For this edition of News to Us, learn about water pollution issues related to septic systems in Michigan and how you can help prevent pollution. It is burn season as new vegetation emerges after a long winter. Prescribed fire is used to help control some of our most aggressive non-native plants such as Phragmites. Finally, a few success stories on how anyone from individuals to corporations can take actions to protect water resources.
Michigan has nation’s weakest regulations on septic systems Michigan lacks the regulatory means to ensure septic systems are operating properly. Failing septic systems release wastewater and sewage into soils which can end up in our ground and surface waters causing issues associated with excess nutrients and bacterial contamination. Many of the homes in the Huron River watershed are on septic systems. A few local counties have inspection and repair requirements at the time of home sale, which helps. Regular pumping and inspection of your system is the best way to ensure your system is not contributing to water pollution issues. Here is a useful guide for homeowners on septic systems.
Thousands of failed septic tanks threaten Michigan’s waters In a related article, learn more generally about Michigan’s issues with failing septic systems and the Huron River’s ranking in a recent study out of Michigan State University examining fecal contamination in water from septic tanks. Learn more about HRWC’s Failing Septics project, which takes a different approach to identify and correct problems.
Phragmites all fired up Phragmites is a tall grass that invades wet areas crowding out native plants and drying up wetlands. Prescribed fire (an intentional, controlled burn) is a management tool to help control the invasion of this nuisance plant. Prescribed fires are common this time of year and provide many benefits to our natural areas.
Green City Diaries: Conserving water, improving neighborhood life Read an inspiring story about how two local residents are taking simple steps toward water conservation in their neighborhood and home.
Scotts drops phosphorus from lawn fertilizer Waterways across the country breathe a sigh of relief as one of the major lawn fertilizer companies drops phosphorus from its formula. Most soils have sufficient phosphorus to maintain healthy lawns. Excess phosphorus in water results in algal and plant growth that can quickly reach harmful levels. Michigan has been pro-active on this issue already banning phosphorous in lawn fertilizers. It is nice to see nationwide action to reduce the impacts of this pollutant.
Just in time for spring renewal, this edition of News to Us highlights several stories that have positive implications for our river and rivers throughout Michigan. Greenways, volunteer opportunities, and a growing demand for dam removal are chronicled. Also read about some of the implications of the high waters and flooding of our extremely wet April.
FLAT ROCK: Groundbreaking scheduled for final stretch of Flat Rock-Oakwoods connector trail We are blessed with extensive trail systems along the Huron River. With the addition of this final mile of trail in Flat Rock, there will now be 24 miles of contiguous trail from Belleville Lake to Lake Erie. It is amenities like this that help get people to the river and enjoying the outdoors which is one of the goals of HRWC’s RiverUP! project.
Let the river run: Dam removal accelerates across Michigan Read a nice summary of dams and dam removal efforts in Michigan. There is growing interest and funding to support the removal of aging dams that have outlived their original purpose. Dam removal is one of the tools of river restoration which helps support healthy populations of species that thrive in running waters like salmon, trout and walleye.
DNR reminds anglers of high water safety on rivers It is a popular time on the river for anglers. Fish are on the move which is an exciting time to fish. At the same time, with the recent rains, the river is running high and fast. Take caution when recreating in the river while waters remain high.
It’s good to get your hands dirty Volunteers are the life blood of many environmental non-profits. The Huron River Watershed Council is no exception. The beauty of volunteering is that both the organization and the volunteer experience benefits. This article highlights several local non-profits discussing the value of volunteering. Visit our Volunteer page to learn about volunteering with HRWC.
ANN ARBOR: City gets river clean-up grants worth more than $39,000 Several river clean up events will be happening in Ann Arbor this summer thanks to a grant from the DEQ. If you are interested in volunteering to help remove trash from the river, this article lets you know how.
Grand Rapids officials looking ahead to next big storm Throughout Michigan, we have had a very wet April. We watched the Huron rise and fall but we were spared much of the flooding experienced on the west side of the state. This article discusses Grand Rapid’s response to this years’ flooding. They are thinking now about ways to protect against future events which are predicted to become more common. Learn more about how we are working with communities in the Huron to build resilience to severe weather events affecting the river and residents here.
This edition of News to Us starts with a success story and we all like success stories. Learn also about the islands of plastic polluting our Great Lakes. We share a few opportunities to attend public events on flooding and fracking. Read also a refreshing perspective on approaching river conservation by finding common ground among individual objectives.
A Tern for the Better: The Detroit River Comeback The common tern has returned to Belle Isle after a 50 year absence. The refuge on Belle Isle is a bright spot showing what can be when we invest in wildlife habitat even in the most urban of places. Read about the successes of our neighbors to the north.
