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A Brief Overview of Green Infrastructure Research & Activities at EPA. James (Jim) Wickham [email protected] US EPA Office of Research & Development Research Triangle Park, NC. Pinch-hitting for … Matt Nicholson US EPA, Region III Philadelphia, PA. GI Activities at EPA.

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A Brief Overview of Green Infrastructure Research & Activities at EPA

James (Jim) Wickham

[email protected]


Office of Research & Development

Research Triangle Park, NC

Pinch-hitting for …

Matt Nicholson

US EPA, Region III

Philadelphia, PA


GI Activities at EPA

  • Integrating built and natural infrastructure solutions
  • Will it work?
  • Can it be implemented at the scales needed?
  • Overcoming institutional and sectoral silos
  • What policies are needed to support investment in natural infrastructure as an integral part of water infrastructure (e.g., ecosystem services)?
  • What tools exist or can be further developed to invest in natural infrastructure at the watershed level (e.g., ecosystem service payments)?
  • Infrastructure optimization
  • What needs to be done to make it happen?
  • Are there places where it is happening?

EPA Authorities

Clean Water Act33 U.S.C. §1251 et seq. (1972) – First major legislation established following formation of EPA in 1970.

  • Regulate discharge of pollutants in to the nations waterways

Safe Drinking Water Act42 U.S.C. §300f et seq. (1974) – The Act authorizes EPA to establish minimum standards to protect tap water and requires all owners or operators of public water systems to comply with these primary (health-related) standards.


Clean Air Act (1970) – This legislation authorized the development of comprehensive federal and state regulations to limit emissions from both stationary (industrial) sources and mobile sources.


Green Infrastructure Activities at EPA

  • MultiResolution Land Characteristics (MRLC) Consortium (
  • EPA (Atlanta) – Southeastern Ecological Framework (SEF) (
  • EPA (Chicago) – Critical Ecosystem Assessment Model (CrEAM)
  • EPA (Philadelphia) – Initiated a GI “Community of Practice”
  • Towards a Sustainable America (President’s Council on Sustainable Development) (
  • EPA (Office of Research & Development) – Renewed emphasis on GI as a research area (predominantly “gray” infrastructure)
  • EPA (Office of Water) Healthy Waters Initiative

MultiResolution Land Characteristics (MRLC) Consortium

In operation since ~ 1995

A successful bottom-up e-government initiative to provide digital land-cover data for

nation. Includes almost all federal agencies (USGS, NOAA, USFS, EPA, USDA, OSM, Census, DOT, NASA, NPS, USFWS).

Developing into a land-cover monitoring program (change detection)

  • All major U.S. operational remote sensing programs have depended on MRLC data pool or classification technology
    • NLCD(
    • C-CAP (
    • CDL (
    • LANDFIRE (
    • GAP (

Wickham J, Homer C, Fry J, Vogelmann J, Mueller R, Herold N, Coulston J. in review. The Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium – 20 years of development and integration of U.S. national land cover data. Remote Sensing of Environment.


GI Activities at EPA

Forest-wetland networks in US by number of core (hub) areas in network

Wickham, Riitters, Wade, Vogt (2010) A national assessment of green infrastructure … using morphological image processing. Landsc. Urban Plann. 94:186-195


Maryland Greenprint

Uses GI maps and other ecological models to “optimize” financial resources allocated for conservation.

Weber, T., Sloan, A., Wolf, J., 2006. Maryland’s green infrastructure assessment: development of a comprehensive approach to land conservation. Landscape Urban Plan. 77, 94–110.

Weber, T., 2004. Landscape ecological assessment of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Environ. Monit. Assess. 94, 39–53.


Clean Water Act (Recovery Potential)

Clean Water Act (“water” infrastructure)

Sections 305(b) and 303(d) – ‘engine’ of CWA reporting; states submit biennial reports of waterbody condition [305(b)] of which some are impaired [303(d)]

TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) – a assessment of the factors causing impairment and the maximum levels (loads) that can be allowed while still meeting water quality standards)


It is easier to detect impairment than restore functionality and thus there are about 40,000 identified impaired waters (303(d)).

