In the last 2 months I’ve been asked a lot about my thoughts on sustainability and climate going forward. At a recent climate rally I shared what we do best at HRWC—the climate science and trends, and what people can do.
Here is a synopsis of my comments:
For 50 years our job has been to study and protect the Huron River, which runs right through many communities, including Ann Arbor. We have 25 years of data about this ecosystem. And the data confirms what we’ve seen this February. We have a migrating climate. Days like this are what we would have expected to see in Kentucky 20 years ago. Within 50 years our seasons will feel more like Oklahoma. This has massive implications for our natural ecosystems and our economy, and our quality of life!
So let me tell you about what our science shows us about Michigan today:
- It’s warmer. Annually by 2 degrees F; by 2070 an increase of 3.5 to 6 degrees.
- Today, the growing season, or the frost-free season, has gotten longer by 9 days. In the future, it could increase by 1-2 months.
- Today, Michigan gets more rain and snow—an 11% increase. In Ann Arbor 24% more.
- The strongest storms have become more intense and more frequent. These rain storms are so heavy they overwhelm our storm sewers, our dams, and our wastewater treatment plants.
But, that’s facts and figures, let me tell you a couple of stories about how that affects us all.
- People might remember that three years ago, a rain caused flooding in our watershed and in particular, on the UM campus. It was so intense and with so much water, students kayaked down the East University Street.
- HRWC researches the river. Every January, we send about 100 volunteers out, up and down the river, to collect Stoneflies. Stoneflies are little bugs that are sensitive to changes and pollution, so they tell us how healthy the river is. Two years ago we had to cancel because of the extreme cold. The volunteers couldn’t break the thick ice to get in to the river. This year, we had the opposite problem: our volunteers could not get in the river in certain places due to high flows from a 50 degree thaw. We heard from volunteers that they were already seeing stoneflies that had hatched rather than in their larval stage. This means that when the fish start spawning in April, they won’t have as many stoneflies to eat….that damages the entire aquatic ecosystem.
So we’ve had an extremely warm February, but these unexpected extremes should now be expected.
So what can we do about this? Engage, engage, engage. I hear from people day in and out that they are frustrated and yearning to take action. We need big change; to change the way we operate major infrastructure systems of this country—transportation, energy, stormwater, housing, waste, and food.
As somebody who has spent my career working on environmental issues, here’s what I find effective: 1. Take individual steps on your own and with your family; 2. Build connections with people (your colleagues, elected officials, friends, neighbors) to work on issues at a larger scale.
Stand up against the things you don’t want (a weaker EPA, the Dakota pipeline, Line 5), but at the same time take actions to create the things you do.
There’s lots of things we can do as individuals. We also have elected officials, business, and government employees, and it’s important to do things collectively and scale them up.
- To change our transportation systems, Take the bus—and advocate for robust public transit;
- To change our stormwater systems, Put in a rain garden or rain barrel—and work with neighbors to push your university or town to install better rain capture systems on roads, parks, and rooftops;
- To change our energy system, Put in solar—and help your elected officials pass tax incentives and ease of permitting for alternative energy; and
- To improve our housing system, Live near your work or school—and encourage affordable housing so others can too.
Finally, it’s important to volunteer—engage in your community, sit on a board or commission. This is tough but necessary work. This is where change is made.
In my work as Director of HRWC, I bring very different people together to protect something we all love, the Huron River. I do that by talking to everyone who plays a part—farmers, drain commissioners, hunters, anglers, politicians, scientists, and homeowners. We’re all really different people with different political perspectives. We don’t always agree, but we find ways to make real change. Because all these people work together, the river is cleaner than it’s been in 50 years. It’s that steady engaged work that makes a difference and gives me hope.
Go get involved, take up the challenge, and let’s get to work!
Here are some of our projects that exemplify how our partnerships address climate change.
Dear HRWC Family,
Given the uncertainty of future environmental protection, I want to assure you that HRWC will stand strong to protect clean water. In this past presidential election, we saw a lack of conversation or priority placed on environmental issues. We saw a denigration and disregard for environmental agencies and regulations. And we saw a discrediting of science. All things that deeply concern us at HRWC.
Our strength has been and will continue to be making progress on environmental policy, science, and citizen stewardship and engagement at the local level. We are the crucial link between environmental problems and effective solutions. We educate the public, businesses, and decision makers on the problems and the solutions. We secure funds for these solutions. We advocate for policy changes. We identify emerging threats and demand action. We get out in the rivers, lakes, and woods to monitor the conditions and measure progress.
Our programs start small and local. They are built around volunteer monitoring and science, local government leadership and citizen stewards, and political advocacy. They grow from collaboration with a slew of partners and funders who share our commitment to clean water. They are based on the belief that individuals can make a difference and small changes can lead to large impacts. From local ordinances that protect us from coal tar to fish habitat improvements, from pollution reduction partnerships to building a Huron River Water Trail, we believe that our future is one of clean and plentiful water for people and nature where we all are effective and courageous champions for the Huron River and its watershed.
In the next 6 months, we will learn more about the direction of our federal and state government’s environmental agenda. I want to assure you that HRWC will be there to face any new challenges coming and will continue our work to protect and restore the river for healthy and vibrant communities.
With your support, we will stand strong and focus on our core values to generate sound science to ensure reliable supplies of clean water and a resilient natural system, to work collaboratively with all partners to engage an inclusive community of river guardians, and to passionately advocate for the health of the river and lands around it.
