all hands on deck nationwide. Recent events such as the algae bloom in the St. Lucie Estuary in Florida and high nitrate levels in drinking water in Ohio and Wisconsin tell us we need to do more and do it now.

That’s why I signed a memorandum that asks states to intensify their efforts on making sustained progress on reducing nutrient pollution. EPA will continue to support states with financial and technical assistance as they work with their local agricultural community, watershed protection groups, water utilities, landowners, and municipalities to develop nutrient reduction strategies tailored to their unique set of challenges and opportunities.  Partnerships with USDA and the private sector – for example the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and more efficient fertilizer use on sensitive lands such as in the Maumee River basin in Ohio – are yielding more rapid nutrient reductions in areas most susceptible to the effects of nutrient pollution. Private sector partnerships that engage the power of the food supply chain, such as the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, hold much promise too.  Innovative permitting solutions are driving improvements.  For example, Boise, Idaho’s wastewater treatment plant permit that allows them to meet their nutrient limits in part by treating and reducing phosphorus in agricultural return flow in the nearby Dixie Drain at less cost to the taxpayers.  These examples and others show us that states, in cooperation with federal agencies and the private sector, can drive nutrient reduction actions.

To help states make further immediate progress, this year EPA will provide an additional $600,000 of support for states and tribal nutrient reduction projects that promise near-term, measurable nutrient load reductions.  This assistance will focus on public health threats from nitrate pollution in drinking water sources and harmful algal blooms in recreational waters and reservoirs.

With continued collaboration and partnership, I am confident we will make greater and quicker progress on achieving significant and measurable near-term reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.  In turn, we will support a more vibrant economy and improve public health for all.

Read more about EPA efforts to reduce nutrient pollution.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Get Ready! Help Your Water Utility Prepare for An Emergency

By Nushat Thomas, REHS

Can you imagine your life without water?  Probably not because you know you need water to survive. You probably also recognize the importance of making sure that the water you drink is safe, and that without sanitation services, public health in communities would decline at a rapid pace due to increased disease. However, you may not be as familiar with the utilities in your community that deliver clean drinking water to your home and treat the wastewater that goes down your drains. You also may not know that our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure is aging rapidly and at risk to many types of natural and man-made hazards.

As part of National Preparedness Month, today we are stopping to “Imagine A Day without Water.” EPA and water utilities across the country are taking the time today and throughout the month to prepare the types of emergencies that may challenge their ability to deliver safe drinking water and sanitation to their communities.

There are plenty of ways individuals like you or me can help prepare for an water-related emergency too. Here are few easy ways you can get involved:

Find your utility provider’s emergency response number. Know who to call if you are experiencing an interruption in service; keep the number handy along with the contact information of your other utilities.

Store water ahead of an emergency. If you have an emergency kit in your home, make sure that you inventory your emergency water supply. Each person in your household should have at least three gallons of water for use during an emergency—and don’t forget to change the water every few months.

Protect your local water sources. Support watershed protection projects, dispose of trash and animal waste appropriately, and never dump into storm drains. If you see someone doing something strange near any water infrastructure (like fire hydrants, water towers, or restricted access areas), contact your local authorities immediately.

EPA develops tools and resources to help your water and wastewater utilities prepare for all hazards. If you represent a water utility, check out our free resources at https://www.epa.gov/waterresilience. Whether you want to assess risks, conduct training, plan for emergencies, connect with your community, or adapt to climate change impacts, we have something for you. You will also find stories from other utilities who have taken steps to prepare for natural and man-made emergencies.

Don’t wait. Take action today!

About the author: Nushat Thomas has been with EPA since 2009 and serves as the Team Leader for the Active and Effective Team within EPA’s Water Security 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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A Rural Alaskan Native Village’s Journey for Safe Drinking Water

By Joel Beauvais

Here, Joel Beauvais peeks into the settling chamber of the package water treatment system

Here, Joel Beauvais peeks into the settling chamber of the package water treatment system

I recently returned from a work trip to Alaska, where I met with colleagues from EPA’s Alaska Operations Office and Alaska’s Department of Conservation to discuss a variety of water-related  issues and tour a few facilities, communities, and projects. I expected to be to be wowed by the good work Alaskans are doing to protect their waters while strengthening their communities, but what I didn’t expect was to be so moved by one native village’s journey to provide their families with in-home piped water and sewer lines for the first time.

