In this edition of News to Us, learn some of the implications of the proposed federal budget for the Great Lakes, how HRWC is helping prepare the Huron River for climate change, the magnitude of the challenge of aging water infrastructure, and see a short film on the inner workings of a river.
Trump Proposal To Gut Great Lakes Funding Could Allow Pollution To Flourish
The fund which allocates almost $300 million each year to the protection and restoration of our nation’s Great Lakes is proposed to be completely defunded. The new administration’s proposed budget cuts the bipartisan Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) entirely as they seek to reduce EPAs budget by 31%. (This article was written before the official budget was released. Cut went from 97% to 100% at the official budget release this week.) GLRI has been in place since 2010 and has funded critical work from studying Harmful Algal Blooms to supporting cleanup efforts in our most polluted waters and so much more. The implications of this are wide reaching from serious declines in water quality and losing ground on invasive species to significant impacts to the economy of our coastal towns and job losses in tourism and research. HRWC is meeting with and talking to our Senators and Representatives and please do too–call your Senators and Representatives and ask they fight to protect the GLRI.
Issues Of The Environment: Building Resilience Along The Huron River Amidst Changes In Climate HRWC’s Rebecca Esselman is interviewed on the impacts of climate change to the Huron River and the strategies being implemented to help the river adapt to a new climate future. Protecting forests along the river and stream, restoring habitat and improving the management of flow by dams can create conditions that will help the Huron be more resilient to more extreme rainfall events, drought and higher air temperatures. Watch a short film on this topic here.
We have a lot of old water infrastructure, so what do we do about it? Our water infrastructure – the pipes, pumps and plants that deal with stormwater, drinking water and wastewater are old and failing. The price tag associated with necessary upgrades is huge and the source of that money is unknown.
The Secret Life of Rivers
And for a little fun, check out this really cool glimpse at a rarely considered, hyper-important part of a river system- the hyporheic zone. It will only add to your awe and respect for these complex ecosystems. And as an added bonus, a tardigrade makes a guest appearance and if you don’t know about tardigrades, google it. They are astounding.
This month in News to Us we cover some of the ongoing discussions about the impact of the new federal administration on water protection, a study that reveals we could be doing better on funding research on chemicals, a couple of stories on Michigan fish and a Michigan dam removal success story.
Uh oh. Studies find little U.S. money to study ecological impacts of chemicals The number of chemicals being introduced to the environment are mind boggling both in number and quantity. At HRWC we are considering which of them are of most concern in the Huron. This article summarizes two studies that found steep declines in funding for research on the impacts of chemicals to our natural systems. Without this critical research our understanding of the problems affecting ecosystems and the solutions necessary to protect them is limited.
Scott Pruitt Is Seen Cutting the E.P.A. With a Scalpel, Not a Cleaver The EPA plays an incredibly valuable role in protecting our country’s freshwater. The agency administers the Clean Water Act, provides tools and resources for water protection, and funds an irreplaceable portion of freshwater restoration and protection efforts. Speculation about the nominee to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, is that he will be more of a foe to the agency he leads than a friend. Here is one piece that describes how Pruitt may undermine the ability of the EPA to protect our air and water.
Panelists discuss the future of environmental sustainability under Trump adminstration HRWC Executive Director, Laura Rubin was one of several panelists invited to discuss sustainability in the new federal administration at the University of Michigan. One key take home message was that state and local action are critical. And as for the average citizen concerned about the direction this administration is taking on the environment, advice from the panel is to ‘engage, engage, engage’. See the full forum here.
In Michigan, a Fight Over the Future of a Fabled Trout River Conflict continues over the fate of a fish hatchery expansion that could negatively impact one of Michigan’s most prized rivers, the Au Sable. The river supports one of the best trout populations this side of the Rocky Mountains. Those opposing the expansion are worried about added nutrients to the river from the hatchery. The New York Times covered the ongoing debate.
Walleye run could start earlier than normal; now is time to prepare An unseasonably warm winter has anglers gearing up for an early walleye run. Walleye use water temperature to queue their annual migration up into the Great Lakes tributaries where they spawn. The Huron sees a walleye run up to Flat Rock where the dam there halts further movement of the fish.
By 2020, 90% of Michigan’s dams will meet or exceed their design life There are 2600 dams in our state. Listen in on a Stateside interview with Patrick Ertel from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division who shares the story of Michigan’s Boardman River. It is one of the most comprehensive dam removal and restoration projects in Michigan’s history and one of the largest such projects in the Great Lakes Basin. Our own restoration efforts on Mill Creek here in the Huron show that dam removals can have big community benefits and cost a lot less.
