Make a New Year’s Resolution to Exercise – Your Hydrants!

With the beginning of each new year come all sorts of resolutions – to eat better, spend less, organize the house, and clean the garage. But the most commonly made resolution by far is to exercise to get into better shape. And while we agree with this resolution 100%, it may not be for the reasons you think. You see, we think you DO need to exercise – your fire hydrants!

Hydrant Calisthenics

Exercising hydrants comes in the form of unidirectional flushing (UDF) which, just as the name implies, flushes water in one direction from the cleanest possible source, such as a well, outward to dirty mains, finally exiting a hydrant. This unique process is utilized to maintain a distribution system as well as learn critical information about the system, allowing utilities to make future improvements based on the information acquired. The primary goal of UDF is to clean water mains, removing as much sediment, debris, and loose tuberculation as possible. Performing unidirectional flushing on an annual basis helps to avoid tuberculation and sedimentation buildup. Water mains that are not flushed on a regular, scheduled basis run the risk of building up tuberculation to the point that the buildup cannot be removed by flushing, and this can have a significantly negative impact on water quality, fire flows, and distribution system efficiency.

unidirectional_flushing_programWhile the primary objective of unidirectional flushing is to clean mains, there are also many secondary goals and benefits. Exercising hydrants and valves prolongs the life of the valves while also locating closed or broken valves. In addition, flushing helps to narrow down a search area when trying to determine the cause of water quality or pressure issues in a specific area of the system. In a best case scenario, the flushing will actually alleviate the water quality issues by flushing out any debris or buildup that is causing the problem. Also, there are often discrepancies between the hydraulic model and the distribution system that can be discovered and addressed during flushing. Lastly, flushing helps to determine or disprove suspected system issues. Frequently, these issues are not of an emergency nature and can either be readily corrected during the flushing process or can be scheduled for repair at a convenient time, BEFORE they require critical attention.

According to The American Water Works Association (AWWA), “distribution system deficiencies continue to be responsible for more then 25 percent of waterborne disease outbreaks in the United States each year, a statistic that underscores the need for water suppliers to effectively control water quality within the distribution system. Flushing is one of the most powerful tools available to a water utility for maintaining this control.” For this reason, AWWA has published a set of guidelines to follow when implementing a unidirectional flushing program. They recommend a minimum velocity of 3.0 feet per second, and also recommend that system pressure in the surrounding area maintain 20 psi, similar to the concept of adequate fire flow availability.


There is a great deal of information that can be gathered during flushing, and the better the quality of data recorded, the easier it is to compare data, making it easier to determine if changes are occurring or if a problem has developed in the distribution system. Each step of the process is important, and a successful flushing program is a continuous process. The data should be compared on a yearly basis, at a minimum. Gaining five pounds over the course of one year seems insignificant; however, gaining five pounds per year over a course of five years will find a person with his weight up 25 pounds — and that IS significant. The same holds true for distribution systems. If the data is not reviewed annually, small problems have the potential to become large problems, and simple system improvements run the risk of being overlooked.

So while you are making your new year’s resolutions, be sure to include exercise…of your hydrants — your distribution system, customers, and operators will surely thank you. Happy New Year!

12 Months of Giving — Keeping the Holiday Spirit Alive Throughout the Year

philanthropyDuring the holiday season, we typically hear about gifts on the 12 days of Christmas, eight days of Chanukkah, or seven days of Kwanza. And in the spirit of the season of gift-giving, many people choose this time of year to donate food to shelters or toys to needy children. We here at Tata & Howard love this time of year and the generosity that is so prevalent, but we are also committed to giving back to the local and global community throughout the year. So this holiday season, we have compiled the 12 Months of Giving — a list of 12 philanthropic events in which we have had the honor of participating in 2015.

