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Toxic Algae Bloom in Lake Erie

Algae bloom on Lake Erie, in 2011. Source: New York Times

Algae bloom on Lake Erie, in 2011. Source: New York Times

Last week,  nearly 500,000  people lost access to clean water for drinking and bathing due to a toxic algae bloom that occurred around the City of Toledo’s drinking water intake. The bloom was likely caused by excessive amounts of phosphorus (and perhaps other nutrients) in the Western Lake Erie Basin.

Although the immediate crisis in the city of Toledo has passed, the threat to drinking water supplies in Toledo and other Lake Erie communities has not.  Lake Erie supplies water for 11 million people who live near the lake.

Watershed councils and environmental groups, including HRWC, have been working for years to reduce nutrients, like phosphorus, in our watersheds.  It is these nutrients – from agricultural practices, lawn fertilizers, wastewater treatment plants, and polluted runoff from pavement  – that are a chief cause of the algae blooms. The changing climate and alterations in invasive mussel populations also contribute to the algae blooms. On top of it all, our lakes also suffer from the cycling of nutrients deposited in the lake from years past.

Here in the Huron River watershed, HRWC and municipalities along the river have made major investments to reduce our nutrient inputs such as stronger soil erosion controls, phosphorus and buffer ordinances, streambank restoration, and wetlands and natural area protection and construction to hold and infiltrate water. As a result phosphorus levels in the middle section of the watershed entering Ford Lake have been reduced substantially. While the lakes still have occasional algae blooms, the length and size has been reduced.

Overall, the phosphorus load contributed by the Huron River watershed to Lake Erie pales in comparison to the massive load from the heavily agricultural Maumee River watershed. In response to this heavy agricultural input, the International Joint Commission has called for better nutrient management  and soil erosion controls by agriculture including a ban on winter manure application. They also recommend continued reduction of urban sources and wetland restoration. Last week, a New York Times editorial called for similar action.

Nutrient pollution is a clear danger not only to  drinking water, but to efforts to develop a “blue economy” for the Great Lakes, including HRWC’s RiverUp program to promote the river as a recreational, economic, and cultural resource.  This new economic future cannot stand with national headlines declaring Great Lakes water unsafe to drink.

Until we stop polluting our lakes and rivers, our economy, drinking water and way of life are in jeopardy. To learn more about what you can do to reduce your impact on the Huron River Watershed and Lake Erie downstream, take a look at our tips on how to become an H2O Hero and how to be a responsible shoreline property owner.

 

Progress on Climate Change

On June 2, the EPA announced the Clean Power Plan proposal, which for the first time cuts carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. The proposal will protect public health, move the United States toward a cleaner environment and fight climate change while supplying Americans with reliable and affordable power.

The proposal would

  • cut carbon emissions from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels, which is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year;
  • Cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent as a co-benefit;
  • Avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days—providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits (in Michigan, our nine oldest power plants cost Michigan families $1.5 billion each year in healthcare costs); and
  • Shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system. Recent reports for Michigan show that renewable power is 26 percent cheaper than comparable coal-fired electricity, while Michigan customers save $3.83 for every dollar invested in energy efficiency programs.

States have until 2030 to reach the goal, and will be allowed to use a variety of strategies to reach the goal.  This flexibility will allow states to reach the goal with a minimum of disruption to their economies.  In fact, many studies predict that the rules will spur markets in alternative energy and energy consumption, creating jobs and resulting in cheaper electricity bills.

EPA published the proposed rule today (June 18) in the Federal Register and will take comments for the next 120 days (up until October 16).  EPA will finalize the standards next June.  Please add your voice and let EPA know you support the new rule.  You can use the suggested text below (from the Natural Resources Defense Council) or write your own, and submit to the EPA.

“Comment on existing source pollution standard [Docket: EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602]

“Dear Environmental Protection Agency,

“Thank you for proposing this standard to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants. Without these standards in place, polluters will continue to dump an unlimited amount of carbon pollution into our air.

“This is a critical part of President Obama’s plan to cut carbon pollution coming from power plants each year. With these limits we can avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change.

“Carbon pollution fuels climate change, drives extreme weather, threatens communities and cuts too many lives short. I urge you to stand strong against their pressure and adopt this critical new standard (Docket EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602).”

Climate Change: More Bad News, but Some Hope, Too

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released the third of four reports that make up it’s Fifth Assessment Report on climate change, and the news is predictably dire, but includes a surprising ray of hope.

As the New York Times reported on March 31, the first two reports address the science and impacts of climate change.  Their conclusions include that the ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.

These impacts will likely cause starvation, increases in poverty, and violent conflicts over water and food resources throughout the world. HRWC’s special issue on Climate Change describes probable impacts on our own Huron River watershed.  These impacts include shifts in fish and other species that live in the watershed, increased intensity of storms, and snowfall decreases.

