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Building Bipartisan Support for the River in Lansing

Visit me at the office and you’ll find the Citizen’s Guide to State Government for the 98th Legislature within arm’s reach on my desk. During HRWC’s 50th year, we’re making it a priority to establish and deepen relationships with our elected officials through one-on-one meetings. Watershed communities are represented by no fewer than 10 representatives and four senators in Lansing whose votes and decisions can impact the watershed.

What do we hope to get out of these conversations? We are sharing current information on water issues relevant to each district as well as strategic opportunities to protect and enhance the resource for a diverse mix of uses (municipal, recreation, business, etc.). The conversations also are vehicles for developing more regular communications between the elected officials and HRWC.

Simply put: We want the needs and concerns for the river and its watershed communities to be heard.

HRWC Executive Director Laura Rubin and I are wrapping up several months of traveling the watershed – and sometimes beyond – to meet with the following state elected officials (see the maps of Senate and House districts overlaid on the watershed boundary):

 

Michigan House Legislative Districts (2010)

Michigan House Legislative Districts (2010)

Representatives
Gretchen Driskell (District 52)
Jeff Irwin (District 53)
Klint Kesto (District 39)
Bill LaVoy (District 17)
Kristy Pagan (District 21)
Jim Runestad (District 44)
David Rutledge (District 54)
Pat Somerville (District 23)
Lana Theis (District 42)
Adam Zemke (District 55)

 

Michigan Senate Legislative Districts (2010)

Michigan Senate Legislative Districts (2010)

 

 

Senators
Hoon-Yung Hopgood (District 6)
Joe Hune (District 22)
Mike Kowall (District 15)
Rebekah Warren (District 18)

 

 

 

 

 

The conversations were productive and friendly, and most of the officials were very responsive to our requests for meetings. Next steps entail additional information sharing on current projects, and planning a guided legislative canoe and kayak trip on the river to highlight progress and challenges. The frequency of follow-up meetings hasn’t been determined, but we can be certain that term limits will necessitate on-going conversations as new public servants represent the watershed.

The state-level meetings build on a long tradition of engagement from local and county public officials and representatives. In fact, HRWC was formed by the Michigan Legislature in 1965 and the Board of Directors is comprised of representatives from member governments. HRWC is a nonpartisan research and education organization that protects and restores the river for healthy and vibrant communities.



Registration Open for Full Moon Paddle – July 31st

9449170677_2af0040543_zFriday, July 31st, 7:00 p.m.

Join us for the Full Moon Paddle Trip with bonfire and s’mores: Pickerel Lake to Crooked Lake

Experience the quiet waters of the Huron River with expert paddler Barry Lonik, HRWC staff, and other river enthusiasts.

Complete this form to register. Spaces are limited so registration is necessary by Wednesday, July 29th.

The trip begins at the Pickerel Lake beach, accessible off Hankerd Road, north of N. Territorial Road. We will meet there at 7:00 p.m. Sunset and moonrise are just before 9:00 p.m.. There is a short carry from the parking area to the water. We will paddle around Pickerel Lake, chat about natural history, watersheds and water quality, and gradually make our way down the channel to Crooked Lake. A campfire and s’mores fixings will greet us at Crooked Lake. Then our group will make the return trip hopefully under the light of the Full Moon.

Bring your own watercraft, gear, food, drinking water, and appropriate clothing for the weather. Every paddler must wear a flotation device – bring your own. A flashlight or headlamp also is a good idea.

For a Paddler’s Safety Checklist click HERE.



The Power of Water

So far we have had a pretty wet summer. I am sure that is not news to you. The river levels are well above average all along the Huron. Generally this is a good thing, as it keeps the tributaries flowing, provides new habitat for critters to populate or feed at, and allows more of the river to be floated by us all.

Sometimes these higher flows can be bad. The current is more rapid making it difficult for fish and other wildlife to move against it to find food or shelter. Strong currents can also be dangerous for paddlers.

In some places, our actions as humans, interacting with and changing the structure of our environment, exacerbates the consequences of heavy rains, which are occurring more frequently due to climate change. In natural environments, heavy rains slowly collect (after saturating the soil) and flood lowlands and eventually the river after a long period (days, even). In built up environments with lots of hard, impervious surfaces, and straightened channels or underground pipes, the rain does not even have a chance to soak into the ground, let alone move out into a flood plain. The result can be a rapid rise in water level and velocity that can be destructive or even deadly to wildlife and humans alike. A good example of a built-up area like this is Allens Creek in Ann Arbor. Over 90% of the stream in this tributary watershed is piped underground, and over 40% of the land cover in the watershed is impervious.