  1. waterforpeople_tatahowardCharity of Choice: Water For People
    Most Tata & Howard employee-owners donate to Water For People with every paycheck through automatic payroll deductions, and the company matches 100% of donations made in this way.
  2. Water For People Golf Tournament
    Tata & Howard sponsored the American Water Works Association, Connecticut Section Golf Classic to benefit Water For People this past August. All funds raised by the event were donated to Water For People.
  3. Rally for the Jimmy Fund
    Employee-owners participated in the Rally for the Jimmy Fund in April. The Rally encourages people to wear Red Sox gear on Opening Day at Fenway Park in exchange for a donation to the Jimmy Fund, and has raised over $4 million for cancer research since its inception in 2006.
  4. Special Olympics of Massachusetts (SOMA)
    Some of our philanthropy is through the gift of time. Justine Carroll, P.E., has volunteered for SOMA for over 15 years as a swimming coach with the Belmont, Massachusetts swim team, and each year she has helped 30 to 40 athletes on her team participate in the Special Olympics Summer Games held every June at Harvard University. In addition to her full schedule as a Project Manager and Team Leader at Tata & Howard, her commitment as a coach involves training sessions twice a week in preparation for Special Olympics. Now that’s dedication!
  5. joel_loithersteinRacing for the Jimmy Fund
    Employee-owners supported co-workers Joel Loitherstein, P.E., LSP, and Heidi White as they participated in the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) and Mass Dash for the Jimmy Fund, respectively. PMC is an annual 200-mile, 2-day bike-a-thon that crosses Massachusetts starting in Sturbridge and ending in Provincetown. Mass Dash is a grassroots, 100-mile relay in Massachusetts that starts at Mount Greylock and ends in Amherst. Both races raise funds for cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, with PMC raising over $500 million and Mass Dash raising over $500,000 since their inception.
  6. Camp Sunshine
    Tata & Howard participated in National Flip Flop Day in June. The holiday was started nine years ago in an effort to raise funds to benefit Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Maine for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Employee-owners wore flip flops to work in exchange for a donation to Camp Sunshine, which was matched 100% by Tata & Howard’s Philanthropy Committee.
  7. The Watershed Fund Annual Fundraiser
    Tata & Howard sponsored the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority (RWA) annual golf tournament to support The Watershed Fund in August. The Watershed Fund recognizes that land use choices are important decisions confronting many towns and individuals across the region, and strives to enhance the environment and improve quality of life by protecting drinking water supplies and threatened watershed lands.
  8. Navajo Nation Monetary Donation
    After learning that people living on American soil lacked access to clean water, Tata & Howard employee-owners, along with a match from the company, donated to Navajo Water Project, a subsidiary of DIGDEEP that works to provide safe, accessible drinking water to Native Americans living in Navajo Nation.
  9. food_donationFood Drive
    In October, employee-owners participated in a month-long food drive to benefit local food banks. Among all offices, Tata & Howard donated over 400 pounds of food.
  10. City of Marlborough
    In December, employee-owners contributed to the Mayor’s Charity Relief Fund of Marlborough, Massachusetts, which helps residents of the city in need of financial assistance at times of crisis or hardship. Tata & Howard’s corporate office is located in Marlborough, and employee-owners were glad to be able to support the local community.
  11. DARE Family Services
    For the holiday season, employee-owners donated handpicked gifts to foster children in Massachusetts through DARE Family Services, a non-profit whose primary mission is to find, train, and support loving homes that will help children become resilient and overcome the trauma of serious abuse and neglect. DARE Family Services has six offices throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut, including its administrative offices in Somerville, Massachusetts.
  12. navajo_water_crisisNavajo Nation Water Cistern Donation
    Tata & Howard again supported the Navajo Water Project by purchasing a 1,200-gallon water cistern, which will provide the necessary water storage for a full running water system in one Navajo American Home. The gift was purchased in honor of Tata & Howard’s clients in lieu of holiday cards.

As 2015 comes to a close, we at Tata & Howard are thankful that we have been fortunate enough to have the ability to support a variety of charitable organizations throughout the year. In 2016, we look forward to participating in additional philanthropic activities both as a company and as individuals, and to continue to do our part to improve the environment — and world — in which we live. Happy Holidays!

