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On the chopping block: clean water

***  UPDATE: On August 16, 2017, the EPA and the Army extended the comment period by 30 days for the proposed first step of the review of the definition of ‘Waters of the U.S.’ to provide additional time for stakeholders to weigh in. *** The comment period, as now extended, will close on September 27, 2017. ***

While we are working to clean up the Huron River system for a good quality of life, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is working to roll back the Clean Water Act. The current administration is rushing through a repeal of the Clean Water Rule and we have only until September 27th during public comment to try and stop it. It’s critical for your voice to be heard in D.C.

The proposal has been published in the federal register.

You can help by submitting a request to stop the repeal of this important rule on or before Wednesday, Sept. 27, 11:59pm EST.hrwc-clean-water-rule-wetlands

Get sample comment letter language, links into the Federal eRulemaking Portal, Michigan impacts, and news articles HERE.

Background:

What is the Clean Water Rule? In 2015, the previous administration clarified and finalized protections for streams and wetlands across the country. These safeguards protected the small streams that feed the drinking water sources for nearly 1 in 3 Americans. They protected wetlands throughout the nation that filter pollutants from water, absorb floodwaters, and provide habitat for countless wildlife. In fact, industry and other permittees asked for this clarification as an end to regulatory confusion about which of the country’s waterways the Clean Water Act protects. The rule was supported by millions of Americans.

The Clean Water Rule followed a robust public process. Before finalizing the Clean Water Rule in 2015, EPA held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country and published a synthesis of more than 1,200 peer-reviewed scientific publications, which showed that the small streams and wetlands the Rule safeguards are vital to larger downstream waters.

What is this administration proposing? Administrator Pruitt does not want to implement the Clean Water Rule. Instead, he plans to rush through the repeal of the Clean Water Rule this year, then propose and finalize a less protective rule in less than a year. President Trump signed an Executive Order instructing the EPA to propose a new rule based on former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s opinion of which waterways the Clean Water Act protects. A rule following Scalia’s interpretation would result in drastic exclusions of wetlands and streams from protection; fewer than half of wetlands and fewer than 40 percent of streams would receive federal protection. If that scenario comes to pass, then the nation’s waters will be less protected than they were in 1975!

Who is opposing the Clean Water Rule? Lobbyists for oil and gas producers, homebuilders, and farm bureaus.

What’s at stake? Our right to clean drinking water is in jeopardy. Rolling back hrwc-clean-water-rule-at-riskthe rule will result in the same regulatory confusion that resulted in broad-based calls for clarity about which of our nation’s waterways the Clean Water Act protects. Rolling back the rule is bad governance, bad for businesses who rely on regulatory certainty, and bad for our communities that deserve clean water.

Michigan’s rivers play a key role in economic and community building. Here in the Huron River watershed, we know the value of a healthy river system that includes healthy wetlands and smaller feeder streams. The river and water trail are conservatively estimated to have the following economic impact:

  • $53.5 million in annual economic output (direct, indirect, and induced spending)
  • $628 million in added property value
  • $150 million in annual environmental value (such as clean drinking water, wetlands and floodplains that prevent flooding, and forested riverbanks that foster rich fisheries and healthy streams)

Please speak up – send a message to the EPA today. Tell Administrator Pruitt: Hands off our water. We’ve provided a sample public comment letter. We encourage you to add your own description of the value of clean water.

Postscript: Republicans, meanwhile, are targeting the rule on a second front. A section of the Defense Department spending bill (page 277, line 12) allows the administration to revoke the rule with no strings attached — strings being requirements for public consultation.

Get sample comment letter language, links into the Federal eRulemaking Portal, Michigan impacts, and news articles HERE.

 

New Way to Stash Your Boat on the Huron River

New boat locker in Ann Arbor (2017)

New boat locker in Ann Arbor (June 2017)

A unique amenity for users of the Huron River National Water Trail (HRWT) has arrived! Canoe and kayak lockers that secure personal boats, paddles, and life jackets at Bandemer Park.

This prototype, designed and manufactured in Ann Arbor, can accommodate a majority of canoe and kayak sizes as well as stand-up paddleboards. The lockers have six compartments that can fit up to two boats each depending on boat sizes. Each locker is modular so more lockers can be added as demand grows.

By giving paddlers a chance to secure their boats, the lockers offer recreationists entré to the shops and restaurants in the HRWT’s Trail Towns. Ann Arbor, which is one of the Trail Towns, was called a “(Next) Best Paddling Town” by Canoe & Kayak Magazine so it seems fitting that it is the first one to offer this key amenity.

