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Water Quality

Proposed Guidelines to Control Pollution from Construction Sites

EPA News Release date: 11/19/2008
Contact Information: Enesta Jones, (202) 564-4355 / jones.enesta@epa.gov

(Washington, D.C. – Nov. 19, 2008) EPA is seeking comments on its proposed guidelines to control the discharge of pollutants from construction sites. The proposal would require all construction sites to implement erosion and sediment control best management practices to reduce pollutants in stormwater discharges.

"This proposal builds a foundation for cleaner streams and greener neighborhoods through improved treatment technologies and prevention practices," said Benjamin H. Grumbles, EPA’s assistant administrator for water.

In addition, for certain large sites located in areas of the country with high rainfall intensity and soils with a high clay content, stormwater discharges from the construction site would be required to meet a numeric limit on the allowable level of turbidity, which is a measure of sediment in the water. In order to meet the proposed numeric turbidity limit, many sites would need to treat and filter their stormwater discharges.

Construction activities such as clearing, excavating and grading significantly disturb the land. The disturbed soil, if not managed properly, can easily be washed off the construction site during storms and enter streams, lakes, and other waters. Stormwater discharges from construction activities can cause an array of physical, chemical and biological impacts.

Sediment is one of the leading causes of water quality impairment nationwide, including reducing water depth in small streams, lakes and reservoirs.

Information on the proposal and review: http://www.epa.gov/ost/guide/construction/

Erosion properties tested on pile burn footprints

Project is the first of its kind in the Tahoe Basin
By Nick Cruit, Sierra Sun, 10/28/08

Drea Traeumer of Em Consulting performs a dye test while Micheal Ukraine, Rachel Arst, and Tim Delaney of Integrated Environmental Restoration Services collect data at a prescribed burn site on Dollar Hill in Tahoe City. The research crew is studying the effects of prescribed burns on erosion and sediment runoff into Lake Tahoe.
Seth Lightcap/Sierra SunA team of scientists meticulously monitored water flowing down a dusty rill Monday as they conducted experiments in the scorched remains of a recently burned pile of brush near Lake Tahoe.

As part of the first-ever in-depth experiments to determine how prescribed forest burning affects soil erosion in the Tahoe Basin, the team from Integrated Environmental Restoration Services and Em Consulting tested charred craters left by last week’s pile burns near Chinquapin Condominiums in Tahoe City.

Though the test spot is no bigger than the rain shadow left by a car, the impact of their data will effect how decisions are made throughout the Tahoe Basin.

Having already monitored baseline conditions before Calfire’s prescribed burn project, Em Consulting Hydrologist Drea Traeumer and Integrated Environmental scientists teamed up to run rain and rill simulators directly on the footprint of the burned piles.

While the effects of fuels reduction programs on soil properties cause tension around Lake Tahoe, Integrated Environmental rain simulators hope to shed light on the potential for erosion problems caused by water flow.

“We are happy to cooperate with the project,” said North Tahoe Fire Protection District Forest Fuels Program Manager Stewart McMorrow, who helped oversee the prescribed pile burns last week. “It’s important to know what the true effects of pile burning are.”

Discussing a slow environmental process like erosion often causes conflict because it is not easily seen. Hoping to provide “facts, not opinions,” the Integrated Environmental project is a step towards educated management level environmental decisions.

“There’s a lot of dialogue from people who think they know what’s going to happen,” said Kevin Drake Monitoring Manager for Integrated Environmental. “We’re coming up with a body of data to have dialogue with concrete information.”

Data taken from the post-burn tests is only the beginning of a complicated process.

For entire article, please visit website below.

EPA Expands Study of Pharmaceuticals in Waterways

Wed, Oct 22, 2008 on NBC San Diego online

Originally written by ENS, August 6, 2008 - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to conduct a detailed study of the disposal methods used by hospitals, long-term care facilities, hospices and veterinary hospitals that wish to discard unused pharmaceuticals.