Given the noticeably mild weather this fall and winter, it may come as no surprise that 2016 was just declared the hottest year on record. 2015 held the same title as did 2014. In other words, we have broken the record for “hottest year on record” for three consecutive years. Climate Change is a threat that affects everyone and everything in some way. We must aggressively continue global efforts to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted. At the same time, communities everywhere are preparing for new weather extremes. We are one of them. Here’s a new film about our work to help prepare the Huron River for climate change. Please share this with friends to get the word out on how we are protecting the future of our local water.
HRWC would like to thank the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Climate Adaptation Fund made possible by funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for the support of this project and the creation of the film. To learn more about climate change in southeast Michigan and what HRWC is doing to address this threat visit http://www.hrwc.org/the-watershed/threats/climate-change/
News to Us this month provides an update on the dioxane contamination case. Also, two new projects bring money to improve water quality in the Huron. Finally, read articles on two widespread water quality issues – PAH contamination due to coaltar pavement sealers and bacterial pollution from failing septic systems.
Judge grants local intervention in Ann Arbor dioxane pollution case In a precedent setting decision, Judge Connors granted intervention on legal negotiations associated with the Gelman dioxane plume to HRWC. Washtenaw County and the City of Ann Arbor were also granted intervention. As the Attorney General’s counsel stated, “…. in our experience we’ve never seen a circumstance where an environmental policy group or a public interest group basically has intervened and been a participant in the negotiation of a consent judgment, whether it’s the very first negotiation of a consent judgment, or in this case the fourth amendment to a consent judgment.” HRWC will represent the needs of the river ecosystem and recreational users.
$1.8M in federal funds to help protect Huron River watershed A significant award through a federal Farm Bill program is coming to the Huron. These funds will be used to protect natural and farmed lands and support farming practices that protect water quality. Efforts led by the Legacy Land Conservancy will be focused on the headwaters of the Huron in Oakland, Livingston and western Washtenaw counties. HRWC is one of many local groups involved in this unique partnership.
$675K design contract for new tunnel to Ann Arbor riverfront approved A major stormwater management and river access project in Ann Arbor now has the funding it needs to move forward. A tunnel will be built underneath the railroad tracks connecting pedestrians from Depot Street to the Border-to-Border trail and Argo park. This tunnel will also act as a release valve for stormwater which tends to back up and flood land and property in this low lying area where Allen Creek meets the Huron River.
Coal tar main source of toxicity in streams A recent study found that up to 94% of PAHs found in sediments in Milwaukee-area creeks and streams came from coaltar pavement sealants and that 78% of all samples had enough PAH content to be considered toxic. PAHs are a toxic class of chemicals that impact aquatic life and human health. HRWC has been working, in the face of mounting evidence, to ban the use of coaltar and other high PAH sealcoats to reduce the impacts of this unnecessary contaminant. Learn more about area bans at hrwc.org/coaltar
Aging septic systems fouling Michigan waters Did you know that Michigan is the only state that does not regulate septic systems? As many as 1.4 million of these systems exist within our state, very few are under any inspection and maintenance requirements. Sixty four rivers sampled in Michigan had bacterial contamination that was traced back to human sources. This is one of the biggest threats to Michigan waterways. HRWC has more information on this issue and how you can maintain your septic system here and will be investing in septic system education in Honey Creek, a tributary of the Huron considering impaired by the State for bacterial contamination.
HRWC and EPA have taken action recently pertaining to 1,4 dioxane – the chemical contaminating groundwater in the Huron River watershed. During road salt season, consider alternatives to reduce impacts to our lakes and rivers. Huron River residents and the Great Lakes received good news this week on funding for natural resource protection and recreation. All in this edition of News to Us.
Dioxane makes list of 10 toxic chemicals EPA giving closer look This past summer the act that governs the regulation of chemicals in the US underwent major reform which arguably reduced barriers to regulate toxic substances. The 30 year old act had made it notoriously difficult to regulate chemicals. Under the reformed act, EPA was tasked with selecting ten substances to evaluate first. 1,4-dioxane is on that list, meaning the chemical that is contaminating groundwater under Scio Township and Ann Arbor will undergo a thorough risk evaluation over the next three years.
Huron River Watershed Council and county take legal action on dioxane Last week, HRWC filed a motion to intervene in the Gelman case that would amend the consent judgement that put cleanup of the 1,4 dioxane plume contaminating local groundwater in the hands of MDEQ and Gelman Sciences. HRWC and Washtenaw County, who also filed a motion to intervene, argue that cleanup efforts have failed. Should the court choose to open the case again, HRWC would provide a voice for the river, aquatic life and river recreation.
