Watershed

Raise a Glass in Celebration of Lakes Awareness Month

By John Martin

Fishing on Lake Gleneida in Putnam County, New York. Lake Gleneida is a source of drinking water for New York City. (Photo courtesy of New York City Department of Environmental Protection.)

Fishing on Lake Gleneida in Putnam County, New York. Lake Gleneida is a source of drinking water for New York City. (Photo courtesy of New York City Department of Environmental Protection.)

Have you ever swallowed lake water? If you’ve spent any time in New York City, the answer to that question is most likely yes.

The city gets a lot of attention for its rivers and many miles of ocean beaches, but not many people notice the hundreds of lakes that dot the five boroughs and their surroundings. This really is surprising, considering the important role our lakes play as areas of recreation and as a source of drinking water. Yes, you heard that correctly – New York City gets a good part of its drinking water from lakes.

Many lakes in New York’s Putnam County are part of the New York City watershed system. In addition to being used by locals for boating and fishing, water from Lake Gleneida, Lake Gilead and Kirk Lake is used to supply some of the city’s 19 upstate reservoirs. Water from these city-owned reservoirs – which usually requires no filtering due to its high quality – is piped into the five boroughs every day, supplying the millions of people who live and work here with clean, healthy drinking water around the clock.

July is Lakes Awareness Month, making this a perfect time to reflect on all the wonderful recreational opportunities our lakes provide, and the critical role they play in keeping New York City running. As we enjoy and use these treasured resources, it’s important to keep in mind that the water we may be boating or fishing in over the weekend could be the same water that ends up in your water bottle or coffee cup when you’re back home during the week.

For some pointers on how you can help protect our lakes, check out EPA’s clean lakes webpage: http://water.epa.gov/type/lakes/

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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Re-connecting the Two Hearted River

A six-year effort has now been completed—using funds from EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and other sources—to re-connect 35 miles of the Two Hearted River. As a result, this waterway is now one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the Great Lakes.

Though the Two Hearted is the only designated wilderness river in the state, that doesn’t mean the watershed hasn’t been beaten up, much of its bruising from sweeping white pine clear-cutting decades ago. More recently, stream crossings over culverts have collapsed, creating jams and resulting in sediment pouring into the waterway. The stream then fractured, with spawning beds smothering from siltation.

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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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EPA: Protecting Water: A Precious, Limited Resource

Summer is when many families head to our oceans, lakes, and streams to fish, swim, and enjoy our nation’s waters—bringing water quality and safety to the top of our minds. EPA has a critical mission to make sure our nation’s water resources are safe for drinking, for recreation, and for aquatic life.

Earlier this summer, I asked EPA employees to share the innovative work they’re doing to protect our nation’s water resources. I’d like to share some of their great stories with you.
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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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Tool Saves Millions of Dollars After Wildfire

By Marguerite Huber

Wildfire conflagration on forested hillsides

Wildfire seasons are getting longer and burning more acres. Photo by USDA Forest Service.

Fueled by drought, disease, and suburban sprawl, wildfire seasons are getting longer and burning more acres of land. Last August, the Elk Complex wildfire burned more than 130,000 acres east of Boise, Idaho. Nearly 75% of the burned area had high to moderate burn severity, threatening the ecosystem and the region’s water. Substantial fires have already flared up this summer around San Diego, California, and Flagstaff, Arizona.

Once a fire is about 80% contained, scientists and other experts from the Department of the Interior’s National Interagency Burn Area Emergency Response (BAER) team can go into the region and help develop emergency stabilization plans. They are aided by a resource—the Automated Geospatial Watershed Assessment (AGWA) tool—developed by researchers from EPA, the Agricultural Research Service (part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture), and the University of Arizona.

Originally developed as a computer model for use managing and analyzing water quantity and quality, fire recovery teams are now tapping it to identify potential threats to people, wildlife, and the land from post-fire flooding and erosion.