The EPA is seeking more information on the practices of the health care industry to inform future potential regulatory actions, and identify best management and proper disposal practices. EPA has assumed that one facility in seven, approximately 3,500 facilities, would be selected to receive the detailed questionnaire.

To gather this information, the agency has drafted an Information Collection Request and is now seeking public input on the request form. Public comments on the Health Care Industry ICR will be taken for 90 days after it is published in the Federal Register, which should occur shortly.

Drugs taken for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems contaminate U.S. waterways, according to a March 2008 report by the Associated Press National Investigation Team. The findings confirm a 2002 report by the U.S. Geological Survey that was the first nationwide study of pharmaceutical pollution in the nation's rivers and streams.

The questionnaire is one of several actions the agency is taking to strengthen its understanding of disposal practices and potential risks from pharmaceuticals in water.

The agency also is commissioning the National Academy of Sciences to provide scientific advice on the potential risk to human health from low levels of pharmaceutical residues in drinking water. The Academy will convene a workshop of scientific experts December 11-12, to advise the agency on methods for screening and prioritizing pharmaceuticals to determine potential risk.

"The agency's work to increase industry stewardship and scientific understanding of pharmaceuticals in water continues," said Benjamin Grumbles, EPA's assistant administrator for water. "By reaching out to the National Academy of Sciences and requesting information from the health care industry, EPA is taking important steps to enhance its efforts," he said.

For entire article, please visit website below.

A Paradox of Nature: Designing rain gardens to be dry

By Kevin Beuttell, Stormwater E-Magazine, October 2008

Despite the proven environmental benefits of rain gardens, many people are reluctant to use them because they can be unattractive. But a close examination of the relationships between hydrology and vegetation in rain gardens suggests a solution for improving their looks and their function. Rather than think of rain gardens primarily as wet environments, we should design them as dry environments that experience only brief wet periods. This shift in thinking increases opportunities for ornamental planting without sacrificing environmental performance.

Rain gardens are one of the most frequently cited and promising strategies for managing stormwater responsibly, and because of the ubiquitous presence of impervious surfaces, these systems can be used on virtually any type of site. Rain gardens come in many forms (and go by many names, such as bioswale, bioretention, and bioinfiltration), but for the purposes of this article, the term “rain garden” is essentially meant to describe a shallow depressional area designed to use the natural capacities of soil and vegetation to retain, cleanse, and infiltrate stormwater.

The Pros of the Rain Garden
Infiltration-based stormwater management strategies, such as rain gardens, are crucial to downstream ecological health. Every parcel of land interacts with water. If water infiltrates, it can be used as a resource to nourish plants and replenish aquifers. When water runs off driveways, roads, and compacted soils, however, it becomes a liability, carrying sediments and pollutants downstream. The USEPA states that nonpoint sources, such as stormwater runoff from an urbanized landscape, are the leading causes of urban stream water-quality problems. To help, many designers are looking toward landscape solutions to water-quality and flooding problems, altering land surface functions to manipulate the way in which the land captures and absorbs stormwater.

Many other stormwater management techniques address only a portion of the problems caused by stormwater runoff. Rain gardens, however, have the potential to solve all the problems of stormwater runoff before they occur. Like other infiltration-based strategies, rain gardens mitigate the hazardous stormwater runoff aspects of development by decreasing peak flows responsible for storm surges and flooding. They reduce pollutant discharges, minimize streambank erosion, replenish groundwater, and restore base flows and aquatic habitats. Rain gardens can also offer real development cost savings by eliminating expensive belowground stormwater infrastructure in favor of combining stormwater management with ornamental landscapes.

Rain gardens can also help with temperature pollution problems. In a completely natural setting, water enters a stream or other water body almost entirely through groundwater that provides steady flows at low temperatures. But when development introduces impervious surfaces, higher temperatures often result as the runoff washes over those warmer surfaces. Higher temperatures, in turn, cause the loss of a diverse system of aquatic biota in receiving streams, ponds, and rivers that are sensitive to the warmer water.

