A Fulfilling Summer in the Office of Water

I can’t believe my internship with the EPA just wrapped up! My internship at the EPA Office of Water (OW) immersed me in water policy, and I now know so much more about water quality valuation, water scarcity, environmental justice, and public health. My office had a diversity of professionals, and I enjoyed learning about the overlap of water policy with economics, tribal affairs, climate change, and more. My internship offered me the opportunity to attend seminars throughout Washington D.C. and the EPA, learn more about the economics work at the EPA, and delve into meaningful research for the agency.

My office at the EPA was in the center of DC. I was sad to say goodbye, though I a may be back some day soon!
My office at the EPA was in the center of DC. I was sad to say goodbye to my co-workers, though maybe I will be back some day.

My 25-page report about water indicators to add to EJSCREEN, the agency’s environmental justice screening and mapping tool, was my largest contribution to the Office of Water. I proposed and researched ten water indicators related to environmental justice: water scarcity, flooding vulnerability, sea level rise, storm surge, safe drinking water, lead contaminated drinking water, nitrate contaminated drinking water, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFOs) waste discharge sites, access to water recreation, and water infrastructure quality. I assessed the public health ramifications of each indicator, disparities in the indicator’s burden on the population, and the data quality of existing datasets for these indicators. Each of these water indicators could provide important information for communities and lead to community and agency action to mitigate these risks.

At the end of my internship, I had the opportunity to present my ideas to the EJSCREEN Steering Committee. I spoke to a group of representatives from different EPA offices and regions and highlighted the importance of considering water scarcity, flood vulnerability, and sea level rise as indicators in EJSCREEN. The presentation offered an excellent opportunity to practice my public speaking skills, and I feel confident that the committee will focus efforts on the water indicators related to climate change. Maybe the next version of EJSCREEN will feature these indicators!

I also compiled a report comparing EJSCREEN with another agency community screening tool called C-FERST, and I passed this report along to both the EJSCREEN and C-FERST teams. I wrote two policy memos for the Water Policy Staff after I attended two different seminars in D.C., and I was able to help a co-worker with an Office of Water Tribal Sharepoint. A few of these assignments stemmed from conversations with co-workers in the office, and this emphasized the importance of speaking up, asking questions, and taking initiative.

Special OW intern seminars were one of the highlights of my summer. All six interns met professionals throughout the Office of Water and had the opportunity to learn about OW work ranging from climate ready water utilities to drinking water in Flint, Michigan. We met the Deputy Assistant Administrator in OW, heard the EPA’s Deputy Administrator speak, and learned about how to apply for federal jobs through USAJOBS. Just these seminars alone were an incredible learning experience!

EPA Internship Certificate

Interning with the Office of Water was also an eye-opening experience into the workings of the EPA. On a water policy level, I learned how society often undervalues water. The EPA has an important role to communicate the expensive and intricate process of protecting valuable watersheds and treating and distributing our drinking water. On an agency level, I saw how natural science and economics work together to help protect the environment, as science must be translated into meaningful policy. My experiences illuminated the interdisciplinary nature of the environmental field and the need for our nation to better address water management and disparities in environmental burdens related to water. Overall, my internship was a fantastic learning experience, and I am thankful for the WOW Fellowship and my supervisor at the EPA for their support.


A Summer of Learning

Every day at the EPA brings a new and exciting learning opportunity. My supervisor has encouraged me to attend seminars throughout the EPA and Washington, D.C. and to write memos for the Office of Water. In the end of June, I attended a seminar about federal coal leasing at Resources for the Future, an environmental economics think tank, and heard Jason Furman, the Chief Economic Advisor for President Obama, give recommendations about reforming the federal coal leasing program.

As a student studying environmental economics, the discussion was intellectually stimulating and offered a new perspective on energy policy. In the following week, I attended a town hall meeting led by EPA Deputy Administrator Gina McCarthy, and I learned about EPA’s amazing accomplishments in the past few weeks—the Toxic Substance Control Act reform and the Volkswagen settlement. The talk was energizing, and I felt proud to be part of such an impactful agency.

Panelists at the DC-Israel Water Summit discuss transboundary and off-grid water
Panelists at the DC-Israel Water Summit discuss transboundary and off-grid water management.