Watershed managers use AGWA to identify and assess downstream impacts and risks from increased flooding and erosion resulting from fire-related changes to habitats and soils. The tool can also be used to target restoration efforts, such as where to apply mulch and seed with native plant stock, to reduce such downstream risks.

“AGWA is a good example of a science product developed between two leading federal research agencies with mutual interest,” said EPA research ecologist William Kepner. “The tool provides a practical application with immediate benefits.”

For the Elk Complex wildfire, the BAER team estimates it saved approximately $7,000,000 to $8,000,000 by using AGWA to target 2,000 acres for treatment instead of the initial 16,000 acres identified through more traditional methods.

“AGWA is able to help the team develop a stabilization plan where post-wildfire impacts pose immediate and significant threats to people and property,” Kepner adds.

Additionally, the emergency response team has successfully used the tool for post-fire watershed assessments following fires in Arizona, New Mexico, California, Idaho, and Washington. More than 8,000 users, spanning six continents, 163 countries, and 4,903 cities, have registered to use the Automated Geospatial Watershed Assessment tool .

The AGWA tool has been included as an ecosystem services analysis tool in the new EPA EnviroAtlas, and can be downloaded here. It provides an important resource for meeting the challenge of longer, more destructive wildfire seasons.

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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Seeing EPA funds helping the Mississippi River

Last month, as part of the Hypoxia Task Force Meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas, I visited a farm in the Mississippi River Delta area, and more specifically in the Critical Groundwater Area of the Bayou Meto Watershed.  I am honored to co-chair the Hypoxia Task Force and meet with my fellow members throughout the Basin, and these personal visits with the people managing the land in the Basin are always a highlight.

Acting Assistant Administrator Nancy Stoner meets with farmers in Arkansas.

Acting Assistant Administrator Nancy Stoner meets with farmers in Arkansas.

We know that nonpoint source nutrient pollution from fertilizers in the Mississippi River Basin is the most significant threat to water quality in the region and to the Gulf of Mexico. The Arkansas Discovery Farms Program helps many stakeholders make informed decisions about the sustainable future of their farms.  I am delighted to note that the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission has provided EPA Nonpoint Source Program Section 319 funds to the Arkansas Discovery Farm Program – this is just one example of these funds supporting local watershed work across the country.  During my visit, Drs. Mike Daniels and Andrew Sharpley of the University of Arkansas described the Arkansas Discovery Farms Program and how they work with eight participating farms in Arkansas. More

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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Refreshing…

The Enviroscape model

The Enviroscape model

By Amelia Jackson

In celebration of Earth Day this year, I had the opportunity to visit Mrs. Mulloy and Ms. Jackson’s 5th grade science class at Union Valley Elementary School in Sicklerville, NJ. (Yes, student teacher Jackson is my soon to be college grad-but that’s another blog). During the year, the class has been visited by many parents discussing their careers, to demonstrate why it’s important to study English, Math, Science, Social Studies, etc. and provide a glimpse into a day in the life of an adult.

The discussion began with what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is, why it was formed, what we do and the various categories of careers that are needed to make it all work. I also engaged the services of the current Gloucester County Watershed Ambassador, Morgyn Ellis, who eagerly demonstrated the concepts of point and non-point source pollution in a watershed. To 5th graders, a lecture on this would seem boring, but they got to be hands on as Morgyn used Enviroscape, which is a 3D model town, complete with a residential area, factory, farm, park/golf course, roads, creeks, streams and a river. The kids used colored water and various candy pieces to represent different types of pollution, and made it ‘rain’ with a water spray bottle. They got the biggest kick out of using chocolate ice cream sprinkles to simulate various animal’s waste (remember they are 11 years old!) and to see where it all actually winds up after a storm.

I was impressed with the level of knowledge and environmental awareness the children possessed. They knew about aquifers, groundwater uses, watersheds, organic farming, ecosystems and how their actions affect the communities in which they live and play. They offered suggestions on what they and their families could do each day, including reduce, re-use, and recycle to assist in protecting our planet.