During a 3-inch rain storm on June 14, the top video here was recorded at the outfall of Allens Creek to the Huron River, just downstream of Argo Dam. The flow out of Allens Creek exceeded 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) on two separate occasions during the storm, and hit a peak flow of 1,350 cfs. The flow returned to its usual trickle within a matter of hours. The second/bottom video shows what it looked like the next day.

Nothing could survive, human or otherwise, in a concentrated flow with such a velocity. The flow is strong enough to send logs and boulders downstream and scour the river bed of any finer materials or living plants. Note how the downstream river condition following the blast looks more like a Rocky Mountain gorge river than the Midwestern meander the Huron usually is. Such “flashy” flows are not natural, and HRWC is working with partner municipalities to change the way stormwater is managed. New approaches utilize green infrastructure to capture and infiltrate rains into the groundwater before they hit the pipes or streams. Other, larger storage projects, like the one under Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor or in Mary Beth Doyle Park are being installed to hold storm flows back. It all makes a difference, but more is needed to overcome past actions and return our streams and the river to a more natural state.



My Huron River (Argo)

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HRWC staff picks of favorite watershed spots, celebrating 50 years of river protection and restoration work.

My desk at work faces the office window overlooking Argo Pond. Since my arrival 8 years ago it has been a constant source of inspiration, for my life and my fundraising work.  Some would argue that I am writing about a pond, an impoundment and not the river.  However, like the river, I will keep moving on, and appreciate the view of Argo and what it has taught me as a companion of solace all these years. The view has taught me to take my time, and to enjoy the scenery and the beauty and to see what is more interesting by not rushing through my work day. It reminds me that my work is all about what I am looking at.  It encourages me to go with the flow, but to also diverge when the opportunity presents, because changing direction can have beneficial impacts. I am but a witness to change. Change in weather, the change of light from morning to night and changes in color of trees over seasons. In my neighborhood, just outside my window, I have seen the most popular sport change from club rowing to paddle boarding.  I have seen eagles, osprey, foxes, ice skaters, early morning runners training, cyclists, walkers, and pet owners with all species of dogs go round the pond.  And then there is the dam.  A favorite inspiration on difficult days? The dam. The dam reminds me that we can overcome obstacles, because the river always finds a way.

HRWC is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year!

Tell us your favorite watershed spot HERE.

Connect and share river ruminations or captured moments with us on FacebookTwitter and InstagramUse #huronriver50 to mark your posts!

Appreciate the River, today, Sunday July 12, by joining HRWC for some fun or heading to YOUR favorite spot with friends.



Here are our favorite places on the Huron River. Where’s yours?

When you spend 50 years researching, protecting, enjoying, and telling the community about the Huron River, you’re bound to have a favorite spot that you hold close to your heart.

Whether it’s the site of a grand adventure or simply a quiet moment with nature, there’s a lot to appreciate about the Huron River watershed.

We’ve collected some of our favorite spots to share with you — most from HRWC Staff. It’s tempting to keep them a secret, but what’s the point in working so hard to keep the river safe if everyone doesn’t get to enjoy it?

So come on.

Tell us. Where’s your favorite spot in your community on the Huron River? Leave it in the comments or give us more details using this form.



My Huron River (Huron River delta)

HRWC staff picks of favorite watershed spots, celebrating 50 years of river protection and restoration work.

A favorite spot for me on the Huron River is the delta where the voluminous waters fan out and feed western Lake Erie. There’s something satisfying about witnessing the transition from river to Great Lake, and picturing the individual stories of how – and in what shape – those droplets traveled from their places of origin. I am reminded, then, that all of our collective actions in the watershed are woven into the waters flowing past me and I hope that we’ve done justice to the blue.

Kayaking at the Huron River delta, River Mile 0. credit: L & S Small Craft Coastal Explorations

Kayaking at the Huron River delta, River Mile 0. credit: L & S Small Craft Coastal Explorations

The river delta flies under people’s radars as a destination, especially for those who live outside the Downriver area. Few signs or road markers give away the location of the river’s terminus. The 40-minute drive from my house to this spot means that I don’t visit as often as I would like. But, in the past couple of years have I come to appreciate the last few miles of the river and its confluence with the lake for its natural beauty, as well as its historical significance and new opportunities for trail-based recreation. Besides, where else on the Huron River can you see a massive barge traversing the Great Lakes, or paddle into big water?DSC_0200

The expansive view of water, land, and sky is always changing and always beautiful. The marshlands and forested floodplains of Point Mouillee and nearby islands provide critical habitat for plants and animals as well as stopover locations for migrating birds and waterfowl. The delta sits within the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, a binational refuge covering nearly 6,000 acres of islands, coastal wetlands, marshes, shoals, and waterfront lands along 48 miles of Detroit River and western Lake Erie shorelines.