Clean Air Day 2015: 52 Years of Clean Air

clean_air_dayWe celebrate Clean Air Day on December 17 each year in honor of the Clean Air Act, which was first passed on that day in 1963. The Clean Air Act, which is a federal law, was originally adopted in an effort to control air pollution. It was one of the first environmental laws in the United States and it helped pave the way for future environmental safeguards, including the Clean Water Act of 1972, which protects our nation’s waters. Both the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act are administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in coordination with state and local governments. To this day, the Clean Air Act remains one of the most exhaustive air quality laws in the world.

Why the Clean Air Act was formed

Air pollution is largely attributed to the Industrial Revolution, which began in the late 1700s in England and spread to the United States by the early 1800s. Industrialization brought significant air degradation in the form of deforestation and chemical and particulate pollution, and the advent of gas-powered automobiles only exacerbated it. With no regulations, air quality left many in the early Industrial Age with asthma, respiratory illness, and heart disease. “Killer smogs” were not uncommon, often blanketing manufacturing towns in a thick, toxic fog.

The Killer Smog of 1948, Donora, PA

On October 27, 1948, the town of Donora, Pennsylvania experienced one of the worst environmental disasters in American history when atmospheric conditions trapped pollution from The Donora Zinc Works of the American Steel and Wire Company. While the town often experienced smog overnight, it typically dissipated in the morning. However, on that October day in 1948, cold air formed a temperature inversion that trapped the noxious mix of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and heavy metal dusts that bellowed continuously from the smokestacks of The Donora Zinc Works, which employed most of the town. By the time a rain storm ended the smog on October 31, 7,000 people, or half the town’s population, had fallen ill, and 20 had died. During the disaster, The Donora Zinc Works refused to cease operations, only closing on October 31 after the damage had been done.

The nation reeled from the disaster and demanded regulations concerning air pollution. In 1949, the First National Air Pollution Symposium was held in Pasadena, CA, and in 1950, President Harry Truman assembled the U.S. Technical Conference on Air Pollution in Washington, D.C. From these events, a 1952 resolution on health research passed in the House, but, with the Donora disaster now four years in the past and fading in memory, the measure failed in the Senate. However, another environmental disaster took place in 1952 and spawned U.S. Congress to finally take action against air pollution.

An Arsenal goalkeeper peers into the smog, which was so thick the game was eventually stopped. Photograph: PA, 1952

Considered still to be the worst man-made environmental disaster in history, even surpassing the Chernobyl nuclear explosion, the Great Smog of 1952 in London is considered to be the catalyst for the global environmental movement. On December 5, 1952, temperatures in London, England plummeted, causing Londoners to burn more coal to keep their homes warm, which released excessive amounts of hydrogen fluoride, sulfur dioxide, and particulates into the air. At the same time, the frigid air created a temperature inversion — similar to Donora’s in 1948 — that held the poisonous smog close to the ground. Visibility was less than one foot, causing many businesses to shut down and residents to stay home. The toxic smog lifted four days later, and what Londoners found shocked them: over 100,000 Londoners had fallen ill, and over 4,000 had died. To make matters worse, over the next few months over 8,000 additional people died from respiratory or heart complications as a direct result of the lethal smog.

Interestingly enough, New York City also experienced a killer smog in 1953, where 200 people succumbed to the noxious fumes over a five-day period; however, the event was not reported until 1962, when history repeated itself with a similar smog that killed another 200 people in the Big Apple. Because it was not reported, the 1953 smog of New York City had no effect on the passage of the Clean Air Act.

Spurring global action, the Great Smog of 1952 expedited the passing of both Great Britain’s and the United States’ first federal legislations pertaining to air pollution. In 1956, Great Britain passed the Clean Air Act that regulated smoke, and in 1968 the Act was extended to include industry. Similarly in the United States, the 1955 Air Pollution Control Act allocated three million dollars per year for five years to the U.S. Public Health Service to fund air pollution research, air pollution control research, and technical and training assistance to states. While the Act brought air pollution to the federal level and provided funding for research, no federal regulations were actually formed. It wasn’t until The Clean Air Act of 1963, enacted on December 17 and celebrated annually since then as Clean Air Day, that the first federal legislation involving air pollution control was established.

