Serving Communities by Cleaning Streams

By Rebecca Schwartz and Christina Catanese

In the Philly area and looking for ways to celebrate Earth Day a little early?

Mayor Michael A. Nutter and the Philadelphia Streets Department announced that the 6th Annual Philly Spring Cleanup will be held on Saturday, April 13.  This annual event is a way to involve Philadelphia residents in their local neighborhoods and parks, all while making the city a beautiful, clean place for both residents and visitors to enjoy.  It’s a day when Philadelphia residents are encouraged to volunteer a bit of their time, enjoy the outdoors, and connect with their neighbors and neighborhoods.  By taking part in cleaning up our communities, we all gain a sense of ownership and civic pride in our urban environment, which translates into stronger communities as well as greater sustainability and health.

EPA Employees at a recent ELN marsh clean up event

EPA Employees at a recent ELN marsh clean up event

It’s important for us to serve our communities even when we’re not on duty at EPA.  So this weekend, EPA’s Region 3 Executive Leaders Network (ELN) is partnering with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to host a cleanup at Tacony Creek State Park.  A group of EPA employees, friends, and relatives will be spending the afternoon beautifying a stretch along the newly built bike path – and you’re invited to join us!   Here are the details:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

10:00am to 2:00pm

Meet at the corner of East Ruscomb Street and Bingham Street, Philadelphia, PA

We’ll be picking up trash and removing invasive plants along the new bike path!  Volunteers should wear long pants and bring enough water for the afternoon.  Gloves will be provided, but please bring your own if you have them.  Kids are welcome, so bring your friends and family!

Tacony Creek is a small stream in one of Philly’s urban watersheds that eventually flows into the Delaware River.  Small streams like this one make a big difference in their communities: providing a place to recreate, supporting strong economies, providing drinking water, protecting against floods, filtering pollutants, and providing food and habitat for many types of fish.  Small streams can have a big effect on downstream water quality as well, as they all come together to feed into the larger river system.

If you can’t get to this event but want to contribute to cleaning up Philadelphia, find a Philly Spring Cleanup project in your neighborhood online at www.phillyspringcleanup.com.

Not in the Philadelphia area?  Let us know what’s happening to clean up river and stream areas in your community!

About the Authors: Rebecca Schwartz is an ORISE Intern in the Office of NPDES Permits and Enforcement working on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation permits.  She graduated from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill with an MS in Ecology, and serves as a member on ELN’s Community Service Crew for the Mid Atlantic Region. Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

The State of Our Rivers and Streams

By Tom Damm

A recent EPA survey shows that more than half of the nation’s rivers and stream miles are in poor condition for aquatic life.

Cover of Draft National Rivers and Streams Assessment 2008-2009 Report

Cover of Draft National Rivers and Streams Assessment 2008-2009 Report

The survey – the 2008-2009 National Rivers and Streams Assessment –indicates that among other concerns, our waterways don’t have enough vegetation along stream banks and have too much nitrogen, phosphorus, bacteria and mercury.

That’s a concern for many reasons.  Our rivers and streams serve as sources of drinking water, provide recreational opportunities, support fish and wildlife, and play a critical role in our economy.

There’s a way to find out if your local waters are impaired by pollutants.

EPA’s new How’s My Waterway? app can show 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 tried it this week and found that my local creek is impacted by arsenic, E coli, lead, phosphorus and low dissolved oxygen levels.

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.

Want to do something to help improve water quality conditions?  You can control polluted runoff from your property, adopt your watershed, do volunteer water monitoring, and more.  For information, click here.

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 views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Streams Take Me By Surprise

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Travis Loop

As a teenager I spent a lot of time exploring the Catoctin Mountains in central Maryland. I especially loved a section of the mountains that was accessible by a few rough gravel roads and criss-crossed by a network of unmarked trails. I will always remember the time I was hiking and stopped in my tracks when I discovered water where it hadn’t been before. I realized that it had rained heavily the day prior and I had never been on that trail after rainfall.

Almost 20 years later, I’ve learned that these type of streams – that only flow after precipitation or in certain seasons – actually form the foundation of our nation’s water resources. It’s staggering that almost 60 percent of stream miles in the continental U.S., or more than 207,000 miles, only flow seasonally or after storms. These unknown, unnamed and underappreciated streams – like the one I discovered in the Maryland mountains – have a tremendous impact on everything downstream, including rivers, lakes and coastal waters, as well as people.

In fact, the stream I discovered was in the Frederick City Watershed, an area of 7,000 acres used as the source for about 20 percent of the drinking water for residents. So the water in that stream eventually came out of a tap and into someone’s glass. This isn’t unique to Frederick, MD. Approximately 117 million people– over one-third of the U.S. population – get part of their drinking water from these streams.

