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 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.

Make Your Child’s Summer A Learning Experience!

By Lina Younes

As the school year comes to an end, children are eagerly making plans to do “fun things” during the summer. In other words, their idea of “fun” is basically anything that doesn’t have to do with getting up early to go to school. So, as parents how do we address this issue? How do we allow them to take a break from school and have fun while ensuring they are doing something constructive?

Well, I saw a Benjamin Franklin quote that inspired me to write this blog: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”. I truly think that he was on to something. Studies show that if you engage children in hands-on activities they improve academically and can even develop an interest in the sciences and math! Engaging children through hands-on “real-life activities” makes their learning experience more relevant and meaningful. So, how can we engage children this summer?

How about taking up a hobby that both you and your child enjoy? Have you thought about a cooking class? Your child will learn about math and chemistry in the process while also learning about a new cuisine and good eating habits. How about learning a new instrument? Music helps open the mind and you even have to learn math to have the right rhythm. How about enjoying the great outdoors by taking up hiking or bird-watching?  Have you considered gardening together?

Have you considered engaging in environmental education activities?  How about volunteering with a community organization to clean a local watershed? How about promoting the 3Rs in your community by organizing a recycling program? Actively engaging your child to protect the environment has numerous benefits. Instilling your child with values like the love of nature and environmental awareness will last a lifetime!

As the saying goes, “a mind is a terrible thing to go to waste.” Don’t let the summer months be a wasteful period. Make this summer a fruitful experience for your child, your family and the environment!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and 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 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: Watersheds and Climate Change

To celebrate Earth Day, all this week and into next we will be highlighting EPA climate change research with Science Matters feature articles. Today’s “Around the Water Cooler” addition illustrates the connection between climate change and water.

Climate Change and Watersheds: Exploring the Links
EPA researchers are using climate models and watershed simulations to better understand how climate change will affect streams and rivers.

A warming climate threatens hotter summers and more extreme storms. We know we may need to upgrade our air conditioning systems and make emergency preparedness kits, but aside from temperatures and storms, what are other ways we will be affected by climate change?

Map showing the 20 watersheds EPA researchers studied. Click on the image for a large version.

EPA water scientists and their partners are studying how climate change may affect watersheds—the network of rivers and streams that feed into larger water bodies such as big rivers, lakes, and oceans. A recent EPA report, referred to as the 20 Watersheds Report, combines climate change models and watershed simulations to develop a better understanding of what changes to streams and rivers we might expect over the next several decades.

“A key thing that’s unique about this work is the scope; we applied a consistent set of methods and models to 20 large watersheds throughout the nation,” says lead scientist Tom Johnson.

Johnson’s team of researchers used different climate change scenarios to model changes in streamflow volume and water quality in the 20 chosen watersheds.

“Climate can be defined loosely as average weather,” Johnson explains. “Climate change scenarios describe potential future changes in climate, like temperature or precipitation.”

For a given climate change scenario, watershed simulations were used to determine changes in streamflow (the actual volume of water running through the streams) and in nutrient and sediment pollution levels.

In addition to climate change scenarios, researchers also took into account urban and residential land development scenarios in their watershed simulations. The ways people use and alter the land (such as building roadways, parking lots, etc) will also have an impact on water resources. The land development scenarios used were based on projected changes in population and housing density in the study watersheds.

Research results show a great variety in watershed responses to climate and urban development scenarios in different parts of the country. Generally, simulations suggest certain trends for streamflow: that flow amount decreases in the Rockies and interior southwest, but increases in the northeast. Results also show higher peaks in streamflow that can increase stream bank erosion and sediment transport, as well as potentially increase nutrient pollutants. Overall, the research shows that the potential changes in streamflow and water quality response in many areas could be very large.

“This information can be used by water managers to better understand if and how things like water quality and aquatic ecosystems might be vulnerable, and to help guide the development of response strategies for managing any potential risk,” says Johnson.