Because of effects like these, traditional urban stormwater management has always viewed water as a burden on the landscape. Water is typically taken away through channels and pipes as quickly as possible to avoid flooding on site. But water and ecological quality can be improved when water is allowed to infiltrate, using it as a resource where it falls.

The (Perceived) Cons of the Rain Garden
Attractive and functional rain gardens are the exception, not the rule. Most rain garden installations do not include those elements that are culturally accepted as beautiful, like lush green lawns, flowering vegetation throughout the growing season, clean lines, and a maintained appearance. As a result, people see these landscapes as cluttered, unkempt, and unmanaged. Perceptions are just as important as environmental performance. If rain gardens are not perceived as attractive, cared-for environments, they will not be adopted during the design phase or managed after installation. Although preferences vary from person to person, a common theme for all is an appearance that communicates care to the viewer.

People design and manage landscapes as a reflection of who they are and how they want to be perceived. Too often, rain gardens planted with water-loving species appear unkempt and abandoned. Individual plants are often stressed and weak, particularly in areas that experience hot and dry summers. The negative perception of their ornamental character is an obstacle to their use in both new and retrofit development projects. Because many rain gardens do not come close to the ornamental quality of more traditional garden landscapes (especially from the perspective of the general public, who may be largely unaware of the environmental benefits), they are not a viable option in visually prominent areas of a site such as in parking lots or at site and building entrances. In high-visibility areas, environmental performance alone is not enough. Because one cannot see the ecological functioning of the root systems, water infiltrating through soil, and wildlife’s benefits from the landscape, it is difficult to include an ecological assessment in our judgment of landscape’s appearance. So rain gardens are not used, or are relegated to areas of the site where their messy appearance will not offend.

For entire article, please visit website.

Advances in Porous Pavement, Different types of materials and continuing research offer more options.

By Tara Hun-Dorris, Stormwater Magazine, March-April 2005

Pavements are an intrinsic, seldom-thought-about part of life, particularly in urban areas. However, for developers, industrial facilities, and municipalities addressing stormwater and associated water-quality guidelines and regulations, pavement stays very much at the forefront of planning issues. “Pavements are the most ubiquitous structures built by man. They occupy twice the area of buildings. Two-thirds of all the rain that falls on potentially impervious surfaces in urban watersheds is falling on pavement,” says Bruce Ferguson, professor and director of the School of Environmental Design at the University of Georgia in Athens.

Porous pavements, designed to allow air and water to pass through, are today just a small fraction of all pavement installations. However, their popularity is steadily increasing on a percentage basis, and they have been installed in all regions of the United States, Ferguson says. “This is potentially the most important development in urban watersheds since the invention of the automobile. The automobile is causing us to build all these pavements and have all these oils that we spill. If we can transfer the environmental function of the pavement, we’ve done two-thirds of the work.”

If used properly, porous pavements can facilitate biodegradation of the oils from cars and trucks, help rainwater infiltrate soil, decrease urban heating, replenish groundwater, allow tree roots to breathe, and reduce total runoff, including the magnitude and frequency of flash flooding. Stormwater, particularly urban runoff and snowmelt, is the wastewater of the 21st century, according to John Sansalone, associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge. As reuse becomes more necessary, runoff will eventually be seen as a valuable commodity, he explains. This makes porous pavements, with their potential to revolutionize stormwater management, an important technology for the future.

Ferguson has been studying porous pavements for more than a decade. In his book, Porous Pavements (2005), Ferguson identifies nine categories of porous pavement: decks, open-celled paving grids, open-graded aggregate, open-jointed paving blocks, plastic geocells, porous asphalt, pervious concrete, porous turf, and soft paving.

For entire article, including many success stories from varied climates, please visit website.

Porous Asphalt Pavement With Recharge Beds 20 Years and Still Working

With the right soil conditions and careful design, installations retain their ability to infiltrate.
By Michele C Adams, Stormwater E-Magazine May-June 2003

Is it possible to have a stormwater best management practice (BMP) that reduces impervious areas, recharges groundwater, improves water quality, eliminates the need for detention basins, and provides a useful purpose besides stormwater management? This seems like a lot to expect from any stormwater measure, but porous asphalt pavement on top of recharge beds has a proven track record.

