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Protecting Water Under the Clean Water Act

We needy our help to bring protections back to our wetlands and small streams.

We need your help to bring protections back to our wetlands and small streams.

Wait, what?  The Clean Water Act doesn’t protect clean water?  How can that be?

Well in 2001 and 2006 there were 2 Supreme Court Decisions that confused the implementation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and placed many wetlands and streams out of protection and at risk.

Earlier this year, the U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers released a very important draft rulemaking. This draft rule clarifies which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act.  This rulemaking will fundamentally influence our work to protect or restore our watershed.

Please comment on the draft US EPA rule on Clean Water Protection (aka Waters of the US) Rulemaking

Comments on this important rulemaking are due October 20, 2014. We encourage river lovers (YOU) to speak up! If you haven’t been following this issue or need a refresher, please check out this link.

Your comments can be as simple as, “Clean water is important to me. I want EPA to protect it for my health, my family, and my community” or as specific as, “I support the agencies proposal to define “waters of the United States” in section (a) of the proposed rule for all sections of the CWA to mean: Traditional navigable waters; interstate waters, including interstate wetlands; the territorial seas; impoundments of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, including interstate wetlands, the territorial seas, and tributaries, as defined, of such waters; tributaries, as defined, of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, or the territorial seas; and adjacent waters, including adjacent wetlands. Waters in these categories would be jurisdictional “waters of the United States” by rule—no additional analysis would be required.”

Thank you!

Paddle and Pedal the Huron this Sunday

We have a paddle trip for people looking for adventure and an interest in trying their skills at biking and paddling.  This Sunday, September 21st, at 1:00 we are hosting a paddle trip from Hudson Mill Metropark to Dexter-Huron Metropark with a bike to the beginning along the recently completed border to border trail.Huron River Watershed Council

Ron Sell and Barry Lonik, experienced paddlers (and bikers), will be leading this trip down a beautiful stretch of the river in the Natural River’s zone.  Elizabeth Riggs, HRWC’s River-Up Manager will be on the trip too, adding her expertise and knowledge of RiverUp! and Huron River Water Trail improvement projects within this section of the river.  Join the fun and learn about the river and try your skill with paddling and pedaling! Register here.

Suds on the River

The BIG tent!

The BIG tent!

Thank you to our Sponsors and Supporters, many River Revelers and River Guardians, our hard working Host Committee, and our hosts Walt Weber and Iva Corbett for helping us celebrate the river at our 2014 Suds on the River.  Last Thursday night, we welcomed over 350 guests under a big tent at Walt and Iva’s house in Ypsilanti Township on Ford Lake.  With 7 breweries, 6 chefs, 28 restaurants, and a spectacular view, river enthusiasts were treated to a lovely evening eating, drinking and socializing. We always say “we cannot do it without you” and this year 127 volunteers helped manage registration, two parking lots, 6 shuttle buses, food deliveries and pick-ups, cars and traffic and the clean-up after everyone goes home, to make it come together so beautifully. Thank you to everyone for making this Suds such a great success.

Matt Turner arriving at Suds from a kayak!

Matt Turner arriving at Suds in a kayak! Now that’s alternative transportation.

The Big Melt

Soon, your stormdrain could look like this!

Soon, your stormdrain could look like this!

The sun is brighter, the birds are more active, and the temperatures are warming. I even got showered by puddle water as I walked home yesterday on N. Main St.!

The record snow fall will turn in to stormwater with the potential for flooding and back-ups.  In the past 2 weeks there have been numerous news articles about flood warnings and predictions.  I won’t look in to my crystal ball but I will pass along some solid suggestions from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on steps you can take to minimize flooding impacts.

Basically, as the weather warms, make sure you take these precautions at home:

  1. Clear stormdrains, catchbasins, or any kind of detention or yard drains you have from debris, ice, and litter;
  2. Check that any sumps or back-up generators are working;
  3. Clear gutters and downspouts of leaves, debris, and ice to expedite drainage

Yeah, you might be sore on Monday, but you’ll be drier in the weeks to come!

For more information about flooding risks, please visit the State’s website.

Michigan Wetlands at Risk

A tantalizing copse of tamarack grow out beyond the lily pads - good indicators of a fen or bog ecosystem.

Wetlands serve critical functions in a watershed and our watershed is no exception.

  1. Biodiversity: wetlands provide a unique habitat for animals—from fish, amphibians, and macroinvertebrates to birds and mammals.
  2. Water quality: wetlands are like the watershed’s kidneys, filtering sediment and pollution and keeping the water in the lakes and streams cleaner.
  3. 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.

Rafting on the River…for work!