For example, where water is suggested to be scarce, managers can plan alternative water supply methods; where water is expected to become highly polluted from nutrients and sediment, managers can take action now to limit the actual impact of these pollutants on the water resource.

The findings of EPA’s 20 Watersheds Report will help water and resource managers recognize the changing conditions of streams and rivers and identify any future conditions that may need addressing.

Learn More

 

 

EPA Climate Change Research

EPA Water and Climate Research

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.

Walking to School

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Gina Snyder

At a recent visit to Birchmeadow Elementary School in my hometown to talk to students about our watershed, I noticed a poster on the wall saying “October is National Walk to School Month”. I was delighted – not just because walking is good for public health and the environment, but also because I had just learned that this would mean students would be more attentive when I spoke.

At a recent lecture by Mark Fenton, an adjunct professor at Tufts University, I learned that teachers can tell when children walk or bike to school. “They are better behaved in class and more ready to learn,” Fenton had said.

Fenton, a nationally known public health and transportation consultant and former host of the “America’s Walking” series on PBS television, noted that obesity among children is so widespread that this generation will be the first to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

Whether we have children or not, we can all help students to live healthier lives.

For instance, by driving respectfully and stopping for pedestrians, we can encourage walking and biking. Like many people living in the Boston area, I have nearly been run over by crazy drivers, so I know the role drivers play in making walking safer.

Drivers can also become role models by leaving cars home. It’s healthier and better for the environment when we use our own people-power to get around.

And remember, children learn through experience. Walking with adults lets children practice crossing streets.

As you walk, follow these tips:

  • Look for traffic at each driveway and intersection. Be aware of drivers in parked cars getting ready to move.
  • Obey traffic signs and signals.
  • Cross the street safely.

Wear bright-colored clothes, and carry flashlights or wear reflective gear if it is dark or hard to see.

As days get shorter, don’t let darkness keep you from walking. When walking or biking at dawn or dusk, wear light-colored clothing and add reflective gear. Also, carry a flashlight – point the beam downward and slightly outward, and move it as you swing your arm with your natural walking rhythm.

When bicycling in dark or low light, have a headlight. Massachusetts law requires a front white headlight and a rear red reflector or red light on bicycles operated between 30 minutes before sunset and 30 minutes after sunrise.

So, keep stepping, peddling, or pounding the pavement – safely! It will be good for your health and for the environment.

About the author: Gina Snyder is an engineer at EPA’s New England office and volunteers with the Ipswich River Watershed Association and Walkable Reading. A 10-year participant in the Garden Club’s Adopt-an-Island program, Gina is hoping to help her home town plant rain gardens.

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.

Beyond The Plains – Modeling Non-Point Source Pollution in The Utrata Watershed In Poland

By Walt Foster

Being in the middle of the United States, one would think there were few opportunities to get involved with activities beyond our country’s borders.  But with the breakup of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s I had an opportunity to assist EPA’s Office of International Affairs because of our region’s particular expertise with spatial science and agricultural. 

 In cooperation with Iowa State University, and funded by a grant from the Marie Curie Foundation, I worked on a project in the Utrata watershed outside Warsaw, Poland. The project involved development of a modeling methodology to support agricultural watershed management which could be adapted to other rural watersheds throughout Poland.

 

 

We used the Agricultural Non-Point Source Pollution (AGNPS) model, a cell-based runoff model widely used in the U.S. to predict the effects of various land management strategies on nutrient and sediment runoff in small to medium sized agricultural watersheds.      

The inputs to the model included such information as topography, soils, hydrography, and land use, while outputs were predicted nutrient and sediment loads.  This model allowed identification of locations where a high potential for non-point source runoff existed, as well as the ability to model the results if various land management practices were employed to reduce runoff.   

At the time this was particularly challenging as data was much more difficult to come by than it is today, processing was more difficult because of hardware and software limitations.  

