wetlands

Taking Back the Beachhead

By Cameron Davis

Part of what makes our cities and towns around the Great Lakes so important is our beaches. During the seasonable months—and even in the not-so-seasonable months, when a growing cadre of surfers shred the waves —big cities like Chicago get tens of millions of visits to their lakefronts. Great Lakes towns have some of the best beaches in the world…some with legendary “singing sands” (sand that makes noise when it is walked on), fresh water that doesn’t burn your eyes, and of course, no sharks or stinging jellyfish. Just ask organizations like the Great Lakes Beach Association that work to keep our beaches great.

But, from time to time, swimming advisories go into effect because of high pathogen levels. Nearby runoff drains, parking lots, and attractions for birds and wildlife (leftover picnics, overflowing garbage from trash cans, intentional wildlife feeding, wastewater overflows, the list goes on…) result in microbial pollution that can turn a day at the beach from a blast to a bummer.

This week in Sandusky, Ohio, I joined U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur and several mayors to announce more than $2 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding to protect beaches and shoreline areas by using green infrastructure. That is the use of nature—green roofs, wetlands, rain gardens, bioswales and other plants to capture polluted runoff—to protect and improve nearby water quality.

As  Dave Ullrich, executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative said at the time of the announcement, “Cities all along the Great Lakes are working hard to connect with the water in ways that are good for the Lakes and good for the quality of life and economic well-being of the people who live there.  These investments are yet another example of how the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is making a huge difference on the shores and in the Lakes.”

These projects won’t rescue all the beaches around the Great Lakes in every way. However, little by little, thanks to the GLRI—the largest Great Lakes-only investment in ecosystem health in U.S. history—the beachhead assaults we experience will be about fewer swimming advisories and instead, result in cleaner water for recreation.

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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The Grand Calumet River – Fighting its Way Back to Life

The Grand Calumet River – Fighting its Way Back to Life

By Cameron Davis

Growing up, my family and I used to drive over the I-90 “Skyway” to Pennsylvania during spring breaks. As acute as my memories are of piling into the back of our yellow Chevrolet Caprice station wagon (complete with fake exterior wood paneling), I also remember my brother, sister and I holding our noses as we reached the Skyway bridge venturing into Northwest Indiana’s airspace. We drove by the sluggish Grand Calumet River, whose flow was then infamous for being comprised mostly of wastewater from nearby manufacturing plants. The river was virtually lifeless.

 

Four decades later, and after even more time of dogged work by legislative, civic and agency leaders, the Grand Cal is fighting to make a comeback. And there are signs it’s winning the fight for its own survival.

Four years ago, on June 11, 2012, we celebrated the completion work at one of the river’s most visible assets: Roxana Marsh.

“Roxana Marsh has become a special place for local schoolchildren, both as an outdoor laboratory and as a peaceful natural area,” said Caitie Nigrelli of IL-IN Sea Grant, who helped rally local community involvement for the site.

A combination of efforts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Indiana Department of Natural Resources and Indiana Department of Environmental Management had contributed some $52 million—including funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Natural Resources Damage Assessment process—to revive the area in and around Roxana Marsh. The revival involved removing upwards of 730,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment. It also involved replacing invasive, cattail-like Phragmites, with native plantings in some 25 acres of wetlands along 2 ½ miles of the Grand Cal River.

Two months ago, while driving to Kentucky for spring break, I pointed out the area to my own son and daughter. Today, a very different Roxana Marsh can be seen from the highway: budding instead of battered, alive instead of lifeless, “green,” as my kids said early this year, instead of “gross!” as my brother, sister and I uttered four decades ago.

 

 

 

 

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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May is American Wetlands Month: What We’re Doing to Protect America’s Wetlands

By Joel Beauvais

May is American Wetlands Month and a time to celebrate the importance of our nation’s wetlands. Healthy wetlands reduce water pollution, buffer communities from severe and costly impacts from floods, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. Our economy also benefits from many recreational opportunities that wetlands offer along with goods that come from wetlands.

Earlier this month, we released the country’s first-ever national assessment of the ecological health of our nation’s wetlands. With support from our state, tribal, and federal partners, we were able to send over 50 field crews to survey 1,138 wetlands across the nation to collect data on plants, soil, water chemistry, and algae.

The report found that about half of our wetlands are in good condition, with 32 percent in poor condition.  Nationally, the top sources of stress for wetlands come from vegetation removal through actions like mowing and forest clearing, soil compaction for paths and roads, and intrusion of non-native plants.