The City of Ann Arbor accepted the lockers as a donation from the Huron River Watershed Council, and its Parks & Recreation Department will manage the lockers beginning this season. The lockers provide a convenient option for residents looking to enjoy paddlesports on the Huron River.

Creating the Lockers
Each of the six compartments can fit up to two kayaks, paddleboards, or canoes

Each of the six compartments can fit up to two kayaks, canoes, or paddleboards.

In 2014, I approached Jen Maigret of the Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning at the University of Michigan to see if her studio would design canoe and kayak lockers. We had to charter new territory in the field of paddlesport recreation to offer the Trail Towns functional lockers with a design aesthetic appropriate to prized waterfront public spaces.

Jen and her design partner Maria Arquero de Alarcon were a perfect fit for this project because they had already shaped their design studio –MAde Studio – to explore new ways of connecting people with water through design. They enthusiastically took up the challenge. Then followed many months (years, really) of meeting with local parks and recreation professionals, paddlesport aficionados, and fabricators to find a practical, yet appealing design worthy of a riverfront view.

Jen describes their process: “We approached the design of the lockers with two goals in mind. First, the lockers should contribute to a “regional” identity for the Huron River watershed and the significant designation as a National Water Trail. Second, the lockers should also allow for a unique expression of each of the 5 water trail towns to enhance the sense of place in each location.”

Hosford & Co. fabricated the lockers at its location just a few steps away from the Huron River. In May, their crew delivered the first lockers to Ann Arbor’s Bandemer Park.boat-locker-signage

As a Trail Town on the 104-mile Huron River National Water Trail, the City of Ann Arbor offers scenic riverside parks, exciting cascades and placid stillwater trips for trail users. The new lockers are a key amenity that offer safe and sturdy storage for residents with their own boats looking for on-the-water access. HRWC, through the private-public partnership called RiverUp!, is pleased to donate the prototype storage solution for the HRWT Trail Towns with a vision of more lockers from Milford to Dexter, and Ypsilanti to Flat Rock. These other lockers may operate with a different rental option by providing hourly and daily storage options. Plans are currently underway with the other Trail Towns to host and maintain the lockers.bandameer

Would you like to see lockers in more places on the Huron River? Contributions to HRWC’s RiverUp! initiative are needed to provide day-use lockers in other riverfront communities.

Trip Report: D.C. Fly In For Clean Water

The Huron River Watershed Council joined a delegation of river protection leaders from around the country to Washington, D.C. last week. The goal of the Fly In was to make it clear that clean water matters to all Americans across the country and along the political spectrum. Our group included representatives from 16 organizations hailing from Alaska to Oklahoma, Wisconsin to Florida, and Maine to California. Clean Water Network convened the event.

For two days, we shared first-hand stories – with each other and with federal agency representatives — about how water pollution affects our families, neighbors, and communities. We spoke in favor of holding a strong line of defense on everything from ensuring that infrastructure investments provide safe drinking water to preserving TMDLs that keep pollution in check in order to keep our rivers, lakes, and streams protected. The Trump Administration’s February Executive Order concerning the Clean Water Rule was foremost on everyone’s mind for its potential to jeopardize implementation of the Clean Water Act.

HRWC's Elizabeth Riggs and other D.C. Fly In participants visit US EPA on Pennsylvania Avenue.

HRWC’s Elizabeth Riggs and other D.C. Fly In participants visit US EPA on Pennsylvania Avenue.

On the first day, our Clean Water Network hosts provided information on the politics of conservation with the new Congress and the Trump Administration, the proposed rollbacks of the Clean Water Act, and drastic budget cuts to the US EPA and Army Corps of Engineers – the cops on the beat of enforcing our country’s environmental laws. We met with top decision makers in the Office of Water at agency headquarters. Having an audience with senior staff gave our group first-hand knowledge on topics ranging from stormwater and agricultural runoff, to the future of the Clean Water Rule and regional programs for the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.

Day two featured a meeting with senior staff of the Army Corps of Engineers Regulatory Program to present our concerns and pose questions on a variety of topics. (Michigan is less affected by Army Corps activities than most other states since the state is authorized to implement wetlands program permitting; in 48 states, the Army Corps implements the program.) A guided boat tour of the Anacostia River from the Anacostia Riverkeeper and Anacostia Watershed Society was a highlight. We ended the Fly In with trainings to sharpen advocacy and persuasion skills, and strategizing with other Clean Water Network members to take coordinated action to protect our local waterways.

