Environmental stewardship centers on the responsibility for environmental quality shared by all those whose actions affect the environment. It is one of the strongest means to a more sustainable future. We believe that stewardship cannot exist without an understanding of and appreciation for our most precious natural resources. Fortunately, our environmental scientists and engineers are able to focus on stewardship activities through their daily work, keeping the importance of their actions to both solving a client’s needs and the environment at the forefront.
Our stewardship work often begins in person. After all, is there a deeper connection formed between scientist and the environment than that built through field work? The fresh (or not so fresh) air, the water, the plant and and animal life, and the soil all bring home the need for responsible environmental practices. Wherever we find ourselves in the world and on whatever project type, this “boots on the ground” sampling, measuring, evaluating, and testing work is, by its very nature, focused on stewardship activities. Our development of novel study designs for assessing agricultural tile-drain chemical transport is a great example of our stewardship efforts in the field.
Our ecological modeling work applies traditional and novel modeling approaches to investigate runoff, erosion, and drift potential of chemicals in the environment. These stewardship studies are critical to understanding the potential of chemicals entering surface water either from agriculture field activities or from down-the-drain (home and personal care products). By incorporating high quality national databases, including the US EPA’s National Hydrography Dataset Plus (NHDPlus) and estimating worst-case chemical exposure at a watershed scale, we are able to investigate a multitude of scenarios covering a range of environmental variables to determine estimated environmental concentrations across local and regional scales (e.g., river basin, country, and continent).
Assessing the impact of Best Management Practices (BMPs) set to reduce the potential for agrochemical active ingredients in groundwater and surface water falls soundly within our stewardship goals. By applying geospatial analysis and techniques, we are able to compare BMPs and label specifications to select mapping characteristics. For example, we have used groundwater depth data from state-level monitoring databases in order to develop a map of shallow groundwater locations. By overlying maps of shallow groundwater locations to USDA’s Cropland Data Layer data, we are able to identify any overlapping agricultural soils that may show a potential concern for shallow groundwater. By employing these statistical and geospatial techniques, we’re actively participating in the human health and environmental stewardship of agrochemicals.
Our stewardship work has allowed us to work on some very interesting and environmentally-forward projects. For example, we currently have a team focused on researching the impact of UV blockers from sunscreen products on marine and coral species. This has expanded to evaluating the environmental impact made by other personal care products, including fragrance and cosmetics industries.
One thing is clear, wherever we see a need for environmental stewardship, our team has the passion, skill set, and dedication to lead the way.
A passion for the environment is an unspoken pre-requisite for anyone working in the environmental science and engineering world, and our own Waterborne staff certainly passes this test. In true Waterborne style that embraces the Earth Day mission, we spend most of professional lives focused on finding solutions to the next big environmental issue… And then spend our spare time contributing to environmental activities in own communities. We are dedicated!
As an example, the staff in our headquarters in Leesburg, Virginia devotes weekends and evenings volunteering with a number of locally-faced environmental groups supporting wildlife and the land. It’s not uncommon to find a Waterborne team volunteering with the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy (LWC) on projects such as its annual bird monitoring program. Nothing builds camaraderie like counting bluebird boxes!
When not in the office, Amy Ritter, our Principal Water Resources Engineer, can often be found monitoring LWC programs for birds, butterflies, and amphibians, as well as tree-planting efforts. Gerco Hoogeweg, our COO and Soil & Water Quality Scientist, also contributes his time to LWC monitoring programs. Gerco also manages the JK Black Oak Wildlife Sanctuary, home to a globally unique wetlands system. In addition to LWC, Pat Holden, Waterborne’s Co-Founder, spends his time contributing to the Unity with Nature Committee at Goose Creek Friends, as part of the trail crew with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, and as a member of the Loudoun Beekeepers Association. In keeping with our passion for clean water, our Virginia staff members have volunteered and donated their time toward local clean-up or monitoring programs for the Potomac River, Goose Creek, and Virginia Volunteer Stream monitoring.