Polluting Plastic Waste Invades Great Lakes: Pacific Garbage Patch May Have a Rival This article brings to light a less often cited, yet major source of pollution in the Great Lakes. Plastics in our waters have implications for birds, fish and other organisms in the food chain. Consider finding ways to keep plastics out of our waterways like switching to reusable bags and cleaning debris and trash away from stormdrains that carry plastics directly to our waterways during rain events.
Ann Arbor kicks off $1.2M study of sewer system, footing drain program and basement sewage backups It is the wet season again. Spring rains rejuvenate our rivers, groundwater, forests and landscaping. But for some households the rains can mean problems when water ends up in basements or sits on roads. Ann Arbor is holding a public meeting to provide updates on ongoing efforts to reduce damaging flooding including an assessment of the sanitary sewer system and footing drain disconnection program.
Sunday Brunch: A tiny trickle turns into a torrent of conservation issues for Michigan This blog from Helen Taylor, State Director of the Nature Conservancy in Michigan, shares a nice perspective on river protection. She encourages individuals and groups to consider the “whole-system” rather than a more personal view of the river with an eye on shared goals rather than win-lose propositions—a healthy lens through which to envision the path to a healthy river serving many purposes for many interests.
University of Michigan to hold town hall on future of fracking in the state For those interested in learning more about the practice of fracking to extract natural gas, University of Michigan is hosting a forum on the topic this evening. As far as we are aware, there are no plans for fracking in the watershed at this time but there is very active debate on this topic at the national and state level.
Last week over 500 people from 43 states and two territories gathered in Denver, CO for the inaugural National Adaptation Forum. These 500 represented our national climate adaptation community—folks from around the country helping people and wildlife prepare for a changing climate. I attribute it to the universal nature of the issue that the event was attended by federal, state and local government staff and officials, academics and professionals from the non-profit and private sectors. City planners, public works professionals, wildlife biologists, sustainability directors, climate scientists, insurance and hazard mitigation professionals all exchanged ideas, successes and challenges. Each brought new perspectives and innovations that crossed sectoral silos and built a common fabric upon which all of us can draw and build. I was fortunate to be a part of this seminal event.
The program and presentations were exciting and energizing. Cities and towns throughout the nation are taking action to reduce vulnerabilities to climate change impacts which vary depending on where you are in the country. Out west, water scarcity will worsen as less snow falls on the mountains to replenish their water sources. Wild fires are becoming more frequent and severe. Coastal areas face sea level rise, higher storm surges and salt water intrusion. Here in Michigan, we are expecting more severe droughts in the summer and larger storms in the spring and fall. Many communities are reacting to extreme events that have already occurred such as Superstorm Sandy, the 2012 drought or the Chicago heatwave. The thread running throughout the talks, no matter where a speaker was from or what issue they were focused on, is that communities should be minimizing risk. We cannot know when that big storm will come or how long a drought or heat wave will last. But we can be proactive and ready our communities for these times.
I was proud to speak on behalf of HRWC and the communities in the watershed participating in our Climate Resilient Communities project. Our work is unique in that we are approaching adaptation on a whole systems scale – the watershed. Involving the many municipalities in the watershed is challenging but innovative. And there is power in our numbers. What we can accomplish together is far greater than what any one community can accomplish on its own.
The National Adaptation Forum was the first climate adaptation event of this nature and, exceeding the expectations of the conference organizers, generated tremendous interest. Twice as many presentations were submitted as could be accommodated. Registration closed long before the conference and a long wait list formed. As conference organizer and plenary speaker Lara Hansen of EcoAdapt stated, we are part of the “adaptation vanguard”- a group of forward-thinking individuals at the front lines of a growing movement. This made me feel hopeful. I hope it does the same for you.
Sadly, not a lot of good news has come across our desks over the past couple of weeks. Instead, we are hearing of major losses, or potential losses, in the gains we have made with our nation’s waters over the decades since the Clean Water Act. It is a signal that we cannot let up on our efforts to protect our freshwater, and the life it supports and the services it provides.
EPA Declares More than Half of US Rivers Unfit for Aquatic Life – A recently released report from the Environmental Protection Agency identified 55% of US rivers and stream are in poor condition for aquatic life. Major culprits include reduced riparian vegetation, phosphorus, nitrogen, mercury and bacteria. We are losing ground on our high quality rivers. Only 21% of US rivers qualified as “good biological condition compared to the 27% that fell into that category in the 2004 assessment. In the Huron, phosphorus is a big concern, as is bacterial pollution. Learn more about local water quality here or listen to a summary of our water quality monitoring results from 2012.
Judge ends federal court oversight of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department The utility responsible for delivering drinking water and treating wastewater for 4 million customers in Southeast Michigan has been under federal oversight for 35 years. Oversight will now move to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality due to significant improvements in compliance with environmental regulations. The new State permit calls for additional improvements to the facility’s wastewater treatment operations.