I can share a few key conclusions from the Fly In:

  • Be ready for a shorter-than-usual public input phase on the Clean Water Rule rulemaking. We need to give specific, detailed comments during the public input period as well as inundate the agency with sheer volume of comments in order to show level of public interest.
  • EPA Administrator Pruitt is interested in nutrient pollution and understands that it is a significant problem but wants to see a state-driven nutrient framework, which is consistent with this administration’s federalism bent.
  • Advocating for regional programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is important, yet we also need to support EPA core programs like permitting and enforcement.
  • We need to seek support from our congressional delegation in Michigan to let them know that clean water is a priority.

I am grateful to Clean Water Network for inviting HRWC on this recent trip to DC. It is important that local watershed and river groups show up and speak to lawmakers and agency staff about issues that impact us. Americans didn’t vote for more pollution in their water, no matter how they voted in the election. If you are interested in Standing Strong for Clean Water with HRWC, join us as we come together to fight rollbacks to our bedrock clean water laws.

New Ambassadors scout Water Trail for all

Trail Ambassador Graham Battersby completes his survey of the Water Trail in early spring.

Trail Ambassador Graham Battersby completes his survey of the Water Trail in early spring, and the local media took notice.

HRWT Ambassador Hat

Earlier this year, 20 hardy paddlers stepped up to serve as the first class of HRWC’s new volunteer-led program to monitor the river for recreation. Huron River Water Trail Ambassadors adopt sections of the river to check conditions for safe and accessible paddling. This class covered 17 sections of the water trail ranging in length from 3.5 to nearly 10 miles.

Ambassadors check river conditions in the early spring before most paddlers are out on the river, as well as at the end of the paddling season in the fall. Their efforts make the river more enjoyable, protect its health and scenic beauty, and assist HRWC and the water trail partners with prioritizing improvements.

What does an Ambassador do?

1. Paddles a section of the Huron River once in early spring and a second time in the fall, at a minimum.
2. Makes general observations about the conditions of water trail launches, signs and portages, the shoreline, woody debris, spills and how people are using the river.
3. Represents HRWC by answering questions from the public, helping people out on the river and teaching responsible river use.
4. Takes photos of areas of interest or concern.
5. Submits information and photos to HRWC.

Some Ambassadors also clean-up trash and measure water temperature and conductivity with HRWC equipment.

How do you spot an Ambassador?

Check their hat! All Ambassadors are outfitted in brimmed hats with the water trail logo and the “Ambassador” title.

Contact Jason Frenzel if you’d like more information on becoming an Ambassador.

Paddle Ypsi on the Huron River National Water Trail

Open for business this summer is the renovated canoe and kayak launch at Frog Island. Ypsilanti’s Frog Island Park on the Huron River, located just north of Depot Town between Forest and Cross, is getting a makeover. This access is located at river mile 40.7 on the Huron River Water Trail.

Since last November, invasive shrubs were removed and sight lines to the river opened up, hand rails on the stairs were installed, concrete cleaned, and an access path and launch graded and gravel added. The access is safer and easier to use. A new river-themed mural is in the works, too.

Stairs, path, and railing have been restored at the Frog Island Access

Stairs, path, and railing have been restored at the Frog Island Access

Try out the river in Ypsilanti and visit Frog Island. This section features mature tree canopy, newly restored fish habitat, and an unimpeded paddle trip into Ford Lake. Put in below Dixboro Dam, paddle the meandering river past the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital campus, portage the Superior Dam and Pen Park Dam, and see Ypsilanti from the water before taking out at Frog Island. Or start your trip at Frog Island and paddle past Riverside Park and Waterworks Park before entering Ford Lake. Paddle the upper end of the lake before taking out at Loon Feather Park. For a longer trip, paddle Ford Lake and take out at the new dam portage into North Hydro Park.

Ypsilanti Fall River Day on Sunday, October 9th offers a great opportunity to see the city by water in your own kayak or rent one that day.

Before your paddle, check out our podcast series that profiles three waterfront locations in Ypsilanti each with an important role in the city’s position as an automotive powerhouse:

  • The Faircliffe Home on Ford Lake
  • Motor Wheel
  • Water Street

Learn more about the Automotive Heritage Trail District.

HRWC leads this RiverUp! project, in cooperation with the City of Ypsilanti. Thanks to Bill Kinley for championing this project, with support from the Walter J. Weber Jr. Family, and many individual donors. Much gratitude to Washtenaw County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Margolis Landscaping for the many hours of labor and materials generously given to this renovation. Thanks to all of the community volunteers who kicked off the work in November 2015.

Paddle Ypsi!

