- Biodiversity: wetlands provide a unique habitat for animals—from fish, amphibians, and macroinvertebrates to birds and mammals.
- Water quality: wetlands are like the watershed’s kidneys, filtering sediment and pollution and keeping the water in the lakes and streams cleaner.
- Water quantity: wetlands act like sponges as they take up excess water in heavy rains and provide a steady and slow replenishment to creeks and rivers in drier periods.
Unfortunately, we have lost approximately two-thirds of our wetlands. We’ve drained and filled most of these wetlands to plow farm fields and create drier and more buildable land. This last May, Michigan passed a new wetland law. Is this a positive development? We need a little history to get an answer.
In October 1984, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authorized the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to administer Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), which regulates wetlands. Since then, Michigan has been one of two states that administers its own wetland permitting program (New Jersey being the other state). Yet, over the years, environmentalists began to question the state’s lax commitment to wetland protection. As a result EPA initiated an informal review of the Michigan program and reported its findings in November 2002. After a lengthy review and comment period, a final review appeared in May 2008. The review outlines EPA’s concerns with Michigan’s implementation of the Section 404 permitting program.
These concerns sparked a debate in 2008 to consider handing the program back to the EPA. Michigan decided to keep the program and convened a task force to help it address EPA concerns and make the program viable. This past spring the state legislature passed a bill that purportedly addressed the concerns and improved Michigan’s permitting program. Governor Snyder signed the bill into law in early July 2013.
In fact, this new law only heightens HRWC’s concerns about the program. The law makes substantial changes that affect the area of jurisdiction, scope of regulated activities, and criteria for review of permits. It provides more exemptions, less protection of wetlands, and weakens criteria for permitting. In addition to the weakened regulations, HRWC is concerned about the lack of federal review and potential Clean Water Act violations. Since the bill takes effect upon the governor’s signature, no time is allotted for required federal review which results in a violation of the Clean Water Act.
The EPA should inform the State of Michigan that implementation of any changes to the state program must be delayed until the federal review process is complete. Not only are the provisions under the new law ineffective until EPA review, but upon preliminary review of the draft legislation, EPA noted that “the draft legislation also introduces new inconsistencies with Federal law, guidance, or case law.” After receiving letters from HRWC and other environmental groups, EPA is currently reviewing the new act.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is holding an informational meeting and public hearing on Wednesday, December 11, 2013, at 6p.m. (informational meeting) and 7 p.m. (formal public hearing) at the Crowne Plaza Lansing West Hotel in Lansing, Michigan. In addition, EPA is accepting written comments on the proposed revisions through December 18, 2013. To make a comment and to learn more about the CWA Section 404 program in Michigan go to: www.regulations.gov. We encourage you to attend the informational meeting and hearing, and to provide your comments.
The latest edition of our biweekly news round up provides an update on Great Lakes water levels, highlights a major road construction project in the watershed and shares how Ann Arbor is planning to implement its Climate Action Plan. Read about potential riverside developments in two of the Huron River Water Trail Trail Towns. Also, how often do you play tourist in your own state? Take a fun survey to see how many sites you have seen in the Mighty Mitt.
Issues of the Environment: Ann Arbor’s Climate Action Plan A recent broadcast of WEMU’s Issues of the Environment interviews Ann Arbor’s, Environment Coordinator, Matt Naud. The interview discusses the City’s Climate Action Plan and the push to implement strategies identified in the plan that will help reduce carbon emissions and prepare the city and its residents for anticipated changes to the local climate.
Great Lakes water levels recover from near-record lows Water levels in the Great Lakes is an issue many Michiganders are paying attention to. Much has been debated about the cause(s) of record low levels in the Great Lakes and what can be expected over time pertaining to lake levels. Here is the latest update that brings some welcome news on the issue.
Environmental group raises concerns about US-23 project north of Ann Arbor A newly proposed highway project in our watershed is getting some attention from environmental groups wanting to make sure improvements appropriately address potential impacts. A public meeting is scheduled for December 12, 2013 for those interested in learning more or providing input.
Milford’s AMP in Central Park Nears Fundraising Goal Community members in Milford have joined forces to raise funds for improvements to its Central Park along the Huron River. The group is nearing its fundraising goals that will bring an outdoor amphitheater and barrier-free public restroom facilities to the park. Milford is a Trail Town on the Huron River Water Trail. Read more about the value of riverside amenities and municipal spaces at RiverUp!
Waterfront development with restaurants, a boardwalk and upscale apartments proposed for Ford Lake Ford Lake, a reservoir of the Huron River, is the location of another proposed riverside development. The concept plans shows potential amenities such as dining and retail along the water, as well as housing, recreation trails, and a disc golf course. Improving walkability and access to the lake on the north shore of the lake could be assets to Ypsilanti Township and the City of Ypsilanti, a Trail Town of the Huron River Water Trail.
