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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.

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.


News to Us


Volunteers collecting water quality data in Swift Run

Read articles on issues with water infrastructure in our watershed and Michigan-wide. Earlier this month the US Federal Court of Appeals made a ruling on a pesticide known to kill pollinators. Our water trail continues to make headlines. And the Swift Run creekshed is getting some special attention these days.

Ten surprising facts in Michigan’s new water strategy
In July, Michigan released a draft 30-year water strategy.  Much public discussion on the strategy has occurred since then. This is a blog written by Brad Garmon at the Michigan Environmental Commission that takes a little different look at the strategy.  Brad captures some startling statistics on the water assets Michigan owns and must steward.

Supervisor: Overuse causing discolored water in system
Lyon Township residents have been experiencing trouble with their drinking water. While the water remains safe to drink, some people are finding their water discolored. The township Supervisor attributes the color to iron in the water that occurs when backup wells are used to meet increased demand. The article highlights the issue of aging infrastructure with population growth and increasing water demand common throughout our watershed.

Michigan’s top 11 water trails named
The Huron River Water Trail was named one of the top water trails in Michigan by a public vote conducted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. But we knew that already didn’t we? Click through to see other awesome river destinations throughout the state.

Court: EPA Should Not Have Approved Bee-Killing Pesticide
A step in the right direction for the honeybee crisis. Bees and other pollinators have be in rapid decline. An agricultural chemical, sulfoxaflor, has been found to be one contributor to these declines. The lawsuit shines a spotlight on the role of federal regulators in this complex problem and will hopefully encourage more extensive testing of new chemicals before receiving EPA approval.

Swift Creek Improvements
HRWC’s Ric Lawson talks about a project we have underway to improve stormwater management and water quality in the Swift Run tributary of the Huron River.   Learn about the problems in Swift Run and the solutions HRWC, Washtenaw County and the City of Ann Arbor are supporting to improve the river.

News to Us


Volunteers installing an osprey nesting platform in the Huron River. Photo credit: 7 Cylinders Studio

Local osprey are being outfitted with tracking devices so you and researches can monitor their travels, a new online learning opportunity will improve your knowledge of lakes, and researchers are predicting another severe algal bloom in Lake Erie this summer.  Oil and gas pipeline accountability has been in the news a lot lately.  Here we pulled together three articles that will catch you up on the latest happenings.  And that is what is News to Us.

DNR monitoring osprey chick migration with GPS. Several osprey chicks have been outfitted with backpacks to help monitor the bird’s movements and growth. Two of the four chicks that will be monitored are from a nest in Kensington Metropark in Milford. There is a site where you can track the birds too at michiganosprey.org.

Introduction to Lakes course coming soon to a computer near you. With over 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan is home to many lake enthusiasts. If that describes you and you have always wanted to know more, Michigan State University Extension is now offering an online course providing in introduction to lakes.

‘Severe’ algal blooms forecast this summer on Lake Erie. Researchers are predicting a more significant algal bloom this year than the one last summer that shutdown Toledo’s water supply for several days. The bloom won’t necessarily lead to issues with drinking water but will certainly impact recreation on Lake Erie and the organisms that live in the lake.  Phosphorus runoff and heavy rains in June are two major contributors to the severity of the bloom. Conservationists are targeting large livestock operations for phosphorus reduction.

July has been a big month for news on oil and gas pipelines in Michigan.  Here is a sampling of articles sharing pieces of the larger issue of moving oil through our state’s waterways.

  • Life 5 years after the nation’s worst inland oil spill – NPR’s Environment Report revisits the Kalamazoo River oil spill which is the largest inland oil spill in US history caused by a break in an Enbridge pipeline that traversed this waterway.
  • Report calls for heavy crude oil ban in Straits of Mackinac pipeline – The Michigan DEQ led a special task force that released a report last week on the status and future of pipelines in the state. Of particular focus is the Enbridge pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac. Some say the recommendations are a big step in the right direction for safety and accountability. Others assert it does not go far enough to protect our freshwater resources.
  • National Wildlife Federation to Sue Dept. of Transportation over Oil Pipeline Oversight Failures  — On the heels of this report, the NWF announced they plan to sue the federal government for failing to uphold the Oil Pollution Act which requires approval of a safety plan for pipelines which travel in, on or under inland waters. This lawsuit comes after much scrutiny and investigation into the safety of the Enbridge pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

News to Us

It has bAnn Arbor floodingeen a busy news month. Many exciting things happening at the global, national and state level that affects us right here in the Huron.  The environment took front seat in international news this month with Pope Francis’ encyclical. Our federal government finally provided clarity on the Clean Water Act by better defining “waters of the US”.  The State of Michigan has released a draft vision for water that includes a dramatic reduction in phosphorus to our waterways.  And not to leave out local action, the Ann Arbor Observer provides a look at how the University of Michigan handles stormwater.