Our Virginia office isn’t alone in its dedication to giving back to our environmental communities, locally and as a whole! With offices across the USA and clients worldwide, our staff members have been able to contribute countless hours toward protecting Mother Earth. For example, Greg Goodwin, Senior Agricultural Engineer in our Champaign, Illinois office, is passionate about stewardship activities for the balance of the Earth’s natural resources. He serves on the Board of Directors for a non-profit organization (They InHerit) dedicated to providing sustainable water resources to support communities and infrastructure in developing countries. Kate Marincic, who recently relocated to Vermont, volunteers her time to programs in and around the Mad River Valley, including clean-up efforts, riparian planting, trail maintenance, and workshops. In southeastern Massachusetts, Waterborne’s Lead Scientist, Jennifer Collins, takes part in local clean-up efforts as well as the Blue Hills Climate Action Coalition.
These are but a few of the ways our Waterborne staff gives back to the environment—beyond our professional work. We’re proud of the way our environmental scientists and engineers integrate our passion for the environment into their daily lives while investing in our local communities. It is through this passion that we can claim that every day is Earth Day here at Waterborne.
As we prepare to celebrate the 51st Earth Day on April 22nd, we are reminded of the history of activism, perseverance and scientific advancements this anniversary represents. The vigor of environmental concern that first Earth Day sparked has spread from its roots as a college-level demonstration to today’s significant advances in environmental science and technology, policies and regulations directed by governmental agencies, growing environmentally-focused cabinet positions, and conversations we have with our own friends and families about the future of our planet and resources. That day of demonstration has become a force that’s only gaining steam today.
The original idea for the day was to organize a large demonstration on college campuses in the form of a ‘teach-in” that would be broadcasted across national media. April 22 was selected as the date since it fell between Spring Break and final exams on campuses, which would help to boost participation from students and faculty. Millions of Americans gathered to the participating colleges and schools to show their support for environmental health and in Denver, Colorado, Nelson gave his speech to express their collective concern.
The sheer number of supporters in April 1970 made it clear the American people’s concerns were potent and immediate. Over the next few years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) was founded and significant legislations were passed, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act, all emblematic of the unprecedented green momentum. “Earth Day was a massive mobilizing effort: In many ways, Earth Day nurtured the first green generation”—and the start of the environmental revolution.
As a part of the environmental revolution, the American Chemical Society launched its AGRO division in 1970 after realizing focusing on agricultural chemistry is very much in-line with environmental goals. Legislation and regulation of agrochemicals has lead to the development of novel chemistries and modified uses of traditional chemistries. Waterborne’s Amy Ritter, who has served as a member of the AGRO divisions Executive Committee for several years, has played a key role in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the AGRO division through the development of a historical timeline to honor the advancements in the field of agricultural chemistry.
Today, Earth Day and all that it represented is stronger than ever. All we need to do is turn on the news to see that the call to environmental action sparked over 50 years ago was certainly not short-lived. On a local level, many of us are involved in recycling efforts, small scale habitat restoration, or other initiatives in our local community. On a broader scale, the existential threat of climate change is playing out on a global stage. In January, President Biden officially named the former secretary of state John Kerry as International Climate Envoy, and former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy as National Climate Adviser.
Considering all that it has accomplished, it’s fair to say that Earth Day is not just another holiday. It is a celebration of the birth of a national awakening to the crisis of the earth we live in and both the “green generation” and “green revolution”. Through our work and our environmental values first highlighted on that day, we’re assured that current and future generations will continue to celebrate not only the earth, but the movement to protect and repair, the goal of “decency, quality, and mutual respect for all of human beings and all living creatures.”
