Salty Situation

When the leaves start to brown and jackets are unpacked from storage, you know it’s time – winter is just around the corner! One issue on all of our minds at the HRWC office is road salt.

What’s the deal with road salt?


Transportation departments and cities are often charged with keeping roads clear and safe during winter months. With our mobile population, salting increases public safety, ensures emergency services, and promotes continued economic activity. Municipalities and private homeowners most often use sodium chloride when applying rock salt. Although it is cost efficient in the short term, salt application has many long-term implications such  as harmful levels of chloride in our water bodies. Increased levels of chloride negatively impact aquatic ecosystems by disrupting the food web, inhibiting growth, and poisoning songbirds.

Decades of salt application has allowed chloride to infiltrate our groundwater supplies, meaning our rivers (and drinking water) begin with an already elevated level of chloride. Less salt is required for streams to reach harmful concentrations. Many drinking water wells and streams around the country have chloride levels above the EPA’s maximum threshold. This can be bad news for those on salt restricted diets, causing hypertension, cardiac disease, and even stroke.

How do we fix it?

Even with the same amount of urban land use over time, chloride concentrations have increased.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect, eco-friendly solution. Alternatives often labeled as environmentally friendly include salts like magnesium chloride and calcium chloride, beet juice, molasses, and vodka distillery leftovers — all of which still include salt! Fortunately, new techniques can help make that amount as small as possible. Canada has identified road salt as a national environmental hazard, and is taking definitive steps towards reducing impacts to water quality such as applying a wet brine before snowfall to prevent ice bonding with the pavement. Many cities are promoting efficiency programs like Smart About Salt in Waterloo. Data collected by the University of Waterloo five years after program implementation demonstrated a 60% reduction of chloride!

What can YOU do as a homeowner?

We have a few ideas! The best option for keeping our Huron happy and healthy is to shovel early and often, without using de-icers at all, even ones labeled as more friendly to the environment. If you must use a de-icer, use as little as needed to get the job done.

Check out our Take Action page: Use Less Salt for more information.

For a deeper dive on the issue, take a look at the following articles (some more technical than others):

Solving Slick Roads and Salty Streams, Stormwater Report, March 4, 2015

Road Salt is Polluting our Rivers, Wired, March 12, 2015

What Happens to All the Salt We Dump On the Roads?, Smithsonian.com, January 6, 2014

Winter Street & Sidewalk Maintenance, City of Ann Arbor Snow Removal webpage

Canada Sets National Targets for Road Salt, Study Shows Stream Toxicity from De-icers Increasing Rapidly, Stormwater Report, February 3, 2015

The Effect of Road Salt on Urban Watersheds and Management Options – HRWC’s very own Stevi Kosloskey was kind enough to share her research paper on road salt application and subsequent implications on water quality, including data from the Huron River. (Thanks Stevi!)

Holiday Shopping with HRWC!

Holiday Giving for email-01 (002)You know it. I know it. We all know it.

Nobody really wants another tie. And please don’t re-gift that fruitcake.

Shopping for a meaningful gift? Of course you are, and we have you covered. Shop with us this holiday season!

We have Paddler’s Companions, waterproof map flip books of the Huron River, for that river recreationist in your life – AND these are interesting and useful even if you don’t own a kayak or canoe. Want to float down a section of the river on an inner tube? Need to know where to park and access the river for fishing or just splashing around with the kids? Did you know the Huron is a National Water Trail? $15, and they are easy to wrap, mail or stuff in a stocking.

Are you an HRWC member? Do you want all your friends and relatives to be members? (We do.) Membership dollars help support our programs and new initiatives, adding to our ability to be responsive to issues as they arise in the watershed. You can join here, and also purchase gift memberships for all those friends and relatives. Membership levels start at $35.

