- Biodiversity: wetlands provide a unique habitat for animals—from fish, amphibians, and macroinvertebrates to birds and mammals.
- Water quality: wetlands are like the watershed’s kidneys, filtering sediment and pollution and keeping the water in the lakes and streams cleaner.
- Water quantity: wetlands act like sponges as they take up excess water in heavy rains and provide a steady and slow replenishment to creeks and rivers in drier periods.
Unfortunately, we have lost approximately two-thirds of our wetlands. We’ve drained and filled most of these wetlands to plow farm fields and create drier and more buildable land. This last May, Michigan passed a new wetland law. Is this a positive development? We need a little history to get an answer.
In October 1984, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authorized the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to administer Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), which regulates wetlands. Since then, Michigan has been one of two states that administers its own wetland permitting program (New Jersey being the other state). Yet, over the years, environmentalists began to question the state’s lax commitment to wetland protection. As a result EPA initiated an informal review of the Michigan program and reported its findings in November 2002. After a lengthy review and comment period, a final review appeared in May 2008. The review outlines EPA’s concerns with Michigan’s implementation of the Section 404 permitting program.
These concerns sparked a debate in 2008 to consider handing the program back to the EPA. Michigan decided to keep the program and convened a task force to help it address EPA concerns and make the program viable. This past spring the state legislature passed a bill that purportedly addressed the concerns and improved Michigan’s permitting program. Governor Snyder signed the bill into law in early July 2013.
In fact, this new law only heightens HRWC’s concerns about the program. The law makes substantial changes that affect the area of jurisdiction, scope of regulated activities, and criteria for review of permits. It provides more exemptions, less protection of wetlands, and weakens criteria for permitting. In addition to the weakened regulations, HRWC is concerned about the lack of federal review and potential Clean Water Act violations. Since the bill takes effect upon the governor’s signature, no time is allotted for required federal review which results in a violation of the Clean Water Act.
The EPA should inform the State of Michigan that implementation of any changes to the state program must be delayed until the federal review process is complete. Not only are the provisions under the new law ineffective until EPA review, but upon preliminary review of the draft legislation, EPA noted that “the draft legislation also introduces new inconsistencies with Federal law, guidance, or case law.” After receiving letters from HRWC and other environmental groups, EPA is currently reviewing the new act.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is holding an informational meeting and public hearing on Wednesday, December 11, 2013, at 6p.m. (informational meeting) and 7 p.m. (formal public hearing) at the Crowne Plaza Lansing West Hotel in Lansing, Michigan. In addition, EPA is accepting written comments on the proposed revisions through December 18, 2013. To make a comment and to learn more about the CWA Section 404 program in Michigan go to: www.regulations.gov. We encourage you to attend the informational meeting and hearing, and to provide your comments.
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.
Superior Pond to Lower Huron Metropark
4.5 hours moving
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.
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!
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!
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.
This past Saturday, I went to the ribbon cutting ceremony in Dexter for the Mill Creek Park, a 1.4-acre public park located in the heart of the downtown business district. Wow, is it beautiful. I know the beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the Mill Pond was a weed-choked, stinky pond. Now we have an open central park with an amphitheater, trails, fishing piers and overlooks, boat access, benches, and pretty flowers and trees. And then there’s the creek. Anglers have spotted brown trout jumping this past week!
And the increased activity is palpable. Runners, walkers, and cyclists go by on the path, connecting to the downtown, the trails to the library, and to the river where there are trails completed or near completion both upstream and downstream to HCMA parks. There were a half dozen anglers and people learning to fly fish as Colton Bay and Ann Arbor Trout Unlimited folks were giving fly fishing demonstrations. And then the people ambling in from downtown Dexter. People who had just been to the farmers market, the bakery or running errands who came to the water edge to rest and watch.
The Mill Creek dam removal in 2008 sparked the idea of a central park in Dexter. Restoration included some in-stream and bank activities to enhance habitat, direct the stream, and slow flows. The Village of Dexter went to work establishing a vision for a vibrant, beautiful, and well connected park in downtown Dexter. The project includes an amphitheater, boardwalk, two boat launches, two observation and fishing decks and benches along the path.
The project cost $1.24 million with most of the money coming from grant funding. The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund provided $450,000, the Waterways Infrastructure Program gave $50,000, Washtenaw County assisted with $200,000 in funding, and DTE provided $4,000.