In last month’s newsletter, we discussed water quality today and the continuous work that is being done to provide clean water. Since most of our staff are directly involved with contributions related to water quality, we thought it would be interesting to see what decisions our environmental scientists and engineers are making in their own lives regarding drinking water. We asked our team what type of drinking water they typically purchase or consume on a regular basis. The vast majority of our survey participants (over 70%) chose to use their municipal tap as their primary source of drinking water, though many prefer to filter their tap water prior to consumption. The explanations indicated that staff members tend to understand the safety factors associated with drinking water from the municipal tap and some even review the contamination reports which demonstrate safety factors. The plastic waste associated with bottled water consumption was another reason indicated for drinking municipal tap water.
The sun is shining and the warm weather is just around the corner, which means… “Fore!” Golf is back in full swing! Golf has grown to be quite the popular pastime in the United States, with over 14,000 golf facilities across the country at the end of 2020 and 36.9 million Americans (more than 12% of the population) participating in golf activities. It’s certainly not uncommon to find our staff out on the course during the weekends. Senior Scientist, Dean Desmarteau, probably holds the title for Waterborne’s most avid golfer. He’s played for most of his life and even had the opportunity to keep score for Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson while volunteering during a Champions Tour event in Kansas City. For many, and perhaps this year especially, the golf course is a sprawling green outdoor respite; a break from the home office and computer screen. And while for some hitting the greens may seem like a walk through nature, golf courses’ beautiful landscapes are far from naturally occurring.
Golf courses typically range from about 110 acres (in an urban setting) to about 200 acres (resort areas) and include sprawling grass areas, pesky water features, hard structures, and out-of-play areas. As with many agricultural businesses, these areas must be maintained according to strict environmental regulations. Which environmental regulations apply depends on what the particular golf course area in question houses, such as fuel storage (for maintenance equipment and golf carts), agrochemical use, and turf irrigation, just to name a few. All of this is to say that the behind-the- scenes work required to keep the course looking spectacular are far from simple.
Generally agrochemicals are applied as spot treatments to specific parts of the course like those around holes, tees, greens and fairways. The use of all agrochemical products in the US, including uses on golf courses, requires comprehensive scrutiny through testing and regulation and federal law requires that the US EPA must evaluate all pesticide use to ensure that they meet the strict safety standards designed to protect ecological and human health. For a product to be registered under federal regulations, any potential hazards from toxicological effects and routes of exposure from proposed uses must first be thoroughly vetted during the product’s risk assessment process.
For this reason, the maintenance staff at your local course includes licensed applicators well versed and educated on the properuse of agrochemicals. Product labels are extremely detailed regarding the amount applied as well as the specific time of day and environmental conditions allowed for application (e.g., morning versus evening, precipitation versus none, <10 mph wind speed, and direction). Additionally, labels will specify the type of equipment and nozzles to use to apply.
Unsurprisingly, irrigation is also key in the upkeep of golf courses. Each state has very specific irrigation requirements, so the procedures would be quite different on a course in Arizona compared with a course in Virginia. Between the treated greens and their corresponding undulating terrain, plus the course ponds themselves, there are plenty of water points that must be monitored and protected within the golf course setting.
As with other environmental regulations, best management practices continue to evolve and continuous education of maintenance staff is required to ensure irrigation, chemical use and nutrient loading through fertilization is conducted in a way to protect the local ecology. In order to provide education related to federal regulations, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), along with its’ philanthropic group, Environmental Institutes of Golf, developed the Golf Course Environmental Profile which is a comprehensive environmental profile of golf courses in the United States. This profile helps to convey accurate land use, management of natural resources and environmental stewardship activities. These surveys are used to document environmental practice changes over time, assist in the future direction of GCSAA environmental efforts, respond to governmental and public inquiries, and provide the foundation for comments on proposed regulatory issues.
So the next time you’re teeing off, hopefully you’ll have a better appreciation of the years of work and regulation it has taken to keep the course lush and green, while also keeping nearby non-target ecology and water ways safe. These are just a few things that are helping to maintain our golf courses in tip top condition so that avid golfers, including Dean, can continue to spend weekends driving on the fairway and putting on the green.
Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act (CWA) in the United States and while it has had a tremendous impact on our environmental work, it’s important to understand the other factors that define what clean water and water quality means for us today. Under the CWA, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) develops and sets national water quality criteria for pollutants and also implements pollution control programs—including wastewater—standards for industry. However, new laws, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act (SWDA), have been passed and implemented over recent decades that provide us with additional clean water regulatory requirements.
The SDWA was passed by Congress in 1974 to provide public health protection through the regulation of public drinking water supplies. Through 1986 and 1996 amendments, SDWA was expanded to protect drinking water sources, including rivers, lakes, reservoirs, springs, and groundwater wells serving more than 25 people. This came about after it was determined that hazards to drinking water may come in the form of naturally-occurring contaminants, improper disposal of chemicals, animal wastes, runoff from agricultural chemicals, wastes disposed of underground, or movement through an improperly-maintained transport system. Today the responsibility for maintaining safe drinking water in our country’s 170,000 public water systems is divided between the EPA, states, tribes, water systems, and the public.
The EPA sets the national standards for drinking water based on state-of-the-science health risks, technology, and costs These standards generally relate to the maximum contaminant levels or requirements for water treatment and are regulated by the level of risk and the likelihood of occurrence in water supply. First a health goal is set based on risk, including risks to the most sensitive populations (i.e., infants, children, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals), then a legal limit or treatment requirement is set to be as close to the health goal as possible, with feasibility assessed through cost-benefit analyses. Meeting these SDWA standard requires significant water monitoring, data collection, and analysis and collaboration with state drinking water programs.
The Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) was enacted in 1996 to set tolerances for the regulation of pesticide residues in food sources. Among other risks, FQPA requires the consideration of aggregate risk from multiple-source exposure to a pesticide, including food, water, residential, or other non-occupational sources. Within 10-years of FQPA’s enactment, the EPA either revoked or modified nearly 4,000 pesticide tolerances.
Enacting CWA, SDWA, and FQPA were important first steps towards clean water. The burden is in implementing the limits set by these Acts, an effort that requires diligent and often large-scale water monitoring programs that incorporate studies designed to effectively collect and analyze samples for quantitative comparison against the current criteria and limits. Today’s analytical technology, including liquid and gas chromatography methods, also play an important role in defining revisions to water limits or monitoring program goals by allowing us to measure lower and lower concentrations of analytes in water. Reducing the laboratory instrument and method detection levels allows us to assess water quality and understand the presence of various compounds in water more confidently.
In addition to water monitoring and analytical developments, environmental modeling plays a critical role in understanding the fate and transport of chemicals in surface and ground water. Exposure models help to simulate the movement of chemicals in water using physical-chemical characteristics of the chemical and representations of the environmental conditions. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is often used in combination with these models as a link to the watershed data. Groundwater modeling also takes factors such as soil, weather, and chemical properties into account and utilizes specific exposure models as predictive tools.
What we, as scientists, have learned is that the push to lower detection limits must also be considered in terms of the cost-benefit analysis with respect to health goals set forth in regulations. Our job is to seek out the best, most cost-effective path toward meeting these limits that still protects the health of our Earth and its many residents.
From the dryads of Greek Mythology to the messages of the trees in the 2019 Pulitzer Prize fiction winner, TheOverstory, mankind has explored the idea of nature speaking to humans. Perhaps it comes from a primal desire to communicate with the world we live in? And while a forester’s claims (name?) in Smithsonian Magazine’s March 2018 issue that, “trees also communicate through the air, using pheromones and other scent signals,” were considered controversial, these rather literal ideas of listening to nature may, in some cases, actually have a factual basis. Strano Research Group and others have recently developed a system for Spinach—yes Spinach!—to send email.