But these streams are important for many reasons. They are vital for recharging the groundwater supply because water enters through stream beds. Also, because these streams can store a lot of water, they help protect downstream communities from floods.  Seasonal and rain-dependent streams filter pollution and sediment, preventing them from traveling downstream and harming other waterways. One study estimated that small streams can remove 20 to 40 percent of the nitrogen that otherwise would pollute downstream waters. Additionally, protecting these streams is important for the economy, particularly for their key role in supporting fishing, hunting, agriculture and recreation.

Unfortunately, because they are often small, unnamed, not on maps and not always wet, these streams are very vulnerable. And they probably are important in your community. Now I live in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, and I just discovered that 75 percent of the streams only flow seasonally or after rain. These streams just keep taking me by surprise.

About the author:  Travis Loop is the director of communications for EPA’s Office of Water.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Personal Watersheds: Small, but Mighty

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By Jessica Werber

In law school, I was told I would one day become either a big-picture or a detail-oriented lawyer. I took the big-picture approach, but I now realize that the truth is in the small details, for it is often the cumulative small details that have the largest impact on the environment.

Waterbodies can be large or small, and you may be surprised that some of the smallest streams actually have the largest impact on your life and wellbeing. On a country drive in the Mid-Atlantic, you may see signs letting you know that you’re entering the Chesapeake Bay Watershed at any number of places along the highway. Did you know that there are five major rivers and over 100,000 water bodies that connect to this larger watershed?

Now, imagine your personal watershed: the land that collects water running downhill, the area surrounding where you live and work, next to your schools, religious institutions and supermarkets. Let’s say you are out walking your dog in the local park and realize you forgot to bring a baggie. So you decide to return and pick up the poop later. But it starts to rain and you figure the rain will take care of things. Turns out, it only makes things worse. The poop is washed into a nearby small stream, which feeds into other streams and rivers, adding to increased nutrient pollution downstream and causing a variety of impacts.

You might not even know it, but your small action has triggered a bunch of reactions in your personal watershed. Think about the other people who go about their daily business. Your neighbor may use too much fertilizer on his lawn or may not be aware that the soap he uses to wash his car contains high amounts of phosphates, both of which also contribute to nutrient pollution. And what happens to all of the water that sloshes down the street in the rain? Or the household water from the shower and water that is flushed down the toilet? The answer: the water ends up in streams that connect your personal watershed to a larger one.

You can make a difference to protect your personal watershed, especially to prevent nutrient pollution. Pick up after your pet and give your neighbors some pointers about how to help minimize pollution. And, think about how even the littlest streams—which seem of tiny importance—are mighty in the end.

About the author: Jessica Werber is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Participant in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. She is also a licensed attorney. This post does not represent the views of the EPA or Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Science Wednesday: Bringing the Outdoors In

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Cathryn Courtin

Thinking about stream research evokes images of scientists wading into streams hunched over, collecting samples and taking measurements. At EPA’s Experimental Stream Facility (ESF), however, small stream research takes on a new form.

The facility houses eight indoor small streams called “mesocosms.”

The technological features of the ESF enable scientists to conduct experiments that mimic natural settings while precisely controlling and studying certain variables.

I recently talked with one of the lead scientists, systems ecologist Christopher Nietch, Ph.D., and learned all about this high-tech facility and its significance. One thing he stressed is that the team works hard to ensure that real field data is studied carefully and used inside the facility.

“We have spent a great deal of time characterizing operational conditions that help define realism and applicability, and we try to provide information about conditions that are found in reality and how ours compare,” said Nietch.

Problems that might arise when experiments are conducted in the field can be overcome using the specialized tools in the facility. Nietch explained, for example, that it can be difficult to determine which chemicals and pesticides are responsible for which changes in the ecosystem and which chemicals are most harmful when conducting studies in the natural environment.

In the facility, doses of contaminants can be adjusted to relevant quantities and studied individually or in specific mixtures while controlling other variables. It then becomes possible to determine what effect each contaminant has, how its impacts change when mixed with other contaminants, and which contaminants are most threatening.

Other factors that researchers have control over that they wouldn’t in nature are the light levels, water source, flow rate, length of the stream, and streambed composition.

It was eye-opening to hear Dr. Nietch say that “small stream ecosystems represent about 90% of the linear drainage footage in any watershed… but rarely do those [watershed] models consider what changes might be taking place within the small scale ecosystems.”

Given the vast percentage of the watershed that these streams make up, they must play a role in watershed health, but this role is not yet well understood. To better this understanding, scientists at the ESF are breaking through the boundaries of traditional methods and using this unique facility to widen research possibilities.

About the Author: Cathryn Courtin is a student at Georgetown University in the Science, Technology, and International Affairs program. She is spending her summer working as a student contractor at EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.


Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.