Hull's Trace, military road built during the War of 1812

Hull’s Trace, military road built during the War of 1812

An old log road built during the War of 1812 remains under West Jefferson Avenue and is now known as Hull’s Trace – the newest addition to River Raisin National Battlefield Park. The National Park Service presence is increasing appreciation for this area through its educational programs both on- and off- the water, and reestablishing connections with the Wyandotte Nation that has deep roots here. The anonymity of the Huron River delta is slowly giving way as the National Park Service develops operations and as the  Huron River National Water Trail gains paddling and fishing fans.

Drop me a line if you visit the delta and share your photos with HRWC on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the tag #huronriver50.

 

HRWC is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year!

Tell us your favorite watershed spot HERE.

Connect and share river ruminations or captured moments with us on FacebookTwitter and InstagramUse #huronriver50 to mark your posts!

Appreciate the River, Sunday July 12, by joining HRWC for some fun or heading to YOUR favorite spot with friends.

 

Panoramic view east at the Huron River delta

Panoramic view east at the Huron River delta



News to Us

It has bAnn Arbor floodingeen a busy news month. Many exciting things happening at the global, national and state level that affects us right here in the Huron.  The environment took front seat in international news this month with Pope Francis’ encyclical. Our federal government finally provided clarity on the Clean Water Act by better defining “waters of the US”.  The State of Michigan has released a draft vision for water that includes a dramatic reduction in phosphorus to our waterways.  And not to leave out local action, the Ann Arbor Observer provides a look at how the University of Michigan handles stormwater.

Pope Francis, in Sweeping Encyclical, Calls for Swift Action on Climate Change. The recent papal encyclical has been making waves among Catholics and far beyond. The document is a call to action bringing a moral argument to environmental protection and climate change.  A fascinating and welcome contribution to the environmental movement, if you haven’t read much about this, the article is a nice summary of the report and the implications.

Issues of The Environment: The Clean Water Rule. HRWC’s Elizabeth Riggs is interviewed about EPA’s ruling on Waters of the US, or the waters protected under the Clean Water Act.  She discusses how this ruling will impact our state and watershed and why this ruling is so important.

DEQ announces 30-year vision for water. The State’s draft water strategy addresses nutrient pollution, invasive species, boating and harbors and water trails.  The strategy also calls for investment in technologies that support clean water and the establishment of a fund to finance implementation of water strategy.  The vision is out in draft and the DEQ is accepting comments until August 28th.

More information on Michigan’s Water Strategy and how to comment can be viewed here

Calming the waters.  This editorial provides a deeper dive into the issue of phosphorus pollution, reduction goals, and how Michigan needs to do more to make meaningful progress toward those goals and make appropriate contributions to a region-wide effort to reduce problems in the Great Lakes resulting from excess phosphorus in our lakes and waterways.

Storm Over the U-M: The city and county have strict new stormwater requirements. But the university isn’t on board.  Water knows no political boundaries which can create tension over responsibility for and management of this resource. When it rains on our cities and towns, it needs to be managed to avoid flooding, erosion and other stormwater related issues. This article chronicles ongoing tension around stormwater management by the University of Michigan.



What the Clean Water Rule could mean for the Huron

Sometimes just maintaining the status quo is the goal. Such is the case with federal protections for waterways through the Clean Water Act that are clarified with the Clean Water Rule developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers. The rule provides definition to “Waters of the United States” and will become effective on August 28, 2015. The rule only protects waters that have historically been covered by the Clean Water Act.

credit: John Lloyd

credit: John Lloyd

The administration wrote the rule in an attempt to clarify its jurisdiction after two U.S. Supreme Court decisions made it murky beginning in the early 2000s. While about three percent  more area is covered by the Clean Water Act than before, the protections are still less than they were during President Bill Clinton’s administration. The Clean Water Act protects the nation’s waters. A Clean Water Act permit is only needed if these waters are going to be polluted or destroyed.

In my interview this week with David Fair on WEMU’s Issues of the Environment radio show, we talked about what the Rule does:

  • Provides greater clarity and certainty regarding the waters protected under the Clean Water Act
  • Makes the jurisdictional determination process more straight-forward for businesses and industry
  • Reflects the best current science (more than 1,200 peer-reviewed studies were consulted)
  • Aligns with the Supreme Court decisions
  • Reflects public input and comments (400 meetings around the country)
  • Protects public health, the economy, and the environment

and doesn’t do:

  • Regulate new types of waters, land use, most ditches, groundwater, farm ponds
  • Change policy on stormwater or water transfers or irrigation
  • Limit agricultural exemptions
  • Regulate water in tile drains
  • And my favorite, regulate puddles
How might the Clean Water Rule impact Michigan and, more specifically, Huron River waters?