Bizarre as emailing spinach may sound, these studies have been successful. Plants in general are innate experts at monitoring and responding to changing conditions around them. Spinach, in particular, has a strong capacity to be a “nanobionic” sensor: able to detect water stress, disease, and dangerous levels of metals of compounds. For example, carbon nanotubes in the spinach leaves will emit a signal in response to the plant roots detecting a specific compound in the groundwater. The cellular signal emitted in the leaves can be picked up by an infrared camera set to send an email for notification of a detection. Scientists believe that using this vegetable as a simple iron source has the potential to become the new “canary in a coal mine,” proving capable of detecting arsenic and explosives.
We’re eager to see how this and other new technology might be incorporated into every day production. If you want to know more about the growing capacity to hear the things Spinach has to say, here are some of the articles and sources we found most interesting:
Nearly three decades ago, in 1993, Waterborne Environmental was founded, and we’re certainly proud of the longevity! We recently took a look back at photos from Waterborne’s early days in the field and found some fun memories to share.
Born in response to disaster and molded over generations, the Clean Water Act has long been a source of environmental pride within the United States. How did this ground breaking legislation come into being? To really understand the Clean Water Act and its importance, we took a look back at its history below.
In 1948, the industrial and urban development driven by World War II had resulted in air and water pollution on a scale never seen before. The environmental destruction spurred Congress to take action and the U.S. introduced the groundbreaking new law called, “The Federal Water Pollution Control Act” (FWPCA). In the decades leading up to this, legislators in Congress had made numerous, unsuccessful attempts to pass similar bills addressing the issues of water pollution in the U.S.
FWPCA authorized the Surgeon General, in cooperation with federal, state, and local entities, to establish programs for eliminating or reducing the pollution of interstate waters and tributaries. It was also used to help improve sanitary conditions of surface and ground waters. Additionally, the Act authorized the Federal Works Administration to support states, municipalities and interstate agencies in constructing water treatment plants that adequately treated discharge water and other wastes into interstate waters or tributaries.
Although it was a needed first step, in practice, the FWPCA proved to be extremely cumbersome to enforce since it only provided limited authority to the federal government and did not generally prohibit pollution. By the late 1960s, the American public had learned enough to rank the environmental and water pollution a growing concern.
In June 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was first released as a series in The New Yorker, later becoming a bestseller. Silent Spring brought the message of the risks associated with DDT use to the American public. It helped to set the stage for the environmental movement that occurred in the U.S. in the 1970s.
In 1969, TIME magazine released images and articles of the Cuyahoga River burning near downtown Cleveland, the tenth blaze witnessed on the waterway in the past century! Cleveland had been an industrial powerhouse for over a century and, as the factories and population grew, the Cuyahoga River received more and more industrial discharge in the form of oil and industrial solvents. Since the drinking water source for the population was Lake Erie, pollution of the Cuyahoga had been viewed as a “cost of industry.” A little known fact about the TIME story was that the 1969 fire was only ablaze for 30 minutes and no actual photos of the event were captured. Instead, TIME featured shocking photos from a much more devastating fire that occurred in 1952.
1969 was a busy environmental disaster year that included the Santa Barbara oil spill in California. At the time, this event was the most devastating oil spill in U.S. history, with an estimated 3 million gallons of oil released into the Pacific Ocean. The spill resulted in a 35-mile long oil slick off the coast of California and killed thousands of birds, fish, and marine mammals. With the decade’s advent of televisions in homes, the public was now able to see both media photos and television footage of the oil-slicked animals and dead dolphins resulting from this tragedy. There is no doubt that the wide-reaching coverage and ability for Americans to see such environmental tragedies played a role in spurring the environmental movement further.
It didn’t take long for the growing public outcry to push legislative changes, including sweeping amendments to the FWPCA. These amendments incorporated consideration of storage to regulate streamflow, the Clean Water Restoration Act of 1966, the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970 which lead to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and disassembled the Federal Water Quality Administration, as well as the restoration and maintenance of the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s water.
A 1972 amendment essentially rewrote the FWPCA and is seen as one of the most notable developments to water protection. This amendment, the Clean Water Act (CWA), established a clear regulatory system for discharge of pollutants into U.S. waters; granted EPA authority for pollution control program implementation; set and retained water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters, and funded the construction of sewage treatment plants.
