What you can do

Our Friends, the Freshwater Mussels

Freshwater mussels found the Brandywine River

Freshwater mussels found in the Brandywine River

by Andrea Bennett

No, we can’t eat them, but they are kind of cute – as far as mussels go. And these little bivalves do something that we could only do if we spent millions of dollars constructing a filtration plant: they filter out pollution from our drinking water sources. In fact, one adult mussel can filter up to 15 gallons of water per day; a 6-mile stretch of mussel beds can filter out over 25 tons of particulates per year!

Mussels are sometimes referred to as “biosentinels” – a living indicator of the presence of chemical contaminants or microbial pathogens. Because the presence of freshwater mussels means that a watershed is healthy, they provide a low-cost way to monitor water quality.

I was lucky enough to go on a mussel monitoring outreach event in the Brandywine River with The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary. We visited a land-locked pond near the Brandywine, where we found adult eastern floater mussels, which can live to over 70 years old! We also found younger mussels – about 8 years old – but no “babies.” We then went to the Brandywine River, where we found eastern elliptio, but unfortunately, no young mussels. At both places, we found corroded and disintegrating shells.

Back in the early 1900s, there were about 14 species of native freshwater mussels in the Delaware River Basin. Now, it’s difficult to find anything but eastern elliptio in the Delaware watershed. Most importantly, you can’t find juveniles. Mussels reproduce by releasing larvae, called glochidia, which attach to the gills or fins of fish (the fish don’t know they are there). In about 3 weeks, the glochidia fall off the fish to grow into juvenile mussels. Research shows that mussels are still releasing the glochidia, but the juveniles are not surviving.

Scientists from the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, with support from EPA and other agencies, are looking into what’s making it difficult for freshwater mussels to reproduce and survive. In 2013, EPA published new recommendations for how much ammonia can be in surface water. These recommendations will help states work with dischargers and sources of non-point source pollution to better protect aquatic life, especially freshwater mussels.

You can get involved too! The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary has freshwater mussel volunteer monitoring activities. If you’re in southwestern Virginia, you might be interested in projects in the Clinch River, which has more freshwater mussel species than any other river in North America.

Protecting these small, barely noticeable aquatic animals – so they can live, reproduce, and filter the water – also protects us, by improving the quality of our waterways.

 

About the author: Andrea Bennett is a biologist with EPA. Andrea enjoys birding, kayaking and playing the mandolin and she is a member of her local watershed protection team.

 

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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Tools for Recreation on our Rivers

by Virginia Thompson

Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row is a hot spot for recreation in Philadelphia, as well as a National Historic Landmark.

Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row is a hot spot for recreation in Philadelphia, as well as a National Historic Landmark.

Growing up in the Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania, I learned the power of rivers:     Hurricane Agnes wiped out parts of my town when the river overflowed its banks.  In calmer times, the river provided a beautiful respite.  Now living in the Delaware River Basin, I enjoy the Schuylkill River, which dissects Philadelphia, for its recreational value throughout the year:  regattas, festivals, walkers, joggers, bikers, and rollerbladers all take advantage of the City’s connection to the river.

My real introduction to the Schuylkill River, however, came three years ago when our high school daughter began rowing crew.  Only then did I learn how river flow, wind, precipitation, and flooding affect such a smooth, beautiful sport.  Days that seemed ideal to spectators often turned out to be challenging conditions for those on the water.

Never was the disconnect between those on land and those rowing on the water more pronounced than at the recent Stotesbury regatta, the world’s largest and oldest high school regatta, held annually on the Schuylkill River.  The first day of the regatta was rainy with torrents of water backing up storm drains, but the rain’s impacts to the rowers were fairly minimal most of the day with warm air, negligible wind, and calm water.

By late in the day, the sky cleared, winds picked up and the rain moved out.  Anticipating improved rowing weather, we were surprised by the cancellation of the day’s remaining races due to “deteriorating river conditions.”  By the next morning, conditions were much worse:  near-flood stage water chocolate brown in color, with the rushing current carrying huge logs and other visible and hidden debris that could pose serious problems.  Surprisingly, the placid, cool, sunny morning was unfit for rowing.  By afternoon, the debris had mostly cleared and rowing resumed.  For the City Championships the next day, the water was significantly lower, little debris was visible, and the water was calmer.  The disparity between the weather and the river conditions was so pronounced because it took time for the upstream floodwaters and debris to flow down the Schuylkill to Philadelphia.