Kwethluk is one of Alaska’s oldest, rural, and remote villages. It’s located in southwest Alaska and accessible only by air or water. Most in the nearly 800-person community still practice a subsistence lifestyle, relying on the nearby and bountiful Kwethluk River. Due to the surrounding challenging environment and perceived high costs to construct, operate, and maintain a drinking water and wastewater system, the village did not have access to community water and wastewater infrastructure. Villagers self-hauled potable water to their homes from a central distribution point and disposed of human waste in open buckets that were transferred in collection containers to a lagoon outside of town. These conditions presented not only quality of life issues but health and safety risks, too. Exposure to life-threatening bacteria and parasites spills was common and contamination quickly spread throughout the community by rain and airborne dust.

Kwethluk was the perfect candidate for EPA’s Alaska Native Village (ANV) program funding. Since 1996, the ANV program has distributed nearly $520 million in funds for sustainable and affordable in-home water and sanitation services in 240 Alaskan native villages and 60 non-native underserved communities. Funds are used for the planning, design, construction and/or repair of new or improved water and wastewater systems.

In 2009 EPA’s ANV program, in cooperation with U.S. Department of Agriculture, the State of Alaska, and the Indian Health Service, initiated the funding for the construction for Kwethluk’s first-ever drinking water and wastewater community facilities as well as the plumbing to every Kwethluk home.

Construction of sewer collection piping in the Kwethluk, Alaska community.

Construction of sewer collection piping in the Kwethluk, Alaska community.

After years of studying, planning, and hard work, today, more than 150 Kwethluk families are experiencing their first warm showers and flushing toilets in their bathrooms and clean, safe drinking water from their kitchen faucets. My EPA and Alaskan state colleagues gave me a tour of the community where I got to see the final phases of this monumental effort.

I also got to see the community’s new sewage disposal lagoon, water treatment plant, and a huge,318,000-gallon water storage tank, which were also built with support from the ANV program.

Here is an image of the inside workings of the Kwethluk water treatment plant.

Here is an image of the inside workings of the Kwethluk water treatment plant.

The heart of any arctic or subarctic water system like the one in Kwethluk is the water treatment plant.  Not only does the water treatment plant treat the water from the Kwethluk River to meet EPA drinking water standards, the water treatment plant also heats and circulates the water throughout town so the water mains do not freeze. This circulation requires twice as many water mains as a conventional system as well as additional heat, which substantially increases operational costs. To help reduce costs, the Kwethluk water treatment plant is exploring the use of an innovative remote monitoring system that would send automatic alerts via wireless system to the local maintenance employee of imminent issues such as freezing pipes, water quality problems, or excessive energy use. These alerts help prevent costly maintenance fixes that require labor and materials to be flown in, offset the plant’s technical and management support costs, as well as could ensure high quality drinking water.

While it was moving to learn about Kwethluk’s long journey to have its first in-home water and sewer access, there are still over 35  communities in Alaska that don’t have access to a safe, modern drinking water and sanitation system—which is unacceptable. EPA remains committed more than ever to working with our state, federal, local, and tribal partners to ensure that every American, no matter where they live, has access to safe drinking water and modern wastewater management where and when they need it.

 

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Investing in America’s Water Infrastructure – Answering the “How to Pay?” Question

By Jim Gebhardt, CFA

Clean and reliable water is critical for life and, as our Administrator recently said, “needs to be available to everyone—no matter what part of the country you live, no matter how much money you make, and no matter the color of your skin.” Yet, despite the notion of water as an inalienable right and that most Americans value well-run drinking water and wastewater delivery systems, communities across the country continue to struggle with setting up adequate and sustainable revenue structures required to support needed infrastructure investment and system management.

That’s why we launched our Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center last year to explore leading-edge solutions to funding and revenue challenges, and identify and support best practices.