The third report (as reported in the New York Times) gives the world 15 years to significantly reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases and switch to alternative sources of energy.  If reductions do not occur by then, it will be nearly impossible to stabilize the climate.

The reports do provide a ray of hope.  The world is becoming more aware of the problem, and many governments and businesses are beginning to devise plans to adapt to coming changes. HRWC is working with communities, utilities, and scientists here in the watershed to develop strategies to increase our resilience to climate change.

But adapting to the changing climate will become nearly impossible if we don’t act to stem the continuing tide of greenhouse gas emissions.

What can you do?

Check out HRWC’s Saving Water Saves Energy page to find tips for your own energy and water use.

Encourage your state and federal Representatives and Senators to support climate change legislation, be it by requiring emission limits on power plants and cars, setting a price on carbon and other emissions to allow the free market to reduce climate change, or providing incentives for alternative energies.

And be sure to vote whenever you can, for candidates who acknowledge climate change and pledge to for climate change reduction policies!

 

Where are the Mudpuppies?

mudpuppy2The University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, and the Herpetological Resource and Management are asking for help in collecting dead specimens of Mudpuppies. Due to the extreme weather conditions this year, herpetologists are anticipating a large winterkill, which provides a unique opportunity to assess population health.

What is a Mudpuppy?

• Michigan’s largest, fully aquatic salamander

Why Are They Important?

• “Bioindicator” species: Due to their sensitivity to pollutants and poor water quality, these salamanders act as an early warning system for environmental problems

• Are the only intermediate host to the Endangered Salamander Mussel

• Great Lakes populations are declining, and the true abundance is currently unknown

How Can I Help?

Place the whole Mudpuppy(s) in ziploc bag, seal, and freeze the bag. Tissue samples may be placed in storage tubes containing ethanol.

Include the following information on a 3×5 card placed within the bag (using pencil) and on the outside of the bag (using permanent marker). In the case of tissue samples, label outside of tube with permanent marker.

1.) Observer

2.) Date

3.) Precise Collection Location

Contact one of the following people:

1.) David Mifsud 517-522-3525 DMifsud@HerpRMan.com

2.) Maegan Stapleton 517-522-3525 Stapleton@HerpRMan.com

3.) Amber Stedman 815-761-8941  AStedman@EMich.edu

4.) Greg Schneider 734-647-1927, 734-763-0740 ES@UMich.edu

mudpuppy1

Ann Arbor Unveils Plan for its Urban Forest

A2ForestAfter three years of study and gathering input from residents, businesses, forestry experts and stakeholder groups (including HRWC), the City of Ann Arbor is taking final public comment on their draft Urban and Community Forest Management Plan.

The Plan describes the status of the city’s “urban forest,” which includes all trees within the city, from the forests in Bird Hills and other parks, to the trees lining its streets and in back yards.  One of the findings of the plan is that trees provide $4.6 million in benefits each year to the city.  These benefits include reducing stormwater runoff , improving water and air quality, moderating summer temperatures, lowering utility costs and contributing to property values.  HRWC was a member of the Advisory Committee that provided input on plan development and fully supports the goals of the plan.

The City is accepting public comment on the plan until March 28, 2014.  Comments may be submitted via:

email:  kgray@a2gov.org
fax:  734.994.1744- attn: Kerry Gray
mail:  301 E. Huron St., PO Box 8647, Ann
Arbor, MI 48107- attn: Kerry Gray

Paper copies of the draft plan are available upon request.  Please contact Kerry
Gray at kgray@a2gov.org or 734.794.6430 x
43703.

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Snow: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?

Fleming Creek in winter. Photo: John Lloyd

Fleming Creek in winter. Photo: John Lloyd

Bucking the conventional feeling this winter, I have been loving all of this snow — this is how every winter should be!  Avid cross country skiers everywhere agree.

Lest the record snow and polar vortexes (vortices?) distract us, or worse, make us wonder how we could be in the grip of global warming, take a look at the latest

New York Times article on the topic.

The article describes the alarming long term trends in snowfall and snowpack worldwide, and it reminds us all that, taken alone, local weather events on any given day or month cannot support or refute global climate change.

Among many alarming trends the article points out is that Europe has lost half its glacial ice since 1850; 2/3′s of Europe’s ski resorts could be closed by 2100; and the American West may lose 25 to 100 percent of its snowpack by then.

In the Great Lakes region, the number of days with snow cover has decreased by 5 days per decade, since 1975. The average snow depth has also decreased.  Future projections predict later arrival of winter and earlier arrival of spring resulting in more precipitation falling as rain than snow  (GLISA, Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region).

Of course, global warming is not just about inconveniencing a bunch of skiers.  Those winter snows provide drinking water for us all and drought protection for farmers and forests.