First developed in the 1970s at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA, porous asphalt pavement consists of standard bituminous asphalt in which the aggregate fines (particles smaller than 600 µm, or the No. 30 sieve) have been screened and reduced, allowing water to pass through the asphalt (Figure 1 on website). Underneath the pavement is placed a bed of uniformly graded and clean-washed aggregate with a void space of 40%. Stormwater drains through the asphalt, is held in the stone bed, and infiltrates slowly into the underlying soil mantle. A layer of geotextile filter fabric separates the stone bed from the underlying soil, preventing the movement of fines into the bed (Figure 2 on website).

Porous pavement is especially well suited for parking-lot areas. Several dozen large, successful porous pavement installations, including some that are now 20 years old, have been developed by Cahill Associates (CA) of West Chester, PA, mainly in Mid-Atlantic states. These systems continue to work quite well as both parking lots and stormwater management systems. In fact, many of these systems have outperformed their conventionally paved counterparts in terms of both parking-lot durability and stormwater management.

Installations Old and New

One of the first large-scale porous pavement/recharge bed systems that CA designed is in a corporate office park in the suburbs of Philadelphia (East Whiteland Township, Chester County). This particular installation of about 600 parking spaces posed a challenge because of both the sloping topography and the underlying carbonate geology that was prone to sinkhole formation. The site also is immediately adjacent to Valley Creek, designated by Pennsylvania as an Exceptional Value stream where avoiding nonpoint-source pollution is of critical importance. Constructed in 1983 as part of the Shared Medical Systems (now Seimens) world headquarters, the system consists of a series of porous pavement/recharge bed parking bays terraced down the hillside connected by conventionally paved impervious roadways. Both the top and bottom of the beds are level, as shown in Figure 3, hillside notwithstanding. After 20 years, the system continues to function well and has not been repaved. Although the area is naturally prone to sinkholes, far fewer sinkholes have occurred in the porous asphalt areas than in the conventional asphalt areas, which the site manager attributes to the broad and even distribution of stormwater over the large areas under the porous pavement parking bays.

Other early 1980s sites, such as the SmithKline Beecham (now Quest) Laboratory in Montgomery County, PA, and the Chester County Work Release Center in Chester County, PA, also used the system of terracing the porous paved recharge beds down the hillside to overcome the issues of slope. At the DuPont Barley Mills Office complex in Delaware, the porous pavement was installed specifically to avoid the construction of a detention basin, which would have destroyed the last wooded portion of the site. More recently (1997), the porous parking lots at the Penn State Berks Campus were constructed to avoid destroying a wooded campus hillside. The Berks lots, also on carbonate bedrock, replaced an existing detention basin and have not experienced the sinkhole problems that another campus detention basin has suffered.

To view complete article and figures, please visit website.

Post-Restoration Water-Quality Monitoring: Tracking aquatic habitat improvements

September 2008 issue, The Stormwater Newsletter
By Dan Smith

The Pacific Northwest and the Puget Sound have witnessed a steady onslaught of urbanization during the last century, with the most rapid development occurring from the 1950s to the present. Partnered with human daily activity, widespread urbanization has negatively affected the attributes of most of the region’s aquatic ecosystems.

As large-scale watershed alterations have advanced, the stability and quality of local stream and riparian environs has degraded. The magnitude and frequency of high flows has increased, habitat has disappeared, sedimentation has escalated, and pollutant levels continue to grow. As a result, the magnificent and diverse floral and faunal populations of the Puget Sound, especially native salmon, have become at risk.

