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The Carbon Footprint of Water

Water utilities and residents within the Huron River watershed contribute approximately 178 million lbs of CO2 annually through the production, use and treatment of drinking water.  This is equivalent to the annual emissions from nearly 17,000 passenger vehicles. It takes more than double the combined areas of the Pinckney and Waterloo Recreation Areas to sequester this much carbon each year.

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My guess is most of you have not thought about water use as a contributor to climate change.  Before undertaking this analysis, I had not.  But over the course of the past two years, through a project supported by the Masco Corporation Foundation, HRWC has been able to research and calculate the carbon footprint of our water use here in the watershed.

A new report shares our findings. The Carbon Footprint of Domestic Water Use in the Huron River Watershed follows water from its source through water treatment, residential water use and wastewater treatment to discharge back into the environment.  At each point in the cycle, energy is used. Energy is needed to pump, treat and heat water and energy use results in the release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

What did we learn?

  • Energy used to produce drinking water in the watershed is about 10% higher than national averages.
  • Energy used to treat wastewater in the watershed is 57-76% higher than national averages depending on treatment type.
  • Energy used in homes for water use was lower than national averages but by far the most energy intense phase of the cycle in the watershed.

What this tells us is that there is room for improvement both among water utilities and residents of the Huron River watershed. There was a lot of variation in the efficiency of local water utilities. Future efforts can target utilities that use the most energy per unit of water produced or treated.  Improving efficiencies at these utilities can lead to significant reductions in our collective carbon footprint.

That said, the greatest gains that can be made are within your power. Reducing the amount of hot water used in the home is the single greatest strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with water use. And, by doing so, households will also see reductions in both water and energy bills.  It is a win-win-win situation.  Save water. Save energy. Save money.

What can we do?

There are many sources of information and tips on how to reduce water use in homes.  Pick a few tricks that work for you and get started. It is another way that you can take personal actions that contribute to the well being of the planet and all its inhabitants.

  • Take a look at HRWC’s H20 Heroes webpage for water saving tips
  • When purchasing new appliances, look for the WaterSense label
  • Calculate your current water use and see how changes you make lower your impact using a water calculator.

Often overlooked when identifying ways to reduce carbon emissions, water conservation holds the potential for significant gains in reducing a community’s contribution to global climate change and something individuals and families can take on to reduce their carbon footprint.  So get started today.  And share with us in the comments how you are becoming an H20 Hero!

 

 

 

News to Us

A "view" of Allens Creek. Allens Creek, a tributary of the Huron River, is almost entirely buried under the city of Ann Arbor.

A “view” of Allens Creek from West Park in Ann Arbor.  Allens Creek, a tributary of the Huron River, is almost entirely buried under the city of Ann Arbor.

A couple of recent interviews cover HRWC’s RiverUp! project and watershed management planning efforts for Honey Creek. A very cool project in San Francisco is “daylighting” buried rivers through artist’s renderings. This edition of News to Us also highlights news from Dexter, the river that runs through it – Mill Creek, and a man influential in both his town and his watershed – Paul Cousins. Finally, more oil activity in the watershed as injection well is proposed in White Lake.

Bringing life, recreation and business back to the Huron River An Ypsilanti blogger interviews HRWC Deputy Director Elizabeth Riggs about RiverUp!. The result is a great conversation that paints a lovely picture of what the Huron River is and can be. Learn how this project is improving river health, encouraging river recreation and building trail towns along the Huron that bring focus to this incredible resource in our backyard.

Honey Creek Watershed Management Plan Released Listen to a brief radio interview with Ric Lawson on the recent release of the Honey Creek Watershed Management Plan.  Honey Creek is a tributary of the Huron River that runs through Scio Township.  Learn what threatens this creek and plans to improve its condition. Several other resources, including HRWC’s creekshed reports, can be found on our website to learn more about Honey Creek.