The completed model ultimately enabled watershed managers in Poland to rapidly target non-point source problem areas and evaluate land management practices for their potential impact on these target areas. The model also encouraged the development of water policy that supported sustainable development in rural areas of Poland.

Over the last twenty years the tools, techniques, and information have improved, but the experiences in both the U.S. and Western European have continued to show that that a management approach that integrates social, economic, and environmental processes at the watershed scale is often the most effective approach to dealing with water quality issues.  You can order a free copy of EPA’s Handbook for Developing Watershed Plans to Restore and Protect Our Waters from the National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP). Contact NSCEP at 800-490-9198 or by e-mail, nscep@bps-lmit.com. You can also download the Handbook here.

Walt Foster has been with the GIS program in EPA Region 7 since its inception except for an hiatus during which he served as the NEPA section chief and worked with EPA’s Office of International Affairs on environmental projects in eastern Europe.  More recently he worked on a series of projects with a number of cooperating agencies and NGOs designed to characterize the ecological state of Region 7 and identify priority ecological resources for regional programs to use in their planning and response activities.

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.

Chesapeake Bay Road Trip!

Public Meeting Locations

By Christina Catanese

This fall, EPA will travel all around the Chesapeake Bay watershed to hold 18 public meetings to discuss the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), or the strict “pollution diet” to restore the Bay and its network of local rivers, streams and creeks.  After EPA issues the draft TMDL on September 24th, the agency will go on the road for the 45-day public comment period to get your feedback.  So pack some snacks in the car and throw on your favorite driving music, and join in the Chesapeake Bay public meetings road trip!

From the southeastern coast of Virginia all the way up to New York State, citizens in the watershed will have a chance to hear more about the new nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment limits for the watershed.  Starting at the National Zoo in Washington DC on September 29 and ending in Romney, WV in early November, public meetings will be held in each of the six states and D.C. that are part of the Chesapeake Bay’s far-reaching watershed.  One meeting in each state will also be broadcast online via webinar for those unable to attend in person.

Do you live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?  Are you interested in learning about the Bay TMDL and how it will help improve waters in your area as well as the nation’s largest estuary?  EPA wants to hear your suggestions as it seeks to protect human health and the environment by improving water quality in the bay and its vast drainage area.  And check out the Bay TMDL web site (http://www.epa.gov/chesapeakebaytmdl/) for information on how to submit formal comments to EPA on the Bay TMDL.

I’m planning to attend the meeting in Lancaster, PA on October 18…what about you? Visit the Bay TMDL website to find a public meeting near you.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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.

Expedition Day 3: Did Someone Say “Oyster Spat?”

By Lisa McWhirter

I awoke to the 6 a.m. rally call on Saturday and quickly realized the long bike ride from the day before had taken its toll. It was the third day of the Expedition and barely awake, I tried to rationalize biking another 30 miles. As I took my first sip of French Press coffee (yum, my favorite) and saw the smiling faces of the Expedition team any doubts of the day’s success ahead faded instantly.

The plan for the day was a short bike ride to meet with St. Mary’s College professor Bob Paul, and then continue our ride to Point Lookout State Park for our final campsite.

Expedition-Day-3Thanks to fellow Team members Steve and Jeremy, I improved my gear shifting along the rolling hills of southern Maryland and felt great when we finished cycling to St. Mary’s College. What a beautiful campus; imagine having class right on the river! Professor Paul told us about the St. Mary’s River Project , a state and federal funded program that studies the water quality and ecological health of the St. Mary’s River and the Chesapeake Bay. We weren’t the only ones there to learn as it was a community service day for first-year students. They were there to plant spat (baby oysters) on protected oyster beds in the river close by. I was happy to let the kids shovel the dirty spat into the water, but really enjoyed learning why this is such an important project.