I was reminded of the eagerness and the ‘I can do anything’ attitude that is the very core of an 11 year old, and found it contagious. If you can, spend some time with kids and talk to them about our environment and what we do each day at work.  You too, will find it refreshing.

About the Author: Amelia Jackson serves as the Superfund Support Team Leader in the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center. Amelia holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Rutgers University. Amelia’s career spans 26+ years with EPA in support of the regional Superfund Program in the areas of quality assurance, field sampling and laboratory analysis.

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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Take Cover! (With Vegetation)

By Marguerite Huberbuffer

Take cover!

It’s a phrase you yell to protect against something headed your way. But did you ever think that phrase could be applied to pollutants? Well, it can – vegetative cover acts as a defense against non-point source (NPS) pollutants, protecting our lakes, streams, and water bodies.

Vegetative filter strips and riparian buffers  are conservation practices that help control the amount of sediment and chemicals that are transported from agricultural fields into water bodies. They slow down the speed of runoff and capture nutrients, keep more nutrient-rich topsoil on farmers’ fields, and reduces impacts on downstream ecosystems.

To improve water quality in large watersheds, conservation managers need to know what the problems are, where the pollutants originate, and what conservation practices work best.  However, investigating all of these factors at the watershed-wide level is a very difficult and complex task. This is why EPA is working with partners to supplement an existing watershed simulation model to estimate the efficiency of riparian buffers.

USDA’s watershed simulation model, Annualized Agricultural Non-Point Source Pollution (AnnAGNPS), is used to evaluate the effect of farming and conservation practices on pollutants and help decide where to put these practices.  AnnAGNPS also predicts the origin and tracks the movement of water, sediment, and chemicals to any location in the watershed.

To supplement this model, researchers from EPA, USDA, and Middle Tennessee State University developed a Geographic Information Systems–based technology that estimates the efficiency of buffers in reducing sediment loads at a watershed scale.

With the addition of this AGNPS Buffer Utility Feature  technology to the USDA model, researchers and watershed conservation managers can evaluate the placement of riparian buffers, track pollution loads to their source, and assess water quality and ecosystem services improvements across their watersheds.

Riparian buffers and other vegetative cover, such as filter strips, are considered an important, effective, and efficient conservation practice that has been shown to protect ecosystem services at a local level. However, their full impact on a watershed-scale is still subject to ongoing research.

 

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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Helping Cleveland Communities

By Marguerite Huber

Vacant lot with dug out section for a rain garden; rest of the area covered with straw to prevent erosion.

Turning a vacant lot into a rain garden.

EPA researchers are turning vacant lots in Cleveland, Ohio into field research sites for exploring the effectiveness of tapping green infrastructure (GI) techniques for reducing stormwater runoff and improving local waterways.

Over the last few years, the research has focused on the feasibility of re-using land left vacant after home demolition to answer questions such as: does the lot have soil that can absorb excess stormwater runoff? Can it provide ecosystem services? And how does the re-use of the lot benefit the local community?

To find out, the researchers initially looked at tree cover, the amount of rubble left after demolition, and ease of water movement on the lot. The cost of preparing the lot for re-use was dependant on the type and quality of demolition.

This research then paved the way for additional projects where EPA researchers have been studying stormwater management through GI installations, such as rain gardens and bioswales, in the vacant lots of Cleveland’s Historic Slavic Village neighborhood.

An ORISE fellow working on the project, Olivia Green, says “green infrastructure allows us to invest in natural capital and nature’s ability to absorb and redistribute stormwater. If we tap into natural capital and ecosystem services, we could manage stormwater to a high degree of quality for potentially less cost.”

Green and her colleagues are gathering baseline hydrologic and ecosystem services data. They will then use this data to collaborate with the neighborhood on a plan to use GI elements throughout the community. With continual monitoring, researchers can estimate the impact of GI implementation and identify where modifications need to be made.