San Francisco Is Painting the Streets with Historical Creeks All too often, as cities were built rivers were contained in pipes and buried underground. A new initiative in San Francisco will have artists rendering rivers along their path through the city. Should we try this with Allens Creek? If we did you would “see” the river running throughout downtown Ann Arbor and west side neighborhoods from the UM stadium down to its outlet below Argo Dam.  A reminder of what was.

Trout Unlimited group conducts survey at Mill Creek in Dexter The Huron River’s Mill Creek runs through Chelsea and Dexter before joining the mainstem of the river in Dexter. It is one of the cooler stretches of river and once the Mill Creek dam was removed, it became a desirable location to establish a trout fishery.  While not a native fish to the Huron, the success of brown trout in Mill Creek indicates the tributary is in good condition and it brings anglers and families to the river to enjoy. This article shares the status of stocking efforts that began in 2010.

Dexter Council recognizes Paul Cousins for years of service Dexter Village Council takes time to honor Paul Cousins for his years of service to the community of Dexter. Paul has been an intrepid board member and board chair at HRWC for many years. His tireless effort and enthusiasm was instrumental in the Mill Creek dam removal project and creation of Dexter’s Mill Creek Park.  We would like to take this opportunity to thank Paul as well, for everything he has done and will yet do for Dexter, the watershed and all of us who live here.

Oil exploration company suspends request for White Lake park injection well Over the past two weeks, citizens of White Lake township and nearby areas, have been reacting to a proposed injection well, cited for Island Lake Park, for the disposal of oil extraction waste. For now, the applicants have withdrawn their application from the EPA for the permit claiming there is not enough need for the local well at this point.

What Does Adapting to Climate Change Look Like in Cities?

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Touring in style, UM students learn about climate adaptation.

On a dreary Halloween morning a group of 20 intrepid University of Michigan students, boarded a trolly for a whirlwind tour of locations in Ann Arbor that show how one city is preparing for a changing climate. Guided by myself and two colleagues from the City of Ann Arbor, Jen Lawson and Jamie Kidwell, the group heard stories and learned of strategies for protecting homes from flooding, trees from dying, and residents from suffering from heat and cold related health issues and high energy costs.

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Jen Lawson talks about stormwater in West Park

As a society we still need to do everything in our power to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling global climate change. At the same time, we are already experiencing the impacts of a changing climate which are certain to continue into the future even if greenhouse gas emissions stopped tomorrow.

In the Huron River Watershed, arguably the most potentially damaging trends we are seeing in our weather patterns are larger rainfall events and more frequent and longer high heat events. Larger storm events cause flooding and overburden or damage important infrastructure (stormwater systems, dams, water utilities, roads, homes and businesses). Consecutive high heat days are a significant threat to human health and can cause droughts and brownouts. Actions that reduce the impact of these changes can be considered climate adaptation actions, or actions that build resilience to climate change.

Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County have started making investments now that help prepare for these changes. A few examples:

  • The City has conducted a detailed analysis predicting where flooding is likely to occur which is helping prioritize stormwater management decisions like where pipes need replacing and where green infrastructure (like rain gardens) can help
  • Washtenaw County has recently adopted new rules requiring additional infiltration and detention of rain water for new and re-developments protecting our river from erosion, pollution and risk of damaging floods
  • Ann Arbor’s Green Rental program is helping improve energy efficiency in low income areas making staying cool or warm during extremes more affordable
  • The Urban Forestry and Community Forest Management Plan identifies areas that are in need of shade trees to provide cooling and recommends species likely to survive more climate extremes

The City of Ann Arbor has recently released a series of climate videos that share more about why this work is a priority and what is being done. Here is the one on extreme storms:

Check out all four videos at a2energy.org/climate.

The students learned a lot about what is going on in their own backyard.  I hope these links help you do the same.  All aboard!

 

News to Us

Many breweries in the area rely on Huron River water.  Credit: John Lloyd

Many breweries in the area rely on Huron River water. Credit: John Lloyd

In local news, listen to radio interviews with two HRWC staff  on our environmental education work and the addition of a new dock at Peninsular Park.  A new report identifies nature as a best defense against severe storms and flooding.  Also, land and water conservation is on the ballot throughout the nation and craft brewers are uniting around clean water.