The goal is to build up the natural oyster beds. The Project team works with local homeowners to grow and monitor monthly the oyster spat for twelve months. The year old spat is collected and placed onto the oyster beds and the cycle is repeated each year. Oysters are extremely important to the Chesapeake Bay. They filter the water, removing excess nutrients as well as harmful toxins, and help maintain a healthy ecosystem. One mature oyster can filter 55 gallons of water each day. Just think how much water can be cleaned from a million strong oyster bed in a year!Expedition-Day-3-photo-2

As I said good-bye to Professor Paul, I wondered how this program could be expanded to other areas of the Bay. What’s the best way to get marinas and other homeowners involved to voluntarily grow oysters? We learned from our listening session the night before that “Chesapeake” is Algonquin where “chesa” means enormous size or quantity and “peake” means shell. I’d like to help return the bay back to its namesake and plant more oysters!

About the author: Lisa McWhirter works in the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water and specializes in the Underground Injection Control program. She enjoys fishing and kayaking in the Bay. The Expedition was her first triathlon, and she is excited to do it again!

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.

Expedition Day 2: Peddling My Bike and Thinking of “Kweti Lenu”

By Tina Chen

The second day of the Expedition was our first day biking and we had a 40+ mile ride ahead of us. Our trusty guides and volunteers marked the route and setup checkpoints with water, snacks, and words of encouragement along the way. We cheered, “To the Bay!” and we were off.

ELN membersRiding through Charles and St. Mary’s counties, I was able to witness firsthand the beauty of the surrounding environment. I couldn’t help but think how the rolling landscapes we passed ultimately affect the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Impervious surfaces, such as paved parking lots, bring run-off water – and the pollutants it may carry – quickly to the bay without giving the land time to help clean it. Many agricultural operations also will result in industrial waste run-off into the Bay and impact its health. What is the model paradigm we must implement so that cities can thrive, farmers can produce and harvest, and water bodies are able to be protected and enjoyed by future generations?

Later that day we were joined at our campsite by Rico Newman with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and a member of the Piscataway Indian Tribe. He led an energetic discussion about the evolution of tribal rights and how the native peoples continue to advocate not only for their own rights and level of recognition by federal, state, and local governments but also for their historic fight to bring recognition to the plight of our natural resources; the land, the water, and the people. I really connected with his emphasis on how we need to think about the people and the environment in a holistic framework. Nature must be thought of as “one” and we must realize that cities, towns and states are just artificial boundaries. Solving environmental issues cannot be left to each party to resolve on their own, all parties must come together to tackle the issues at hand. He explained the Piscataway term “Kweti lenu” which means “one man or entity,” which he used to describe how the water is one body and cannot be divided.

Rico Newman speaking to ELN members

Rico Newman speaking to ELN members

The native peoples have always harbored a deep respect for nature, with reverence to the “life force” that exists in all human and non-human life in this world of ours. We are all interconnected and the health of one impacts and affects the health of all. In this modern world, we need to find space at the table for ideas that may be “old”, but nonetheless wise and legitimate.

About the author: Tina Chen works in the Office of Environmental Information and specializes in data exchange. She is a fan of the outdoors and an avid dragon boater. The Expedition culminated in her running her first, and hopefully not her last, half marathon!

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.

Expedition Day 1: Paddle, Listen, Learn

By Robert Courtnage

ELN Members with kayaks

ELN Members with kayaks

A 4:30 AM wake-up is rough. But on the first day of our 4-day Chesapeake Bay Expedition, it didn’t feel so bad as the excitement had me extra motivated to be up and ready to go. Eighteen dedicated EPA Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) athletes trained for months to physically prepare, while ELN volunteers and Georgetown University Outdoor Education guides spent months planning logistics and outreach activities. As we stood on the dock in Ft. Washington, MD getting ready for the first leg of the journey, the calm water and sunrise rendered the scene breathtaking. An osprey let out its distinctive call and drifted overhead as folks readied their kayaks.