Smog blankets Beijing, China

China is now experiencing an air pollution crisis similar to those experienced by the United States and Great Britain in the mid-20th century, and finds itself learning lessons that have already been learned. This month, Beijing was issued its first ever red alert in December over pollution levels deemed hazardous to health, forcing the capital to shut down schools and construction sites in an effort to take cars off the road and to keep people indoors. Capitalizing on their country’s global third place ranking for air quality, Canadian company Vitality Air shipped 500 bottles of “mountain fresh air” to China two months prior to the red alert — and quickly sold out, even with a hefty price tag of about $18.50US per bottle. Another shipment of 700 bottles is scheduled this month.


The Air Quality Act of 1967 authorized enforcement procedures involving interstate transport of pollutants, and major amendments to the Clean Air Act passed in 1970, 1977, and 1990. A brief overview of milestones of the Clean Air Act is as follows:

The Air Pollution Control Act of 1955:

  • First federal air pollution legislation
  • Funded research on scope and sources of air pollution

Clean Air Act of 1963:

  • Authorized a national program to address air pollution
  • Authorized research into techniques to minimize air pollution

Air Quality Act of 1967:

  • Authorized enforcement procedures involving interstate transport of pollutants
  • Expanded research activities
President Nixon signs the Clean Air Act of 1970

Clean Air Act of 1970 greatly expanded federal enforcement and the federal mandate, requiring comprehensive federal and state regulations for both stationary and mobile pollution sources:

  • Established National Ambient Air Quality Standards
  • Established requirements for State Implementation Plans to achieve them
  • Establishment of New Source Performance Standards for new and modified stationary sources
  • Establishment of National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants
  • Increased enforcement authority
  • Authorized control of motor vehicle emissions

1970 was a big year for the environment. In addition to the comprehensive expansion of the Clean Air Act, the first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970 as a means of bringing national awareness to the fact that the environment needed protection. Later that same year, on December 2, the EPA was established to consolidate a variety of federal research, monitoring, standard-setting, and enforcement activities into one agency to ensure environmental protection.

1977 Amendments to the Clean Air Act of 1970:

  • Authorized provisions related to prevention of significant deterioration
  • Authorized provisions relating to non-attainment areas

1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act of 1970 increased enforcement authority, established a national permits program for stationary sources, and addressed acid rain, ozone depletion, and toxic air pollution:

  • Authorized programs for acid deposition (acid rain) control
  • Authorized controls for 189 toxic pollutants, including those previously regulated by the national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants
  • Established permit program requirements
  • Expanded and modified provisions concerning National Ambient Air Quality Standards
  • Expanded and modified enforcement authority

In Conclusion

Boston, MA consistently measures "very low" for air pollution
Boston, MA consistently measures “very low” for air pollution

Today, United States air quality is ranked in the top 20% globally, and improves with each passing year. Federal and state regulations, more sensitive air quality monitoring, improved remediation methods, safer manufacturing processes, more efficient automobiles, and increased public education and awareness are all ways in which we as a nation have decreased air pollution in the United States. As we celebrate Clean Air Day and the 52nd anniversary of the  Clean Air Act, we can all breathe easy knowing that we as a nation are committed to continually improving our environment so that it is safe now and for future generations.

T&H donation helps bring water to Navajo Nation

T&H donation helps bring water to Navajo Nation

Water cistern purchased on behalf of clients

This water cistern, donated by Tata & Howard on behalf of its clients, will help provide safe, clean drinking water to a family living in Navajo Nation
This water cistern, donated by Tata & Howard on behalf of its clients, will help provide safe, clean drinking water to a family living in Navajo Nation

Tata & Howard sponsored a water cistern through Navajo Water Project, a subsidiary of DIGDEEP that works to provide safe, accessible drinking water to Native Americans living in Navajo Nation. The 1,200-gallon cistern provides the necessary water storage for a full running water system in one Navajo American Home. The gift was purchased in honor of Tata & Howard’s clients in lieu of holiday cards.