Mother Nature Offers Best Defense From Floods and Storms Mother Nature is one of the best defenses against damage from large storms and flooding.  Protecting our forests and wetlands provides benefits far beyond beauty and biodiversity.  A recent National Wildlife Federation report explores the benefits of land protection as a flood control strategy. HRWC’s Bioreserve Program, Green Infrastructure initiatives and riparian buffer protections work all contribute to the watershed’s natural ability to lessen the impacts of storms in our area.

Freshwater Health: Caring for our rivers, lakes and streams and their aquatic inhabitants and surrounding communities WCBN’s It’s Hot in Here program this week includes three interviews on freshwater issues affecting the Great Lakes.  HRWC’s Volunteer and Stewardship Coordinator Jason Frenzel discusses our education programs and community engagement beginning around the 45 minute mark.

Craft brewers join the fight against natural gas pipelines Craft brewers understand the importance of clean water. After all, beer is 90% water.  Brewers in the Huron River watershed have been great partners to HRWC over the years. This article highlights a national initiative to unite craft brewers around water quality issues. This article is an interesting read and highlights one of the many less obvious benefits of clean, plentiful water.

Voters Will Decide On Billions For Land Conservation  On Election Day, voters will be deciding whether or not to support land and water conservation throughout the nation. Some of the biggest initiatives are in California, Florida and New Jersey.  Many local level initiatives to support the preservation of open space are being put in front of voters as well. In fact, Washtenaw County residents will vote on a millage renewal for county parks.  The Washtenaw County Parks system has contributed parks, preserves and trails that improve recreational opportunities, erosion and stormwater control, pollution prevention and the beauty of our watershed. You can learn more about the county parks system in The History of Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission video.

New Dock For Ypsilanti’s Peninsular Park As part of the RiverUp! program, a new dock has been installed at Ypsilanti’s Peninsular Park replacing a dock that had fallen into disrepair making river access and recreation difficult. This is part of a larger initiative to encourage river and trail recreation in the Huron River watershed, particularly in five “Trail Towns” along the Huron River Water Trail including Ypsilanti.

News to Us

2014_05_23_Greenhills_teaching_(2)_-_smallIn News to Us this edition, HRWC receives a grant to teach students about the river and a new app allows citizen scientist to record invasive species locations.  Also, Great Lakes Echo produces a podcast reviewing the month in Great Lakes environmental news. Finally, the oil and gas industry makes headlines again in our area.

Grant Will Help Huron River Watershed Council Take Classroom Learning Outdoors HRWC’s Volunteer and Stewardship Coordinator, Jason Frenzel contributes to a piece highlighting a recent grant we received to work with K-12 students throughout the watershed to get them out in the rivers, learning how to sample and building an understanding of the condition of our creeks and streams.

To catch a predator: Citizens enlisted to track invasive species  Here at HRWC we are proud of our citizen scientists.  They do much to help support our mission and protect the natural resources of our area.  Now there is another way you can contribute right through your smartphone.  MISIN, or the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network, has developed an app that lets you report locations of non-native species.  With a lot of eyes on the ground (and in the water), MISIN can gain insights into the spread of invasives and how to stop them.

Great Lakes in review: mayors on algae, restoration update This great podcast series recently came to our attention.  Great Lakes Echo is producing monthly podcasts summarizing the month in environmental stories from around the Great Lakes.  If you want to stay up to date on regional environmental issues, tune into this series.  The most recent podcast covers September including the Summit on Water Resources lead by the region’s mayors and spurred on by the Toledo drinking water ban, and updates to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative which now require projects incorporate climate change adaptation.

We continue to see a lot of news on oil and gas issues both within the Huron River watershed and the broader Great Lakes region.  Here are two recent articles on a proposed pipeline that would be built through Washtenaw and Livingston Counties and how local communities are responding.