As I blogged about earlier, EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund has provided more than $141 billion in low-interest loans to state and local water infrastructure projects since 1987. Today these state-run programs operate with almost $60 billion in program equity that will continue to be available to support sustainable lending programs.

Looking ahead, we see lots of opportunities for states to support market-based solutions that address stormwater mitigation challenges, source water protection, on-site wastewater management, and marketplaces for nutrient pollution credit trading. It’s also encouraging to see some states exploring how their triple-A credit rating can be used to guarantee debt and provide additional credit access to stimulate these kind of water quality investments.

But we aren’t stopping there.

We’re looking at emerging and promising finance mechanisms that address water quality and quantity challenges such as Pay for Success, Pay for Performance, green bonds, energy and water performance contracting, water quality trading, and conservation financing strategies.

We’re researching procurement and funding strategies associated with public-private and public-public partnerships in the water sector.

We’re working with the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina to develop public-private and public-public project (P3) profiles and an evaluation tool to help local officials determine if there is value in pursuing P3 opportunities in their community.

We’re busy developing a water finance information clearinghouse. The first portal will provide up to date information on stormwater management frameworks, funding and revenue solutions. We plan to launch the portal this fall.

No matter where you live, we are here to help. We also invite you to attend one of our upcoming engagement opportunities:

EPA Twitter Chat: On July 27 at 2 pm EST EPA experts will be answering your water infrastructure finance questions. Direct your questions to @EPAwater and use the hashtag #WaterFinance.

Environmental Financial Advisory Board meeting: On August 9 and 10 the Environmental Financial Advisory Board will meet in Denver, Colorado, to discuss ideas and advice to provide EPA on ways to lower the costs of and increase investments in environmental and public health protection.

Regional Finance Forums: EPA’s Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center will continue hosting regional forums across the country to bring together communities with water infrastructure financing needs to network, hear local success stories from peers, and have an opportunity to meet key regional funding and technical assistance contacts. Check out our website for upcoming dates and locations.

About the author: Jim Gebhardt is the director for EPA’s Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center. The Center identifies financing approaches for public health and environmental goals by providing financial expertise to help communities make better-informed decisions about drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure.

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

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The Time to Invest in America’s Water Infrastructure is Now

By Jim Gebhardt, CFA

Communities across the country are facing the immediate challenges of aging and inadequate drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Most of our country’s underground water infrastructure was built 50 or more years ago, and in some older cities, water mains are a century old. The implications of deteriorating infrastructure can be felt nationwide— each year our country experiences about 240,000 water main breaks, $2.6 billion is lost as our water mains leak trillions of gallons of treated drinking water, and billions of gallons of raw sewage are discharged into local surface waters from aging sewer overflows.

Despite significant federal, state, and local expenditures, infrastructure investment has fallen short. Further, the cumulative investment gap is expected to widen substantially over the next 20 years with federal investments occupying a smaller space. EPA’s Clean Watershed Needs Survey and Drinking Water Needs Survey show that over $655 billion dollars in water infrastructure is needed over the next 20 years to keep pace with projected investment needs.

Over the years EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund have both been very successful at addressing important water quality and public health needs of communities across the country. With these funds we have supported state and local water infrastructure investment that provides essential services and reduces pollution in our waterways.

While our state revolving funds have been highly successful, there are still too many communities facing infrastructure challenges caused by inadequate revenue and investment.

That’s why in 2015 we launched EPA’s Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center to identify and promote best management practices that can help local leaders to make informed decisions for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure that are consistent with local needs. The Center promotes the effective use of federal funds, identifies new approaches for procuring infrastructure services and capital investment for local and state governments, and employs strategies that can better serve small and lower income communities.

To explore the unique funding and financing challenges of these communities, EPA will be hosting a national convening on July 19 in Washington, DC, where state, local, and federal leaders will share best practices in coordinating funding and showcase innovative local financing solutions. I’m confident that the robust representation of states, utilities, NGOs, academics, and others will produce meaningful and productive conversations and solutions. Watch for a blog that details the conversations and next steps from the event.

The time to act is now.