The Department of Environmental Quality, the state’s permitting authority, expects little impact to Michigan water protection programs. Michigan is one of only two states (New Jersey is the other state) that administers its own wetlands permit program instead of the Army Corps of Engineers, and the state-run program is more protective than the federal program. On the Huron River, the collective effort to improve water quality is yielding gains in quality of life after decades of effort focused on education, new technologies to reduce pollution and water consumption, and water quality monitoring.

The Huron River Watershed Council formed seven years before the enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972. As we celebrate 50 years of protecting and restoring the river for healthy and vibrant communities, we have the perspective to recognize this Rule as a watershed moment for the country to rededicate itself to clean water. Find out more about the Clean Water Rule from the EPA’s Clean Water Rule web page. A Michigan fact sheet is available about the value of clean water in the state for the economy, the environment, and public health.



My Huron River (Arms Creek)

One of the perks of my job as a co-director of the Adopt-a-Stream program at HRWC is that I get to see places that many others miss out on.  And so while I love the main branch of the Huron River and spend many hours at our metroparks, I decided to focus on a small creek in Webster township– Arms Creek.

An HRWC volunteer explores Arms Creek.

An HRWC volunteer explores Arms Creek.

Arms Creek at the intersection of Walsh Road is known internally here at HRWC as “Adopt-a-Stream Site Number 1″, meaning that it was the first site to be picked as a part of the program way back in 1992.  The watershed council and our many volunteers have been visiting this location and collecting information on this creek for 23 years! The creek contains many insect families that are sensitive to pollution and their presence tells us that the creek has good water quality.  In fact, the insect population has been getting better over time, so conditions here have improved over the past 20 years.  A thick riparian zone of trees and shrubs provides ample shade for the creek and plentiful groundwater inputs keep the water quite cold.  Many decades ago, the DNR actually stocked Arms Creek with trout, which is very rare for the Huron Watershed, but not enough fisherman utilized the creek to make this worth the cost. Last year HRWC staff wrote a creekshed report for Arms Creek, which can be found here along with a clickable and zoomable map.

 

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The shores of Independence Lake

The Arms creekshed also contains Independence Lake, a beautiful county park located only a few miles from my
house and a spot that my family visits many times during the year. In the summer it is our go-to spot for swimming and waterslides, and in the other seasons we play on the playground and take walks through wetlands and fields. Winter is a great time to visit as the park is all but deserted.  Last winter we spent a long time throwing rocks onto the lake and listening to the musical “plunk-plink-plunk-pppppppp” of the rocks echoing and reverberating against the ice.

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“More rocks, Daddy. More rocks!”



My Huron River (Hudson Mills to Barton Pond)

Dad and daughter enjoying a paddle.

Dad and daughter enjoying a paddle.

I fell in love with the Huron on this beautiful stretch of river. River mile 67 to mile 56 is one of the longest undammed strands of rolling water in SE Michigan. The banks along the river are thick with large, old willows, maples and a good diversity of hardwoods and a smattering of cedars, thanks to a wide riparian corridor protected by the Natural River Zone. My family and I like to take a nice, slow paddle along this piece of river to forget our worries and reconnect with the living planet as we flow through it. I find my mind wandering as I scout for trophy bass in deep pools, and sometimes forget I am only a few miles from home.

This Father’s Day my wife Kathy, son Foster and daughter Ally took me out for a beautiful trip. The water was high and fast from recent rains and a bit tawny, but clear at the start of the trip. Song birds called out across the river to potential mates or rivals on the other bank. We crossed a sad run where a tornado ripped across the river three years ago and tree damage is still evident. When we reached the confluence with Mill Creek the mixing zone is stark. The clear waters of the upper Huron get colored by the roiling, sediment-filled outwash from Mill Creek. The water volume almost doubles here and the river picks up pace, quickly taking the boat along its course to the rapids at Delhi, where we took the canoes out. Along the way, the kids jumped out and enjoyed a free-form float to cool off in the river’s embrace.

Fly fish the Huron River.

Fly fishing downstream of Delhi Rapids.

I also like to spend a few hours fly fishing on the upper parts of this river stretch. The river varies nicely from wide, shallow riffles, through quick narrow runs, to long stretches of slow, deeper water and pools — great for hiding big fish (though I never seem to be able to find them). I cherish the moments of quiet reflection as a gentle breeze rustles the leaves and I attempt to flick my fly into that hole where I just know a big one is waiting for a meal to swim by. To be honest, though, I find that any time spent on or in the Huron is time well spent.

HRWC is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year!

Tell us your favorite watershed spot HERE.

Connect and share river ruminations or captured moments with us on FacebookTwitter and InstagramUse #huronriver50 to mark your posts!

Appreciate the River, Sunday July 12, by joining HRWC for some fun or heading to YOUR favorite spot with friends.




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