Spring Rain, Then Foul Algae in Ailing Lake Erie The Huron’s receiving water, Lake Erie, is in trouble. Toxic algal blooms in the lake are getting worse causing problems for fish populations, tourism and beaches. The lake had seen vast improvements since the Clean Water Act helped halt industrial pollution. Now, we are losing ground primarily due to phosphorus pollution primarily from farming practices. Climate change and zebra mussels are also cited as contributing to the problem.
Hydraulic fracturing in Michigan: Waiting for the boom So far, the Huron River watershed and much of Michigan has not been subject to natural gas extraction via the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process that has many states debating costs versus benefits of the method. The method uses a lot of water and a slurry of chemicals deep into the earth. This article shares why fracking has not yet come to our backyard and under what conditions it may.
The effort to derail ‘Biodiversity Stewardship Areas’ in Michigan Here is another voice in the debate over Senate bill 78. This is a very important issue to us and anyone who values our state’s natural areas and their inhabitants. We will continue to keep you up-to-date on our website. To learn more about the issue and how to voice your opinion see our blog Healthy Forests and Waters At-Risk in Michigan .
What do HRWC volunteers and Aldo Leopold have in common? They spend (or spent, in the case of Mr. Leopold) their free time making valuable contributions to our knowledge of the natural world. Also, read about key federal appointments that affect the environment and the latest on Detroit’s Water Department.
Citizen Science Musings: The Efficiency of Amateurs. A nod to so many of you that help us through our citizen science programs–you bring much to the table and enable so much more than we could do alone. Apparently, this truth is timeless.
Remembering Aldo Leopold, Visionary Conservationist And Writer Aldo Leopold is an iconic and influential character in the conservation movement. This article revisits Leopold’s contributions and discusses how, even more than 60 years after his death, his essays and observations are still contributing to what we know about the natural world.
Washington Water Main, March 14: Energy, EPA Director Nominations Pending. Learn more about nominees for two key federal leadership positions. The Director of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy lead institutions governing issues that have significant implications for the environment.
Detroit Mayor, Water Board Endorse Plan for Independent Water Department If you have been following local news you know Detroit is struggling financially and the City’s Water Department is facing huge cuts. This article shares what is hopefully a step in the right direction for the Water Department which provides drinking water and waste water services to many of the downstream communities of the Huron River watershed.
Traces of Anxiety Drug May Affect Behavior in Fish There are many substances that occur in our waterways that are not filtered out in typical wastewater treatment processes. Pharmaceuticals make up a large percentage of emerging chemicals effecting our waters and the organisms living in them. Most of these impacts are largely unknown. This article is one of a growing body of evidence that some of these substances can change the behavior and physiology of exposed fishes.
Water Quality Monitoring in the Huron River Watershed Listen to HRWC’s own Ric Lawson discuss the results of another season of water quality monitoring in the watershed. WEMU’s Bob Eccles interviews Ric on the outcomes of 2012’s water quality monitoring efforts.
Experts warn Lake Erie algae may increase if cities, farms don’t control nutrient threat The Huron River flows through more than 60 communities down to Pointe Mouillee where it empties into Lake Erie. That water carries with it pollutants, including phosphorus that it picks up along the way from agricultural and urban areas. Efforts in the watershed to curb phosphorus pollution can help reduce algal bloom issues in Lake Erie. Learn more about reducing phosphorus here.
The Outdoor Recreation Economy The Outdoor Industry Association has put together a national map quantifying the value to the economy of outdoor recreation. In Michigan, our natural resources abound and so do opportunities for recreation. See one group’s analysis of the contribution this makes to our State’s economy.
Groundwater: The Great Lakes region’s second-class citizen The majority of communities in the Huron River watershed draw on groundwater sources for drinking water. Groundwater is an incredibly important aspect of the hydrology of our watershed supplying clean water for drinking and source water for our rivers and wetlands. This article highlights the importance of being proactive about the protection of our groundwater resources.
This edition of News to Us highlights a number of proposed changes to State level policies that will affect the natural resources of the Huron River Watershed. With State budgeting underway, a lot of changes are on the table. It is a good time to keep an eye on the legislature and speak up where you have an opinion.
Michigan House GOP eyes Natural Resources Trust Fund for roads, dredging The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund is a source of funding developed for the purchase and development of recreational lands. Recently, the Michigan House Republicans proposed using MNRTF for activities outside of the current scope of the funds such as road repair and dredging of harbors. There has been a lot of response to this proposal in the news. We believe this proposal diverts scarce public funds available for parks development and purchase and thwarts efforts for the long-term protection of Michigan’ outdoors, lakes, and rivers . Here are two different responses to the proposal. (For those interested, there are many more op/eds available at detroitnews.com) What do you think?