About the author: Jim Gebhardt is the Director for EPA’s Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center. The Center identifies financing approaches for public health and environmental goals by providing financial expertise to help communities make better-informed decisions about drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure.

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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Colleagues See Wastewater “Eggs” up Close

By Amy Miller

When my corner of EPA New England – the Public Affairs office – went on a retreat last week, we took our meeting to the great beyond. Instead of meeting in a generic conference room in our office, a dozen or two of my closest colleagues and I went out to the world that gives our work meaning.

EPA staff tour the Deer Island Wastewater Plant in Winthrop, Mass.

EPA staff tour the Deer Island Wastewater Plant in Winthrop, Mass.

To be specific, we met at the Giant Eggs. Most anyone who flies in or out of Logan Airport knows about these huge white containers, a dozen eggs sitting on the edge of the Boston Harbor on Deer Island off of the Town of Winthrop. On a clear day, you can’t miss the sight of these ovals reaching 130 feet high.

What jet passengers may not know is that these containers are filled with human and industrial waste. Each day the Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant accepts an average of 360 million gallons of wastewater from homes and businesses in 43 cities and towns. This facility, run by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, makes sure our sewage is separated enough, filtered enough, treated enough and clean enough to safely enter the Boston’s waters.

To accomplish this, the plant first removes grit, then treats and retreats the wastes, which are separated by gravity into liquids and solids. The effluent is filtered, scum removed from sludge, treated with chemicals and digested using microorganisms, much the way a stomach digests food. Treated solids are sent through a tunnel to Quincy so it can be turned into fertilizer. Water that has been cleaned many times over is sent 10 miles out to sea and discharged through 50 different pipes. And methane released in the digestion process is used to heat the facility.

In welcoming us to the plant, Executive Director Fred Laskey acknowledged there is still work to be done. But he was proud of the tremendous results the plant has seen. Largely because of $3.8 billion invested in Deer Island in the last several decades, the cleanup of Boston Harbor is a national environmental success story. Plant Director Dave Duest eagerly invited us to tour the plant, which sits on 210 acres that includes walking five miles of walking trails, views of the ocean and parkland.

Stqff of EPA New England check out the view from the top of the giant eggs at Deer Island.

Staff of EPA New England check out the view from the top of the giant eggs at Deer Island.

The best part of the tour is what it lacked – any odor. We were grateful for the chance to climb to the top of the eggs, and also pass by two disinfection basins, each about 500 feet long with a capacity of 4 million gallons – and never smell a thing, thanks to the scrubbers and carbon absorbers that remove the smells. In the basins, the treated effluent is mixed with sodium hypochlorite and then finally, sodium bisulfite to de-chlorinate the water to protect marine organisms. After disinfection and dechlorination, the liquid is ready to be discharged.

Deer Island is actually a national park. Folks there welcome visitors and proudly show off their odor-free operations, which by the way are not visible from the nearby residential community of Winthrop.

So it’s not just EPA folks that are welcomed on Deer Island. Tours are offered, by reservation on Tuesdays and Fridays by calling (617) 660-7607.

http://www.mwra.state.ma.us/03sewer/html/sewditp.htm

Boston Harbor cleanup: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIN1S5mJoCQ

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Amy Miller, who is in the Office Of Public Affairs of EPA New England, edits this 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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EPA and Muscatine, Iowa, Work Together Toward Green Development

By Marc Kingston

Muscatine meeting

EPA employees and contractors, along with community members, discuss green solutions for Muscatine at the April workshop

Muscatine, Iowa, is one of 51 communities across the country selected to participate in EPA’s Making a Visible Difference in Communities program, which focuses on building partnerships with community stakeholders to improve public health and the environment.

I worked with EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities and the city of Muscatine to arrange a Green and Complete Street Workshop in April 2016. Jonathan Smith, engineering manager of Tetra Tech’s stormwater services, served as facilitator.

We started with a tour to identify areas of Muscatine that are ripe for green development and sustainable practices. After the tour, we met with members of the community and city leaders who were interested in learning about green solutions, such as diverting rainwater from entering the sewers and allowing more of it to soak into the ground where it can provide moisture for plants.