“The western border of Navajo Nation is only 25 miles from Tata & Howard’s Flagstaff, Arizona office, so it really hit close to home when we learned of the Navajo Nation water crisis,” stated Shira S. McWaters, P.E., Manager of the firm’s Flagstaff office. “We as a company have historically supported and will continue to support Water For People, a charity that works to bring clean and sustainable water to developing nations, through automatic payroll deductions as well as corporate sponsorship of benefit events such as silent auctions and golf tournaments. However, in light of the water poverty facing those living right here on American soil, we decided to also focus our efforts on Navajo Nation this year.”

Tata & Howard and its employee-owners had made a previous donation of $2,235 to Navajo Water Project, which is the only water charity that serves people living in the United States, in September.
“The fact that there are people living right here in the United States who lack access to safe, clean drinking water is deplorable,” added Joel S. Loitherstein, P.E., LSP, Vice President of Tata & Howard. “We are proud to support Navajo Water Project in their efforts to bring a sustainable water supply to all who live in Navajo Nation, and are thrilled to do so in honor of our clients.”

In addition to the donation of the water cistern to Navajo Water Project, Tata & Howard employee-owners donated handpicked gifts to foster children in Massachusetts through DARE Family Services, a non-profit whose primary mission is to find, train, and support loving homes that will help children become resilient and overcome the trauma of serious abuse and neglect, and made monetary donations to the Mayor’s Charity Relief Fund of Marlborough, MA, which helps residents of the city in need of financial assistance at times of crisis or hardship. Tata & Howard’s corporate office is located in Marlborough.

It Takes a Village to Manage Stormwater

stormwater_street_drainWhat’s the big deal about stormwater? After all, it’s just rain, right? Not really. Rain or snow that lands on pervious, or porous, surfaces such as forests, gardens, or fields soaks into the ground and is naturally filtered and cleaned by layers of dirt and rocks, after which it finds its way to groundwater and drinking water supplies. Stormwater is precipitation that runs off impervious surfaces, such as rooftops, paved areas, lawns, and bare soil, directly into lakes and streams. Because it does not infiltrate and is therefore not filtered prior to entering ground or surface waters, stormwater is contaminated by everything it picks up along the way. These pollutants include but are not limited to pesticides, motor oil, gasoline, antifreeze, road salt, trash, fertilizers, sewage, bacteria, and pet waste, and they wreak havoc on drinking water supplies.

Common problems associated with waters polluted by stormwater include bacterial and nitrogen overload, low-oxygen dead zones, toxic algae blooms, litter-strewn waterways, damage to coastal marshes, and beach closures. In addition, pollutants carried by stormwater can harm or kill fish and wildlife, destroy vegetation and wildlife habitats, and foul drinking water. And all of these problems come with a very high environmental and monetary price tag. The most cost-effective way to manage stormwater pollution is to prevent it in the first place, which requires the cooperation of the government, municipalities, and individuals.

How the Government Helps

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has instituted stormwater regulations under its Clean Water Act, which aims to protect our nation’s water so that it is clean, drinkable, fishable, swimmable, and healthy. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit Program controls water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States. Three specific contaminants of concern are bacteria, phosphorus, and nitrogen, and many of our nation’s rivers, streams, and lakes are already widely contaminated by these pollutants.

NPDES Municipal Storm Water Permitting Program regulates stormwater discharges from municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s). MS4 refers to systems including roads with drainage systems, municipal streets, catch basins, curbs, gutters, ditches, man-made channels, and storm drains that are owned or operated by a state, district, county, city, town, or other public body (created by or pursuant to state law).

Phase I of the NPDES stormwater program for MS4s requires operators of medium and large MS4s, or those that serve populations of 100,000 or greater, to implement a stormwater management program in order to control polluted discharges from these MS4s. Phase II extends coverage of the NPDES stormwater program to certain small MS4s, but utilizes a modified approach to how the stormwater management program is developed and implemented. 