- Editorial: Free the Natural Resources Trust Fund
- Letter: Natural Resources Trust Fund serves real purpose
Governor calls for higher license fees for hunting, fishing In other State government news, Governor Snyder proposed increases to hunting and fishing licenses to help raise funds for outdoor recreation and wildlife conservation programs. The proposal is a welcome one for sporting and conservation groups. Revenue will support, among other things, the hiring of conservation officers who’s numbers have dwindled over the years due to budget cuts. For more on the topic, also see this article from Livingston Daily: Conservation groups OK with fee hikes.
Bill aims to restrict state’s ability to manage for biodiversity This article highlights the latest attempt to limit the ability of our state Department of Natural Resources to acquire land and manage for biodiversity. We believe this undermines a critical role of a state DNR and leaves no entity responsibility for the plants, animals and ecosystems that make Michigan a special place. The DNR can manage for resource use and biodiversity goals together and in doing so residents of Michigan realize significant economic and quality of life benefits.
Read the latest edition of our bi-weekly roundup of headlines that have caught our eye.
The first three articles tackle aspects of pollution—a new threat and two ways you can help reduce pollution to our rivers and lakes. Also read about one high school student’s experience as an HRWC volunteer and about Ypsilanti’s efforts to protect the Huron through a master plan revision.
Smart Lakefront Plants How can you make your shoreline work for you and help keep lakes and rivers clean? This article by a Michigan State University Extension agent provides guidance on naturalizing shorelines with native plants that help filter pollutants and protect shorelines.
Are Rain Gardens Mini Toxic Cleanup Sites? If you would like to learn more about the intricacies of how rain gardens work and what they accomplish, give this blog a read. It provides an in depth look at rain gardens in their role in pollution clean-up and helps address concerns about perceived risks to pets and humans.
Study: Triclosan Increasing in Lakes. Triclosan is a common ingredient in antibacterial soaps and it is showing up in waterbodies in the Great Lakes. Scientists are uncovering early evidence of adverse effects of this chemical to algae. The Food and Drug Administration says there is no evidence these soaps work any better than regular soap and water for keeping us healthy. FDA is also looking into hazards to human health and its contribution to creating resistant strains of bacteria.
My Experience: Huron River Water Council Volunteer Opportunities Here at HRWC, we go out of our way to make our volunteer experiences enjoyable and beneficial to our volunteers. Volunteers help us accomplish so much of our work each year, it is invaluable. So it is nice to see one of our recent volunteers share her experience in this contribution to AnnArbor.com. If you have not volunteered with us before and would like to, visit our volunteer page for opportunities to help protect the Huron River.
Ypsilanti master plan, zoning ordinance update to target land use, transportation and sustainability. The Huron River is one of the priorities to address with Ypsilanti’s new master plan. The master plan and ordinance development will include public input. If you are an Ypsilanti resident, help speak up for the river, its protection and sustainable use by engaging in this process.
This film is worth seeing for many reasons. It is visually stunning. James is an accomplished photographer and working with equally skilled videographers. And the subject matter, ice, is particularly photogenic. You will see things you have never seen before and may never see with your own eyes in your lifetime. Take the chance to see these glacial landscapes through James’ trained eye. You will not be sorry.
Also, James Balog is a tireless, driven and arguably somewhat crazy individual. His dedication is inspiring and humbling. His energy seems limitless. His goals are ambitious. His project takes him to the ends of the earth. Not once, but time and again. His sense of adventure makes me look like I live in a box. It is this type of person that has the potential to markedly change the world. And he has found a way to do it within what he knows—photography. The power of an image. It reminds us that whatever skill set we have, whatever that thing is that we are good at, there is a way to make a contribution.
Finally, there is the message. The planet’s climate is changing in ways that will undoubtedly change what we know, and have come to expect. No, we don’t know everything there is to know about the where, the when, the how. We do know, thanks in large part to James’ work, that glaciers, which cover 10% of the planet and hold nearly 70% of all freshwater, are melting at an observable and alarming rate adding water to our oceans, carbon to our atmosphere and freshwater to our saltwater. This has implications for sea-levels, ocean currents and global weather patterns. It was amazing to watch these landscapes disappear before my eyes through his time lapse photography. Amazing, and terrifying. James comments during the movie that, for many, statistics and computer models will never deliver a compelling message of this crisis, rather they will be convinced by what they can see for themselves. This movie shows climate change tangibly and powerfully.
And if all that is not enough for you, you get to hear Scarlett Johansson sing a little ditty at the end – Academy Award nominated for best original song.
To learn more about James Balog and the project visit Chasing Ice and the Extreme Ice Survey. And by all means, see the movie. It runs for another week at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor and opens in Okemos today.