Road Salt Sex Change: How Deicing Messes with Tadpole Biology In the season of ice and snow, Huron River residents will be bringing out the road salt. There is mounting evidence of negative impacts to rivers and lakes due to high salt concentrations. This article discusses new research findings that implicate road salt in developmental issues in tadpoles, particularly by altering sex ratios. For some alternative practices for safe sidewalks visit our tips page.
Coalition Applauds Great Lakes Investments in Bill Great news for the Great Lakes. The federal government has authorized another round of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) Funding. GLRI will provide $1.5 billion in funding over the next five years for projects that help restore our water resources. GLRI has funded projects in the Huron and throughout Southeast Michigan to the benefit of people, businesses and the natural resources.
Gov. Rick Snyder applauds Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund board recommendations Several projects in the watershed were awarded grants from the Michigan Natural Resource Trust fund. These projects will advance trail systems in our area including the Washtenaw County Border-to-Border (B2B) trail segment from Dexter to Ann Arbor. Trail projects also build out the Huron Waterloo loop in Lyndon Township and a segment of the Iron Belle trail in Ypsilanti Township.
HRWC’s commitment to compiling and sharing noteworthy water-related news continues. This month’s News to Us covers the recent listing of Lake Erie as impaired waters, problems associated with low density development, a great river recovery story and some tips on good river “housekeeping” for autumn leaves.
Conservation Groups Applaud Michigan’s Inclusion of Lake Erie in Impaired Waters Report
Last week the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality listed western Lake Erie as impaired waters under the Clean Water Act. Environmental groups have been advocating for this for some time now as it will allow for further research, funding and action to address the nutrient pollution that leads to toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie. This is very good news for this Great Lake. Many are pushing for Ohio to follow suit.
Is the Infrastructure ‘Time Bomb’ Beginning to Blow?
It may not be immediately obvious, but low density development—what we see in suburban and rural areas where homes are built on large lots far from city centers—is not good for waters and watersheds. Here at HRWC we prefer high density development in a few areas as opposed to low density development everywhere. This article highlights one of the problems associated with sprawling development. “Low density housing cannot pay the bills.” The tax revenue is too low to cover the cost of infrastructure maintenance like roads, sewer and water necessary to serve these developments. When this infrastructure fails, the environment suffers. Check out our Smart Growth publications to learn more.
Taking Down Dams and Letting the Fish Flow
Last issue we shared an article about the human safety benefits of dam removal. This heartening story shows how quickly an ecosystem can rebound after dam removals. Three dams were removed on the Penobscot River in Maine in 2012 and 2013. Just three years later, huge numbers of native migratory fish have resumed their migration up the river—a trip they have not been able to make for nearly 200 years!
Leave The Leaves–Putting Organic Waste To Work
Leaves and grass that make their way into waterways add excess nutrients and use up valuable oxygen as they decompose. Local Master Composter Nancy Stone gives advice on how to utilize fall yard waste to maximize the benefits of fallen leaves. Leaves can be used in your yard to improve your soil and reduce weed growth. Nancy recommends mowing the leaves into your lawn. Mulching leaves can also reduce the greenhouse gas methane. Give this interview a listen as you are getting ready to clean up fall leaves. For more tips on river friendly home care visit our pollution prevention page.
In news of interest to us here at HRWC, we’ve seen more coastal wetlands now under protection near the mouth of the Huron River and a new business is in town in the lower reaches of the river as well. American Rivers lays out a path for removal of dams to reduce loss of life from dam failures. And two articles take a look at the two sides of climate change, how it is impacting us now (or in this case, how it is impacting birds) and what we, as a global community, are doing to solve the problem.
Two donate property to Detroit River wildlife refuge
A 43 acre complex of wetland, woodland and some agricultural land has been added to a complex of sites that creates the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. This parcel sits at the outlet of the Huron River near the Point Mouillee State Game Area where the Huron empties into Lake Erie. This refuge is home to many resident and migratory birds and helps clean inland waters heading into our Great Lakes.
How our unseasonably warm fall is affecting migratory birds
Weather pattern affect species differently, some more than others. Experts from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology discuss how our warm fall temperatures impact bird migration. Those most likely to be impacted are species that rely more heavily on temperature cues. Others rely more on waning daylight to cue migration.
Removing Dams Can Save Lives
Many dams in the US were built decades ago and are now persisting beyond their lifespan. This article highlights the importance of removing or repairing aging dams to reduce risks to people. Several major storms this year resulted in multiple dam failures in areas affected. American Rivers goes on to articulate a solution to the problem including modifying dam safety program requirements and making more federal funding available.