On Wednesday afternoon I joined a group of paddlers (all women!) to test drive a few rafts down the river with the idea of developing senior programming for the City of Ann Arbor and possibly in concert with the UM Turner Geriatric Center. Yep, I never thought of rafting the river but it is a great way to get small children and senior citizens out on the river safely while providing some education and guidance about the river.

It was a gorgeous sunny day to take the trip from Argo livery to Gallup Park.  Gallup Park canoe livery and launch is under construction but you can take out at the boat launch just a bit downstream.  Unfortunately the river in this section was considerably impacted by some odd operations at Barton Dam so the water level dropped off.  Where we were expecting about 400-500 cubic feet per second (CFS) of water in the river; we were greeted with only a mere 200 cfs.  This made the ride through the Argo Cascades very bumpy and wet and then past the cascades, it meant a lot of walking and pulling the raft over rocky bottom.

We were the only boats on the river and it provided us an opportunity to see many birds.  We saw two osprey as they hunted their way down the river from Riverside Park in Ann Arbor to downstream of Island Park.  And we saw numerous blue herons (its hard to tell if you are seeing the same 2 over and over again, or new ones).  They enjoy perching on logs or taller branches overlooking  the river.  Despite the river being very low, the water clarity was great and being up on a raft allowed a better vantage point to see the tons of fish and river bottom.  The section below Island Park back by Fuller fields seems like a great, remote fishing spot.

In terms of senior programming, we had a few findings:

  • the Argo Gallup trip is too long for seniors to sit without back support and being jostled.  A shorter trip (maybe Argo to Island Park–our new launch!) was a better offering than the longer trip to Gallup;
  • getting in and out of the raft using the docks works very well for creaky bones and limited mobility;
  • one camp chair fits in the middle of the raft for someone in need of back support;
  • an experienced and “youthful” river guide is needed to steer the boat and assist entry and exit;
  • we would need to set a lower limit of water in the river (probably 400-500 cfs) so you can stay in the boat the whole trip!;
  • and finally, we need to tie in a pre-raft class at Turner as part of the programming.

If you have ideas about river trip programming for seniors please let me know as we will be developing our ideas over the winter.

I’m sorry I have no pictures of the trip, but my phone was in the drybag the whole time!  Highly advised when you go through the Cascades in low water.

Not quite this....

Not quite this….

but more like this!

but more like this!

Day 4: River Log

Superior Pond to Lower Huron Metropark

16 miles
4.5 hours moving
3s portages

Laura Rubin joined us last evening for a few hours, we had a lively and very informative discussion on a wide variety of topics all river related. Peaceful night, no bugs. Up early again and on the water by 8 am, a short paddle to our first portage– Peninsula Dam. This portage is pretty straight forward and fairly easy, but lack of maintenance has led to deterioration of the landings making it hard than it should be.Back on the water a fairly fast ride through Ypsilanti. We all remarked on the waterfront potential of this town and could envision an active vibrant face to the river with the restaurants, shops and boardwalks.

On to Ford Lake, our weather karma continues with cool temps, overcast skies and no wind– perfect paddling conditions. Here we leave the second phase of the river leaving behind the glacial moraine features and enter the glacial lake bottom evidenced by the high clay or gravel banks that the river has cut through on it’s way to present day Lake Erie. Portaging the Ford Lake Dam took some effort and teamwork of the group but we were soon back on the water headed for Belleville, stopping for lunch at Van Buren Park where Willow Run enters the river.

Did I mention Belleville Lake was long? Seemed to on for ever and the motorboat wakes reflecting off the breakwalls didn’t help. But we did eventually arrive at French Landing, tired but not beat. The portage here is difficult if not impossible so we used the backup plan– Kay was called and helped us with a car shuttle into Lower Huron Metropark.

A short paddle brought us to the canoe camp which is now part of the new Walnut Grove Campground, causing some confusion. Al Heavner joined us for awhile with more lively discussion about the river in general and education in particular including the No Child Left Inside Program. We were all excited by another visitor, an all white bird that flitted and perched around the campground causing much speculation. We determined it was a white phase Kingbird, something none of us had ever seen.

Long day ahead tomorrow, 25 miles to Lake Erie.

Ron

Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund can’t be raided for dredging!

Good news . . .

State Attorney General Bill Schuette has weighed in on a constitutional guarantee that the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) can only be used for protecting our natural resources for future generations.  Use of the MNRTF for dredging had been threatened and the Attorney General’s opinion is a decisive action to stop this pressure.  The largest threat came from a bill that has passed the State Senate that would make dredging a permissible use for the fund.

With great lakes levels at record low levels the State Legislature has already approved an emergency $21 million from the general fund and the Michigan State Waterways Fund.