For the map or history geeks (or art, or engineering, or river, or…just about any kind of geek, really) in your life, we have archival-quality reproductions of Gardner Williams’ survey maps of the Huron River, c. 1905-1908. Generously donated by Stantec engineering, and now housed at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, these maps are a detailed and beautiful view of the river and its surrounding landscape a century ago. The level of detail requires a large format, so these maps come in a 3 ft x 3 ft size for $110 and a 4 ft x 4 ft for $150. These maps are printed to order, so please order by December 9 for pick-up at our offices by December 22. Shipping is available for the 3 x 3 size only for an extra $10.

And now…for that impossible-to-buy-for-person. Everyone has at least one of these, right? I know I have, like, five. You can make a contribution to HRWC in their honor. Gifts to the Wilson Water Quality Fund are directed to our water quality programs that monitor river and watershed conditions to ensure science-based responses to protect the Huron. Just click the “make this a gift” box on the checkout page, and choose to donate on behalf, in honor, or in memory of that special someone.

Thank you for shopping with HRWC and supporting our river protection work in the process!




News to Us

This edition of News to Us shares local news on recovering Osprey populations, increasing entrance fees in our metroparks system and an examination of Livingston County drinking water issues.  At the state level, Michigan is considering banning of plastic microbeads. And in national news, aging dams are making headlines again.

Osprey population booms in Southeast Michigan Osprey populations are rebounding in the Huron River watershed. The Huron River Watershed Council helped install two new platforms for nesting sites in the river. Learn about the bird and its recovery in this article.  See more on HRWC’s role in this mini-documentary.

Microbeads and the Great Lakes We have shared stories about the issue of plastic microbeads from bath and beauty products in previous editions of News to Us.  These beads end up in our lakes and rivers as they are not captured in the wastewater treatment process. Now, the Michigan legislature is considering a ban. Michigan is the last remaining Great Lakes state without a ban.  Here’s hoping we can join the rest of the region in protecting our lakes and streams from this pollutant.

Huron-Clinton parks plan: Higher fees, bigger offices Huron Clinton Metroparks are a significant landholder in the Huron River watershed, much of it along the river itself.  The parks are wonderful amenities for our residents and play a role in protecting water quality and freshwater ecosystems. The park system is considering raising rates for entrance fees.  This article shares more.

Aging And Underfunded: America’s Dam Safety Problem, In 4 Charts  America’s dams are getting old. The nation received a D grade in a recent assessment (Michigan received a D as well). On a day to day basis, this may not be a big deal. But the flooding that occurred in South Carolina last month illustrates why we must be proactive about this issue.  During those floods, more than 20 dams collapsed, dramatically increasing the impact of already damaging rainfall.  Funding is a challenge but preventing a collapse is almost always less expensive than recovering from one.

Safe to drink? Livingston faces own water issues In response to the Flint drinking water crisis, one reporter decided to look into the potential for this kind of disaster in Livingston County.  While the Flint scenario is not a likely one, the article does share the myriad issues that can occur with drinking water and how water suppliers, the county and residents are helping to ensure safe drinking water for everyone.

What’s hot and what’s not in the Huron River Watershed

Streams ranked from best to worst: Where does your favorite fall?

On October 3, HRWC volunteers spread across Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties and looked for the aquatic insects and crustaceans that indicate the water and habitat quality of our river and creeks.  

2014 10 18 RU by John Lloyd (8)

Sampling Traver Creek in October. credit: John Lloyd

Using this and other environmental data collected by HRWC volunteers over the past 20 years, I have developed a ranking of the various streams in the Huron River Watershed.  Streams listed at the top of this list have the best aquatic life and habitat in the Huron, and streams at the bottom of list are extremely impaired with little aquatic life and highly disturbed habitat.

Volunteer-collected data directly contributes to our knowledge of the conditions of the watershed and is a key component in directing management and restoration activities.

If you want more details on the ranking below, HRWC will present it and other data findings on January 12, 2016, 6 pm at our office (1100 N Main Street, Ann Arbor). All are welcome and no registration is required.