Muscatine meeting

Jonathan Smith, Tetra Tech (EPA contractor), speaks with Muscatine community members

A number of technologies are available to reduce the impact of rainwater runoff. These include permeable pavement that allows precipitation to soak through into the ground, rain gardens, rain barrels, green roofs, and other green landscape features. New curb bump-outs were also discussed at the meeting. They help channel rainwater into rain gardens, where water collects and soaks into the ground.

The community is considering implementation of green infrastructure practices based on concepts provided during the workshop. EPA and the city realize that green infrastructure in the public right-of-ways will help divert rainwater from the sewers and help prevent sewer overflows.

Muscatine meeting

Muscatine community members share ideas with EPA employees and contractors

Another goal of the workshop is to create a more sustainable, pedestrian-friendly environment along the Mississippi Drive Corridor and other transportation corridors in Muscatine.

Together, we want to change the way rainwater is managed, make downtown Muscatine more beautiful, send less polluted runoff to neighbors downstream, and use less energy to treat water at the wastewater treatment plant.

The environmental projects in Muscatine will truly make a visible difference in the lives of Muscatine residents. And I look forward to continuing my work with the community, which complements the city’s interest in green solutions.

About the Author: Marc Kingston serves as a Making a Visible Difference facilitator at EPA Region 7. He also serves as a grant management specialist in the Region’s Office of Policy and Management. Marc has a degree in environmental studies from the University of Kansas.

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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Thinking About What’s Under Our Feet

by Valerie Breznicky

They’re out of sight, often out of mind, and increasingly, out of time.

In many cases, the drinking water and sewer lines that run beneath us have aged beyond their useful life.  And when these lines crack and leak, serious public health issues can occur from contaminants entering our drinking water systems, as well as raw sewage infiltrating ground water and surface water supplies.

Just days ago, we marked National Infrastructure Week.  It was an opportunity to highlight the value that well-maintained infrastructure can bring to our economy, our jobs and public health and safety.  It was also a chance to share information on how specific gaps in our infrastructure matter to all of us – from lost water to sewer overflows.

Photo credit: Eric Vance, EPA

Photo credit: Eric Vance, EPA

Fortunately in our office, we manage the region’s EPA Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF), working with our states to finance fixes for some of those leaky and creaky lines.

Here are just a few examples:

With a $784,576 loan from the CWSRF in the State of Delaware this year, Cape Henlopen State Park will be able to use Cured-in-Place Pipe Relining to fix cracked sewer lines.

West Providence Township in Everett, Pennsylvania, is using a $5 million CWSRF loan to replace 35,000 linear feet of existing terra cotta sewer pipe (which has cracked and disconnected), replacing it with new Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) collection lines.  This will prevent high flows to the treatment plant which has caused overflow of diluted sewage during wet weather events.

By using $34,000 in DWSRF grant money in Virginia, the Virginia Rural Water Association was able to purchase leak detection equipment to aid small water authorities in locating physical leaks in drinking water distribution lines, saving the communities money and precious clean water.

As our drinking water and wastewater pipelines increasingly show their wear, investing in the next generation of infrastructure makes sense, not only from a public health perspective, but from an economic standpoint as well.  While there is a cost to making these investments, we need to me mindful that access to clean, safe water is essential to all of us, and investing in clean water today will save us all money over the long run.

 

About the Author: Valerie is an EPA environmental scientist and one of the Region III Sustainable Infrastructure (SI) Coordinators.  She has more than 31 years of experience managing infrastructure grants and has spent over seven years as an SI Coordinator, ensuring the sustainability of our water and wastewater infrastructure through information sharing and the integration of SI principles in all state programs.

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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Water for Emergencies: Bigger Solutions than Bottled Water

By Lauren Wisniewski

It is easy to take our drinking water and wastewater services for granted.  Most, if not all, of us have lost electricity in our homes, but I can recall only one time when I turned on my faucet and I had no tap water. That time was in November 2010, just a day after coming home from the hospital after giving birth to my twin daughters.