The report’s state-of-the-art, high-quality wetland science has advanced our understanding of these dynamic and extremely important ecosystems that were once actively removed throughout much of the U.S. With new insight, we are in a better position to work with our state partners to more effectively manage, protect, and restore some of those wetlands that have been lost.

It’s exciting to see that others are finding this environmental data useful, too. The Association of State Wetland Managers is using the report’s monitoring methods to evaluate wetland restoration projects in North Carolina and Ohio.  EPA’s Office of Air is using the collected soil carbon data to better estimate carbon sequestration in coastal wetlands and marshes. And, states and tribes are reaching out to us to develop complementary monitoring tools, analytical approaches, and data management technology to further their wetland protection and restoration programs.

The sampling work for the next report is already underway. It will be interesting to see new trends emerge that show that progress we are making to improve the condition of our nations’ wetlands.

EPA is also launching the National Wetland Condition Assessment Campus Research Challenge to encourage graduate students to identify and use the data to address one or more key and innovative questions and hypotheses on water quality, wetland health, or wetland ecology.

In addition to advancing the science, EPA is working with partners to address wetland protection and restoration in the U.S. Some of the ways include:

  • Overseeing dredge and fill permit decisions to ensure permits are based on science and policy, as well as developing tools for improving the management of aquatic resource protections.
  • Working with states and tribes directly and through the Association of State Wetland Mangers to bolster the ability of states and tribes to manage, regulate and protect wetlands within their state and tribal lands.
  • Working with other federal agencies on national programs to map, assess, manage and restore wetland resources on federal lands and to help private landowners be informed stewards of their wetland resources.
  • Continuing to lead the Interagency Coastal Wetlands Workgroup on new tools, strategies, and information for protecting and restoring wetlands in coastal watersheds.

I hope you all take some time during American Wetlands Month to read our assessment and then get out to experience a wetland first-hand.

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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Learn, Explore and Take Action During American Wetlands Month!

By Cynthia Cassel

May marks the 26th anniversary of American Wetlands Month, a time when EPA and our wetland partners across the country celebrate the vital importance of wetlands to our ecological, economic, and social health. EPA and a host of other public and private partners planned a number of events as part of this year’s celebration. Here are a few highlights:

Migratory Bird Day

water and birdsOn May 14, International Migratory Bird Day celebrated its 24th anniversary with events hosted at hundreds of sites throughout the Western Hemisphere, reaching hundreds of thousands of youth and adults.

As part of the 24th anniversary celebrations, the theme “Spread Your Wings for Bird Conservation” highlighted the importance of international efforts to conserve birds through the RAMSAR Convention, which protects wetlands on a global level and the many ways we, as citizens, can take action to ensure that these protections remain in place. Wetlands serve as important bird habitats for breeding, nesting, feeding and other needs.

One of these lovely spring weekends here in the Heartland, pack up the kids and take a short driving trip to Cheyenne Bottoms in Stafford County, Kan., or Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Reno County, Kan., to actually view, enjoy and learn about these winged wonders in our very own Wetlands of National Importance.

Wetlands Trivia

Hardwood SwampsTo celebrate American Wetlands Month, the Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) is posting Wetland Trivia to its Facebook page Monday-Friday throughout May. Fun little tidbits include trivia quizzes, interesting and unusual facts about wetlands, wetland photo quizzes, and great ideas for ways you can celebrate American Wetlands Month at work and at home. To join the fun, visit the ASWM Facebook page.

And for a real adventure in wonderment, please explore these very special wetlands:

Nebraska Sandhills Wetlands

The Sandhills of Nebraska are contiguous sand dunes that cover just over one quarter of the state. The area lies above the Ogallala Aquifer which stretches from South Dakota to Texas. The freshwater wetlands of the Sandhills are vital for collecting rainwater, snowmelt and runoff that recharges the aquifer, and they also provide vital habitat for countless waterfowl and shorebirds, including endangered Whooping Cranes.

Flowering plants in Iowa wetlandThis wetland system ranges from small shallow marshes to large deep lakes, and from forests to prairie to aquatic vegetation.

Alkaline (or saline) lakes form in basins where there is little rain. Flowing water dissolves minerals (salts) from the rocks and soil, and this salt-laden runoff collects low in the basin, forming a lake. Water in the lake evaporates, but the salts stay behind. Over time, the salts build up and create an alkaline lake. Salt flats and lakes are unique in that little vegetation grows there, yet these wetlands are a popular stopover for many migratory birds.

For More Information

About the Author: Cynthia Cassel has worked as a Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) Program grantee with EPA Region 7’s Wetlands and Streams Protection Team for 6½ years. She received her Bachelor of Science from Park University. Cynthia lives in Overland Park, Kan.