Ranking of Aquatic Life and Habitat (from best to worst)


1. Huron Creek (Dexter)

2. Woodruff/Mann Creeks (Brighton)

3. Honey Creek (Pinckney)

4. Huron River (Upstream of Proud Lake)


5. Woods Creek (Belleville)

6. Boyden Creek (west of Ann Arbor)

7. Pettibone Creek (Milford)

8. Fleming Creek (Ann Arbor)

9. Huron River (from Proud Lake downstream to Zeeb Road)

10. Portage Creek (Multiple townships to the northwest of Ann Arbor and north of Dexter)

11. Mill Creek (Dexter and Chelsea)

12. Hay Creek (east of Pinckney)


13. Arms Creek (Webster Township)

14. Huron River (Ann Arbor and downstream)

15. Davis Creek (South Lyon)

16. South Ore (Brighton)

17. Honey Creek (west of Ann Arbor)

18. Chilson Creek (west of Brighton)


19. Horseshoe Creek (Whitmore Lake)

20. Downriver Tributaries (Port Creek, Bancroft-Noles Drain near Flat Rock)

21. Traver Creek (Ann Arbor)

22. Malletts Creek (Ann Arbor)

23. Norton Creek (Wixom)

24. Swift Run (Ann Arbor)

25. Millers Creek (Ann Arbor)

Full River Roundup report is available for download.


Geomorphologists Assemble!

HRWC recently hosted the first Michigan Aquatic Restoration Conference (MARC) with partners at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, Michigan Departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources, as well as business sponsors Stantec, North State Environmental, Inter-Fluve, and Spicer Group. Located at the retreat setting of the Kettunen Center, the MARC brought together over 120 agency and academic scientists and engineers and industry professionals from all over Michigan as well as several other Great Lakes states. Much of the conference focused on geomorphology, or the study of the processes that shape a river channel and produce the habitat that exists in its present state.

Studying the Pine River

Participants visited the Pine River to study a recent restoration effort.

The MARC was led off with a workshop on “Woody Debris Management” by one of the founding fathers of geomorphology, Dr. David Rosgen from Wildland Hydrology. He also provided a keynote presentation on lessons he has learned from more than two decades of stream restoration work. National restoration expert Will Harman from Stream Mechanics discussed a popular conceptual framework he developed — the “Functional Pyramid” — and discussed how restoration practitioners should seek to provide rivers and streams with “functional lift.”

Other presentations and discussions focused on the various and sundry nuances of stream restoration in practice throughout Michigan, the Great Lakes region, and parts south and west. There was a genuine excitement in the air throughout the conference as participants engaged in vibrant discussion about how to apply principles (some theoretical at this point) to stream restoration, in what is a relatively new applied science.

Local TV news coverage of the MARC

If you missed the conference this year, check out the MARC website for a sampling of the presentations and discussions, and keep your eye out for an announcement of the next iteration.

Bird, Bats, Butterflies, and Dragonflies: Part 4

What is something that birds, bats, butterflies, and dragonflies all have in common?

Well, yes, they do fly.  But something that doesn’t occur to the typical person not well-versed in these animal types is that all of these creatures migrate.  Now that summer is done, the days are getting shorter, and the air is a bit cooler out there, we can expect to see these animals on the move soon.

This blog is the 4th part of a short series on migrating animals. The final topic: dragonflies!

The Commond Green Darner is the most abundant migrating dragonfly in the U.S. credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife

The Commond Green Darner is the most abundant migrating dragonfly in the U.S. credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife


Of all four topics I am covering in this series, scientists seem to understand dragonfly migration the least.  This is likely because not much effort has been put into the subject: dragonflies are of not great economic importance, and the best known species that migrates, Common Green Darner, is widespread and abundant and so there is little concern about its future. In general, dragonflies are not very sensitive to water pollution, and can thrive in man-made or naturals wetlands. This is in contrast to some bat species and the Monarch butterfly, which are very specific in their over-wintering habitat selection.

Of the 326 species of dragonflies in North America, about 18 are regular migrants. Besides the Common Green Darner (Anax junius), other migrating dragonflies include the Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens), Spot-winged glider (Pantala hymenaea), Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) and Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum).

