Water Quality

Be Prepared at the Beach

by Denise Hakowski

Be prepared at the beach with BEACON. Photo credit:    Robert (Gene) E. Shaner,  DNREC.  

Be prepared at the beach with BEACON.
Photo credit:
Robert (Gene) E. Shaner, DNREC.

My beach-loving husband lives by the Boy Scout motto “be prepared.”  On our trips to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, he is always the first one out the door in the morning.  He wheels his well-packed cart to the beach, finds the perfect spot and starts to set up:  two blue and green beach umbrellas, four sand chairs, sunscreen, a cooler, a beach blanket and hand sanitizer. He even checks in with the lifeguards when they arrive for the report on rip currents. Finally, he texts us back at the house (where we are all likely still asleep) with his location and the beach report,  and settles in with his book for the day.

But, before he even puts on his bathing suit, leaves the house, and slaps on his sunscreen, he checks EPA’s beach tool, BEACON.   EPA’s BEACON (Beach Advisory and Closing Online Notification) is a national database that contains links to monitoring data and notifications of beach closures or other water quality issues reported by states, territories, and tribes. BEACON shows how often beaches are monitored, and has the ability to easily map the location of over 6,000 beaches covered by the BEACH Act, and their related water quality monitoring stations.

This is a great tool for my husband, because the only thing that makes him happier than a day at the beach is being prepared!

 

About the author: Denise Hakowski is the Beach Program coordinator in the region’s Office of Standards, Assessment and TMDLs.  In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, at the beach and elsewhere.

 

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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Fun on the Urban Waterfronts

by Virginia Thompson

Spruce Street Harbor Park. Photo credit: Matt Stanley/Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

Spruce Street Harbor Park, Philadelphia,  PA                                 Photo credit: Matt Stanley/Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

Just in time for summer fun and relaxation, the Delaware River in Philadelphia is again the setting for a unique riverside attraction.  Spruce Street Harbor Park, a pop-up park near the city’s historic area, reflects the attraction that rivers and water—even in an urban setting—hold for us.  The paradise-like park, in its second summer, boasts a somewhat tropical theme with hammocks, large board games, gourmet food, floating gardens with native plants, a planted meadow, and a boardwalk with even more attractions.  Visitors can hang over the river in suspended nets, dip toes in the fountains, rent kayaks and swan boats, or sail remote-controlled sailboats.  There will even be a giant “rubber” duck, weighing 11 tons and standing 6 stories high, as part of the Tall Ships Philadelphia Camden festival, scheduled for late June.

That the park is such a popular attraction and respite for residents and visitors alike serves as a testament to the success of the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA).  The CWA established pollution control programs and water quality standards, and requires permits to discharge pollutants into rivers and streams.  Prior to the CWA, the Delaware River, like many urban rivers, failed to meet the Act’s goals of “fishable and swimmable.”  Fortunately, there are encouraging signs that the river is on the rebound.

Another popular urban park experience in Philadelphia is offered on the banks of the Schuylkill River, which now boasts a trail for thousands of walkers, bikers, and skaters.  The trail includes a segment leading from Center City to the Philadelphia Art Museum and Fairmount Water Works, even extending to Valley Forge National Historical Park and beyond.

The enthusiasm for these urban water-related recreational experiences demonstrates the value we all place on clean water.  Look for me hanging out in one of the Spruce Street Harbor Park hammocks!

 

About the Author:  Virginia Thompson has worked at EPA for nearly 29 years and enjoys gardening, swimming, and biking in her spare time.

 

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 Big Step for Clean Water

by Tom Damm

View of the Schuylkill River into Philadelphia

View of the Schuylkill River into Philadelphia

A few times a week, I take a lunchtime walk along the nearby Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, keeping a pace somewhere between those out for a stroll and others who seem like they’re late for an appointment.

Though I often think about what’s on my work plate when I get back to the office or my dinner plate when I get home, I do take the time to look out on the Schuylkill and consider the efforts of EPA and its partners to make the river cleaner.

Last week, the river and its sister waterways around the country got another lift – this time from the new Clean Water Rule finalized by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers.  In their recent blog, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy highlighted a number of reasons we need the new rule.

We need clean water upstream to have healthy communities downstream. The Clean Water Rule protects streams and wetlands that form the foundation of our nation’s water resources. They feed the rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal waters that our health and economy depend on – rivers like the Schuylkill, a source of drinking water for 1.5 million people.