I panicked. I sent my husband down to the basement to get our emergency supply of bottled water, which I bought soon after I started working on water infrastructure resilience and emergency preparedness. Those bottles were long expired. I was ready to send him to the store to buy bottled water (which may not be an option in a wide-scale event). Thankfully, my sister quickly determined that our outage was due to water main repairs on our street and the county utility workers soon had our water working again.

Though our water outage was brief, it highlighted the importance of preparedness both at the personal and utility level. In our home, my family now stores an ample emergency  supply water in our basement as part of our emergency supplies, and I make sure to replace it before it expires. In our community, I know that my county is prepared for power outages, too. It has stand-by emergency generators or transfer switches to connect readily to a portable generator at its water pumping stations and has enough fuel to power its generators for several days. To find out more about building power resilience at your water utility, check out the Power Resilience Guide for Drinking Water and Wastewater Utilities, which provides tips, case studies, and short videos to help ensure your vital water services continue even during power outages.

The last few years, I have combined my passion for emergency preparedness and knowledge of water utilities to focus on increasing power resilience at drinking water and wastewater utilities across the country.  Check out EPA’s Power to Keep Water Moving video that highlights the importance of power resilience at water utilities.

About the author: Lauren Wisniewski has worked as an environmental engineer in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Office of Water, since 2002.  Her efforts have been directed towards power resilience at water utilities, Multi-Sector Infrastructure Protection, Climate Ready Water Utilities, Active and Effective Security, Water Quality Standards, and watershed modeling.  Her work involves coordination between drinking water and wastewater utilities and state, local, and federal agencies.  Lauren has a Bachelor’s of Science in Engineering (BSE), summa cum laude, in Civil Engineering from Duke University and a Masters of Public Health (MPH) from George Washington University.

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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South Korea and the Heartland Connected by World Wide Water

By Jeffery RobichaudSouth Korea Meeting photo 1

Here in Kansas, we are the EPA Regional Office that is farthest from an international border. But surprisingly, we still get our own share of out-of-town visitors.

In August 2015, scientists from our Drinking Water Program and Environmental Science and Technology Division sat down with five South Korean representatives from Kunsan National University, the National Institute of Environmental Research, the Korea Environment Corporation, and the country’s Ministry of the Environment. Dr. JeJung Lee, who is our partner in the very cool KCWaterBug, helped arrange the visit and assisted with translations where necessary.

South Korea Meeting Photo 2

What was truly fascinating, yet I suppose not altogether surprising, were the issues we talked about. This group of scientists from across the Pacific wanted to learn more about how our Agency protects and regulates groundwater in the United States. They also met with staff at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the University of Kansas, and the U.S. Geological Survey. As it turns out, many of the issues they grapple with are, in fact, the same ones we deal with here in the Heartland.

We first talked about nitrate pollution. Here in the United States, nitrate is regulated in drinking water at public water systems, with a maximum contaminant level of 10 parts per million, which is rarely exceeded.

South Korea has many more private wells in urban areas, while nearly all individuals in metropolitan settings within the United States get their water from regulated public water systems with protected water sources. We learned that sampling at residential homes is difficult for them to accomplish, because homeowners are afraid of losing the ability to use the water or are fearful that they will be required to pay for treatment.

On the remediation (hazardous waste cleanup) side, our visitors were interested in chlorinated solvents and the concerns and risks associated with the vapor intrusion pathway at sites with volatile organic compounds. A specific area of interest was methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive that used to be prevalent in the United States, and its associated vapor intrusion concerns and risks.

On this day, EPA did most of the talking. It would have been nice to have had the time to hear more about how South Korea regulates groundwater nationally, South Korea Meeting Photo 3especially private water well use and construction standards, as well as their experiences with water treatment processes and techniques for drinking water and wastewater. Unfortunately, they had a busy schedule and were sprinting over to the University of Kansas to meet with professors, before moving on to Tennessee to meet with staff from the U.S. Geological Survey.

We will just have to wait for another visit. As you can see in the photo, even with the language differences, we managed to share some laughs!

About the Author: 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. Jeff’s journeys across the Pacific have always stopped just halfway across, and he hopes to someday cross the International Dateline and visit friends in the Far East.

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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