The dragonfly life cycle

Dragonflies are fascinating creatures, with strange mating, flying, and territorial behaviors.  This complexity applies to migration as well, which certainly contributes to the sense that scientists have yet to unravel dragonfly migration.

For example, work done by entomologist R. Trottier in 1971 revealed Common Green Darner could adopt two distinct life-cycles.  One group of darners had the standard dragonfly life-cycle: nymphs emerged as adults in June, laid eggs in the summer, and died by late August.  The eggs would hatch into nymphs that would overwinter locally in the bottom of streams and ponds and then emerge again the next June. (Side note: Dragonflies spend 1-3 years in the nymph stage, depending on the species).

The other group of the darners did not emerge until late-August, and rapidly disappeared from local ponds and wetlands as they began a migration south. Their children would be the ones to return in early April and continue the generational cycle. In this population, migration is a normal part of the life cycle. In other words, just like the Monarch butterflies, dragonfly migration is a one-way ticket for any given individual. The first generation will travel south, reproduce and die, and the children will head north. They will reproduce and die and their children will go south.

However, not all dragonflies migrate, even within the same species. This is a complication that is not well understood.

Dragonfly swarming behavior. Photo copyright Steven Young and taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/steven-young/2893876500/.

Dragonfly swarming behavior. Photo copyright Steven Young and taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/steven-young/2893876500/.

Timing and Destination

In 2006, researchers attached micro-radio transmitters to Green Darners and followed them along their migration for 12 days. On average, they traveled 30-40 miles in a 5-7 day period, eventually going an average of 400 miles. Another study recorded a maximum observed distance of 2200 miles.

Like the other animals we have studied, dragonflies rest for several days at a time while on the migration route, so the total migration time can last many weeks.  From the Mid-West and Northeast United States, they are able to reach the Gulf Coast states and occasionally Mexico.

Cold nights seems to trigger dragonfly migration, just like with birds. Dragonflies will began their journey south in mid-August, and will continue through the end of October.  The dragonflies use northerly winds that follow from cold fronts to speed them on their way, and can be seen traveling in swarms of hundreds of thousands, though they also travel as individuals and small groups.

Like birds and butterflies, it seems like they navigate using some type of internal magnetic compass and using topographic features like lakeshores and coastlines. Another interesting observation in the 2006 study is that dragonflies can alter their migration route considerably (in this case, by 120 degrees) in order to avoid flying over large bodies of water.

Learn more!

Check out this webpage: Migratory Dragonfly Partnership.  This partnership is a collaborative effort between universities, dragonfly experts, the federal government, and nongovernmental programs with the goal of learning more about dragonfly migration.

The Partnership welcomes dragonfly observations from citizen scientists!

Thanks for reading!

It has been great fun for me to research these migrations and learn about new things (for me) that I had been wondering about for some time.  I hope you enjoyed the series too!

-Paul Steen, HRWC Aquatic Ecologist.




Getting the Word Out

HuronAutumnIt is not enough to protect the Huron River watershed. There is a whole world of watersheds and citizens reliant on plentiful clean water. So sometimes we step outside of our watershed boundaries to share with others what we are doing and how it is going. In return we learn from others making a difference in their watershed.  In the last month I have hit the road to talk with a few new audiences about some of the work of HRWC.

The Great Lakes Restoration Conference took place in the Windy City (it certainly lived up to this moniker while I was there) last month. Along with Alister Innes from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Cheryl Kallio from Freshwater Future, I spoke to an audience of Great Lakes restoration professionals about the impacts of coaltar sealcoat and the PAHs it contains, on lakes, rivers and human health. Minnesota is the only Great Lakes state that has achieved a ban of this product that is commonly used to maintain asphalt driveways and parking lots. We are hoping to grow the buzz on this topic within our region to help get PAH contamination (the compounds of concern in coaltar sealcoat) out of Great Lakes waters.