The DC-Israel Water Summit, a conference about Israeli solutions to its water scarcity crisis and its applicability to U.S. water policy, was the highlight of my summer so far. This summit was absolutely amazing, as it brought together both my love for Israel and my passion for the environment. The summit was also relatively small, so I had a chance to meet water professionals from around DC and meet the author of Let There Be Water, a book about Israel’s approach to its water crisis. I heard from panelists who were from USAID, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Israeli research institutions, Coca-Cola, the Israeli embassy, the Brookings Institution, and more.


Seth Siegel's book about Israeli water innovation
Seth Siegel’s book about Israeli water innovation

The summit was both personally and professionally fulfilling. The Israeli response to its water crisis was incredibly inspiring and gives me hope for other countries to overcome their own resource scarcities: Israel recycles 85% of their wastewater, decoupled water usage from economic and population growth, and now has a water surplus and exports water to Jordan and the Palestinian authority. We have a lot to learn from Israel! After learning all of this from the summit, I had the chance to write a memo for the Water Policy staff to share these findings and offer recommendations. For myself, I may consider a career in the water field— water management will be a growing focus in the U.S. and has potential for great reform and modernization.

I also started working on two reports for the Water Policy Staff. First, I am comparing two similar environmental screening tools—an environmental justice tool called EJSCREEN and the Community Focused Exposure and Risk Screening tool (C-FERST). Two different committees worked on these tools, and I am tasked with comparing any overlap between the two tools and providing my thoughts and recommendation to both the C-FERST and EJSCREEN committee.

Additionally, I am in the midst of writing a recommendation of water indicators to add to EJSCREEN. This requires doing a literature review of different environmental justice topics related to water and climate change, assessing available data sets to find high-resolution data, and making an argument for adding these new indicators. So far, I feel most passionate about my water scarcity indicator, especially after attending the DC-Israel Water Summit. I know the EJSCREEN committee is most open to adding climate change related indicators, so perhaps they will add this indicator. At the end of the July, I will pitch my ideas to the EJSCREEN Steering committee. I have my fingers crossed!

Inside the EPA: My First Week in the Office of Water

This summer, I have the privilege of interning with the Office of Water at the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C. I am an Environmental Studies and Economics double major, and I am working with an economist on water quality policy. The internship is a perfect fit as I get to apply my economics coursework, help impact our nation’s water bodies, and learn about the incredible work of the EPA. I appreciate the OW’s warm welcome for me, and I am fortunate to work with so many talented environmental professionals this summer.

My cubicle for the summer

My first week has been a whirlwind of getting my cubicle set up, meeting lots of new people, weaving my way through the labyrinth of the EPA headquarters’ building, and getting a taste of the economics work in the EPA Water Policy office. For the first few days, I shadowed my supervisor and read environmental economics academic papers pertaining to water quality. I sat in on engaging meetings, ranging from discussions about the water quality index to planning for a stated preference study (a survey given to people asking how much they would pay for improvement in water quality for a water body near them). I enjoyed learning about economist’s role in the EPA and seeing coursework theory applied in the meetings.

The welcoming and friendly vibe of the EPA has been one of the highlights of my internship. The EPA feels like a community, as everyone is passionate about the environment and effecting change. My co-workers have gone out of their way to introduce themselves and make me feel part of the office. The Water Policy Staff has an interesting variety of professionals in the office—staff that focus on climate change and water, tribal affairs, water scarcity, ecosystem services, water quality economics and more. Throughout the summer, I will try to get to know more of my co-workers to learn more about their career path and their current work in the office. I am sure that I have a lot to learn from them!

This week I also started my first intern tasks. I started brainstorming water indicators for EJSCREEN, an environmental justice mapping tool that maps proximity of at-risk populations to environmental hazards. There are few water indicators on the tool, so I began to brainstorm new indicators, such as water scarcity, access/proximity to water resources, and drinking water violations. It is a lot of work to collect the data, create a methodology, and pitch my idea to the EJSCREEN committee! I am happy to be making a difference, and I hope the additions in the tool can be used to flag environmental hazards, like Flint Michigan, and to help the EPA implement policy.

My ID badge

In addition to my intern tasks, my supervisor is encouraging me to attend water-related EPA and NGO seminars throughout the summer and to write summaries for the office. Today I attended a talk about urban ecosystems, and tomorrow I am going to a seminar at Resources for the Future to learn about the federal coal leasing program. I cannot wait to delve in to my internship, and I am very thankful for this learning experience.


-Allison Marill