One of every three Americans get their drinking water from streams lacking clear protection from pollution – the Clean Water Rule changes that.

The rule helps clear up confusion caused by two Supreme Court cases about what waters are – and are not – protected under the Clean Water Act.  Drafters of the rule relied on the latest science and extensive public input.

The EPA and Army Corps leaders noted the benefits of the rule in countering the impacts of climate change, supporting the economy and agriculture, and protecting public health.

Something more to consider as I dodge the mid-day cyclists and joggers along the Schuylkill.

 

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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Water Wednesday: “Mommy, Where Does It Go When I Flush?”

By Chrislyn Johnson

Last spring, when I was potty training my 3-year-old, he asked me where it goes after we flush the toilet. I thought about this before I answered him, because I have often overwhelmed the poor child with my answers. He once asked me “What is water?” and I told him it was two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.

For most people, it is enough to be told that when you flush the toilet, it goes to the sewage treatment plant. Since I worked in wastewater regulation for a little while, I know it goes far beyond that, and I have trouble answering this seemingly simple question with a simple answer.

Once it goes down the drain, the water travels through a sometimes aging, sometimes modern, infrastructure of pipes to a wastewater treatment plant. Treatment options vary, from open lagoons to all-inclusive mechanical plants, all with the same goal: to treat sewage so it can be released into the environment. Many modern facilities do this with an “activated sludge” process that uses bacteria to naturally break down the waste.

As it enters the plant, the solids are separated out by a grit screen and settling basins. Heavier solids like plastics, eggshells, and intact items are settled out and removed; then taken to the landfill. The next step is the primary clarifier, where the sewage moves slowly along so heavier particles and sludge can settle out. At the same time, grease and oils dumped down the drain float to the top and are skimmed off the surface.

After the clarifier, the water is moved to the main part of the treatment: the aeration basin. Bacteria feast on the nutrients to break down the sewage and remove chemicals in the wastewater as it bubbles and roils with oxygen. Depending on the plant, an additional tank is sometimes added to help remove nitrogen. Since the treated water goes back into rivers and streams, this additional step is helpful in removing nitrogen before it can cause problems. Nitrogen can cause algal blooms that not only can be toxic, but also consume a lot of oxygen during decomposition, which kills the fish.

Following the aeration and nitrogen removal processes, the water then flows into a secondary clarifier. Water trickles out from weirs at the top of the large, circular tanks of the clarifier. The water is disinfected, either by chemical means (such as chlorination, similar to bleach), or through newer alternatives like ultraviolet (UV) lights. Once disinfected, the treated water is released into a nearby river or stream.

Whereas the water treatment is nearly finished in the secondary clarifier, the sludge often has a few more steps to completion. The bacteria slowly settle to the bottom of the clarifier into what is called the sludge blanket. Some of the sludge blanket from the clarifier is recycled and added back into the incoming wastewater to begin the treatment reaction in the aeration basin. Depending on the type of plant, the remainder of the sludge travels to the digesters for either aerobic or anaerobic digestion (where the bacteria eat each other).

Aerobic digestion uses oxygen to further break down the sludge. It is nearly odorless, but also costly since the process has to be manually oxygenated. The other common alternative is anaerobic digestion, which is not so odorless since it produces methane. However, the methane can be captured and used to generate electricity to operate the plant. The waste heat from the generators even can be used to keep the anaerobic digesters at the correct operating temperature. After leaving the digesters, water is removed from the sludge, which can then be disposed of or used as a soil conditioner. With clean water going back to the stream or river, and sludge going back to the earth, the cycle is complete.

I thought about this intricate series of steps that mimics the breakdown processes wastes would undergo in nature, given sufficient time and space. I thought about how fortunate we are to live in a country where water quality is a high priority, and we can make a daily difference to protect our local waterways (see graphic below).

I also thought about my son’s level of understanding, as he impatiently asked me again, “Where it go?” With all of this in mind, I looked down at my innocent little boy and told him, “It goes to the sewage treatment plant, honey.”

Click image to see larger version.

Click image to see larger version.

About the Author: Chrislyn Johnson is a Life Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. She holds degrees in biology and photography from the University of Central Missouri and loves all things nature. She also enjoys access to flush toilets.

Sources:
Scientific American
U.S. Census Bureau
World Health Organization

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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America’s Heartland Depends on Clean Water

By Mark Hague

The Heartland thrives on clean water, a resource we must both conserve and protect. Agricultural interests, public health officials, recreational small businesses, and all the rest of us rely on clean water for our lives and livelihoods. While EPA oversees the protection of water quality under the Clean Water Act passed in 1972, every Heartlander understands its value to our daily lives.