Next, I was off to Detroit to the Michigan Association of Planners Conference.  Here I participated in a panel sharing stories of how communities throughout Michigan are incorporating climate change into municipal planning and trying to build resilience in natural, social and economic systems so that when more extreme events hit our cities and towns we can bounce back quickly and sustain less damage.

Finally, the 3rd annual Stormwater Summit was held at Lawrence Technological University. What a diverse group of professionals we have doing seriously good work right here in southeast Michigan!  The audience received a brief on the Lake Erie algal bloom that contaminated Toledo’s drinking water in 2014 and what is happening in Michigan and Ohio to prevent a similar event in the future.  I presented our work within the Huron to adopt better rainfall data to create stormwater systems that can accommodate the heavier rains climate change brings to our area. We also heard about some very cool green infrastructure and urban conservation projects. Summit presentations will be available soon on the Pure Oakland Water website.

These types of exchanges ensure HRWC staff are aware of innovations occurring elsewhere that inspire our future work and give back to the community by sharing innovations of our own.


2016 Watershed Community Calendar

Find your clean water inspiration!

The communities of the Huron River watershed have come together to produce another spectacular calendar. Chock full of stunning Huron River photography, stormwater pollution prevention tips and local resources to inspire you to enjoy and protect our beloved river.2016-Huron-River-Watershed-Community-Calendar-SM

Our best hope is that you find yourself inspired to work with HRWC in 2016 as a volunteer. Your first opportunity to experience the Huron first hand and help us look for the insects that are the most sensitive to pollution and habitat changes is at our Winter Stonefly Search on Saturday January 23. Your calendar is conveniently marked!

How to get your calendar.

By mail.  Ann Arbor and Dexter are direct-mailing to most households in their communities the weeks of October 26 and November 2.

In person.  Calendars will be at these customer service counters:
-Livingston County Drain Commission and Road Commission
-Washtenaw County Water Resources Commission and Road Commission
-City of Brighton
-City of Ypsilanti
-Village of Pinckney
-Green Oak Charter Township
-Marion Township
-Pittsfield Charter Township
-Charter Township of Ypsilanti

Barton Hills Village, Ann Arbor Public Schools, Eastern Michigan University and University of Michigan Occupational Safety & Environmental Health Department are also distributing calendars.

From HRWC. Contact Pam Labadie at plabadie@hrwc.org or (734)769-5123 x 602. We can mail a calendar to you for $5 or you can pick one up for free at HRWC in the NEW Center 1100 North Main Street, Ann Arbor, M-F, 8am-5pm.


About the Calendar.

The 2016 Watershed Community Calendar is a collaborative effort to educate residents about the importance of water stewardship and nonpoint source pollution prevention. The communities listed above believe there 2016-Calendar-June-Month-SM are substantial benefits that can be derived by joining together and cooperatively managing the rivers, lakes, and streams within the watershed and in providing mutual assistance in meeting state water discharge permit requirements. HRWC would like to thank them for their continued support of the calendar program.


Density is Our Friend

SmartGrowthBlogImageIn order to keep the river system healthy, we need to encourage compact development in areas with existing infrastructure (like cities and villages and other urban areas), and preserve natural and rural areas so they can continue to provide the ecological services necessary to maintain quality of water, air, land, and life.  (See our “Smart Growth Publications” webpage for more details)

Here are three recent articles that underscore this message.

A recent blog posted on the Smart Growth Network Newsletter (originally posted by the Nature Conservancy) bemoans the prevalence of zoning codes that do not allow higher density (i.e. that have minimum lot sizes), since that results in sprawling development patterns that consume more land and create more impervious cover per household. Given that all the communities in the watershed currently have these kinds of zoning codes, we have a lot of work to do to promote sustainable land use patterns.

Another SGN Newsletter post (from the Washington Post) gives a little perspective on what density looks like by comparing densities in dozens of urban areas throughout the world, and showing that most U.S. cities have plenty more room for more population and density.  Even New York City has about a third of the density as London, England. 