Since incorporation in 1990, the city of Federal Way, WA, has completed a number of projects designed to counteract the extensive changes that have affected West Hylebos Creek, an important small stream in the Central Puget Sound that once yielded healthy and plentiful salmon runs. Improvements have included a series of regional stormwater detention facility installations, wetlands rehabilitation, and stream restoration projects that were designed to be consistent with the principal goal outlined in the city’s Surface Water Management Plan: “To protect, preserve, and enhance the beneficial uses of surface water for recreation, fish and wildlife habitat, aesthetic enjoyment, aquifer recharge, and open space.”

The city has long recognized the critical connection between riparian characteristics and watershed habitat conditions, and it continues to seek local aquatic ecosystem improvements. In 2004, the city pursued a golden opportunity—the Surface Water Management (SWM) division applied for and was awarded a State of Washington Department of Ecology Centennial Clean Water Fund Grant to fund an innovative restoration project targeting the West Hylebos Creek.

Initiated in 2003, the project was designed to prevent further stream degradation in this altered drainage basin where historical high-energy flows caused severe erosion of the streambed and streambanks. The ambitious undertaking included efforts to address adverse changes that resulted in extensive sediment and gravel transportation, localized flooding, loss of wetland function, and degraded aquatic habitat.

The project also involved a stratagem for ongoing water-quality monitoring with a comprehensive plan modeled to measure the restoration’s effectiveness in reducing pollutant loadings. The essential question being asked was “Will restoration of the stream improve both water quality and aquatic habitat as desired?”

Paul Bucich, surface water manager, addresses the issue by commenting, “Too often a restoration project is constructed and then all the participants from the designers to the permit writers pat each other on the backs, congratulate each other, and then move on without another backward glance—never to learn if the project was a success.” He continues, “With this project, we had the opportunity to partner with a state resource agency to study the long-term effects of our work. Unlike many monitoring efforts, this one had a well-defined question we could craft a monitoring effort around.”

EPA faulted on waterway pollution from sprawl

"EPA faulted on waterway pollution from sprawl"

Source: Directly, Department of Water Resources' California Water News online, October 16, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Environmental Protection Agency is failing to stem the pollution washing into waterways from cities and suburbs, the National Academy of Sciences reported Wednesday. The report's authors urged "radical changes" in how the federal government regulates stormwater runoff so that all waters are clean enough for fishing and swimming.

"The take-home message is the program as it has been implemented in the last 18 to 20 years has largely been a failure, said Xavier Swamikannu, one of the authors and the head of Los Angeles' stormwater program for the California Environmental Protection Agency.

Stormwater runoff is the toxic brew of oil, fertilizers and trash picked up by rain and snowmelt as the water flows over parking lots, roofs and subdivisions.

The report said responsibility for managing stormwater must shift from developers to local governments, and permits should be issued on the boundaries of a watershed, rather than state borders. Such a change probably would require a new law and take between five years to 10
years, the report said.

While urban areas cover only 3 percent of the U.S., it is estimated that their runoff is the primary source of pollution in 13 percent of rivers, 18 percent of lakes and 32 percent of estuaries.

Current law is ill-equipped to deal with the problem, the authors said.

Congress required the EPA in 1987 to start issuing permits under the Clean Water Act to industrial and construction sites. But lawmakers changed the focus on water pollution, from industrial discharges and sewage pipes to runoff, a problem that is much larger and harder to
pinpoint. The law is designed to target specific contaminants, when the problem with stormwater often is one of volume. A surge of water after a storm can cause streams to erode and fill waterways with sediment.

Benjamin H. Grumbles, the EPA's assistant administrator for water, said the findings underscored the approaches the EPA is taking. The agency requested the review in 2006, but Grumbles disagreed on Wednesday with the conclusion that the stormwater program was failing.

"We want to accelerate the progress on reducing pollution and managing stormwater. We believe sound science, pollution prevention, and watershed protection will ensure continued clean water progress," he said.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private organization chartered by Congress to advise the government of scientific matters.

Tahoe Keys a center for recreation — and controversy

Adam Jensen, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Few construction projects in the Lake Tahoe Basin highlight the often-conflicting interests of development and environmental protection quite like the Tahoe Keys. Built in the late 1950s and early ’60s, the 740-acre development at the mouth of the Upper Truckee River has alternately been seen as an appealing place to live and an environmental disaster.