Pope Francis, in Sweeping Encyclical, Calls for Swift Action on Climate Change. The recent papal encyclical has been making waves among Catholics and far beyond. The document is a call to action bringing a moral argument to environmental protection and climate change.  A fascinating and welcome contribution to the environmental movement, if you haven’t read much about this, the article is a nice summary of the report and the implications.

Issues of The Environment: The Clean Water Rule. HRWC’s Elizabeth Riggs is interviewed about EPA’s ruling on Waters of the US, or the waters protected under the Clean Water Act.  She discusses how this ruling will impact our state and watershed and why this ruling is so important.

DEQ announces 30-year vision for water. The State’s draft water strategy addresses nutrient pollution, invasive species, boating and harbors and water trails.  The strategy also calls for investment in technologies that support clean water and the establishment of a fund to finance implementation of water strategy.  The vision is out in draft and the DEQ is accepting comments until August 28th.

More information on Michigan’s Water Strategy and how to comment can be viewed here

Calming the waters.  This editorial provides a deeper dive into the issue of phosphorus pollution, reduction goals, and how Michigan needs to do more to make meaningful progress toward those goals and make appropriate contributions to a region-wide effort to reduce problems in the Great Lakes resulting from excess phosphorus in our lakes and waterways.

Storm Over the U-M: The city and county have strict new stormwater requirements. But the university isn’t on board.  Water knows no political boundaries which can create tension over responsibility for and management of this resource. When it rains on our cities and towns, it needs to be managed to avoid flooding, erosion and other stormwater related issues. This article chronicles ongoing tension around stormwater management by the University of Michigan.

My Huron River (Hudson Mills Metropark)

HRWC staff picks of favorite watershed spots, celebrating 50 years of river protection and restoration work.

Hudson Mills Metropark is literally in my backyard.  It is arguably the reason we bought our home.  My husband and I are both river scientists and enthusiasts so when it came time to raise a family we knew we wanted our children on the river. A lot. hudsonmills

The park is such a great setting to access the river. You can bike (or take a wagon ride) along the border-to-border trail.  In this section, that trail is lined by beautiful forest and offers many river views. My favorite time on the trail is during the spring bloom. Trout lily, trillium, spring beauty and marsh marigold are just a few of the gems that carpet the forest floor in early spring.

IMG_4472Paddling this stretch is a treat too. The river is wide, meandering, forested and full of wildlife.  The clear water makes fish and turtle sighting easy and there is no shortage of birds. The water is clean, often shallow and slow moving with a welcoming bottom so we let our kids wade around, swim, throw sticks and rocks to their heart’s content.

And then there are days where we are looking for the company of others.  We head to the visitors center for one of their many events like the Easter egg hunt or maple sugaring demonstrations. Or we picnic and let the kids burn some energy on the play ground.

We are incredibly fortunate in the Huron River watershed, to have the Metroparks system. They own the land along an incredible 40 miles of the river protecting it from development and maintaining the natural setting that people and animals alike enjoy.

HRWC is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year!

Tell us your favorite watershed spot HERE.

Connect and share river ruminations or captured moments with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Use #huronriver50 to mark your posts!

Appreciate the River, Sunday July 12, by joining HRWC for some fun or heading to YOUR favorite spot with friends.

400 Parts Per Million

The latest cry for our individual and collective attention on climate change

One of the most high profile advocacy groups fighting to curb greenhouse gas emissions is 350.org, whose name embodies the goal of the organization.  At around 350 PPM of CO2 in our atmosphere we are ensured a livable planet.  Above this, we embark on a grand experiment. One where we cannot know all the outcomes but have a growing understanding of the consequences of destabilizing Earth’s climate.