How Municipalities Help

Stormwater fees are based on the amount of impervious surfaces on a property

Increasingly, municipalities are addressing the issue of stormwater through regional collaboratives, education, legislation, and taxation. Last January, the Portland, Maine City Council unanimously voted to charge property owners a stormwater fee, which is dependent on the size of their rooftops and driveways or parking lots. The fee goes into effect this coming January and will cost the average homeowner roughly $4.50 per month, but will have a much larger impact on businesses like L.L.Bean, which will incur a monthly fee of just under $10,000. Several other municipalities in New England have implemented similar fees, including Chicopee, Fall River, Northampton, Newton, and Reading, MA, and Burlington, VT. Across the nation, over 500 municipalities, including major cities such as Minneapolis, Baltimore, Charlotte, Des Moines, Philadelphia, Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Orlando, have also begun imposing stormwater fees. While many residents and businesses have complained about this alleged “rain tax,” the fees actually assist with the remediation and cleanup necessary due to stormwater pollution, which is exacerbated by impervious cover. It is possible for homeowners and businesses to reduce stormwater fees by reducing the square footage of their property’s impervious surfaces.

Regional collaboratives, aiming to comply with the NPDES Permit Program, are becoming increasingly common with MS4 permittees. These collaboratives, such as the Central Massachusetts Regional Stormwater Coalition (CMRSWC) in south-central Massachusetts, hold workshops together with stormwater engineering consultants in an effort to determine the most essential tasks for stormwater management as well as the critical content of each task. With this method, these municipalities are able to pool resources to identify and implement the most efficient, cost-effective methods of meeting MS4 Permit compliance within their communities.

Green roofs help manage stormwater in urban settings

How Individuals Can Help

Mitigating stormwater pollution requires a multi-faceted best practice approach that involves not only federal and local agencies and municipalities, but also homeowners and individuals. There are many ways for individuals to reduce stormwater pollution including cleaning up and properly disposing of pet waste in a timely fashion, maintaining healthy septic systems, reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides and fertilizers, and implementing cleaner automotive operations. In addition, homeowners may implement Low Impact Development (LID) practices on their property to manage stormwater and to save water. Some of the easiest and most cost-effective LID practices include installing rain barrels, rain gardens, green roofs, and permeable pavers. Comprehensive information on LID may be found here, and of course, public education is key. Some other important ways that individuals can mitigate stormwater pollution are as follows:

Ladybugs are a natural predator to pests such as aphids
        • Unclog residential storm drainages that become blocked
        • Cover truck loads or piles of dirt, mulch, yard waste, and other debris
        • Dispose of chemicals, such as motor oil, paint, and grease, properly
        • Have septic systems professionally inspected and pumped at a minimum of once every three years
        • Wash vehicles on on the lawn or other unpaved, porous surface
        • Direct downspouts away from paved surfaces and clean roof gutters annually
        • Check vehicles for leaks
        • Avoid pesticides by utilizing Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
        • Cover bare spots in the yard with plants, rocks, or even a water garden
        • Sweep driveways and walkways instead of hosing them off
        • Make sure all trash containers are tightly covered so that trash doesn’t enter the environment
Rain gardens filter stormwater, provide habitat for wildlife, and beautify the area
Rain gardens filter stormwater, provide habitat for wildlife, and beautify the area

Because the monetary and environmental cost of damage caused by stormwater is so exorbitant, it is imperative that communities take action to proactively prevent stormwater runoff before it causes damage. The old adage about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure is quite applicable in the case of stormwater, as methods for stormwater prevention are both inexpensive and simple to implement, whereas cleanup and treatment are costly. However, best stormwater management practices require cooperative involvement of governments, municipalities, businesses, and residents. In other words, it really does take a village to manage stormwater.