Mark Hague

Mark Hague

During the past 43 years, EPA, the states, and local partners have worked tirelessly to clean up once polluted rivers and streams. While we’ve come a long way and dealt with the biggest issues, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have worked together to solve what remains through a new Clean Water Rule.

This new rule will help us further ensure clean waters are available to everyone here in the Heartland and downstream. The rule more clearly protects the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of our nation’s water resources.

In developing the rule, we held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country and reviewed more than one million public comments.

One of our most important challenges is protecting those smaller tributaries and wetlands that are a part of the vast interconnected system of some of our big rivers, like the Missouri and Mississippi. Our small waters are often out of sight, yet still serve an integral role in ensuring clean water for all Americans and our environment.

We rely on these smaller wetlands to provide uptake of nutrients, moderate flow in times of flooding, and serve as important habitat for species that spawn or rely on larger bodies of water, like the Missouri River.

Agriculture relies on clean water for livestock, crops, and irrigation. With the Clean Water Rule, EPA provides greater clarity and certainty to farmers and does not add economic burden on agriculture.

There is no doubt our water quality has improved. As a community and an agency, we must continue to protect both large and small tributaries. Clean water is a powerful economic driver affecting manufacturing, farming, tourism, recreation, and energy production. In fact, people who fish, hunt, and watch wildlife as a hobby spent $144.7 billion in 2011. That’s equal to one percent of the gross domestic product. The fact is, we rely on the flow of clean water to provide for this economic engine.

Finally, we all rely on the healthy ecosystems in these upstream waters to provide us with quiet, natural places to fish, boat, swim, and enjoy the outdoors. Hunters and anglers enjoy pristine places, and fishing rod makers and boat builders enjoy more business. And, of course, when drinking water is cleaner, people are healthier. We all win!

The Clean Water Rule will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Learn more at www.epa.gov/cleanwaterrule.

About the Author: Mark Hague serves as the Acting EPA Region 7 Administrator. He is responsible for overseeing the overall operations within the region and the implementation of federal environmental rules and regulations, and serves as a liaison with the public, elected officials, organizations, and others. Mark has 35 years of experience with EPA.

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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Environmental Education is for Everyone….

By Wendy Dew

As the Outreach and Education Coordinator for Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, North Dakota, and Sound Dakota, I’ve attended and hosted many environmental education events for numerous students. I love spending time with the kids and teachers while they learn about the environment. I recently encountered a program unlike others I’ve seen before. The students of this amazing program are senior citizens who are interested in learning more about the environment and the local park they love.

The Senior Naturalist Program at Bear Creek Lake Park in Morrison, Colorado has started reaching out to its senior community to continue learning about the world around them. I recently attended one of these environmental education sessions and was enthralled with the enthusiasm and interest these students of the environment had.

Seniors learned all about the watershed and the water quality of the park they enjoy so much. A guest speaker from the local water board demonstrated how water testing equipment is used and explained how the local tributaries feed the parks lakes and streams. He also explained what they can do at home to help conserve and protect water resources such as:

  • Turn the water off when you brush your teeth or wash your dishes
  • Water the yard only when it needs it
  • Wash your car at a green car wash
  • Use plants that are native to the area for landscaping
  • Use only the water that you need

Seniors got to observe fish, snails, and insects that are typically found year round in the local lakes, wetlands and streams. They also played a game where participants had to guess what the object they were holding had to do with wetlands. After more fun classroom activities, the group went out for a hike to examine the watershed first hand.

I was very inspired by the dedication these folks had to learning, the park and the environment. It provides for a great learning environment, creates a fun social interaction and they even get in exercise with a hike. I have seen many “young” students learn about the environment, but these students were truly young at heart!

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for EPA’s Region 8 Office (Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, North Dakota, and Sound Dakota).

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

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Celebrating the 45th Earth Day

by Jennie Saxe

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was held as a national “teach-in” on environmental issues. That day, rallies and conferences were held across the country to get Americans engaged in environmental protection. For a look at the first Earth Day rallies in Philadelphia, check out the history and videos compiled by the Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia, including footage from news reports on the first Earth Week.

As we celebrate the 45th Earth Day, staff in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office are participating in many events that honor the environmental education focus of the day. Even though the Healthy Waters blog is all about water, our Earth Day outreach featured much, much more!

