Around the Water Cooler: EPA researchers assist utilities during extreme weather events

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

Natural disasters or extreme weather events, like Hurricane Sandy that is headed toward the East Coast this weekend, can threaten our drinking water and wastewater infrastructure with flooding, increase peoples’ exposures to bacteria and toxins, and generally, wreak havoc on our communities.

Hurricanes can also have lasting effects on the water quality of lakes and coastal systems. Storm-related power outages are also a concern, something we all know very well here in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

Last summer, EPA, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, State National Guard units, and others provided drinking water to many Vermont water utilities when Tropical Storm Irene put them out of commission for an extended period of time.

During larger-scale disasters like Hurricane Katrina, or the earthquake that devastated Haiti, the recovery period is even longer. These major events require extremely innovative approaches to scaling up mobile water treatment units, developing temporary distribution systems or even relocating people to areas that have better water supplies and shelter.

Hopefully Hurricane Sandy will take it easy on us this weekend and stay farther out to sea than predicted.  But in the event that we do experience flooding and power outages, here are some things you can do to make sure your water supplies are adequate and safe:

  • Keep at least a 3-day supply of bottled drinking water on hand per person–and don’t forget your pets!
  • Limit contact with any flood waters–they could have high levels of raw sewage or other contaminants.

In addition to these very practical suggestions, EPA scientists and engineers in the Homeland Security Research Program have published Planning for an Emergency Water Supply.  This report was a joint effort with the American Water Works Association and encourages utilities and communities to consider alternative ways of providing drinking water whenever disasters strike. It contains information on how local water utilities can develop an emergency drinking water plan.

For more information on hurricane preparedness, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/hurricanes/.

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry works with EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources research team and a frequent “Around the Water Cooler” contributor.

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.

Around the Water Cooler: Showing Buried Streams the Daylight

Pittsburgh Point park and North Shore

Rivers and streams offer many benefits.

By Lahne Mattas-Curry  

I’m from Pittsburgh. A city of rivers—three to be exact. If there’s one thing you know about Pittsburgh, besides being a former steel town, it’s the rivers. (Pop quiz: Can you name all three and spell them correctly?) 

Rivers and streams in cities offer many benefits – from recreation and swimming to aesthetic and economic impacts. For example, the North Shore in Pittsburgh is home to the Steelers (Here we go!!) and the Pirates (Let’s go Bucs!) along with a variety of shops and restaurants. It’s a short walk over the Roberto Clemente Bridge from downtown Pittsburgh and is dotted with parks and bike paths. Riverfront investment generates economic benefits like increased property values, too. But more than the economic impact, the beautiful landscapes and wildlife habitat lead to healthy ecosystems. Hard to imagine that some cities decide to bury the rivers in pipes and build OVER the rivers instead of AROUND the rivers and streams. 

But that is what has happened in many cities—large and small—around the country. As the population grew and urban developers wanted to expand on a plot of land with a stream or river on it, they diverted it, confined it in concrete channels, or buried it in pipes underground. 

EPA scientists and engineers are now learning that buried streams may cause problems with our water quality and have offered up a simple solution: unbury the streams. Daylighting is actually the technical term for “unburying” these rivers and streams. Often, streams buried in pipes underground are also combined with the cities sewer pipes. This is another cause of combined sewer overflow and pollution in our waterways. 

According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, daylighting can improve downstream water quality by exposing water to sunlight, air, soil, and vegetation, all of which help process and remove pollutants. EPA scientists believe daylighting streams will have a significant impact removing excess nitrogen and phosphorous, too, an environmental challenge many watersheds face. 

I can’t even imagine a fall Sunday morning sitting outside enjoying an early lunch at Bettis Grille before a Steelers game on the North Shore without the view of the river. That view is one of the things that makes Pittsburgh special. It should be something that makes other cities special—and healthy—as well. 

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry works with EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources team and  blogs regularly about  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.