I applaud the decision.  MNRTF monies are intended “to preserve and protect Michigan’s bountiful resources for generations to come” which means the purchase and development of parks and natural areas for the residents of Michigan. Hopefully this will put to rest the regular political tactics to raid the fund . . . at least it’s a strong defense!

Attorney General Opinion 7270.

MDNR’s Public Land Management Strategy

Pickerel Lake

Pickerel Lake In the Pinckney Recreation Area

Let’s hear what you think about the future of state public lands……

Governor Snyder has tasked the Department of Natural Resources with developing a public land management strategy which will assist regions in meeting their prosperity goals.  The plan is a requirement under a law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder last year that capped how much land the DNR can own.  The DNR has drafted a strategy and wants to hear from you.

I attended a regional meeting last week that provided an interactive discussion on our region’s priority community, economic, and environmental strategies that are impacted and enhanced by public land resources (state parks, recreation areas, access, and game areas).  We discussed the main strategies in the draft plan–the pros and cons, what is missing, the challenges to meet them, and how to have better collaboration.

To summarize:  “The draft land use strategy calls for improved access on DNR-managed public lands and, for the first time, sets a standard for public access to the Great Lakes and rivers. The draft plan also includes a new strategy for the possible disposal of approximately 250,000 acres of DNR-managed public lands and promotes increased opportunities in southern Michigan. The plan also discusses objectives to grow Michigan’s natural resources-based economy through the use of DNR-managed public lands.”

The highpoints for me are:

1. Improved management and greater collaboration are needed and I welcome the emphasis!

2. Increasing public land opportunities and/or access and recreation in Southern MI, where the greatest population lives, makes sense and supports HRWC RiverUp! efforts.

3. The word BIODIVERSITY is missing and given the current threats (see earlier blog Forests and Waters At-Risk in Michigan) I worry about an overly strong emphasis on timber and mining where the economic benefits are more easily quantified than biodiversity and habitat protection.

The Huron River Watershed is lucky to have a wealth of state public lands from Highland to Proud Lake State Rec. Areas and from Island Lake to Pinckney State Rec. Areas.  If you use these lands and care about the future of them please review the DNR strategy and comment!

 

On the Edge of the Storm

Flooding in Flat Rock in 2011

Our weather patterns are definitely becoming less recognizable! Remember the really warm and early spring (and the frost snap where we lost our prized fruit!), to the summer drought and heat with little to no water in the river, and now to Sandy who devastated much of the East Coast and gave us early sleet and wind gusts that caused power outages.

And why isn’t climate change and adaptation a conversation in the current elections?  There may be disagreement about who caused the mess we are in, but there can’t be disagreement about the massive climate extremes we are experiencing. Storms are increasing in number per year, by intensity, and by the amount of rain.  Republicans and Democrats are now talking about building and re-building our cities to be more climate resilient.

Increasingly, community leaders, planners, and natural resource managers are expressing the need to understand local impacts of climate change and implement adaptation strategies. The HRWC has been leading an effort to create climate-resilient communities within the watershed by working with three sectors likely to be significantly impacted by climate change and in a position to take actions to reduce and respond to those impacts.

Downscaled climate models predict more frequent large rain events, a shift in the timing of these events, and increases in the frequency and severity of droughts. These changes threaten safety of residents via increased risk of flooding, stormwater runoff, infrastructure failure, availability and quality of drinking water and the quality of natural areas that mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events.

HRWC has created a model process for watersheds where need is determined by sector members. The process creates climate-informed decision-makers who can influence relevant practices, policies and emergency management.  Participants representing in-stream flows (dam operators, fisheries biologists, hydrologists), natural infrastructure (wildlife biologists, aquatic ecologists, natural lands managers), and water infrastructure (drinking water, wastewater, stormwater professionals) sectors have met over the last year to discuss local climate data, determine vulnerabilities and decide a course of action to reduce vulnerability to climate change.

Actions currently proposed for implementation include:

-Initiate and coordinate a network of dam operators to improve preparedness and communications strategies for larger, more frequent storm events and drought conditions and allow for proactive management to changes in flow and exchange of knowledge and solutions

-Revision of regional rainfall frequency curves to improve the ability to establish appropriate stormwater management regulations and storm drain sizing, reducing risk of flooding, property damage and infrastructure failures; and

-Report and provide training on predicted impacts to species and natural communities to inform urban forestry, land management and protection.

HRWC is collaborating with NOAA’s Great Lakes Integrated Sciences & Assessments Center (GLISA) to provide local climate data. The River Network, EcoAdapt and others are following this effort in order to export the process to other watersheds.


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