Last Saturday, dozens of EPA employees took advantage of the beautiful weather to lace up their sneakers for the Clean Air Council’s Run for Clean Air. This race, beginning near the iconic steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, follows the Schuylkill River – a source of drinking water for the City of Philadelphia – for much of its route.

EPA staff shared information on sustainability at the Philadelphia Phillies' Red Goes Green game.

EPA staff shared information on sustainability at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Red Goes Green game.

Yesterday, EPA celebrated Earth Day all across the region. Employees shared tips to protect the environment with rail commuters at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, with students at the National Constitution Center, with sports fans at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Red Goes Green game, and with everyone working and living at Fort Meade in Maryland.

EPA educated students on native plants and more at the National Constitution Center's Earth Day event.

EPA educated students on native plants and more at the National Constitution Center’s Earth Day event.

But wait…the week isn’t over yet! Look for EPA at Temple-Ambler’s EarthFest on Friday, April 24, and at Core Creek Park for the Bucks County Earth Day celebration on Saturday, April 25.

In case EPA’s Earth Day outreach didn’t make it to your neighborhood this year, check out these links for a “virtual Earth Day” experience:

  • Save water and money with WaterSense labeled products
  • Protect local waterways by disposing of expired medication properly
  • Use less water in your landscaping by planting species native to the mid-Atlantic – they’re easy to grow and create habitat for birds and butterflies
  • Keep pollution out of our streams by using green infrastructure to soak up rainwater in your yard

Earth Day doesn’t have to come just once a year! Let us know how you plan to make #EarthDayEveryDay.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. For Earth Day, she’s installing rain barrels to slow the flow of rainwater across her yard.

 

 

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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From Farmers to Kayakers, Clean Water the Topic of the Day

by Tom Damm

 

June 12, 2014 16th Annual River Sojourn,  Valley Forge National Historical Park, PA

June 12, 2014
16th Annual River Sojourn,
Valley Forge National Historical Park, PA

It was a busy day for the nation’s highest ranking water official and our EPA Regional Administrator on June 12 as they participated in a series of activities to bring attention to and clear up misconceptions about an important clean water proposal.

The day for EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Water Nancy Stoner began with a radio show broadcast live on two NPR stations in central Pennsylvania. Nancy fielded questions from Smart Talk host Scott Lamar for a half hour on a rule designed to clarify protections under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands that form the foundation of our nation’s waters.

You can hear it here.

The proposed Waters of the U.S. rule was also the topic as Nancy was joined by Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin at the Berks County Agricultural Center in Leesport, PA for a two-hour roundtable discussion with farmers and other members of the agriculture industry.

As part of a productive dialogue, Nancy and Shawn explained that the proposed rule preserves existing Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agricultural activities and has additional benefits for the farming community.

Then it was on to Valley Forge National Historical Park for a rendezvous with dozens of kayakers, anglers and others participating in the 16th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn.

The sojourners had arrived for lunch at the park on Day 6 of their trip down the Schuylkill – named the 2014 River of the Year in Pennsylvania.

There was some intermittent light rain as the river enthusiasts gathered on benches under rows of overhangs to eat some food and gain some unexpected attention from the Philadelphia media gathered to hear the EPA officials. Nancy told the assembled group that, “The question today is what can we do to make sure that we are leaving behind waters that are useable, waters that are safe to drink, waters that are safe to swim in, to kayak in, to eat fish from.”

By clarifying the scope of the Clean Water Act, Nancy said, “We can make the system work a lot better, more efficiently, more cost effectively, and ensure that those stream systems are protected for the future.”

After the talk, the kayakers headed back to the river’s edge, ready to begin their next leg on the sojourn and hoping to beat the heavier rain expected later in the day.  Nancy and Shawn stayed a while longer to talk to others interested in the clean water rule.

The public comment period for the rule has been extended to October 20, 2014.

 

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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One Man’s Trash…

Trash often ends up in our waterways, as it does in this location at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, PA.

Trash often ends up in our waterways, as it does in this location at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, PA.

by Sherilyn Morgan

One man’s trash is not necessarily another man’s treasure, especially when it ends up on your lawn, in a neighboring stream or ultimately in our rivers and oceans. 