Paddlers: Tell us what you want, what you really, really want

Attention ALL PADDLERS!logo-hrwt

If you paddle the waters of the Huron, see please share your preferences by taking our 11-question survey about water trail amenities to help HRWC and the Water Trail partners plan our programs.

The partners have identified the need for a secure canoe and kayak locker system to store boats, paddles, and gear when stopping to explore the sights along the Huron River Water Trail and its Trail Towns, or for longer-term storage. The Huron River Water Trail Partners are creating a design for a locker system that would be available in multiple river towns on the Huron River, such the Trail Towns of Milford, Dexter, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Flat Rock.

MA1405_Elevations

MA1405-ElevationsThe Huron River Water Trail partners provide amenities to trail users such as signage, safe, public access for launching and landing canoes and kayaks, and the interactive online trip planner at www.huronriverwatertrail.org.

The Huron River Water Trail is recognized as a National Water Trail, and is a project of RiverUp! — leading river corridor revitalization with the goal of making the Huron River the new “Main Street” where residents and tourists recreate, live, gather, commute, and do business.

 Images from MAde Studio

Building Bipartisan Support for the River in Lansing

Visit me at the office and you’ll find the Citizen’s Guide to State Government for the 98th Legislature within arm’s reach on my desk. During HRWC’s 50th year, store we’re making it a priority to establish and deepen relationships with our elected officials through one-on-one meetings. Watershed communities are represented by no fewer than 10 representatives and four senators in Lansing whose votes and decisions can impact the watershed.

What do we hope to get out of these conversations? We are sharing current information on water issues relevant to each district as well as strategic opportunities to protect and enhance the resource for a diverse mix of uses (municipal, prescription recreation, business, etc.). The conversations also are vehicles for developing more regular communications between the elected officials and HRWC.

Simply put: We want the needs and concerns for the river and its watershed communities to be heard.

HRWC Executive Director Laura Rubin and I are wrapping up several months of traveling the watershed – and sometimes beyond – to meet with the following state elected officials (see the maps of Senate and House districts overlaid on the watershed boundary):

 

Michigan House Legislative Districts (2010)

Michigan House Legislative Districts (2010)

Representatives
Gretchen Driskell (District 52)
Jeff Irwin (District 53)
Klint Kesto (District 39)
Bill LaVoy (District 17)
Kristy Pagan (District 21)
Jim Runestad (District 44)
David Rutledge (District 54)
Pat Somerville (District 23)
Lana Theis (District 42)
Adam Zemke (District 55)

 

Michigan Senate Legislative Districts (2010)

Michigan Senate Legislative Districts (2010)

 

 

Senators
Hoon-Yung Hopgood (District 6)
Joe Hune (District 22)
Mike Kowall (District 15)
Rebekah Warren (District 18)

 

 

 

 

 

The conversations were productive and friendly, and most of the officials were very responsive to our requests for meetings. Next steps entail additional information sharing on current projects, and planning a guided legislative canoe and kayak trip on the river to highlight progress and challenges. The frequency of follow-up meetings hasn’t been determined, but we can be certain that term limits will necessitate on-going conversations as new public servants represent the watershed.

The state-level meetings build on a long tradition of engagement from local and county public officials and representatives. In fact, HRWC was formed by the Michigan Legislature in 1965 and the Board of Directors is comprised of representatives from member governments. HRWC is a nonpartisan research and education organization that protects and restores the river for healthy and vibrant communities.

Registration Open for Full Moon Paddle – July 31st

Friday, July 31st, 7:00 p.m.

Join us for the Full Moon Paddle Trip with bonfire and s’mores: Pickerel Lake to Crooked Lake

Experience the quiet waters of the Huron River with expert paddler Barry Lonik, HRWC staff, and other river enthusiasts.

Complete this form to register. Spaces are limited so registration is necessary by Wednesday, July 29th.

The trip begins at the Pickerel Lake beach, accessible off Hankerd Road, north of N. Territorial Road. We will meet there at 7:00 p.m. Sunset and moonrise are just before 9:00 p.m.. There is a short carry from the parking area to the water. We will paddle around Pickerel Lake, chat about natural history, watersheds and water quality, and gradually make our way down the channel to Crooked Lake. A campfire and s’mores fixings will greet us at Crooked Lake. Then our group will make the return trip hopefully under the light of the Full Moon.

Bring your own watercraft, gear, food, drinking water, and appropriate clothing for the weather. Every paddler must wear a flotation device – bring your own. A flashlight or headlamp also is a good idea.

For a Paddler’s Safety Checklist click HERE.