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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Why I Love Wetlands

by Carol Petrow

Forested wetland Photo credit: Carol Petrow, EPA

Forested wetland
Photo credit: Carol Petrow, EPA

May is American Wetlands Month which makes it a perfect time to talk about a passion of mine. Wetlands are the vital link between land and water.  What is not to love about them?

EPA proclaims that “Wetlands are natural wonderlands of great value.”  My sentiments exactly! They provide important benefits to people and the environment by regulating water levels within watersheds, reducing flood and storm damage, improving water quality, providing important fish and wildlife habitat, and supporting educational and recreational activities.

To protect and restore our nation’s wetlands, EPA partners with other federal, state, local and tribal governments using regulatory authority as well as non-regulatory approaches, such as developing voluntary restoration and protection programs for wetlands.

With a membership consisting of federal and state regulatory personnel and scientists, the Mid-Atlantic Wetland Workgroup provides a forum for exchanging ideas, information, and strategies to facilitate the development and implementation of state wetlands monitoring and assessment programs that support restoration and protection.  At EPA, we’ve found over the years that, effective approaches to wetland protection engage individuals and communities.  Volunteer monitoring programs empower citizens to become more active stewards of wetlands in their communities.

Tidal marsh wetlands Photo credit: Eric Vance, EPA

Tidal marsh wetland
Photo credit: Eric Vance, EPA

Like people, wetlands come in all different types and sizes.  Some are wet all the time, while others sometimes appear dry.  Some have trees and shrubs, some only grasses or mud.  They can be large or small.  Nearly every county and climatic zone in the country has wetlands – so there are lots of wetlands to love, and you are never far from one of these natural wonderlands. To find a wetland near you, consult your local parks department, state natural resource agency or the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

During May and throughout the year, Learn! Explore! And Take Action to learn about and protect our wetland gems.

 

About the author: Carol Petrow is the Acting Team Leader of the Wetlands Science Team in the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division, Office of Monitoring and Assessment.

 

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

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An Early Spring in Philadelphia

by Jeff Lapp

These native pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea) will be in bloom just in time for EPA's Flower Show exhibit.

These native pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea) will be in bloom just in time for EPA’s Flower Show exhibit.

Just a few weeks ago, as I stepped out into the crisp air – 4 degrees Fahrenheit, to be exact – I was well aware that spring had yet to come to Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  Crunching through several inches of snow, I made my way to the greenhouse which harbored signs of a season yet to emerge.  I opened the door and was greeted by phlox, azaleas, pitcher plants and ferns; the scene looked more like May than the bitter February day outside.

Staff from EPA’s Mid-Atlantic office are in the final stages of constructing scenery, forcing plants, and designing posters for EPA’s display at the 2016 Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Flower Show.

In our 26th year of participating in this event, EPA’s display “Preservation and Protection: Saving America’s Natural Heritage” supports the theme of this year’s show: the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service. Our National Parks play an important role in habitat and resource protection.  Increasing awareness of the significance of wetlands is an important part of EPA’s mission; EPA’s Flower Show display highlights the role of wetlands and headwater streams in maintaining watershed health and the diverse native plant palette contained within these ecotones.

Carex lacustris is a sedge native to the mid-Atlantic that can be used as an alternative to many of the invasive asiatic species used in landscaping

Carex lacustris is a sedge native to the mid-Atlantic that can be used as an alternative to many of the invasive asiatic species used in landscaping

If you plan to visit the Flower Show, be sure to visit EPA’s display and celebrate the wonder and awe of our National Parks. And you just may get an early taste of spring in the process.

 

About the author: Jeff Lapp is a Wetlands Scientist who has been working at the Region since 1989 and has been designing and forcing for the show since 1991.  He is an avid botanist and grows many native plants, specializing in our native pitcher plants, at his home in Bucks County.

 

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 Regional Waters

Water bodies come in many shapes and sizes. As EPA and the U.S. Army developed the Clean Water Rule, the agencies relied on the latest science to determine what water bodies should be protected. Streams and their wetlands that clearly have an impact on the health of downstream waters are protected by the rule. In particular regions of the country, there are unique water bodies that are also scientifically shown to influence the health of downstream waters and therefore may be protected under the Clean Water Rule. These unique water bodies are critical resources for the surrounding communities – for fishing, hunting, and recreation; for their ability to filter pollution to streams and rivers; and reduce flooding.