I was taking a walk in my neighborhood when I noticed plastic bags dancing with the wind, a confetti of cigarette butts and a mosaic of plastic bottles on the sidewalk.   I have certainly seen trash in other neighborhoods, but usually not mine, and usually not this much.  Although it seems almost normal to see trash in some areas, these issues can affect any community because trash travels.  Trash is a local problem that transitions into a global issue.

Single-use items, like plastic bottles, straws, cans and food wrappers, are all on the list of top ten items found as trash. Consider bottled water: it’s convenient, but the bottles and caps often end up as trash. Although not in the “trash top ten”, balloons, which often wind up as trash that ends up in storm drains and nearby creeks, and on our coastlines,  can have detrimental impacts on marine life. Think about when a balloon is released at a party…where does it go? If it deflates and lands where it was released, maybe someone would pick it up and dispose of it properly. But because trash does tend to travel, that deflated balloon may be destined for a waterway where turtles and other aquatic animals can confuse it with food.

With simple, proactive practices, you can keep your neighborhood clean and eliminate single-use plastic products that show up as pollution in aquatic habitats. For example, wouldn’t it be better to have a reusable bottle that you pay for once and simply refill?  I regularly carry a refillable bottle and carry reusable bags wherever I go.  I did not always do this because it certainly takes practice, but now I feel personally responsible with a sense of pride when I say “no” to plastic. And you can do the same! Since most trash in our waterways actually begins on land, we have the power to prevent it and control the impacts.

Though there are many opportunities to support local volunteer cleanups, the most effective option is prevention.  Remember to dispose of trash properly. Ditch those plastic bags at local stores with plastic collection bins and start using sturdy, reusable bags and recycled and recyclable plastic bottles.  EPA’s Trash Free Waters website is a one-stop shop on how to prevent marine pollution. The Marine Debris Prevention Toolkit has outreach materials that you can use to help curb pollution in your neighborhood. Tell us in the comments about ways you have reduced trash, and helped prevent water pollution, in your community.

About the author: Sherilyn Morgan is an Environmental Scientist with EPA’s Oceans and Dredge Disposal Program that focuses on the protection of coastal and ocean environments including the elimination of trash from waterways.  She enjoys gardening and participating in restoration opportunities that include the care and maintenance of native plants.

 

 

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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Protecting drinking water is a team effort

Pike Creek, which once had steep, eroded banks, is now restored with willow trees along the edges.

Pike Creek, which once had steep, eroded banks, is now restored with willow trees along the edges.

by Andrea Bennett

In spring time, I always look forward to seeing the flowers blooming, baseball season beginning, and celebrating National Drinking Water Week. Just like in baseball, protecting sources of drinking water takes a team effort. Teams win when all the players work together.

I like to kayak and bird on the White Clay Creek, which runs through Pennsylvania and Delaware, in the Christina River Basin. In addition to being a great place for recreation, this creek provides sources of drinking water to over 500,000 people in 3 states. It’s critical that streams like the White Clay Creek and its watershed are protected; one in three Americans get their water from public systems that rely on seasonal, rain dependent, or headwater streams.

Public agencies, private organizations, and local volunteer groups all work together to protect the waterways by planting shrubs and trees along stream banks to hold soil in place. Reducing the dirt that washes into a stream during a storm keeps the bottom of the creek cleaner so insects in the water can thrive and provide food for fish. Less sediment in the water also makes it easier for drinking water treatment plants to treat the water.

Municipalities, like the Borough of Avondale, Pennsylvania (near the headwater tributaries of White Clay Creek) are also part of the team. One way the Borough protects its water resources is by applying “Dump No Waste – Drains to Stream” notifications on stormwater inlets.

Nonprofit agencies are not sitting on the bench either.  The William Penn Foundation provides funds to the Water Resources Agency of the University of Delaware (UDWRA) and Stroud Water Research Center to plant trees along the small tributaries to White Clay Creek, partnering with the White Clay Creek Steering Committee.

In the Christina River Basin, state agencies such as Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection partner with federal agencies like EPA to help pull together the “game plan” to protect and improve water quality.

Together, the team is working toward the same goal: ensuring that your water is clean and healthy. This week is a particularly good time to celebrate this team effort: National Drinking Water Week (May 4-10) is a great time to learn about your local drinking water source and ways that you can also be a team player in protecting waterways in your community.

About the Author: Andrea Bennett is a biologist with EPA.  Prior to joining EPA, she conducted ornithological research and produced films. Andrea enjoys birding, kayaking and playing the mandolin and is a member of her local watershed protection team – the Lower Merion Conservancy.

 

 

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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