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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.

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.

figure-2_72

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?

IMG_3589

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.

IMG_3599

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.


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