Michigan Tourist Attractions And for a little fun, how good of a local tourist are you? Take a look at these Michigan attractions. How many have you visited? Tell us! What tops your list of must-sees?
What does this mean for our watershed? Should we “rouse the troops” and rejoin the fight against the development that raged throughout the 90′s and 00′s?
Here at HRWC, we’ve been thinking a lot about how to address the issue of development as it returns. The greatest threat to our watershed is the altering of the watershed’s ecology and hydrology due to runoff pollution caused not by any particular sources, but by buildings, pavement, lawns, and farm fields. And so, this is a very important issue for the watershed.
The typical development patterns of the recent past consumed large areas of farmland and natural areas and created large amounts of impervious surfaces such as roads, parking lots and rooftops.
To maintain the Huron Watershed’s health into the future, we need to encourage a different land development pattern; one that consumes less land per person and creates as little impervious surface as possible. This means higher density where built infrastructure already exists, and the preservation of natural areas where “Green Infrastructure” (i.e. wetlands, forests, creeks, lakes, etc.) exists so those lands can continue to provide ecological services necessary to maintain quality of water, air, land, and life.
Here are some resources to check out to learn more about how Smart Growth can help preserve water quality:
River and creek sampling
Thanks to 137 volunteers who contributed a total of 548 volunteer hours, the 2013 Fall River Roundup was a great success! Our volunteers split into 25 teams and traveled to 50 different creek and river locations across the Huron River Watershed to assess the aquatic benthic macroinvertebrate community.
This study is one of the most effective ways that HRWC has to keep its finger on the pulse of the stream. From the data collected from this semi-annual event, we get a better understanding of which creeks and rivers are getting better, which are getting worse, and how we can direct our management activities.
You can see all the results in Fall 2013 River Roundup Report.
Current Watershed Health
In a nutshell, the health of the watershed as judged by our macroinvertebrate sampling is holding steady. Of the 62 sites that we monitor to judge this, 30 sites have had no statistically significant changes over time, and 6 sites are too new to make this judgment.
12 sites are declining, and these include locations on Chilson Creek, Davis Creek, east branch of Fleming Creek, Norton Creek, and South Ore Creek. The majority of the declining sites are in Livingston County. Eight of the declining sites are in Livingston, two are in Washtenaw, and three are in Oakland.
14 sites are significantly improving. 11 of improving sites are in Washtenaw County, including Boyden Creek, Horseshoe Creek, the main and west branches of Fleming Creek, Huron Creek, the Huron River in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and several places on Mill Creek. 2 sites are improving in Livingston County (Horseshoe Creek at Merrill Road and Mann Creek at Van Amberg Road), and 1 site is improving in Wayne County (Woods Creek at the Lower Huron Metropark).
1. For many years HRWC has held up Millers Creek in Ann Arbor as an example of what can happen to an urban creek- the stream flow is flashy, the channel is incised, the riparian vegetation is shrubby invasive plants, and there is little life in the creek. In 2009 HRWC finished up a green infrastructure project in the headwaters of Millers designed to reduce the amount of stormwater rushing into the creek, and at the same time the City of Ann Arbor finished a major streambank stabilization project where the creek crossed Glazier Way.
The efforts spent restoring Millers Creek seems to be paying off. The sample taken in Millers Creek at Glazier Way contained the most insect families ever seen since sampling began in 1993. While the overall trend since 1993 is unchanged, from 2004 when the creek was at its worst (3 insect families), until now in 2013 (12 insect families), there is a statistically significant increase. Insects that are particularly susceptible to pollution and disturbance have yet to be found here however, and we will continue monitoring in hopes that these insects will make their way back to the stream.
2. Starting in this past January, HRWC has been sending volunteers to two new stream sites on Portage Creek near Stockbridge. This is a long drive from Ann Arbor and we appreciate the volunteers who have made this journey. This Roundup, volunteers in the Portage Creek at Rockwell site found a treasure trove of insect diversity. Twenty insect families were found which puts this new site up there with the very best places we go. We will look forward to visiting this site again in the future!
Norton creekshed in Oakland County is a Detroit suburb and industrial hub. Historically, the creek has suffered from numerous impairments and has seen little improvement as the area has become increasingly suburbanized.
In terms of the macroinvertebrate community, samples taken here have always had terrible diversity and low abundance, but in recent years things have gotten worse. When sampling started in Norton Creek at West Maple Road in 2000, it was normal to find between 8 and 10 insect families. However, volunteers during the past four fall River Roundups have found 3, 4, 4, and 3 insect families. Two of the insect families found are actually water striders, which are only semi-aquatic as they live on top of the rather than in the water.
