BOSTON (Sept. 14, 2021) – Richard Skarinka, of Wolfeboro, N.H., was recognized today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for his work to protect New England’s environment. Skarinka was among 22 recipients across New England honored by EPA’s New England Office at the 2021 Environmental Merit Awards virtual ceremony.
EPA New England’s annual Environmental Merit Awards are given to community leaders, scientists, government officials, business leaders, schools, and students who represent different approaches, but a common commitment to environmental protection.
Rick Skarinka of Wolfeboro was honored with an award for Lifetime Achievement. EPA also recognized the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services for its work along with 17 other New England organizations on a team that focused on ensuring access to safe drinking water in New England.
“Initiatives led by individuals like Mr. Skarinka have made great strides towards combatting climate change, bringing cleaner air and cleaner water, and ensuring our underserved communities’ voices are being heard,” said EPA New England Acting Regional Administrator Deborah Szaro. “EPA is proud to recognize these awardees’ great accomplishments and their continued efforts, especially throughout the pandemic. They truly make a difference in our New England communities.”
“Rick’s leadership, commitment to mentoring for staff and collaboration with communities, coupled with a tireless commitment to the state for almost 30 years, has ensured that New Hampshire residents on public water systems have access to a reliable supply of safe drinking water,” said New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Commissioner Bob Scott.
Rick Skarinka was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from EPA for his work at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) for the past 31 years, before his retirement in June 2021. Skarinka managed the Engineering and Survey Section of the Drinking Water and Groundwater Bureau at NHDES. He managed drinking water engineers, sanitary surveyors, operated the certification program, and was responsible for overseeing 2,500 public water systems in the state of New Hampshire. In addition, he also played a key role in the development and administration of the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan program throughout his career. He often led efforts to respond to natural disasters impacting water systems, ranging from droughts and floods to widespread power outages associated with ice storms.
Skarinka was a regulator who understood that communication is key to ensuring safe and reliable drinking water and believed that working hand-in-hand with communities leads to better outcomes. A hallmark of his efforts with his colleagues at NHDES was to encourage long-term thinking to ensure decisions made now would improve the sustainability and reliability of public water systems in the future. Skarinka frequently mentored new staff and collaborated with other agencies and programs. He also consistently worked with managers of water systems to ensure that local and state elected officials were educated on the challenges and needs of water systems in order to identify options and facilitate solutions. Skarinka’s legacy of achievements at NHDES have and will continue to improve and protect the health of New Hampshire citizens by ensuring an adequate quality and quantity of drinking water.
Another award Merit Award was given in the government category for the COVID-19 Ensuring Safe Drinking Water Team, a conglomerate of New England’s state drinking water programs, state water and wastewater agency response networks, and other water sector associations that ensured the safe operations of water utilities during the pandemic. This conglomerate consisted of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.
It also included from other New England States the Connecticut Department of Public Health; Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection; Maine Drinking Water Program – Centers for Disease Control; Rhode Island Department of Health; Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation; Connecticut Water and Wastewater Response Network; Maine Rural Water Association; Maine Water and Wastewater Response Network; Massachusetts Water Works Association; Massachusetts Rural Water Association; Massachusetts Water and Wastewater Response Network; Rhode Island Water and Wastewater Response Network; Rhode Island Water Works Association; Vermont Water and Wastewater Response Network; Vermont Rural Water Association; New England Water Works Association; and Rural Community Assistance Program.
During the pandemic, water system managers and operators faced staff and chemical shortages, restricted access to assets, and health and safety challenges. In the midst of this, drinking water programs created new guidance around flushing, hydrant sampling, tap sampling and Legionella control as well as designed new protocols that enabled state staff to perform remote sanitary surveys of water utilities. The programs also issued email newsletters; helped with virtual meetings with the state drinking water staff; developed virtual training opportunities; and offered professional training to keep certified operators up to date. While the New England state drinking water programs worked to address the regulatory, policy, and technical assistance challenges of the pandemic, the state water and wastewater agency response networks worked to protect the health and safety of water system managers and operators. Because of their efforts, drinking water in New England remains safe and plentiful, even during the pandemic.
In addition to this Merit Award winner, Janet Coit, of Rhode Island, was given the Ira Leighton “In Service to States” annual award for environmental achievement that has had an outsized impact in the state, the region, and nationally. This award recognized Coit, former director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), for being a leader in finding ways for the New England states to work as a team. Coit readily engaged in New England regional environmental challenges, including addressing PFAS, responding to climate change, improving water quality, and addressing equity and justice issues. In addition, in Rhode Island specifically, Coit focused on improving natural resource conservation, promoting locally grown food, and addressing the climate crisis. Coit continues her environmental service today, as she currently serves as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Deputy Administrator.
EPA New England each year recognizes individuals and groups in the six New England states who are distinguished by their work to protect or improve the region’s environment. The merit awards, given since 1970, honor individuals and groups who have shown ingenuity and commitment. The Environmental Merit Awards, given for work or actions done in the prior year, are awarded in the categories of individual; business (including professional organizations); local, state or federal government; and environmental, community, academia or nonprofit organization. Also, each year EPA presents lifetime achievement awards for individuals.
For more information on EPA’s Environmental Merit Awards, including photographs from the award ceremony: https://www.epa.gov/environmental-merit-awards-new-england
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