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Can stoneflies warn us of a changing climate?

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Stonefly larvae courtesy of the Flickr Creative Commons.

This post was written by guest blogger McKenzie Powers who is working with HRWC this year through the University of Michigan’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. McKenzie is researching indicators of climate change in rivers.

It is mid-January and we southeastern Michiganders have been quite spoiled thus far with fairly mild winter conditions. While we are feeling more familiar conditions currently, temperatures in the mid 40’s over the holidays with little snow to date kept it feeling more like autumn than winter. Although, us folks at the Huron River Watershed Council are feeling curious and slightly concerned about what these warmer temperatures mean in relation to one of our most climate sensitive aquatic buddies, the stoneflies.

With our annual Stonefly Search quickly approaching, we have been busy with our noses deep in piles of research trying to gain a better understanding of how stoneflies are affected by a changing climate. Macroinvertebrates, including stoneflies, are important in freshwater ecosystems because of the many different jobs they perform, which include processing of organic matter, nutrient cycling, and decomposition. Stoneflies are known to be one of the most vulnerable groups of aquatic insects because of their specific needs related to temperature and dissolved oxygen.  Several traits common in stoneflies make them particularly susceptible to impacts from climate change. They have limited dispersal potential and therefore have difficulty migrating to areas with more suitable conditions. They are large bodied with less efficient respiration than some other types of aquatic insects so dissolved oxygen needs are high. The highest dissolved oxygen levels occur in cold and flowing waters.  They also have lower reproductive capacity making populations more susceptible to impacts from drought in warmer months when eggs can be damaged from warmer, drier conditions.

A study conducted in 2014 by scientists from the University of Duisburg-Essen, used a multi-trait approach to assess the climate change vulnerability of stoneflies and other macroinvertebrates. Researchers created a vulnerability scoring system with those least vulnerable scoring a 0 and those highly vulnerable scoring a 6. Species vulnerability was measured by analyzing temperature preference, altitude preference, stream zonation preference, life history, and a few other factors. The results showed that 60 species of stoneflies were recorded with a vulnerability score of 4 or more.

HRWC has collected stonefly data for 21 years.  We can look at this data not only for signals of pollution but also of climate change.  We are currently grazing the literature for our ‘canaries in the coalmine’.  Are there ways we can look at our stonefly data to see where and how climate change is impacting our macroinvertebrate community? Are the strategies we are employing to help the Huron River system adapt to climate change actually working? With projected climate change and temperatures on the rise, these data collections give us insight on our current water quality and help us determine strategies for a cleaner and more favorable future.

Join us this weekend in our efforts to collect stoneflies from throughout the watershed.  Registration closes today.  Visit http://www.hrwc.org/volunteer/stonefly/ to register!

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Hershkovitz, Y. et al, 2015. A multi-trait approach for the identification and protection of European freshwater species that are potentially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Ecological Indicators. 50; 150-160.

News to Us

Steelhead Trout Credit: flickr/surrealis_uk under Creative Commons license.

Steelhead Trout Credit: flickr/surrealis_uk under Creative Commons license.

News highlights from the last month include several articles on the amazing recreational destination the Huron River has become, an update on Ann Arbor’s progress on climate change and some wonderful successes on the path toward eliminating a harmful pollutant from the waterways and neighborhoods of the Huron.

Huron River a hidden gem for steelhead.  This article gives a nod to the Huron as a solid enclave for fishing steelhead. Steelhead trout are stocked in the Huron River by the Department of Natural Resources below Flat Rock Dam. Learn a few secrets from a frequent angler of steelhead in the Huron.

(Next) Best Paddling Towns: Ann Arbor, Mich. Inside the paddling hub of the 104-mile-long Huron River Water Trail.  Canoe and Kayak magazine recently highlighted the Huron River as a paddler’s destination. The article talks about the Huron’s five trail towns and how paddlers can find short or long trips in both rural and urban settings. 

Ann Arbor falling short of goals to reduce carbon emissions. Members of the Ann Arbor Climate Partnership, including HRWC’s Executive Director Laura Rubin, presented to Ann Arbor City Council this month on the status of the City’s Climate Action Plan.  In short, while progress on some of the recommendations in the plan has been made, Ann Arbor has not achieved reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.  More support from City Council and the residents of Ann Arbor are necessary.

VBT approves ordinance banning coal tar driveway sealant. On December 17th, 2015, the Van Buren Township Board of Trustee unanimously approved the adoption of an ordinance banning the sale and use of coal tar and other high PAH sealcoat products. It is the first ban in Michigan that restricts application of these common driveway sealants anywhere in the municipality and the first ban nationwide that prohibits not only coal tar based sealants but also any sealant product with high levels of PAHs, a class of compounds linked to cancer and other health impacts in people and aquatic organisms.

Rep. Pagan introduces bill to ban coal tar sealants  That same week, Representative Kristy Pagan (D-Canton) introduced a bill to ban coal tar sealants to the State Legislature. The bill had its first reading in December and was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources. Track the progress of this bill at http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?2015-HB-5174. 

Both these articles share great news for Michigan’s rivers, lakes and wetlands, and the citizens of the Huron River watershed.  

 

News to Us

France Climate Countdown

Eiffel Tower during Paris Climate Convention. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

News to Us covers a diversity of topics this month including articles that chronicle two significant threats to local water resources – stormwater runoff and coal tar pavement sealcoat, and three (yea!) bright spots highlighting solutions to – wastewater treatment, microbead contamination and global climate change.

Healing fractured water: How Michigan’s roadways impact our waterways. In Oakland County alone there is “nearly 2,700 miles of county roads that average 24 feet wide. With an estimated average annual rainfall of 30 inches, these roads generate over five billion gallons of stormwater runoff in just one year.” Learn more about roadway runoff, the issues and solutions (including mention of Ann Arbor’s Green Streets policy) in this article that is part of a series on the Great Lakes water cycle.

Coal tar sealants: Challenges ahead. This article provides a good overview of the issues associated with coal tar and other high PAH pavement sealcoats that residents commonly use to maintain and beautify asphalt surfaces.  This is an issue HRWC has been educating our partners and supporters about because of the significant water quality and human health impacts.  Read this article and visit our webpage www.hrwc.org/coaltar to learn what you can do.

Dexter Brewery Turning Wastewater To Energy. The City of Dexter and Northern United Brewing Company have come up with an innovative solution to a big water problem. Northern United has invested in a state of the art onsite wastewater treatment system that turns wastewater into energy and reusable water. This is allowing the company to expand its water use and treatment needs without overburdening Dexter’s municipal wastewater treatment plant.

Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris. Reason for celebration is the agreement reached at the Paris Climate negotiations last week.  The last set of negotiations in Copenhagen 6 years ago ended in gridlock and a lot of disappointing finger pointing with nations shirking responsibility, including our own. While there are significant weaknesses to the Paris accord, nearly every country signed the commitment including the U.S. and China, the world’s leading emitters. Many are viewing the accord the beginning of a global shift away from a fossil fuel based economy.  As global citizens we need to keep up the pressure on our countries to hold to their commitments.

U.S. House approves bill to ban plastic microbeads. News to Us has been tracking the issue of plastic microbead pollution in water for some time now.  Good news on this front as well. A bill banning this ingredient used in personal care products like soaps and toothpastes has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill now awaits a Senate vote.  A similar bill has be stalled in the Michigan legislature for some time now.

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

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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

Ospreyplatform

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?


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