These poor samples have made Norton Creek the worst location of all of those that HRWC monitors. For more information on Norton Creek, see our Norton Creek page and associated creekshed report. http://www.hrwc.org/norton
On January 26th, HRWC staff and volunteers will gather for the 19th annual Stonefly Search. This event is very similar to a River Roundup except that we are only looking for stoneflies. Some of these little guys can be found year round, but there are a couple of stonefly families that are only reliably found in the winter months, and they are great indicators of healthy water. We hope you and your family and friends will join us for this fun outdoor event! Register here! http://www.hrwc.org/volunteer/stonefly/
HRWC’s holiday auction includes our largest collection of fabulous items for your bidding pleasure! This year we have over 40 items listed online at BiddingForGood and all proceeds benefit HRWC’s efforts to restore and protect the watershed.
Bids on the River is online now until December 2 and is the perfect shopping opportunity for the holidays or any occasion.
It’s a toss up between Paddle Board Lessons and Schultz Outfitters Fly Fishing Lessons or a Jolly Irish Christmas. Something for everyone. Outdoor recreation, birding, paddle boarding, baked goods, entertainment, unique experiences and cooking lessons.
Bid early and remember to check back for new items.
The auction closes on Dec 2 so start your bidding soon and check back often. You don’t want to miss this opportunity to purchase a beautiful gift for yourself or special someone and support HRWC with just a couple of clicks! Auction proceeds this year will support HRWC’s core programs, such as water quality monitoring.
I grew up in Milwaukee, which means that during my childhood I assumed every city smelled of malted barley, yeast, and hops, ended the work week with Friday night fish fries, and designed their waterfronts for walking, biking, kite flying, sunbathing, swimming, dining, boating, and music and ethnic festivals.
Not until I was a bit older and had done some traveling did I notice that some cities embraced their position on the water and some (unfathomably!) had turned their backs to it. While traveling to several waterfront cities this fall, I have been reminded of what a special place my hometown is for the foresight of the city’s planners to provide beautiful spaces for people to experience Lake Michigan. I have also been reminded of the power of HRWC’s work with river towns and partners on RiverUp! to create a renaissance for the Huron River and turn our villages and cities to face – and embrace — the water.
So what of my observations of these waterfront cities? Grand Rapids, Chicago, and Cleveland, like Milwaukee, necessarily utilize at least portions of their waterfront for trade and commerce. Industrial uses aside, I was on the lookout for how these places physically connect people to the water and the waterfront to downtown.
Chicago does an admirable job of connecting people and downtown to Lake Michigan even amid the skyscrapers. The city’s investment in landscaping and trail maintenance along the waterfront is rewarded by the throngs of people enjoying this space between downtown and the water. A morning run along the lake was a treat for me since I miss living next to a Great Lake.
Grand Rapids is on a quest similar to RiverUp! through its revitalization of downtown that includes returning the rapids to the Grand River. The city, with its limited water frontage, will be challenged to incorporate more green space between the river and downtown that can provide a respite for city dwellers and ecological benefits at the river’s edges. But the motivation and the private and public investment focused on the city should take this city’s re-birth far.
Cleveland still mostly has its back on Lake Erie. In Cleveland, unlike Milwaukee and Chicago, downtown beaches, recreational paths, and open public green spaces are lacking. Rather, the space between the water and downtown is mostly paved and occupied by a stadium and industrial uses. I try to go for a run in most places that I visit for my own fitness and as a great way to experience a place. I had hoped for a waterfront route but had to bail on that idea when the hotel desk clerk (a runner herself) indicated that such a route was neither safe nor accessible on foot nor very scenic. I’d love to see Cleveland take a page from Milwaukee and celebrate its location on the Great Lake Erie. This city has its gems, to be sure, and the waterfront could be the most dazzling jewel in the crown.
Which cities do you think celebrate their waterfronts?
In addition to HRWC’s own PSA, “A Hero Rises” produced by our Saving Water Saves Energy project with Detroit Public Television and funded by the Masco Corporation Foundation, we are happy to report that several local college students have been bitten by the film arts bug! I am currently working with a terrific group of Washtenaw Community College students and their instructor Matt Zacharias to review and debut a bevy of Huron-related PSAs (coming in January).
And this is just in from the University of Michigan!
Ever wonder how people understand and make sense of climate change? Ever wanted to convince people that the issue is important? Well now is your chance.
The Erb Institute, in collaboration with the department of Screen Arts & Cultures, has sponsored a competition to create the best student-produced video aimed at engaging the public in climate change.
Public voting for student-produced videos for the Climate Change Communication Challenge is now open!
They challenged U-M students to create a public service announcement that would inspire positive action on climate change. Eleven teams of students put their skills to the test. Now is your chance to weigh in on the best video!