Knowing the current conditions of the river is important for all recreational users.  Fortunately, the Philadelphia Water Department hosts a website service, Philly River Cast, which provides a recreation-focused forecast of water quality in the Schuylkill River.  The River Cast predicts levels of pathogens likely to be in the water carried from upstream based on precipitation, and provides a simple green-yellow-red indication of the river’s suitability for recreation.

While we can’t control the weather, at least we have a tool to help us be prepared for the conditions and able to make smart decisions.

 

About the author:  Virginia Thompson is currently the Coordinator of the Exchange Network, a partnership of federal and state governments providing improved access to environmental data to make better and more timely decisions.  She enjoys swimming, gardening, and bicycling on rail-trails.

 

 

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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Take Action for Wetlands

by Stephanie Leach

Citizen science projects enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research.

Citizen science projects enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research.

 

This May is the 24thAmerican Wetlands Month, a time for us to appreciate the beautiful diversity of our wetlands as well as Americans’ long and evolving history with them. While we have not always recognized wetlands as ecologically valuable places, we are now fortunate to have a large body of cultural and scientific knowledge, as well as technologies that allow us to access this voluminous information, to guide us in the exploration of our aquatic resources and even allow us to aid in their protection.

You can find many opportunities to advocate for wetlands in your area, including volunteering with community groups to restore or monitor wetlands or even participating in what are known as citizen science projects. Citizen science is when individuals without professional expertise assist in the collection of data. Participation in a citizen science project can mean surveying a specific location over a certain time period, volunteering to collect samples from designated streams, or even simply making note of an observed species. Increasingly, citizen science is taking the form of crowdsourcing over the internet, whereby ordinary people submit their observations to organizations in order to create a large-scale representation of the biodiversity present across time and space.

Some examples of citizen science projects that enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research include: Frogwatch USA, Project Feeder Watch (to report overwintering birds), The Orianne Society (salamanders), Bandedbirds.org (banded shore birds) and other location-specific projects dedicated to rare or invasive plants. What’s more, several of these projects have smartphone apps which users can consult for more information or even use to submit their observations.

American Wetlands Month offers us an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been and take action to protect our aquatic resources as we move forward. For more information, visit EPA’s American Wetlands Month website. What groups or projects are you involved with that help you learn about and protect wetlands in your area?

About the Author:  Stephanie Leach works in EPA Region 3’s Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division as an intern from the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking, and learning as much as she can about the natural world and how to protect it.

 

 

 

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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May is the time for Sprinkler Spruce–Up!

Sprinkler Spruce-up

By Kim Scharl

As we approach summer, some of us start to think about watering our lawns and gardens to keep them looking their best.  Do you get tired of dragging out the hose every day or letting your sprinkler cool off the sidewalk? These tips will help you use water more wisely!

Residential outdoor water use in the United States accounts for more than nine billion gallons of water each day, mainly for landscape irrigation.  When it comes to making certain that your home’s irrigation system is in good working order, a little maintenance goes a long way.

You can spruce up your irrigation system by remembering four simple steps—inspect, connect, direct, and select:

Inspect. Check your system for clogged, broken or missing sprinkler heads. If you are not the do–it–yourself type, go with a pro—look for an irrigation professional certified through a WaterSense-labeled program.

Connect. Examine points where the sprinkler heads connect to pipes or hoses. If water pools in your yard or you have large wet areas, you could have a leak in your system. Did you know that a leak as small as the tip of a ballpoint pen (about 1/32 of an inch) can waste about 6,300 gallons of water per month?

Direct. Are you watering the driveway, house, or sidewalk instead of your yard? Redirect sprinklers to apply water only to the grassy or planted areas.

Select. An improperly scheduled irrigation controller can waste water and money. Update your system’s watering schedule with the seasons, or select a WaterSense-labeled controller to take the guesswork out of scheduling.

During the month of May, WaterSense wants you to remember to “Spruce up your Sprinkler” by replacing a standard clock timer with a WaterSense-labeled irrigation controller that can save an average home nearly 8,800 gallons of water annually.

If every home in the United States with an automatic sprinkler system installed and properly operated a WaterSense-labeled controller, we could save $435 million in water costs and 120 billion gallons of water across the country annually by not overwatering lawns and landscapes! For more, check out information from EPA on WaterSense-labeled irrigation systems and these simple water saving tips.