News to Us

Fall color in the Huron

Fall color in the Huron

What is news to us this week? Browse the most recent newsletter from MiCorp for articles on water quality and monitoring.  Enjoy the change in season through a fall color tour.  An official disaster declaration will bring more support to parts of southeast Michigan still recovering from major flooding last month.  In national news, emerging contaminates pose unknown threats to our rivers.  And a global index ranks the United States among the lowest when it comes to willingness of individuals to engage in behaviors delicate on the environment. Not good.

The MiCorps Monitor: Fall 2014 The Fall newsletter produced by the Michigan Clean Water Corps is chock full of good articles on water quality, monitoring and invasive species that may be of interest to you. HRWC administers the statewide MiCorps program which uses volunteers to collect data to monitor the condition of rivers and lakes throughout the state.

Fall colors changing fast in Michigan: Here are the peak color areas right now Autumn is upon us bringing with it the beauty of our state’s fall color change.  See where fall color is peaking now and when to expect peak color in southeast Michigan.  Leaf drop is an important event for aquatic ecosystems bringing high quality nutrients and organic matter to our rivers and streams.

Obama OKs flood disaster aid for metro Detroit Michigan has now received an official disaster declaration from the Obama administration after severe rainfall led to extensive flood damage in the Detroit area on August 11th.  This declaration makes additional financial assistance to households affected by the rains and to help municipalities rebuild affected infrastructure such as road and stormwater pipes. Damages from this annual 0.1% chance (or often referred to as the 100 year storm) rain event is estimated at more than $1.1 billion.

A Rising Tide of Contaminants New chemicals and compounds are being developed and produced at a break neck pace, leaving regulators way behind on the evaluation of the human and environmental impacts of these substances. The federal regulation governing these substances, the Toxic Substances Control Act, has not been updated since going into effect in 1976. Contaminants are making their way into our waterways with unknown ecosystem health effects.

8 Surprising, Depressing, and Hopeful Findings From Global Survey of Environmental Attitudes A recent survey gaged the environmental attitudes and behaviors of individuals in 18 nations.  Sadly, American’s are not doing so well. The worst, actually, among the eighteen. And people in emerging economies such as Brazil and India are far more likely to adopt green behaviors than those in established economies such as England and Germany.

Rainy and warm? The forecast for a toxic algal bloom.

On August 2nd, Mayor of Toledo Michael Collins, issued a ban on drinking water.  Microcystis, a bacteria*, reached toxic levels in the City’s drinking water supply in western Lake Erie. The ban lasted two days and left nearly half a million people without water including residents of Monroe County, Michigan.  During that time there was much media coverage discussing cause, response, extent of the impacts and who was to blame.

Toledo's drinking water intake in Lake Erie.  Credit: Haraz N. Ghanbari, Associated-Press

Toledo’s drinking water intake in Lake Erie. Credit: Haraz N. Ghanbari, Associated-Press

What you may not have read is that this event is not unique. Increasingly, and across the globe, our lakes and oceans are experiencing booms of algae and bacteria populations that are reaching levels toxic to both wildlife and people. The question I want to explore here is how may climate change be contributing to this issue that is plaguing Lake Erie and many other coastal waterways?

Lake Erie has seen an increase in the frequency and size of blooms since the 1990’s.  A harmful bloom of algae and bacteria occurs when waters are warm and nutrients are high. Lake Erie is shallow and therefore warmer than other Great Lakes. Additionally, there is extensive agricultural and urban development in the watersheds that drain to the lake.  Nitrogen and phosphorus reach our rivers from farm fields, leaking septic systems and discharge pipes from industry.

Climate change can make conditions worse in two major ways.  As air temperatures increase, water temperatures increase.  In our area we have already experienced a 1.1° F increase in average annual temperature in the past 30 years.** Models predict an additional increase of 4-12° F (depending on what carbon emissions values are used) over the course of this century.  Additionally, not all rains are created equal. More nutrients run off of land and through pipes during large rain events. These nutrients are carried from the source, to a river, which eventually delivers the “food” to Lake Erie where it is used to fuel a bloom. In Southeast Michigan we are already experiencing an average of 2.9 inches more precipitation (much falling as rain) each year than we were 30 years ago.  Models predict further increases to our average annual rainfall, and more importantly to this story, that rain is expected to fall in larger events. An analysis of Toledo rainfall records revealed that they have experienced a 40% increase in the number of strongest storms in the last 30 years when compared to the previous 30 years. This is typical for the entire Midwest region of the US.