PRAIRIE POTHOLES
Newprairie-potholesPrairie potholes are a complex of glacially formed wetlands, found from central Iowa through western Minnesota, eastern South Dakota, and North Dakota. Potholes accumulate and retain water, reducing floodwaters and filtering pollution before it goes downstream into nearby streams and rivers. Prairie potholes are also rich habitat for plants and wildlife. In particular they are vital to hunting in America, as they play host to 18 species of waterfowl. They are also are popular for birdwatching, with 96 species of songbirds, 36 species of waterbirds, 17 species of raptors and 5 species of upland game birds.

CAROLINA AND DELMARVA BAYS
NEWdelmarva-bayCarolina and Delmarva bays are ponded wetlands along the Atlantic coastal plain from northern Florida to New Jersey. Carolina bays are most abundant in North Carolina and South Carolina, while those found in the Delmarva Peninsula are commonly referred to as Delmarva bays. Bays typically are close to each other or to streams, and connect to each other and to downstream waters in large rain events. Carolina bays and Delmarva bays filter out nitrogen, which reduces the pollution entering groundwater and flowing downstream. These bays are important nursery grounds for amphibians and reptiles.

POCOSINS
NEWpocosinPocosins are evergreen shrub and tree-dominated landscapes that are found from Virginia to northern Florida, but mainly in North Carolina. Typically, there is no standing water present in these peat-accumulating wetlands, but a shallow water table leaves the soil saturated for much of the year. The slow movement of water through pocosins removes nutrient pollution and acidifies the water. This water is slowly released to downstream waters and estuaries, where it helps to maintain the proper salinity, nutrients, and acidity.

VERNAL POOLS
NewVernal-PoolsVernal pools are shallow, seasonal wetlands that accumulate water during colder, wetter months and gradually dry up during warmer, drier months. In California they typically occur as complexes of pools, connected to each other and to seasonal streams. Vernal pools are rich in biodiversity and wildlife moves between the pool complexes and streams and other downstream waters. With climate change increasing the severity of drought in the West and specifically California, the protection of upstream water resources is even more essential.

COASTAL PRAIRIE WETLANDS
NEWMatagorda-potholesAlong the Gulf of Mexico from western Louisiana to south Texas, freshwater wetlands occur as a mosaic of depressions, ridges, flats, and mounds on the landscape. Texas coastal prairie wetlands are locally abundant and function together to impact the health of downstream water bodies. Collectively as a complex, Texas coastal prairie wetlands can be connected to each other and contribute flow to downstream waters. Cumulatively, these wetlands control nutrient release levels and rates to downstream waters, as they capture, store, transform, and pulse releases of nutrients to those waters.

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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Reasons We Need the Clean Water Rule

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy

Today, EPA and the Army are finalizing a Clean Water Rule to protect the streams and wetlands we rely on for our health, our economy, and our way of life.

As summer kicks off, many of us plan to be outside with our friends and families fishing, paddling, surfing, and swimming. And for the lakes and rivers we love to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them have to be clean, too. That’s just one of many reasons why this rule is so important. Here are several more:

Clean water is vital to our health. One in three Americans get drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection from pollution without the Clean Water Rule. Finalizing the rule helps protect 117 million Americans’ health.

Our economy depends on clean water. Major economic sectors—from manufacturing and energy production to agriculture, food service, tourism, and recreation—depend on clean water to function and flourish. Without clean water, business grinds to a halt—a reality too many local small business owners faced in Toledo last year when drinking water became contaminated for several days.

Clean water helps farms thrive, and the rule preserves commonsense agriculture exemptions. Farms across America depend on clean and reliable water for livestock, crops, and irrigation. Activities like planting, harvesting, and moving livestock across streams have long been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation; the Clean Water Rule doesn’t change that. The final rule doesn’t create any new permitting requirements for agriculture, maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions, and even adds exclusions for features like artificial lakes and ponds, water-filled depressions from construction, and grass swales—all to make clear our goal is to stay out of agriculture’s way. Just like before, a Clean Water Act permit is only needed if a water is going to be polluted or destroyed—and all exemptions for agriculture stay in place.

Climate change makes protection of water resources even more essential. Impacts from climate change like more intense droughts, storms, fires, and floods—not to mention warmer temperatures and sea level rise—threaten our water supplies. But healthy streams and wetlands can protect communities by trapping floodwaters, retaining moisture during droughts, recharging groundwater supplies, filtering pollution, and providing habitat for fish and wildlife. With states like California in the midst of historic drought, it’s more important than ever that we protect the clean water we’ve got.

Clear protections mean cleaner water. The Clean Water Act has protected our health for more than 40 years—and helped our nation clean up hundreds of thousands of miles of polluted waterways. But Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 threw protections into question for 60 percent of our nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands. Using the latest science, this rule clears up the confusion, providing greater certainty for the first time in more than a decade about which waters are important to protect.