My Huron River (Huron River delta)

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

A favorite spot for me on the Huron River is the delta where the voluminous waters fan out and feed western Lake Erie. There’s something satisfying about witnessing the transition from river to Great Lake, and picturing the individual stories of how – and in what shape – those droplets traveled from their places of origin. I am reminded, then, that all of our collective actions in the watershed are woven into the waters flowing past me and I hope that we’ve done justice to the blue.

Kayaking at the Huron River delta, River Mile 0. credit: L & S Small Craft Coastal Explorations

Kayaking at the Huron River delta, River Mile 0. credit: L & S Small Craft Coastal Explorations

The river delta flies under people’s radars as a destination, especially for those who live outside the Downriver area. Few signs or road markers give away the location of the river’s terminus. The 40-minute drive from my house to this spot means that I don’t visit as often as I would like. But, in the past couple of years have I come to appreciate the last few miles of the river and its confluence with the lake for its natural beauty, as well as its historical significance and new opportunities for trail-based recreation. Besides, where else on the Huron River can you see a massive barge traversing the Great Lakes, or paddle into big water?DSC_0200

The expansive view of water, land, and sky is always changing and always beautiful. The marshlands and forested floodplains of Point Mouillee and nearby islands provide critical habitat for plants and animals as well as stopover locations for migrating birds and waterfowl. The delta sits within the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, a binational refuge covering nearly 6,000 acres of islands, coastal wetlands, marshes, shoals, and waterfront lands along 48 miles of Detroit River and western Lake Erie shorelines.

Hull's Trace, military road built during the War of 1812

Hull’s Trace, military road built during the War of 1812

An old log road built during the War of 1812 remains under West Jefferson Avenue and is now known as Hull’s Trace – the newest addition to River Raisin National Battlefield Park. The National Park Service presence is increasing appreciation for this area through its educational programs both on- and off- the water, and reestablishing connections with the Wyandotte Nation that has deep roots here. The anonymity of the Huron River delta is slowly giving way as the National Park Service develops operations and as the  Huron River National Water Trail gains paddling and fishing fans.

Drop me a line if you visit the delta and share your photos with HRWC on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the tag #huronriver50.

 

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 FacebookTwitter and InstagramUse #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.

 

Panoramic view east at the Huron River delta

Panoramic view east at the Huron River delta

What the Clean Water Rule could mean for the Huron

Sometimes just maintaining the status quo is the goal. Such is the case with federal protections for waterways through the Clean Water Act that are clarified with the Clean Water Rule developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers. The rule provides definition to “Waters of the United States” and will become effective on August 28, 2015. The rule only protects waters that have historically been covered by the Clean Water Act.

credit: John Lloyd

credit: John Lloyd

The administration wrote the rule in an attempt to clarify its jurisdiction after two U.S. Supreme Court decisions made it murky beginning in the early 2000s. While about three percent  more area is covered by the Clean Water Act than before, the protections are still less than they were during President Bill Clinton’s administration. The Clean Water Act protects the nation’s waters. A Clean Water Act permit is only needed if these waters are going to be polluted or destroyed.

In my interview this week with David Fair on WEMU’s Issues of the Environment radio show, we talked about what the Rule does:

  • Provides greater clarity and certainty regarding the waters protected under the Clean Water Act
  • Makes the jurisdictional determination process more straight-forward for businesses and industry
  • Reflects the best current science (more than 1,200 peer-reviewed studies were consulted)
  • Aligns with the Supreme Court decisions
  • Reflects public input and comments (400 meetings around the country)
  • Protects public health, the economy, and the environment

and doesn’t do:

  • Regulate new types of waters, land use, most ditches, groundwater, farm ponds
  • Change policy on stormwater or water transfers or irrigation
  • Limit agricultural exemptions
  • Regulate water in tile drains
  • And my favorite, regulate puddles
How might the Clean Water Rule impact Michigan and, more specifically, Huron River waters?

The Department of Environmental Quality, the state’s permitting authority, expects little impact to Michigan water protection programs. Michigan is one of only two states (New Jersey is the other state) that administers its own wetlands permit program instead of the Army Corps of Engineers, and the state-run program is more protective than the federal program. On the Huron River, the collective effort to improve water quality is yielding gains in quality of life after decades of effort focused on education, new technologies to reduce pollution and water consumption, and water quality monitoring.

The Huron River Watershed Council formed seven years before the enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972. As we celebrate 50 years of protecting and restoring the river for healthy and vibrant communities, we have the perspective to recognize this Rule as a watershed moment for the country to rededicate itself to clean water. Find out more about the Clean Water Rule from the EPA’s Clean Water Rule web page. A Michigan fact sheet is available about the value of clean water in the state for the economy, the environment, and public health.


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