Recently we learned that for the first time in millions of years, CO2 levels in our atmosphere reached and remained at 400 PPM (for all of March).  2015 is predicted to be the hottest year on record and actual data from the first four months are upholding the prediction. To add insult to injury, we are experiencing an El Niño event which, driven by warm ocean temperatures in the Pacific, tends to cause more extreme weather over much of the globe.

I try to keep my communications on climate focused on solutions and hope.  I have to say, this 400 number has me thrown for a loop.  The number itself is not any more significant than say, 399 or 401.  But, what it does represent is a warning signal—a  number that should cause alarm and provoke thought on what exactly we are or are not doing to slow the rise of this number. If 350 PPM represents the safe zone, what is 400? What is 450? How fast are we heading in that direction? Climate scientists regularly model different future scenarios that account for changes in the amount of CO2 we emit through the burning of fossil fuels. Reaching 400 PPM in 2015 has us clearly aligned with the highest (business as usual) emissions scenario. In spite of all we know, we are more or less proceeding as before.

I just returned from a week of inspiring talks and conversations on how communities throughout the nation are preparing for climate change at the National Adaptation Forum (NAF).  The conference provides a forum for sharing and learning how people and governments are implementing practices that will help our towns and cities adapt to climate impacts like more drought, higher heat, severe storms and higher sea levels. The existence of an event like this (attended by over 800 adaptation professionals) illustrates how people throughout our country are acknowledging the need to prepare for a future where the weather looks significantly different from the past.  I’ve come home from this conference each time, with a renewed sense of hope and energy to help my work here at HRWC.

Prayer Wheels for the planet

A tale of two contrasting realities. The threat and the hope. Prayer wheels by artist Chris Moench.

This year however, with the conference coinciding with the 400 PPM milestone (forgive me) there has been a little rain on my parade. It reminds me, that though adapting to a new climate is essential at this point in the game, we cannot, must not, lessen our efforts to curb global greenhouse gas emissions.  As the country that is responsible for 25% of global emissions each year, the weight is heavy on our shoulders here in the US.  Continue to take personal action to reduce your carbon footprint (here are some ideas pertaining to water) and consider participating in a vocal advocacy group like 350.org to help apply pressure at the national and international level for action.

At NAF, artist Chris Moench displayed two prayer wheels (a Tibetan Buddhist tradition) he created as part of an ISET’s Resilient Narratives project. One with art to reflect a positive future. The other to represent the threat. Conference participants were asked to contribute their hopes, wishes, prayers, promises, to the urns. What are your hopes for the future?  What would you contribute to the prayer wheel? And what can you do to help us collectively get there?

News to Us

How much water is needed to produce the food we eat?

How much water is needed to produce the food we eat?

HRWC’s work has been highlighted in some news recently covering volunteer stream monitoring and the significance of water to Michigan’s economy.  In national news, FEMA now requires climate change be considered when planning for natural disasters.  Finally, a fun interactive piece allows you to calculate the water footprint of your favorite meals.

Volunteers in forefront of monitoring Great Lakes streams
HRWC leads the statewide Michigan Clean Water Corps program which provides training and funding to groups throughout the state that want to use volunteers to monitor the condition of our rivers and streams.  The program has supported volunteer monitoring efforts at more than 800 sites in Michigan and all of the data is shared publicly online. Learn about similar programs in other Great Lakes states as well.

Include Climate Change in Disaster Planning, FEMA Says States and local governments are required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to have a current Hazard Mitigation Plan.  These plans help communities understand risks and vulnerabilities associated with disasters such as flooding or oil spills.  FEMA recently announced that revisions to these plans (which occur every 3-5 years) must take into account climate change; a requirement that will help us be better prepared for more extreme weather events.

New report highlights broad impact of water on Michigan’s economy At least one in five jobs in Michigan is tied to water? Yes, according to a new report on the importance of our water to the State’s economy. HRWC’s RiverUp! program is highlighted in the report as one of Michigan’s “Blue Places” where communities are embracing rivers and lakes as amenities contributing to local economies and quality of life.

832 gallons of water were used to make this plate By all accounts, the current drought in California is one of the most severe on record. And the impacts stand to affect us all.  There are many thought provoking articles, infographics and images fueling an ongoing discussion about water use and how we can be more thoughtful about our water consumption.  This interactive feature calculates the amount of water it takes to produce a plate of food.  Put together your favorite meal or the dinner you have planned for tonight and see what the water footprint is.  Try finding meals with lower water inputs.  We can all do our part to alleviate the demands on our finite water resources.