An estimated 5 million cubic yards of material were dredged from the marsh at the mouth of the river to create the fingers of land interlaced with 11 miles of backyard waterways that make up the Keys. The effort destroyed much of the river’s marsh and removed a major filtration system from Lake Tahoe’s largest tributary, identified by the Lahontan Water Board as a major source of fine sediment that reduces the clarity of the lake.

The draw of the development is undeniable, and marketing for the neighborhood has changed little over the past four decades.

“Most of the 1,539 members who own homes, townhouses or vacant lots have a private boat dock and are located on numerous lagoons, canals or the Tahoe Keys Marina with its boat-launching ramps,” according to the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association. “Waterfront living provides direct access to Lake Tahoe and its many watersports. At Tahoe Keys, we enjoy breathtaking views of the lake and mountains, and enjoy amenities like tennis, indoor and outdoor pools, spa and more.”

While the attraction of living in the Keys has remained the same, the development more recently has faced a new set of environmental issues, including the fight against the introduction of aquatic invasive species into Lake Tahoe.

Eurasian watermilfoil was discovered in the Keys in the 1980s and, despite efforts to remove it, has spread to numerous locations around the lake. Researchers also have indicated the Keys area is the likely introduction point for a growing population of warmwater fish species around the lake.

For entire article, please visit website below.

Municipal In-Stream Monitoring

Stormwater E-magazine, September 2008 edition
Accountability in comprehensive sampling
By Lanse Norris

“Water is the one substance from which the earth can conceal nothing; it sucks out its innermost secrets and brings them to our very lips.”
—Jean Giraudoux

What Comprises Comprehensive Sampling?
Since the early ’70s, Cobb County, GA’s municipal in-stream monitoring efforts have evolved into a program that conducts sampling across 21 sub-watersheds at 93 chemical sites per quarter, 24 macroinvertebrate sites per year, 24 habitat assessment sites biannually, and 24 fish sites every five years. Sites were selected considering land use, proximity to industries, and stream confluences of representative reaches.

The chemical data generate a water quality index (WQI) score derived from comparing the value for any parameter of interest with values for the same available parameter from sampling results recorded throughout the Atlanta region. The index itself is a value between 0.00 and 1.00, with 0.00 representing the best value in the database for each parameter. Table 1 shows the Cobb Stream Monitoring Program chemical data for an actual site with each parameter and applicable scores. The aggregate WQI for the site is calculated as the numeric average of the available WQIs shown.

Biological sampling produces macroinvertebrate and fish data, which are scored on an index of biotic integrity (IBI). Habitat assessments are scored on a standardized form following state of Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) protocol.
A Cobb County Water System Watershed Monitoring Program Annual Report is published containing all of the chemical, biological, and habitat data collected; many permits addressing surface waters impacted by wastewater discharge, stormwater, point and non-point sources are maintained by the data. In the report, narratives for each site summarize a year’s worth of changes to the stream channel, riparian zone, and watershed itself as personnel wade upstream and drive through the watershed on the way to each site.

How Comprehensive Is It?
Ions in the Stream. Chemical monitoring parameters and methods are long-established water-quality standards prescribed by the approved 20th edition of Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater (Clesceri et al. 1998) and are implicit in environmental regulatory sampling like National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wet-weather ambient trend monitoring. Cobb County Stream Monitoring personnel take extra measures to ensure accuracy and integrity. For example, rather than rely on precarious dissolved oxygen (DO) meter readings, Winkler titration method dissolved oxygen samples are “fixed” in the field for more consistent and accurate analysis by Cobb’s Georgia Association of Water Professionals certified wastewater laboratory. Quality-control samples are collected at the first site for a given stream, and all samples are collected mid-depth in representative flow when possible and preserved in the field before transportation to the laboratory. Field notes supporting chemical sample characteristics are made concerning weather, degree of flow, color, odor, and turbidity.

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