The video receiving the most votes will receive the $1,500 Popular Vote Award. The poll closes at 12 PM EST onThursday, November 21.
Spread the word! Encourage your friends, family, students, and colleagues to vote!
HRWC volunteers spend a lot of the summer collecting water quality information. THANK YOU! Of course, getting in the water is great fun and often a fun challenge. But what of all the data that we collect? What does it tell us? Where does it go?
2013 Field Results
Join HRWC staff as we present the results of the 2013 field work for Portage Creek, Bioreserve, Adopt-A-Stream, and Water Quality Monitoring. Program directors Kris Olsson, Paul Steen, Pam Labadie and Ric Lawson will give presentations on the most recent findings, followed by Q and A.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
6:30 – 8:00 PM
NEW Center Conference Rooms
1100 North Main Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Please RSVP to Jason: JFrenzel@hrwc.org
Lots of activity in the policy sphere in this edition of News to Us. EPA threatens to reclaim control over wetland regulations in Michigan, Hamburg Township considers a watercraft-control ordinance and a lovely little butterfly seeks endangered status to protect remaining populations. Also read about a new aquatic plant invading lakes and how several Great Lakes cities are adapting to climate change.
EPA hearing will give public a voice in whether Michigan should retain regulation of wetlands On December 11th, Michigan residents will be able to provide comment during a public hearing on whether or not the EPA should revoke Michigan’s authority to administer wetland regulations under the Clean Water Act. Michigan’s administration of the regulations have been under scrutiny as inconsistent with Section 404 of the Act and less protective of wetlands.
Officials take aim at lake revelry Conflict over public uses of Baseline Lake have Hamburg Township officials considering options. Residents around the lake are complaining of loud and inappropriate behavior on the public lake. On November 19th there will be a public hearing on the issue and the potential for a local watercraft-control ordinance.
Cities adapting to changing climate, but more changes coming The work of HRWC partner, the Graham Sustainability Institute, was highlighted in a story on how cities are adapting to a changing climate. Ann Arbor is one of several cities in the Great Lakes that are part of the Great Lakes Adaptation Assessment for Cities program helping support cities considering how to adapt to changes in temperature and rainfall patterns.
Michigan cracks down on frogbit crowding out state lakes A new non-native aquatic plant is invading lakes and other slow moving waters in southeast Michigan. Several confirmed reports have the species taking hold in areas of the lower Huron River watershed near the outlet to Lake Erie. The Michigan DNR is looking for citizen help to identify new locations of this nuisance weed. The Midwest Invasive Species Information Network has information on the species and how to report sightings.
STATE: U.S. considers endangered classification for butterfly found prominently in Michigan One of our watershed residents the Poweshiek skipperling, has seen dramatic population declines in recent years. This little butterfly lives in the remaining prairie fens in the watershed with known occurrences in Livingston, Oakland and Washtenaw counties. If classified as endangered a recovery plan for the species will be developed.
HRWC gathers county governments to forge ahead with innovative stormwater solutions, compiles most helpful resources
This past summer has seen some major milestones in our project on green infrastructure (GI). For nearly two years we have been clarifying the way forward for Washtenaw County with regard to the implementation of green infrastructure stormwater features — rain gardens, bioswales, green roofs, pervious pavement, etc. We worked with agencies and organizations throughout the county to identify the barriers to green infrastructure, strategies for overcoming those barriers, and tools and resources for taking the next steps.
Three “Growing Green Infrastructure Forums” were held this summer on the topics of overcoming the barriers, funding green infrastructure, and operation and maintenance of green infrastructure features. Attendees ranged from state to local entities: Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Washtenaw County Water Resource Commissioner and Road Commission, the City of Ann Arbor, the Village of Dexter, Pittsfield Township and other municipalities were involved. Stormwater directors from both Grand Rapids and Toledo talked to participants about their GI programs. Three local consultants with green infrastructure experience offered insight and assistance on topics small and large.
Throughout the forums, HRWC researched and highlighted a dozen of the most current and useful resources available online, such as Portland, Oregon’s Field Guide to Maintaining Rain Gardens, Swales, and Stormwater Planters. These resources have now been gathered together on our new Green Infrastructure Resources page under three categories: economics and funding, policies and permitting, and operations and maintenance. Each resource is presented with a description of the key findings or tools found within the resource and a link for easy access. The pages are intended for state or local policymakers, members of city councils or planning boards, municipal staff (including practical manuals and checklists for maintenance departments), developers, and even homeowners.
This green infrastructure project is wrapping up this fall with the release of additional locally-relevant tools and a major alternative proposal for a redevelopment project in Washtenaw County. However, this experience has firmly rooted HRWC’s belief that treating and infiltrating water on-site as the default stormwater management practice is an important step toward protecting the economic and environmental vitality of Washtenaw County and the broader watershed.