The past two weeks are a perfect illustration of what “solving” climate change will look like
This article shares some hopeful news that indicates on a growing number of fronts, countries are acting on climate change. Within the last few weeks, you may have run across these headlines. Canada established a nationwide carbon tax. While the Paris Climate Agreement was forged in 2015, it was not ratified until this month and thankfully, it included the US and China who were late to sign the deal. And finally, a global deal was established to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, a really potent greenhouse gas used for cooling. Keep up the good work people of the world!
New coffee, tea, specialty gift shop opens in Flat Rock
One of the Huron River Trail Towns has a new business ready to serve you. If you are paddling, fishing, picnicking or otherwise enjoying the river near Flat Rock, stop by the Blue Heron Trading Company and say hello. Its businesses like this that keep our trail towns vibrant, welcoming places to take a break from the river and refuel.
Reports of dishonest companies indicate we need to do our homework.
There are at least four cases under investigation in Scio Township where a company allegedly applied coal tar sealcoat on driveways after telling homeowners they were applying the safer asphalt based sealcoat. Scio Township passed an ordinance banning the use of coal tar sealcoats in June, 2016. Not only is this practice deceitful, it is illegal in areas with bans. Communities in the Huron River watershed passing similar ordinances now include, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Dexter and the Townships of Hamburg, Scio and Van Buren.
If you are planning to seal your driveway or other asphalt surface, consider taking the following steps to ensure you are getting what you pay for.
- Choose a local company.
- Collect several competitive bids.
- Be wary of anyone knocking on your door and offering to sealcoat unsolicited.
- Check out the company you are considering on sites like the Better Business Bureau, Yelp and Angie’s List.
One homeowner described the incident:
They are operating in our area as we speak… offering no estimates, overcharging citizens by upwards of 500% of what it actually costs and using an illegal, banned and harmful product and lying about it to customers…The name that he gave me was Father and Sons Sealcoating but it’s not a real company. The brochure that he gave me of a real and safe product is not what he used either… They were driving a green Dodge pickup with camouflage on the wheel rudders, probably a Ram.
We are nearing the end of the pavement sealing season, but if you are still hoping to seal yet this fall, do your homework and work with a reputable company.
For more information on the human and environmental health impacts of coal tar and other high PAH sealcoats visit www.hrwc.org/coaltar.
Please help HRWC better serve the communities of the Huron River watershed by completing this survey. Good will and possibly a $20 Amazon Gift Card are in it for you.
HRWC research partners are surveying residents in our watershed and the results of this research will be very helpful to HRWC. The survey is intended to help us understand how people and communities perceive their risk associated with impacts from climate change, how prepared people feel and their willingness to prepare.
Your participation in this study is voluntary and greatly appreciated. Your information will be anonymous. The findings will be shared with stakeholders to inform community planning toward resiliency and sustainability. The results of this study may be used in reports, presentations, or publications but your name will not be used.
Please take 10 to 15 minutes to complete the survey by October 31st. Also, consider sharing this blog or survey link via community websites or other appropriate locations to help increase our response rate.
Thank you for all the ways you help to make the Huron the best it can be!
Stormwater management in a changing climate, buffering our rivers and lakes, emerging pollutants such as pharmaceuticals and microplastics, and drunk tubing (because, why not?) all in this edition of News to Us, HRWC’s monthly round up of noteworthy water news.
How Grand Rapids is prepping for the next big storm
Bridge Magazine takes an in-depth look at how two cities in Michigan are changing the way they build and rebuild to deal with heavier rainfall. Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor use innovative stormwater management practices to protect people and infrastructure from damage that can be caused by flooding.
Huron Natural River District One Step Closer In Webster
HRWC has been working with municipalities along the stretch of the Huron River designated a Natural River District. Webster is strengthening protections for the river by adopting a local ordinance that requires buildings be set back a distance from lakes and rivers to minimize impacts of development to the ecological health and beauty of the Township’s water ways.
Emerging pollutants are those that are relatively new to our collective awareness of what negatively impacts our environment. Two recent articles illustrate the myriad ways that these pollutants show up and wreak havoc and how little we know about sources, impact and solutions. There is more work to be done.
- Grotesque cancers plaguing Lake Michigan tributary fish
- Widespread Plastic Pollution Found in Great Lakes Tributaries
And just for a little fun…
Fifteen hundred possibly drunk Americans successfully invade Canada via the St. Clair River
No this is not satire. It is a real headline. A chuckle worthy headline. None-the-less, a reminder to mind your manners and your neighbors when recreating in our state’s beautiful lakes and rivers. Read our Share the River Code here.