Science shows us the most important waters to protect. In developing the Clean Water Rule, the Agencies used the latest science, including a report summarizing more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies—which showed small streams and wetlands play an important role in the health of larger downstream waterways like rivers and lakes.

You asked for greater clarity. Members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, scientists, and the public called on EPA and the Army to clarify which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act. With this rule, the agencies are responding to those requests and addressing the Supreme Court decisions. EPA and the Army held hundreds of meetings with stakeholders across the country, reviewed over a million public comments, and listened carefully to perspectives from all sides. All of this input shaped and improved the final rule we’re announcing today.

Just as importantly, there are lots of things the rule doesn’t do. The rule only protects waters historically covered under the Clean Water Act. It doesn’t interfere with private property rights, and it only covers water—not land use. It also doesn’t regulate most ditches, doesn’t regulate groundwater or shallow subsurface flows, and doesn’t change policy on irrigation or water transfers.

These are just a few of the many reasons why clean water and this rule are important—learn more here, and share yours with #CleanWaterRules.

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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Five Ways Streams and Wetlands Keep Us and Our Environment Healthy

You may have heard that we’re proposing a rule to clarify which streams and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act. Right now, 60 percent of our streams and millions of acres of wetlands lack clear protection from pollution and destruction.

You might not think that your local stream or that wetland in the woods is a big deal, but the water that flows through it could end up hundreds of miles away as someone’s drinking water or where people swim or fish. Streams and wetlands aren’t just a little piece of our water system; they’re the foundation. They generate a large portion of the water that ends up in our lakes and rivers – so what happens upstream affects everything that lies downstream, including the water that flows by our homes and out of our taps.

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Puerto Rico Shows the Power of Community Involvement in Protecting Waterways

Deputy Assistance Administrator Mike Shapiro talking with Harvey Minnigh, Cristina Maldonado (CEPD), and Graciela Ramirez (CECIA-InterAmericana) about the progress of the construction of a filter for the community of Mulas Jagual in Patillas, Puerto Rico.

Deputy Assistance Administrator Mike Shapiro talking with Harvey Minnigh, Cristina Maldonado (CEPD), and Graciela Ramirez (CECIA-InterAmericana) about the progress of the construction of a filter for the community of Mulas Jagual in Patillas, Puerto Rico.

By Mike Shapiro (cross-posted from It’s Our Environment)

Growing up, I remember playing along the mud flats by Newark Bay and pondering why the water nearby was so dark and sticky. I later learned that the water and mud flats were contaminated with oil and other substances. While Newark Bay is still far from clean by our current standards, today when I return to my home town I can see progress from the cleanup and restoration that is taking place.

Our work with communities to improve water quality makes a big difference. I flew to Puerto Rico in February to visit two projects that have made tremendous strides in improving the health of communities there – thanks to dedicated project leaders who empower local people and collaborate with local and federal government agencies to protect their waterways.

My first visit was to Mulas Jagual in Patillas, where the city and its residents are building a filter to treat water that will serve 200 households. This is an incredible accomplishment for a community that only a few years ago was taking water from a local river and piping it directly to their homes without any treatment. Through an EPA grant, they received training and technical assistance from a university in Puerto Rico. They learned about chlorination and formed a board to help manage their community water system.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Mike Shapiro stands with Jose Font from the EPA Caribbean Environmental Protection Division, community leaders and members of Project ENLACE, a government organization whose mission is to implement the $744 million land use and development plan for Cano Martin Pena.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Mike Shapiro stands with Jose Font from the EPA Caribbean Environmental Protection Division, community leaders and members of Project ENLACE, a government organization whose mission is to implement the $744 million land use and development plan for Cano Martin Pena.

My second visit was to the Martin Pena Channel, a 3.75-mile tidal channel located within San Juan Bay. During the early 20th century, substandard dwellings were built within the wetlands bordering the channel, using debris as fill material. Over 3,000 structures now discharge raw sewage into the remains of the channel. Poorly maintained sewer systems result in flooding, regularly exposing 27,000 residents to polluted waters. In 2014, we awarded a grant of $60,000 to design a new stormwater drainage system. We’re currently working with our federal partners on a major dredging project that would restore water flow within the channel.

Administrator Gina McCarthy declared February to be Environmental Justice Month. It’s important to provide minority and low-income communities with access to information and an opportunity to better protect their health. Clean water is a vital piece of the puzzle for the health and safety of all Americans.

About the author: Mike Shapiro is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water where he performs a variety of policy and operational functions to ensure the effective implementation of the National Water Program.

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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