World Soil Day 2015 — Why It Matters

world_soil_dayWorld Soil Day, which was officially sanctioned by Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2012, falls on December 5 each year, the same day as King Adulyadej’s birthday. Bringing together nations around the globe, World Soil Day led to 2015 being declared International Year of Soils. This special year, which has promoted soil awareness through events and education, will come to a close at FAO Headquarters in Rome, Italy, on World Soil Day 2015. To further illustrate the success of World Soil Day, this same day will also serve as the launch of the first ‘Status of the World Soil Resources Report’.

Fast facts on soil

  • plant_in_soilSoil provides habitat to an abundance of species both above and below ground
  • The health of soil has a direct impact on the nutritional value of the food we eat – both animal and plant
  • Carbon is a key component of the soil as it controls many processes, including water storage, soil structure, and nutrient cycling
  • Soil that is high in organic carbon content increases infiltration and water retention, which in turn increases drought resistance
  • Every gram of soil organic carbon holds up to eight grams of water
  • Soils lose carbon through degradation, but can be restored through best management practices
  • Conventional agricultural practices cause soil erosion at a rate of up to 100 times greater than the rate of natural soil formation
  • One inch of topsoil takes over 500 years to form through natural processes
  • Soil stores 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions
  • By increasing soil organic matter by only 1%, all of the carbon added to the atmosphere since the Industrial Age would be removed

Why is soil so important?

crop_landOnly 15% of the Earth’s land is suitable for growing crops. With the rapid increase in global population, demand for food is on the rise and it has become more important than ever to maintain the health of the land’s fertile soil. In fact, over the past 40 years, one third of our world’s arable land has become degraded. Even more concerning, 75% of the degradation of the soil is considered severe. Contributing to the degradation is the practice of continual plowing of fields, excessive use of fertilizers, and deforestation.

Healthy soils not only provide the basis for our global food supply, they also hold far more water than unhealthy soils. The organic matter in soils acts as a giant sponge, holding about 20% of its weight in water. It also recycles nutrients that plants require, improving the health of plants and greatly reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides. Because healthy soils hold so much water, they also reduce stormwater runoff, nutrient loading, erosion, and the need for irrigation. Healthy soils are a key contributor to the overall health of our environment, and they also provide significant cost savings to farmers, homeowners, and municipalities by reducing the need for chemicals, irrigation, and water treatment. Therefore, it is paramount that we protect the arable land that we have and try to increase the health of our soils.

How soil becomes contaminated

LSP_servicesSoil contamination is caused by the addition of human-made chemicals to soil. The contamination typically exists as a result of leaking or ruptured underground storage tanks (USTs), pesticide application, contaminated surface water infiltration, landfill waste leaching, or direct discharge of oil, fuel, or industrial waste. The most common chemical contaminants are pesticides, petroleum hydrocarbons, solvents (such as those from dry cleaning operations), lead, and other heavy metals.

What we can do

There are many methods by which to protect our existing soils as well as to improve the health of degraded soils. To do this, we need to implement best land management practices including holistic farming methods, reduction in impervious surfaces, reforestation, and restoring wetlands. In addition, remediation of contaminated soils, particularly those in urban settings, greatly increases environmental health.

hands_healthy_soilFortunately, just as our water can be treated and cleaned, our soil can be remediated as well. Many contaminated sites can successfully be remediated with in-situ cleanup using soil vapor extraction, air sparging, bioremediation, and enhanced monitored natural attenuation technologies. Because our natural ecology is so interconnected, remediation of contaminated soils brings a myriad of environmental benefits including improved soil, air, and water quality, increased future arable land, and decreased virgin land development.

Besides soil remediation, which needs to be performed by licensed experts such as Licensed Site Professionals in Massachusetts and Licensed Environmental Professionals in Connecticut, there are steps we can take at home to improve soil. Planting intelligently within managed landscapes, increasing groundcover and vegetation, applying mulch and composts, retaining crop stubble, reducing tillage, and using organic fertilizers all contribute to improving the health of soil. In addition, Low Impact Development (LID) practices, typically utilized to manage stormwater, also help to save topsoil and improve the health of our soils. Installing rain barrels, planting rain gardens, utilizing permeable pavers, and disconnecting impervious surfaces are just a few of the ways in which we can do our individual part to save the world’s arable land.