About the Author: Kimberly Scharl joined EPA in 2010, after moving to Pennsylvania from Mississippi. She is a financial analyst and project officer in the Office of Infrastructure and Assistance, and is the Regional Liaison for the WaterSense Program. Kim enjoys bowling and spending time with her family.

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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Earth Day every day…and everywhere!

by Jennie Saxe

 

Flo- the WaterSense mascot

Flo- the WaterSense mascot

While every day is Earth Day at EPA, the excitement over the past couple of weeks surrounding Earth Day offered EPA mid-Atlantic staff some special opportunities to partner with local organizations in celebrating our environment. Along with our water programs, EPA highlighted ways that everyone can Act On Climate, the theme for this year’s Earth Day. A changing climate means changes to our water resources, so it’s more important than ever that we all work to conserve and protect them.

This year, several of EPA’s sustainability programs, including WaterSense, were featured at the Philadelphia Phillies “Red Goes Green” game on April 17. Our WaterSense program was also particularly busy sharing information on conserving water and saving money with groups including: the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors in Hershey, Pennsylvania; hospital staff and visitors in Anne Arundel, Maryland; and Campbell’s employees in Camden, New Jersey.

We also had the chance to spread the word about how proper prescription drug disposal protects our water resources. National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day was held on April 26. In case you missed it, EPA has some quick tips on proper prescription medication disposal.

For commuters and visitors at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, EPA water programs hosted a table featuring resources you can use every day including: mobile apps for tracking marine debris and learning about water quality at beaches; information for homeowners on proper septic system maintenance; steps you can take to protect your private drinking water well; resources for finding out about the health of waterways in your community; and ways that you can prepare, should extreme weather impact your water supply.

Many of EPA’s programs wrapped up the week at EarthFest on Temple University’s Ambler, PA campus. EPA staff shared information on water, recycling, composting, emergency response, and more with the thousands of children, parents, and teachers in attendance.

Even though Earth Day 2014 is now in the books, here’s hoping that you, too, will make every day Earth Day.

 

Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and is currently a Water Policy Analyst in the Water Protection Division of EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. For Earth Day, and every day, Jennie purchases renewable power, takes public transportation, and uses vinegar to clean pretty much everything. 

 

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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In Defense of our Waters

By Tom Damm

Assunpink Creek near site of Second Battle of Trenton

Assunpink Creek near site of Second Battle of Trenton

As we approach Earth Day on Tuesday, we’re reminded of the reasons we value our rivers and streams.

They serve as sources of drinking water, provide recreational fun, support fish and wildlife, and play a critical role in our economy.

And some offer a touch of history – like the Assunpink Creek in Trenton, New Jersey.

My neighborhood stream connects with the Assunpink before emptying in the Delaware River.  The Delaware is a focus of cleanup efforts in two EPA regions and is influenced by hundreds of small streams and creeks in states on both sides of the river.

If you Google Assunpink Creek, you’ll find it has a connection to an important battle in the American Revolutionary War.

General Washington’s troops repelled three attempts by British soldiers to cross a bridge over the Assunpink in the Second Battle of Trenton – one of a series of events over 10 days that historians say changed the course of the war.

These days, Assunpink Creek itself is under siege.

I entered the battle site’s zip code in EPA’s How’s My Waterway? app this week to get a sense for the water quality in the Assunpink.  The app is a relatively new way of learning the condition of your local stream, creek or river – whether you’re standing on the water’s edge with a mobile device or sitting at home with a computer.  I found that the creek is impacted by arsenic, E coli, lead, phosphorus and low dissolved oxygen levels, among other ailments.

The Assunpink is not alone.

According to an EPA survey released last year, more than half of the nation’s rivers and stream miles are in poor condition for aquatic life.

The EPA report – the 2008-2009 National Rivers and Stream Assessment – shows that our waterways are under big-time pressure: not enough vegetation along stream banks and too much nitrogen, phosphorus, bacteria and mercury.

The health of our rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the vast network of streams where they begin, including stream miles that only flow seasonally or after rain.  These streams feed downstream waters, trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, remove pollution and provide fish and wildlife habitat.

EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have released a proposed rule to clarify protections under the Clean Water Act for these types of streams and wetlands.  The rule will be open for a 90-day public comment period beginning Monday, April 21.  You can find information on the rule and a link to comment at www2.epa.gov/uswaters.