Little guidance on prioritization of impaired waters

Norton DJ, Wickham J, Wade TG, Kunert K, Thomas JV, Zeph P. 2009. A method for comparative analysis of recovery potential in impaired waters restoration planning. Environmental Management 44:356-368.


Clean Water Act (Recovery Potential)

Blue = ongoing or completed projects

Yellow =

Gray =

  • Project started ~2008.
  • Training offered in all 50 states.
  • Projects ongoing in 15 states.
  • EPA sponsors website

Recovery potential – comparative site analysis (conducted by states) to identified the set of impaired waters mostly likely to recovery if restoration was implemented.


Healthy Watersheds Initiative

Clean Water Act (overall mission) – Restore and protected the nation’s waters

  • It is less expensive to protect than it is to restore!
  • Expand focus to include protection of healthy, intact systems

EPA – Healthy Watersheds Initiative

  • Goals – 1) identify network of healthy watersheds, 2) integrate into EPA, 3) outreach
  • Stakeholder – work with local & state partners; serve as a hub
  • Act as an “integrator” of conservation efforts nationwide


EPA 2011. Healthy Watersheds Initiative: National Framework and Action Plan. EPA, Office of Water, EPA 841-R-11-005


Drinking Water


Drinking water resources are protected by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SWDA)

  • Estab. 1974 (P.L. 93-523); amended 1986 (P.L. 99-399) & 1996 (P.L. 104-182).
  • 1974 – passed law after studies reveal widespread problems due to poor operating procedures, inadequate facilities, uneven management.

(EPA = regulatory authority; states = implementation and enforcement)

  • SDWA establishes standards for public water supplies, control of underground injection of waste, financing of infrastructure, and …
  • 1986 – increase pace of regulated contaminants & groundwater protection.
  • 1996 – sweeping changes; source water protection (watersheds).
  • Approximately two-thirds of the US population relies on drinking water from surface sources (Levin et al. 2002, US EPA 2008).

Source: Tiemann (2008) Congressional Research Service, Order Code RL31243


Drinking Water


1996 amendments co-occurred with shift toward protection & conservation

  • NYC filtration avoidance determination (NRC 2000)
  • Treatment cost decline by 20% for every 10% increase in forest (10%-60% forest)1
  • Several US cities have opted for watershed preservation to avoid the capital costs of treatment2
  • Approximately 35 of 105 of the world’s larger cities have invested in watershed preservation to secure drinking water3
  • New guidance document on protecting natural resources in drinking water watersheds4

1 Ernst C, Gullick R, Nixon K (2004) Protecting the source: conserving forests to protect water. Opflow 30:1–7

2 Postel SL, Thompson BH Jr (2005) Watershed protection: capturing the benefits of nature’s water supply services. Natural Resources Forum 29:98–108

3 Dudley N, Stolton S (2003) Running pure: the importance of forest protected areas to drinking water. World Bank/

World Wildlife Fund International.

4 WRI(2013) Natural infrastructure: Investing in forested landscapes for source water protection in the United States. World Resources Institute


Drinking Water

Wickham J, Flather CH. 2013. Integrating biodiversity and drinking water protection goals through geographic analysis. Diversity and Distributions 19:1198-1207.

Wickham J, Wade, T, Riitters K. 2011. An environmental assessment of US drinking water watersheds. Landscape Ecology 26:605-616.



Are local, stakeholder-driven conservation efforts accounting for a national perspective and how green infrastructure might be changing?

Are local, stakeholder-driven conservation efforts taking Clean Water Act information (e.g., impaired waters, state revolving fund) into account?

Are local, stakeholder-driven conservation efforts taking Safe Drinking Water Act information (drinking water intakes, drinking water state revolving fund) into account?

Are local, stakeholder-driven conservation efforts contacting EPA Healthy Watersheds Initiative personnel (they’d like to know about it, and may be able to help)?


Matt Nicholson (nicholson.matt) [EPA, Region III]

Doug Norton ([email protected]) [Recovery Potential]

Laura Gabanski ([email protected]) [Healthy Watersheds Initiative]

Anne Neale ([email protected]) [EnviroAtlas]