As a volunteer for our 4-Day Expedition, I helped setup listening sessions with local Bay experts and the public, and keep our athletes safe, well fed, and in good spirits. Judy Lathrop with Atlantic Kayaks led and educated the Team down a beautiful stretch of the Potomac, just south of Colonial Farm, MD. After helping to fix a flat tire on the kayak trailer, I shuttled the athletes back to our campsite to hear from members of the Accokeek Foundation, Mattawoman Watershed Society, and the public.

I always try to buy organic, locally grown foods, so I was really excited for the first part of the listening session which featured a tour of Accokeek’s Ecosystem Farm. The team learned about community-supported-agriculture operations and its benefits to our health, the environment, and the community.

ELN members listening to presentation

ELN members listening to presentation

Next we listened to a presentation by Jim Long, President of the Mattawoman Watershed Society, and his passion for the Mattawoman Creek, a tributary to the Chesapeake Bay. Our session was open to the public and we were joined by a young family concerned about the role of government in protecting the Bay. I gained a lot from this form of public engagement as it’s a great way for the Agency to actively connect with people knowledgeable about the problems facing their community.

It felt great to be a part of the Expedition and its three purposes: the outdoor athletic challenge, fellowship among EPA employees, and a unique opportunity for our emerging leaders to meet with folks challenged with environmental issues at the local level.

About the author: Robert Courtnage works for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention on toxics issues including asbestos management in buildings and the phase-out of mercury in products. Robert loves fly-fishing and helping to increase awareness about the need to improve the declined health of the Chesapeake Bay and the rivers that feed it.

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.

Science Wednesday: Sensor Field Day-Humans Still Needed

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

On June 15, I joined about a dozen colleagues from state and federal environmental agencies, academic institutions, and private industry aboard the Research Vessel Rachel Carson .  We were joined by an AAAS Fellow working at EPA, along with her daughter, a middle school student, to learn about environmental sensor technologies used to monitor the Potomac River.

The field trip included a “show and tell” of high-tech equipment, such as automated, solar-powered, web-enabled, sensors moored to research buoys that collect a host of data on water quality and environmental conditions. There was even a demonstration of a radio-controlled mini-submarine fitted with water quality and bathymetry monitors and side-scan sonar.

As impressive as all the high-tech equipment was, I was reminded of some of the lessons I learned from one of my first jobs, working in the environmental health unit of the City Health Department in Madison, Wisconsin: the importance of cooperation and remembering to use our “human” sensors.

Cooperation
While on board the Rachel Carson, I was struck by the exemplary cooperation among VA and MD environmental agencies. They have collaborated across political boundaries to standardize water monitoring methods and capabilities on a huge aquatic ecosystem, feeding real-time monitoring data—collected, processed, quality-assured, and visually displayed—to a vast range of eager eyes. This cooperation is helping them tackle complex watershed problems in times of lean budgets and staff shortages.

Human Sensors
Everyone on board used their own human ‘sensors’ to appreciate the river and the importance of healthy aquatic ecosystems. The gathering also provided an opportunity to share data by one of the easiest ways I know: swapping stories.

When the team demonstrating how to use the mini-sub realized they needed to adjust the buoyancy to match the Potomac’s lower salinity, scientist Dr. Walter Boynton shared the story of a colleague who could test salinity by tasting a drop of water. His tongue was sometimes more accurate than the sensors.

Another story involved the sunken WW II submarine Black Panther. It was “misplaced” for decades until a team of divers searching for it suspected the coordinates for its location had been transposed. They switched the numbers and sure enough, they “rediscovered” the Black Panther submarine in 1989!

image of author looking out at water over the side of the shipA great day on the Potomac reinforced lessons I think we need to remember as we work to solve the enormously complex problem of managing water quality throughout the huge Chesapeake Bay watershed: all the new technologies and databases still need humans to make the connections and keep it all calibrated.

About the Author: Ed Washburn has covered “multimedia” topics in the Office of Research and Development since joining EPA in 1998.

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