So, next time you curse the snow delaying your morning commute, think about the likely future if current trends continue, and when you eventually get to the office or other workplace, give your Senator or Representative a call.

Get out and enjoy the snow while it's here!

Get out and enjoy the snow while it’s here!

 

Unadilla Township creates Green Infrastructure Plan

Joining Dexter and Lyndon townships in Washtenaw County and all communities in Oakland County, Unadilla Township has created a Green Infrastructure Plan that provides a map of its natural areas — woodlands, wetlands, grasslands, and waterways — and connections and pathways connecting them.  At a workshop facilitated by the Huron River Watershed Council as part of our Portage Creek Project, residents and officials from Unadilla Township studied maps of the township’s natural areas, topography, master plan designations, land use, and other natural assets, and drew over them onto transparent mylar natural area hubs, links connecting them, and special natural features such has Heron rookeries or rare plant communities. HRWC used the sketching to create the map and plan.

The township will use the plan to inform their land use planning and policy development, directing future development in a way that is in concert with their natural infrastructure.

HRWC will will hold a similar workshop for Stockbridge in January.  The Dexter and Lyndon township green infrastructure planning processes were also part of our Portage Creek Project.  Oakland County Planning and Development completed its Green Infrastructure planning program in 2009 — all of their communities now have plans and maps that inform their planning and policies.

Development Heating Up in Southeast Michigan

We need less of this....

We need less of this….

....and more of this.

….and more of this.

As this article in Crain’s Detroit Business describes, as Michigan rises from the Great Recession, housing and commercial development is coming back to Southeast Michigan and our watershed.

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:

HRWC publications related to Smart Growth

 

Protecting Water Resources with Higher Density Development

Protecting Water Resources with Smart Growth

Smart Growth Online

 

 

 

 

Osprey to wear backpacks in Southeast Michigan

 

A female osprey brings a fish to her fledging at Kensington Metropark.

A female osprey brings a fish to her fledgling at Kensington Metro Park. Photo: Jane Purslow , used with permission

Nearly absent from much of Michigan due to the effects of DDT and other pesticide use, Michigan’s Osprey population continues to recover year by year.  In Southern Michigan, monitoring efforts are in place to track the revitalization of this species. (See the Fall 2012 issue of The Huron River Report to hear about HRWC’s staff outing to visit ospreys nesting at Kensington Metropark).  Historically, Osprey chicks have simply been banded each year as part of a National effort to monitor the species.

This year, in addition to banding, three osprey chicks from area nests will be outfitted with “Backpack” satellite telemetry units.  These units were funded by grants from DTE Energy and American Tower Corporation and will help scientists track the young birds’ daily movement and seasonal migration patterns.

The exciting part is that anyone can follow along and find out where the birds are at any time on the DNR’s website. The DNR plans to use this website for educating youth and bringing wildlife into the classroom.

Please contact Holly Vaughn to schedule an osprey education program in your classroom: (248) 359-9062.

See where Michigan’s Osprey population is currently located >>

Anyone who observes a nesting pair of osprey is asked to contact Osprey Watch of Southeast Michigan (OWSEM) or email osprey@owsem.org.

 

 

What is Your Green Infrastructure Vision?

GreenInfrastructureGeneralSEMCOG is partnering with HRWC and other members to develop a regional green infrastructure vision for Southeast Michigan. Green Infrastructure is both a network of green space and natural areas in our communities, along with built techniques such as rain gardens and bioswales that preserve the function of the natural ecosystem to benefit residents of the region.

For example:

Parks can add recreational opportunities.

Rain gardens along roads can clean the rain water before it enters our rivers and lakes.

Community gardens in urban areas provide a positive use for vacant land and a local food source.

Boat access sites can meet tourism and local needs to better use our nationally recognized lakes.

Results from this short survey will help support the Green Infrastructure Vision for Southeast Michigan and provide a basis for future natural resource planning. “Communities in Southeast Michigan are realizing the value of a strong natural resource base as a mechanism to provide recreational opportunities for citizens, increase tourism, and protect water quality,” said Amy Mangus, SEMCOG Plan Implementation. “The Green Infrastructure Vision for Southeast Michigan helps create a roadmap for getting there.”

The brief survey asks questions pertaining to:

  1. The most important outcomes of green infrastructure
  2. What kinds of green infrastructure citizens would like to see (e.g., parks, rain gardens, trails)
  3. Where these natural areas should be located

HRWC’s own Green Infrastructure projects (focusing on both natural areas and built GI) will benefit from SEMCOG’s work on this regional vision. HRWC’s work will inform SEMCOG’s regional vision, which will aid in planning and securing funding for natural areas protection, greenway and trail development, and construction of green infrastructure for control of stormwater runoff.

You can give your input on green infrastructure planning to SEMCOG at http://bit.ly/15LhVQa


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