Happy World Soil Day!

EPA Anticipates MS4 Permit to be Released in January 2016

On December 2, EPA and MassDep held a briefing at the State House to update legislators on MS4 permits. EPA stated that they anticipate the permit will be released as early as mid-January 2016.

ms4_permitThe December 2 briefing held at the State House was co-hosted by legislators Carolyn Dykema, State Representative for the Massachusetts 8th Middlesex District and Jamie Eldridge, Massachusetts State Senator representing the Middlesex and Worcester Districts. Jennifer Pederson, Executive Director for Massachusetts Water Works Association, was also in attendance.

The draft permit received over 1,400 comments to which EPA is in the process of responding. Key points include the following:

  • Timing: EPA is looking at spreading out the time frames for compliance. The permit will not be effective on the date it is issued; rather, it will likely be effective six months from the date of issue while also giving permittees 90 days to submit as well as providing more time on the illicit discharge program;
  • Requirements: EPA is working to realign their requirements with state stormwater standards;
  • Training: EPA is working on tools and templates to help with communication and required training, and will be holding several workshops when the permit is released;
  • Cost: EPA is looking for ways to reduce costs to permittees and indicated there would likely be different cost estimates in the final permit compared to the draft permit;
  • Credit for Previous Tasks: EPA intends to give credit for tasks that were completed under the existing MS4 permit so that permittees will not have to repeat tasks.

The legislators in attendance expressed their concern over the costs to their communities to comply, particularly since their towns’ estimated costs for compliance were considerably higher than what EPA originally stated. While EPA said that costs could potentially be adjusted once the permit was released, they also affirmed that costs to communities with TMDLs or impaired waters would be significantly higher in order to sufficiently address water quality issues. However, EPA also stressed that the impending permit is strictly for planning purposes and will not require construction of Best Management Practices.

MassDEP noted that they are currently reviewing all changes that EPA proposes to make to the permit. DEP is particularly interested in seeing if comments that MassDEP Commissioner Marty Suuberg had previously submitted on the draft have been incorporated into the final permit.

Please feel free to contact us with any additional questions on the impending MS4 Permit.

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EPA Provides New England with over $165 Million for Water Infrastructure Projects


606px-Environmental_Protection_Agency_logo.svgThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded funds to all six New England states to help finance improvements to water projects that are essential to protecting public health and the environment. The funds will be primarily used to upgrade sewage plants and drinking water systems, as well as replacing aging infrastructure, throughout the state. Awards were made to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program in each state, which provides low-interest loans for water quality protection projects to make improvements to wastewater treatment systems, control pollution from stormwater runoff, and protect sensitive water bodies and estuaries; and to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) program in each state, which provides low-interest loans to finance improvements to drinking water systems, with a particular focus on providing funds to small and disadvantaged communities and to programs that encourage pollution prevention as a tool for ensuring safe drinking water.

The awards are as follows:

  • Connecticut: $26 million — $17.1 million CWSRF, $8.9 million DWSRF
  • Maine: $19.6 million — $10.8 million CWSRF, $8.8 million DWSRF
  • Massachusetts: $63.7 million — $47.4 million CWSRF, $16.3 million DWSRF
  • New Hampshire: $22.7 million — $13.9 million CWSRF, $8.8 million DWSRF
  • Rhode Island: $18.2 million — $9.4 million CWSRF, $8.8 million DWSRF
  • Vermont: $15.6 million — $6.8 million CWSRF, $8.8 million DWSRF

Since the beginning of this program, EPA has awarded approximately $4.554 billion to New England states for the construction, expansion, and upgrading of clean water infrastructure resulting in decreased pollution entering waterbodies throughout the state.

As communities develop and climate patterns shift, water infrastructure needs are expected to grow. Green infrastructure is a cost-effective and resilient approach to water infrastructure needs that provides benefits to communities across the nation.