Friday, December 18, 2009

Water, water everywhere -- EPA breaking news on lake water and water in general

egret at Town Lake in Austin, TX 
(photo: kmhurley)

Today, December 18, 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protective Association (EPA) published not one but two releases regarding fresh water: a critical baseline study on U.S. lakes and a Research Partnership strategy for more and better research going forward.  This news almost slid under the radar... but ... we picked it up.

Disclosure: this subject is close to the heart, because this blogger grew up on a lake.  Lake Sunapee, a pristine northern lake (which has an excellent Protective Association, check it out for pics and Lake Sunapee news bits.)  

So today's EPA news has a special ring to it.

The thing about lakes is... 
What goes into lakes is often what comes out of chemical use - either in manufacturing or afterwards, e.g., from rainclouds rendered acidic from pollution, or from substances used to treating roads for pavement or ice... all this rolls into our lakes and fresh water arteries.

The best way to regulate clean lake water may well be to monitor chemical processes, substances, and product ingredients well before we have to test our water.  Not just for the bad news, but to track the good news as well, like where we're improving our industrial chemical footprint, where we aren't impacting the lakes at all, and all the other optimistic greening trends we're seeing these days.  Track it, talk about positive trends, and have numbers standing by to support our claims (see link above for tool to do document chemicals, component, substance use).

This blog has discussed substance-tracking before.  So we won't go into full analysis of products that can track, analyze and report on chemicals in a product life-cycle and before and after.  For more on technology to clean the environment before toxins find the waterways, please see previous blog posts on the subject, such as this one: EPA calls for chemical information management.

More breaking news on the subject of fresh water:

EPA's Nat'l Water Program Research Strategy to Advance and Broaden Research Partnerships 

On December 18, 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its National Water Research Strategy.  Purpose is to engage a broader range of researchers in meeting the challenges of protecting and improving U.S. water resources.

The strategy identifies and promotes the research needs of EPA’s national water program to potential partners. It outlines the water program’s four research priorities: healthy watersheds and coastal waters, safe drinking water, sustainable water infrastructure and water security. 

Each priority focuses on five technical areas: aquatic life health effects, human health effects, method development, occurrence and exposure, and treatment technologies and effectiveness.

The objective of the strategy is to diversify the science the water program uses to develop its regulatory and non-regulatory water management tools and decisions. Expanding the science base will expedite the production of the needed tools and help achieve faster and better-quantified water quality outcomes.  More information:

Thin ice:  Apache Nitrogen Products, Inc agrees to $5 million ground water and soil cleanup 

San Francisco - The U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Apache Nitrogen Products, Inc. entered into a consent decree for future groundwater and soil cleanup at the Apache Powder Superfund Site, near St. David, Arizona. Apache Nitrogen Products will continue to remove nitrate and perchlorate from groundwater and perform long-term groundwater monitoring. The work will cost up to $5 million and the company has agreed to pay $1.2 million for the EPA’s past response costs as part of the agreement. The company is using renewable energy and has constructed a “green” wetlands system to treat contaminated groundwater.

“Water is a vital resource in Arizona. By using cost effective, bio-remediation to clean up groundwater, Apache Nitrogen Products has saved money and protected an essential public resource.” said Keith Takata, director of the Superfund program for the EPA’s Pacific Southwest office.

Under a Unilateral Administrative Order, Apache Nitrogen Products completed the design and construction of a clean up system in September 2008 for groundwater and soil contamination at the site. Shortly after, the company began long-term operations and maintenance including ongoing monitoring of the groundwater cleanup’s effectiveness. Apache Nitrogen Products is now agreeing to continue to perform the cleanup work under a Consent Decree.

(Apache Nitrogen Products began operations in 1922 as a manufacturer of industrial chemicals and explosives, and continues operations today. The EPA identified the Apache Powder Site as an environmental problem in the early 1980’s and placed it on the National Priorities List in 1990.)

For more information, visit:
Consent Decree:

EPA's most comprehensive study of the nation’s lakes 

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released its most comprehensive study of the nation’s lakes to date. 

The draft study, which rated the condition of 56 percent of the lakes in the United States as good and the remainder as fair or poor, marked the first time EPA and its partners used a nationally consistent approach to survey the ecological and water quality of lakes. A total of 1,028 lakes were randomly sampled during 2007 by states, tribes and EPA.

“This survey serves as a first step in evaluating the success of efforts to protect, preserve, and restore the quality of our nation’s lakes,” said Peter Silva, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water. “Future surveys will be able to track changes in lake water quality over time and advance our understanding of important regional and national patterns in lake water quality.”

The National Lakes Assessment reveals that the remaining lakes are in fair or poor condition. Degraded lakeshore habitat, rated “poor” in 36 percent of lakes, was the most significant of the problems assessed. Removal of trees and shrubs and construction of docks, marinas, homes and other structures along shorelines all contribute to degraded lakeshore habitat.

Nitrogen and phosphorous are found at high levels in 20 percent of lakes. Excess levels of these nutrients contribute to algae blooms, weed growth, reduced water clarity, and other lake problems. EPA is very concerned about the adverse impacts of nutrients on aquatic life, drinking water and recreation. The agency will continue to work with states to address water quality issues through effective nutrient management.

The survey included a comparison to a subset of lakes with wastewater impacts that were sampled in the 1970s. It finds that 75 percent show either improvements or no change in phosphorus levels. This suggests that the nation’s investments in wastewater treatment and other pollution control activities are working despite population increases across the country.

The results of this study describe the target population of the nation’s lakes as a whole and are not applicable to a particular lake.

Sampling for the National Rivers and Streams Assessment is underway, and results from this two-year study are expected to be available in 2011.

Benchmark alert:  The draft study:

For more on products used to treat roadways, say for snow removal, and how those substances can effect watersheds and eco-systems, please consider this:  Chemical deicers such as sodium chloride, calcium chloride, and magnesium chloride are often applied to frozen roadways and sidewalks in rock salt form to make shoveling and clearing them easier after a big snow. The compounds form a brine solution that melts the snow. But as the brine continues to seep downward into the ground, the runoff is introduced into the ecosystem, which can damage surrounding grass, trees, and other plants before making its way back into the water supply.  For more, see a nice article here.

For more on products that not only clean but make companies and decision-makers accountable for what they make and use (not just in a bad way but also in a good way -- by tracking GOOD work via sustainable and green best practices) please see this list of environmental regulatory software tools.

Dive in, the water's fine...  hopefully.  Cheers to clean lakes -- like beautiful Lake Sunapee.