So, while harmful algal blooms have occurred in Lake Erie for decades, there is reason to believe that climate change is an additional, and increasingly important, factor leading to the uptick in frequency and severity of these events.

You can read more about microcystis and the Huron River watershed in our upcoming newsletter scheduled for release in December.  If you do not receive our newsletter, you can subscribe here.

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*Point of clarification — Microcystis is a bacteria, not an algae, though the two tend to bloom simultaneously under the right conditions.
** All climate data was provided by the Great Lakes Integrated Science and Assessments Center www.glisa.umich.edu

News to Us

Rain GardenThis edition of News to Us shares articles on rainfall — how to use rain gardens to manage it, how it carries nutrients to our waterways causing issues with algae and microcystin blooms and when extreme, how much damage it can cause.  Learn also about efforts in Ann Arbor to revitalize the riverfront and how communities throughout the nation are building climate resilience.

Washtenaw County Rain Garden Program To Be Shared Across Michigan Listen to a brief story aired on WEMU about the Washtenaw County Rain Garden program and how to learn more. Rain gardens help keep pollution and stormwater out of the Huron River increasing the health of the system. Washtenaw County is a leader in this area and can serve as a great resource for anyone interested in installing a rain garden.

Manchester-area farmers finding ways to reduce waste run-off after Lake Erie scare  A group of local farmers from the Raisin River watershed to our south, spent time touring Lake Erie and discussing ways to reduce nutrient contributions from farms to the Great Lakes. Excess nutrients in the lakes contributed to the microcystin contamination of Toledo’s drinking water last month. This tour provided a unique opportunity to learn about nutrient management practices and exchange ideas among farmers.

The Green Room: River Renaissance  In a recent WEMU Green Room story, Laura Rubin and others are interviewed to discuss the river and riverside revitalization efforts underway in the Argo area of the Huron River in Ann Arbor. Highlighting Argo Cascades and the MichCon brownfield redevelopment site, interviewees tell a story of the ups and downs associated with the river’s new found popularity.

Facing Climate Change, Cities Embrace Resiliency This article discusses community resilience – a concept emerging in cities and towns throughout the United States in response to the increased number and severity of extreme weather events.  Building resilience entails anything that improves the preparedness of a community to literally, weather the storm, minimizing damage and the threat to public health and safety. Several communities within the Huron River watershed are working to build resilience to changes we are seeing here.

Deadly Once-in-1,000-Years Rains Wipe Out Roads in Arizona, Nevada Many places across the globe are experiencing extreme rainfall events. While the Detroit area recently experienced a 100-year rain (1 % chance of occurring in any given year) parts of Arizona and Nevada experienced a rainfall event with even lower probability of occurring – some areas experience the 1000 year event (0.1% chance)! These larger evens cause extensive damage to infrastructure and personal property. Many communities are working to prepare for these larger events which are predicted to occur more frequently as the global climate warms.

News to Us

Milford Asset Mapping. Photo: Oakland County PEDs

Milford Asset Mapping. Image credit: Oakland County PEDs

News to Us today highlights a couple of local stories from Milford and Scio Township.  Several climate-related articles came across our desks recently including a press release on a new report connecting climate change to pest outbreaks and some promising bi-partisan legislation in New York. Finally, more fall out from the recent flooding in Detroit — raw sewage in local rivers and ultimately Lake Erie.

Milford activists aim to integrate river, downtown Recently, interested community members met in Milford to discuss the Huron River.  As one of the Huron River Trail Towns, Milford is looking for ways to connect all the downtown assets available to people from the river, to parks to downtown businesses. Improved canoe landing areas, signage, and new development opportunities were among the topics discussed.  Trail towns are part of HRWC’s RiverUp! program.