A 1977 amendment to the CWA included: the development of Best Management Practices (BMPs) and the Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) assisting States in developing their own BMPs as part of their water pollution programs; completion of the National Wetlands Inventory by December 31, 1981; approving the Corps of Engineers to issue general permits on any activities that are similar in nature, cause only minimal environmental effects when performed separately, and only have a minimal impact on the environment for state, regional, and national entities; exemption of various activities from the dredge and fill prohibition; transferring of the regulatory program to the states; requiring the development for agreements to minimize duplication and delays in permit issuance.
The last major amendment to the CWA included the continuation of the Chesapeake Bay program, establishment of Great Lakes National program office within the EPA and NOAA, state requirement to develop strategies for toxic cleanup in waters where the application of BAT (Best of Available Technology) discharge standards are not sufficient to meet state water quality standards and support public health, and the requirement of the EPA to study and monitor water quality effects attributable to the impoundment of waters by dams.
The CWA’s actions to protect U.S. waterways and regulation of surface and ground water set the stage for massive changes in the protection of our waterways. As environmental scientists, our own work in water monitoring and overall water quality is still tied to the early history of the CWA and it serves as a reminder to us about the critical importance of our daily work.
March is Women’s History Month, and we are taking this moment to honor women pioneers in the field of environmental science. The list of women who have supported, innovated, and driven environmental science is long and impressive, but two stood out to us representing decades of advancements in the field.
Rachel Carson, an avid environmentalist who intertwined her love of nature with a passion for writing and poetry, was most notably known for her bestseller, Silent Spring. Originally featured as a series in The New Yorker in 1962, Silent Spring alarmed and educated readers on the dangers of DDT and played a significant role in the environmental movement, including the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Although Silent Spring is her most recognizable work, Carson was also a marine biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Throughout her career, she was able to deftly apply poetic prose to describe complex ecological food webs and systems. Carson also wrote Under the Sea-Wind, The Sea Around Us, and the Edge of the Sea.
Mollie Beattie was the first woman to serve as the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Under her leadership, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added 15 additional national wildlife refuges, 100 habitat conservation plans, and reintroduced the gray wolf into the northern Rocky Mountains. Her appointment in 1993 under the Clinton administration provided her with a role from which she actively championed environmental laws and amendments, including the Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts.
Everyone hears a different call to environmental science, and our own women scientists have unique stories about what led them to our field of research. For example:
Amy Ritter, our Principal Water Resources Engineer, initially specialized in designing water systems and waste water treatment plants working for an international engineering consulting firm with Marty Williams (co-founder of Waterborne). After going back to graduate school, Amy joined Waterborne to help out our co-founder, Marty with modeling exposure and transport of pesticides, and as she says “just ended up staying” We’re certainly grateful she did, 28 years later!
Nikki Maples-Reynolds, a Project Toxicologist, grew up with the love for the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and hiking. It was during these hikes that she witnessed a loss of salamanders and dying trees around mountain streams. The losses spurred her to action and, from then on, she knew she wanted to go to pursue for environmental toxicity and help solve important problems through science-based approaches.
Natalie Walk, a Project Agricultural Engineer, grew up on a livestock and grain farm and had goals to expand her knowledge within the agricultural field. She was drawn to environmental and agricultural science because she could see the direct impact research has on farmers with the most up-to-date best management practices.
Jenn Trask, a Principal Engineer, was inspired back in elementary school when her father worked for the Illinois EPA specializing in chlorofluorocarbons and the ozone. His work inspired Jenn to follow in his footsteps. By the time she entered college at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, an environmental engineering track was an available option for her through her civil engineering major, a degree path that was not available when her father attended the same school. Although they have different degrees, their pursuit was the same, to ensure the environment is being preserved for generations to come.
We are grateful to the women in history who have paved the way for women in environmental science, including the many talented women scientists and engineers at Waterborne Environmental.