News to Us

Booms placed in the Huron River to capture oil leaking from an underground storage tank.

Booms placed in the Huron River to capture oil leaking from an underground storage tank.

In the news, the Huron River continues to receive more attention from both local governments and the national government.  Also, oil reached the river from a leak at a private residence near Portage Lake.  Finally read two stories covering new research, one fueled by data collected by citizens, the other from a University of Michigan researcher on microplastics in the Great Lakes.

Ypsilanti adopts designation of Michigan Trail Town along Huron River Ypsilanti City Council has formally adopted the designation of Huron River “Trail Town”.  Ypsilanti is one of five, along with Milford, Dexter, Ann Arbor and Flat Rock, water trail towns along the Huron that are working to maximize the benefits of being situated right on the river.  The Huron offers recreation, economic and aesthetic benefits as well as many ecological benefits.

Federal agencies assist in oil leak  There was an oil spill on private property in Pinckney last week. Some of that oil ended up in the Huron River. Hazmat teams were called in to contain and clean up the spill.

200 years of citizen science predict the future of forests One family has left quite a legacy.  For generations, the descendants of Robert Marsham continued his efforts to capture the timing of leaf out and flowering of many plant species and the appearance of certain animals at their family estate in England. A researcher has used this information to look for trends in the data that may help us understand how natural communities may respond to changing temperatures. Citizen science helps us in many ways here at HRWC.  Who knows, maybe one day all of you HRWC volunteer data collectors will be part of a story told from 200 years of data on the Huron River!

National Designation Awarded to Huron River Water Trail  The Huron River Water Trail/RiverUp! is the cover story of the Michigan Recreation and Parks Association publication! The recent designation is continuing to get high profile press at the local, state and national level exposing a new audience to the treasure we have right here in southeast Michigan.

UM researcher says microplastics could threaten Great Lakes fish  Here at HRWC we keep our eyes and ears open for emerging threats to the river and citizen of the Huron River watershed.  Microplastics (microbeads and microfibers) are a somewhat recent addition to our aquatic systems.  This article discusses potential impacts of this pollutant coming out of new research from the University of Michigan. Legislation has been introduced at the State to ban products containing microbeads.

World Water Day

Reflections on World Water Day 2015

Reflections on World Water Day 2015

Sunday marked the 21st annual World Water Day – a day to reflect on the value of a resource often easy for those of us fortunate enough to be in a water rich environment to take for granted.  News media and social networks were abuzz with coverage of this event and the importance of water.  Take a moment to browse some of the great coverage out there by searching on #WaterIs in Twitter.

I ran across a simple blog sharing some compelling statistics about freshwater: 36 eye-opening facts about water.  The piece is a good reminder of how good we have it, how important water is to protect, and how we all might be better stewards.

Some of the 36 that jumped out at me?

10. More than one-quarter of all bottled water comes from a municipal water supply – the same place that tap water comes from.Break the bottled water habit.  In our area tap water is clean and safe.  Even tasty. In fact, for Ann Arbor water customers, A2 water frequently wins the regional Michigan Water Tasting Competition (yes, this is a thing).

And then there are these; “24. On average, an American resident uses about 100 gallons of water per day. 25. On average, a European resident uses about 50 gallons of water per day. 26. On average, a resident of sub-Saharan Africa uses 2 to 5 gallons of water per day.” Each of us can do better.  Small actions can help us achieve more efficient use of water.

For example, “33. It takes 3,962 gallons of water to produce 2.2 pounds of beef.”  Eating less meat can dramatically reduce your water footprint.  Also, “14. A running toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water each day.” Simply maintaining our plumbing is another habit we can get into to reduce water use that doesn’t even touch the water you actually use in a day.  It just cuts back on the waste.

And finally, “11. Approximately 400 billion gallons of water are used in the United States per day; nearly half of that is used for thermoelectric power generation.” By reducing your energy use, you are conserving water as well (and reducing your carbon footprint too!).

You don’t have to look far to find stories about the devastation caused by water scarcity or the consequences of spreading a finite resource too thin. The extreme drought in the Western United States shows we are not immune to the impacts of a lack of water. So, take a moment to reflect on everything water provides and how you can do your part to tread lightly on this vital resource.  And next time you set eyes upon the Huron River let her know how much you appreciate what she does for you.

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