And finally, a report from the Transportation Research Board (part of the U.S. Academies of Sciences) finds that transit oriented development (which designs compact development around nodes of mass transit) greatly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, due to reduction of automobile usage.

HRWC has many programs that are encouraging communities to take a look at their land use policies, including Green Infrastructure and Climate Resilient Communities. The Green Infrastructure project maps out communities’ networks of natural areas so that they can guide development to areas appropriate to growth.  As climate change impacts our watershed with increasing rainfall, the importance of managing stormwater in urban areas, maintaining natural areas and keeping development out of floodplains and low lying areas becomes increasingly important.

Webster Township partnered with HRWC to create a map showing the network of hubs (larger natural areas), sites (smaller ones) and linkages between them.

Webster Township partnered with HRWC to create a map showing the network of hubs (larger natural areas), sites (smaller ones) and linkages between them.

Birds, Bat, Butterflies, and Dragonflies: Part 3

What is something that birds, bats, butterflies, and dragonflies all have in common?

Well, yes, they do fly.  But something that doesn’t occur to the typical person not well-versed in these animal types is that all of these creatures migrate.  Now that summer is ending, days are getting shorter, and the air is just a bit cooler out there, we can expect to see these animals on the move soon.

This blog is part three of a short series on migrating animals. This topic: butterflies!

The Monarch. credit: USFWS

The Monarch. credit: USFWS

The Impressive Migrating Monarch

Most butterflies do not migrate.  They have the ability to overwinter as larvae, pupae, or even adults depending on the species.  Only one species is known to migrate like birds: the Monarch.

The beautiful orange and black Monarch Butterfly makes a very impressive journey every year.  The Huron River Watershed and the rest of Michigan play an important role in that migration, having prime summer weather conditions for butterfly breeding.  Come fall, the Monarch is headed south– about 3000 miles south.  In fact, the migration path is so long that it outlasts any individual butterfly’s life span.  One Monarch generation migrates south, the next generation migrates north, breeds two or three short-lived generations in the summer, the latest of which continues the cycle by heading south.

The trip south

In late August, Monarchs in Michigan begin their trip south, traveling along the Great Lakes coastline, though the Great Plains States, and eventually reaching their winter breeding grounds in southern Mexico and Central America.  The Great Lakes are important features in the flight of the monarch– the insects use the winds over the lakes to speed them along on their journey. Monarch’s can not do this migration without proper rest and relaxation though. Shoreline habitats are important for feeding and recovering energy.

At the date this blog is being written (September 30), Monarchs are well out of Michigan.  They should be flying through Oklahoma and crossing the Texas border!

Once the butterflies reach Mexico in November, they congregate into huge populations on the highlands and mountains of Mexico and Central America. There are only 12 traditional wintering sites, which means the species is susceptible to habitat changes and bad weather.  In 2012 and 2013, bad weather conditions during the winter breeding season led to a Monarch population crash.  In 2014, weather conditions were ideal and the population rebounded slightly, but the population is still 80% below the 20 year average.


They may be in Mexico, but cold weather can still reach the high elevations of the Monarchs’ winter breeding grounds. credit: El Rosario Sanctuary

The trip back north

In the spring, Monarchs slowly move their way back north.  States on the Gulf Coast will see Monarchs return by early April, and by mid April the butterflies will have reached Kentucky and Tennesee.  By early May, the first Monarchs can be in south Michigan and they will reach the Upper Penninsula by the end of May. Monarchs do continue into southern Canada as well, though for many individuals, Michigan is their final destination.

The Monarch caterpillar: loved by elementary students everywhere! Who hasn't raised one of these in a classroom? credit: USFWS

The Monarch caterpillar: loved by elementary students everywhere! Who hasn’t raised one of these in a classroom? credit: USFWS

Give me more details!

Annenberg Learner hosts a terrific website giving photos and the migration timing for the Monarch. They keep an up-to-date blog on where the butterfly currently is found!


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