Scio Township imposes moratorium on oil and gas operations  Following the installation of the first drilling operation in Scio Township on Miller Rd and W. Delhi, the township has established a 6-month moratorium on further oil and natural gas developments. This will give the township time to consider existing protections related to oil and gas activities such as ordinances on noise, odor, and hours of operation.

Warming Climate Brings Greater Numbers of Bugs and Outdoor Pests  A new report is linking factors related to climate change are responsible, in part, for high populations of mosquitoes and ticks as well as the toxicity of poison ivy. Read the full report: Ticked Off: America’s Outdoor Experience and Climate Change.

Legislature sends climate change bill to Cuomo Across the nation, from the federal to local levels, people are planning and taking action to prepare communities for a changing climate.  Last month, New York took a significant leap by bring legislation to Governor Cuomo that would require all state-funded projects to address climate change and extreme weather into planning and implementation of these projects. Legislation passed a democratic controlled Assembly and Republican controlled Senate and awaits the Governer’s approval expected sometime late this summer.

Metro Detroit’s sewage overflow feeds Lake Erie algae growth  The historic flooding that occurred in the Detroit area this August caused trouble beyond flooded roadways and basements. Many areas affected by the flood have combined stormwater and sewer systems that, when overwhelmed, deliver raw sewage directly to rivers, streams and ultimately Lake Erie further exacerbating recent water quality issues in the lake. We are fortunate in the Huron River Watershed not to have combined sewer systems.  However, stormwater and sewer infrastructure failures affect us all.  Improving this infrastructure to handle large rainfall events will help protect against future failures.

News to Us

Image credit: National Weather Service

Image credit: National Weather Service

This edition of News to Us is full of state and regional news that piques our interest here at HRWC.  We have seen two significant events in our area make national headlines recently – last week’s record rainfall in Southeast Michigan and the toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie that left many in Ohio and Michigan without drinking water for days. We’ve selected two articles to share that focus on solutions. Read also about efforts to halt the spread of aquatic invasives, commentary on the implications to Michigan’s energy infrastructure of the recent EPA regulations limiting carbon emissions and a research report on the status of diversity represented within environmental groups.

Ohio offers no-interest loans in water toxin fight Initial steps are being taken in Ohio to safeguard the region from further drinking water issues. Actions include free drinking water testing, funding to reduce phosphorus runoff from farms, and loans available for water treatment upgrades.

Editorial: Re-envision infrastructure in wake of historic rainfall This is a solid editorial piece on the status of Michigan’s aging infrastructure in the wake of Detroit’s record breaking rainfall this week. Our ability to manage stormwater from significant rains throughout the state is challenged by old, inadequate pipes, lack of funding and more frequent large precipitation events. The author calls for legislative action and the use of more green and blue infrastructure solutions.

Stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species in Michigan The Michigan Department of Fisheries and Wildlife is taking action this summer to slow the spread of invasive species between water bodies in Michigan. A small crew is visiting popular boat launches throughout the state with a trailer mounted boat washer meant to scrub the boat before it moves to another lake potentially carrying a nuisance species and to educate boat owners about the issue. Aquatic invasives cause many problems from harmful algal blooms to weed mats and the loss of native diversity. Learn more about how you can help stop the spread of aquatic invasives.

A $15B upgrade for utilities: New EPA rules stoke Consumers, DTE move to wind and gas The CEO of DTE Energy estimates about $15 billion will be spent on Michigan’s power infrastructure over the coming decades to meet EPA’s rules on carbon emissions. Experts expect to see a significant shift in the source of our power from coal to natural gas and wind. Read more about how this industry is expecting to change in the coming years.

New Findings: The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations Through a survey of 243 environmental non-profits in the Great Lakes Region, a University of Michigan researcher concluded that within this sector, gender, race and class diversity is low. The author recommends more inclusive recruitment and active mentoring to help bridge the diversity gap.


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