Through the research, scientists hope to find a way to reduce stormwater volume, increase habitats for bees and other pollinators, and increase ecosystem services. But the data is starting to show that local streams and watersheds aren’t the only elements reaping the rewards. Reductions in violent crime and increasing property values have been recorded in the same neighborhoods where green space has replaced former abandoned, unattractive lots.

“We may create a culture that is more connected with the environment in the long term,” Green explains. The results of the research will not just benefit the residents of Cleveland, but could ultimately benefit communities everywhere, inducing a national culture that is more in tune with our environment.

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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A High-Tech Approach to Watershed Management

By Marguerite Huber

Close-up-of-waterfallTechnology amazes me.  It seems like every day new technologies are being developed, and we are suddenly able to do things faster and easier.  And I am not just talking about the latest smartphone or app, but a new tool created by EPA scientists, too!

EPA researchers studying green infrastructure (using vegetation, soil, and other naturalistic techniques to reduce stormwater runoff) collaborated with colleagues in the Agency’s New England office (EPA Region 1) to develop a new public-domain software app called the Watershed Management Optimization Support Tool (WMOST).

The goal of the tool is to help water resource managers and planners identify cost effective, sustainable green infrastructure options for their local jurisdictions. After users enter information about their watershed, water utility infrastructure and constraints related to management objectives, the tool will identify the optimal (lowest cost) long-term solution.

EPA scientist Naomi Detenbeck, who has been working on the tool for the past two years, describes WMOST as “a user-friendly tool that allows communities to meet their water use needs in the most cost effective manner.” It can even be used to evaluate land use and climate change scenarios!

WMOST can easily evaluate more than twenty potential management practices and goals related to water supply, such as surface water storage and non-potable water reuse. The tool requires some specific community inputs such as watershed characteristics and management goals. With this information, WMOST can simply calculate the optimal solution.

Local water resources managers, such as municipal water works managers and consultants, can use WMOST to evaluate projects related to stormwater, water supply, wastewater and more.  At this time, it is designed for small watersheds, single communities, or multiple communities within a small watershed.

Detenbeck explains that WMOST will help communities complete a more comprehensive evaluation of watershed management issues. It will also allow communities to look holistically across their stormwater, wastewater, and drinking water programs.

Some of our favorite technologies, such as our smartphone or tablet, provide us with instant gratification and updates. On the other hand, technologies like WMOST are more focused on the long run. Results may not be instantaneous, but in time they will provide a meaningful environmental impact that all of us will get to benefit from.

The WMOST download can be found here.

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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Protecting the Chesapeake Bay

By Lina Younes

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to visit several sites in Maryland and Virginia along the Chesapeake Bay. I marveled at the beauty of this important watershed. Did you know that the Chesapeake Bay watershed covers six states and Washington, DC? In fact, it’s the largest estuary on the U.S. mainland.

Even if you don’t live along the coast, did you know that what you do at home, at school, at work or in your community affects the water quality and well-being of this important ecosystem? So, what can you do to protect the bay or your local watershed? Here are some tips:

  •  Use water wisely. Start by turning off the faucet when brushing your teeth or shaving. Also, take shorter showers instead of baths. Make sure that you have a full load of laundry or dishes before using the washer and/or dishwasher. Repair leaking faucets and toilets.
  • If you like gardening, plant native plants. They require less water and nutrients and are more resistant to pests.
  • As part of your next landscaping project, consider planting a rain garden. It’s a great way to reduce water runoff.
  • Keep your car in shape to avoid oil leaks, which contaminate water. If you change your car’s oil yourself, take the used oil to a service station for recycling. Did you know that used oil from one oil change can contaminate one million gallons of fresh water?
  • Use greener cleaning products with the Design for the Environment (DfE) label. They’re safer, they protect our water and they’re better for the environment as a whole.
  • Get involved in your community to increase awareness of water quality. Participate in a stream or park cleanup activity.
  • Pick up after your dog. Don’t let his waste pollute our water.

If you’re still doubtful of the link between your activities and water conservation, I recommend you watch this video so you can be part of the solution.

What did you think? Do you have any suggestions? We would love to hear from you.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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