Congratulations to the Village of Dexter and Paul Cousins, Village council member and HRWC board member, who took the lead on the project. At the ribbon cutting on Saturday, Allison Bishop, Community Development Director at the Village, told me that she is receiving numerous calls from residents saying that Dexter is turning in to one of the coolest places to live and is very vibrant. The river is one of the “coolest” things we have going for us in SE Michigan and when we restore it by removing dams, improving access and recreation, and opening up economic opportunities, we are seeing a real river (and community) renaissance.
and more work to come:
A second phase of the park’s construction will probably begin within the next five years. A path to connect Hudson Mills Metropark to Mill Creek Park is slated for this fall/winter.
If you’ve never swum in the Huron, if you like swimming but are tired of only seeing the black lines at the bottom of a pool, if you love river and lake swimming…….
Come join HRWC and other swimmers on Sunday, July 15th at 8:30 to swim across Baseline Lake and back. That’s about a mile. The UM Sailing Club hosts us, and it’s a warm, noncompetitive swim with food and drink afterward. We have paddlers, a lifeguard, and some motor boats on hand to help out if needed.
I’ve swum it every year and I love it! Every year we get some of the same swimmers, along with some new who just heard about it or wanted to try it out. It’s usually a warm, beautiful morning on the river/lake. And swimming in a lake is so refreshing and inspiring after pool and lap swimming!
This year, we’ve added the option of going around twice for those swimmers looking for a greater challenge.
Cost is $25/HRWC members, $35 for non-members, and $40 for a family.
Register and make payment online for this event HERE.
While we don’t have much great lakes coastline in the Huron River watershed, this is an important issue for the health of the Great Lakes–clean water and a healthy and diverse ecosystem.
Last week the state legislature voted to pass SB 1052, which deregulates beach grooming activities between the ordinary high water mark and the waters edge, an area the Michigan Supreme Court considers part of the public trust along Great Lakes shorelines.
The bill is on its way to the Governor now, and we are asking for a veto. His contact info is: 517.335.7858; RickSnyder@michigan.gov
In its final form, this bill:
- Removes the requirement that property owners get a permit before mowing or removing vegatation within that zone.
- Allows mowing live Phragmites all the way down to the water’s edge without any state review whatsoever ~ the very thing that spreads this destructive invasive! It could undo the fantastic success rate of controlling it using community programs, from Mackinaw City to Manistee.
- Allow removing all plants on broad areas of shoreline ~ destroying habitat for 90% of Great Lakes fish species and decimating good fishing for future generations.
- Eliminate state restrictions for mechanical plant removal on Great Lakes shorelines ~ this is not in line with our Pure Michigan values.
Native plants provide critical habitat for breeding waterfowl, filter polluted runoff and protect the shoreline from eroding. Removing native plants encourages invasives to take over. AND REMEMBER: this bill replaces a successful General Permit (GP) program that has been in place for 5 years; 600 applications received and only 4 denied! That is not an onerous regulatory program! But the beach grooming bill it is what this legislature has decided will replace that GP program.
Please make it to the Governor to veto this terrible bill. Thanks for your work. His contact info is: 517.335.7858; RickSnyder@michigan.gov
The DEQ today announced an April 10 public meeting and hearing on a proposal to clean sediment and riverbanks on the Huron River at the former MichCon Manufactured Gas Plant site in Ann Arbor. MichCon property owners are proposing to remove sediment, near shore soil, and some contaminated upland soil from the Huron River and its south bank at the MichCon plant site near Broadway Street. This plan requires a construction permit from DEQ.
HRWC’s River-Up project and the Wolfpack had brought together the City of Ann Arbor and DTE to discuss transforming the MichCon/DTE site on the Huron River into a public-private partnership that includes a park and river-friendly commercial establishment. Clean-up and restoration of this coal gasification site just below Argo Dam is underway and will revitalize this area and improve the ecology of the river environs.
The public meeting and hearing will be held at Cobblestone Farm, located at 2781 Packard Road in Ann Arbor. Doors will open in the big barn on the second floor at 6 p.m. for informal discussion with DEQ staff, followed by a public meeting at 7 p.m., and a formal hearing to gather public comment around 8 p.m.
As part of the permit review process, the DEQ also is accepting written public comment on the plan through April 30, 2012. A copy of the plan can be viewed at: ftp://ftp.deq.state.mi.us/deq-outgoing/ Insert the user I.D.: deq-public-ftp, and the password “Jumbl355#.”
A copy of the construction permit application may be viewed at this web site: www.deq.state.mi.us/CIWPIS/ (enter file # 11810066, select Search, then click on the folder icon for specific information).
In addition, copies of both the plan and permit application can be viewed at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 South Fifth Avenue, and at the DEQ Jackson District Office, 301 E. Louis Glick Highway in Jackson (517-780-7690).
For More Information: Brad Wurfel, 517-373-7917, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ray Spaulding, 517-780-7832; email@example.com
James Sallee, 517-780-7910; firstname.lastname@example.org