We can all enlist in the effort to help reverse poor water quality conditions.  Among other activities, you can control polluted runoff from your property, adopt your watershed and do volunteer water monitoring.  For more information on what you can do, click here.  Make it an Earth Day commitment.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as the region’s acting senior communications advisor.

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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Clearer Protections for Headwater Streams

by Randy Pomponio

WOUS2Spring is finally here, and with it arrives new beginnings. Flowers and plants find new life, our avian friends fill the air, and the streams and creeks that run through our neighborhoods and parks are bubbling along.  This spring also brings a new day for determining Clean Water Act protection for streams and wetlands, which had become confusing and complex following several Supreme Court rulings.  After roughly a decade of confusion, the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule clarifies the jurisdictional status of seasonal and rain-dependent streams, wetlands, and isolated water bodies.

Under this clearer definition, the Clean Water Act will continue to protect our aquatic resources, including some of our most important waterways —headwater streams.  Headwater streams comprise over half of the total stream miles in the mid-Atlantic states, and play a fundamental role in reducing flooding, providing wildlife habitat, recharging groundwater, filtering pollution,  along with supporting hunting and fishing. Many of these benefits can be readily attributable to streams which only flow for part of the year. The vast majority of people in the mid-Atlantic rely, at least in part, on these types of streams for their drinking water supplies.

By clarifying the significance of these vital ecological functions – the proposed rule would provide for an estimated $388 million to $514 million annually of indirect benefits through the protection of  aquatic resources, just like your neighborhood creek.

If you are out for a hike this spring, and you notice that you need to leap over a stream that was dry back in the fall; that’s the type of water that will continue to be protected with this proposed rule.  Take a moment to consider the complexity of our aquatic resources, and how that seasonal creek contributes to the overall health of say, the mighty Delaware, Ohio, Potomac, and James River basins.  Under our watch and in our care are precious and life-sustaining tributaries.  This spring, we should celebrate their protection afforded by an illuminated Clean Water Act.

About the Author:  Randy Pomponio is the Director of the EPA Region 3 Environmental Assessment & Innovation Division.  He enjoys learning about our fascinating ecosystems and experiencing them through hiking, fishing, scuba diving, and best of all, sharing them with his children and grandchildren.

 

 

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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Urban Waters: Connecting Communities to their Water Resources

By Catherine King

Through the Urban Waters program, EPA is seeking to help communities — especially underserved communities as they work to access, improve, and benefit from their urban waters and the surrounding land. If you are interested in caring for an urban stream or river or lake or would like to get your neighbors involved in caring for a local urban water resource, then welcome to the Urban Waters Movement!

Urban Rivers

The Urban Waters effort is anchored in a simple theory: if we better engage communities and all work together in efforts to improve and protect water quality, those efforts will be more successful.

The first step is a recognition that people need to be connected to the potential of their water bodies to get them engaged. If people are better engaged, they will be more committed to improving local water quality, which in turn can help revitalize communities. That revitalization reinforces people’s connections to their water bodies, completing a positive cycle for improving the environment and communities as a whole.  Communities across the country are taking this approach and seeing the benefits. In the mid-Atlantic region alone, there are several organizations that have received Urban Waters Small Grants and even a few Urban Waters Federal Partner Pilots.

Water quality touches all of us every day: through the water we drink from the tap, to the waters we swim in, and the water we use to water our plants and crops. Your local water utility serves a key role – treating wastewater and drinking water – but ensuring access to clean waters and protecting the surrounding land starts with you, your neighbors and local community organizations.

Working hand-in-hand, community groups and local residents can initiate activities to help revitalize urban waters, such as setting up a water quality monitoring program, organizing volunteer cleanup efforts, and forming coalitions to speak out about water quality concerns to community leaders.  By pooling efforts, your voice and hard work make the difference to your local waterways and to the community that depends on them.

You can become better informed about urban water issues affecting your community by visiting EPA’s Urban Waters Resources websiteEPA’s Urban Waters Learning Network is another resource for you to learn about actions that other communities are taking to protect their urban water resources and lets you participate in the dialog.  Tell us what activities you are involved with in your community to protect your local urban waters!

About the author:  Catherine King is the EPA Region 3 Urban Waters Program Coordinator in the Office of State and Watershed Partnerships in the Water Protection Division in Philadelphia, PA.

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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