As I go in to the holiday season I am I am thankful that we — this community that calls the Huron its home waters — have the courage to protect the river for current and future generations. Your donation helps us stand strong. Thank you.
For the river,
Laura Rubin, Executive Director
We need your help. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has issued draft revisions to cleanup criteria for public comment. If accepted, the draft revisions will strengthen the State’s clean-up criteria for various pollutants. We urge you to submit comments asking the State to immediately adopt the draft. Business interests are opposing this draft even though they have had a seat at the table during development of the current draft revisions to 300+ toxins, including the 1,4 Dioxane. The public comment period runs through September 13th. More information about the revision is available on their website.
Please submit your comments to DEQ-RRDCriteria@michigan.gov
Here is some suggested text for comment.
“I am writing to express my support of Michigan’s Generic Cleanup Criteria Proposed Rules Revisions. This criteria is long overdue. In the interest of public health, I urge you to adopt the criteria. <your name, city/town, MI>”
For more information on the dioxane groundwater contamination in Washtenaw County please see these websites:
It is important to note that these revisions are long overdue. The State Legislature voted to complete these revisions by December 31, 2013. This and subsequent “new deadlines” have been missed, and 2 consecutive mayors of Ann Arbor have been promised these regulations would be changed by multiple “dates certain” that have passed us by. Please make written comment (or attend the public hearing in Lansing on September 12) urging the MDEQ to immediately adopt these public health regulations which are based on the best science agreed upon throughout the stakeholder engagement process.
Every voice counts! Please submit your comments today to DEQ-RRDCriteria@michigan.gov.
Explore tubing on the river between Dexter and Ann Arbor
If you’ve never tubed on the river you should try it. At first I was intimidated by the young, more rowdy crowds of tubers but found quickly that tubing can be a quiet, cooling, and beautiful way to experience the river. The tubes are relatively inexpensive. Grab a pump that can run off your power outlet in your car. Pick a hot day and leave a bike or car at the Washtenaw County Stokes-Burns Park on Zeeb Road and then head to Dexter-Huron Metropark.
The rest is easy. Relax into your tube (wear a bathing suit or shorts that can get wet) and the steady current will take you gently down the river. The mile-long trip takes about an hour and a half and takes you through a beautiful stretch of the river where you catch glimpses of fish, very large and colorful dragonflies, indian paintbrush plants, herons, osprey, and other plants and animals I can’t name. On a hot day, its just about perfect! We do try to avoid the weekend river rush-hour and usually have a very relaxing experience.
If you are looking for a more lively adventure with lots of people and action, check out Tube the River from the City of Ann Arbor for info on trips through the Argo Cascades.
Join HRWC for Huron River Appreciation Day, Sunday July 10! Come along on a guided trip of the Huron River in Dexter, paddle the Lower Huron with Motor City Canoe Rental, hear a talk on paddling safety and get a free life jacket in Milford or Dexter, learn the history of the Huron or take a fly fishing lesson in Ypsilanti! Sponsored by TOYOTA.
My work in the environmental field makes me familiar with the many things we can do at home to protect the environment. But it takes money and time to act on these tips. This past year we were finally able to work on a few “greening” home improvements, shared here for inspiration . . .
Last year we reached out to the Washtenaw County Water Resource Commissioner’s Office to help develop a plan to capture and infiltrate more of the runoff from our roof. Years ago we installed a rain barrel but it is limited to 50 gallons per rain, with use in between rains. I live in Ann Arbor on a pretty small parcel and there is not much room for rain storage and infiltration…or a garden. But we were able to identify 2 different rain garden locations—one a swale along one side of the house and another in the front of the house.
After choosing plants and a design we installed the rain garden last spring—digging, mulching, and placing rocks and native plants strategically for rain water capture and aesthetics.
At first it didn’t look like much but as the summer and fall wore on the plants blossomed and grew. We enjoyed running outside when it was raining to see the water gushing out of the gutter/downspout and in to the rain garden where it soaked in to the ground. We found out that we have pretty sandy soils, unusual for this area, so the water soaked in quickly. If anything, we can divert more runoff to this garden it was so “thirsty”. I also learned, through trial and error, what was a weed and what wasn’t. Staying on top of the weeding is the biggest challenge now that the rain garden is in.
Last summer we also decided to install solar panels. Since we had last looked in to solar panels the cost has come down substantially. There are also substantial tax incentives in place this year that help with the price of the panels. We got quotes, talked with colleagues and friends who had installed panels and chose an installer, Homeland. It took over 4 months until the system was up and running but in early November we were generating electricity! We’re still getting familiar with how it all works but we have a nice looking box in the basement that hums when we are generating energy and a website to track our power generation. We’re looking forward to the summer when the sun really shines to see how much energy we can generate and reduce our carbon.
If you are considering home improvements, or even smaller actions that help protect the environment, HRWC promotes many of them at our Take Action pages. Our booth at the Home, Garden & Lifestyle Show, March 18-20, will feature two sustainable landscaping experts providing free information on rain gardens and native plants: Susan Bryan leader of Washtenaw County’s Rain Garden Program (Saturday) and Drew Laithin of Creating Sustainable Landscapes (Friday/Sunday).
Susan also wrote the cover story for the Spring 2016 Huron River Report, sharing success installing private rain gardens in our Swift Run Project and offering some great tips for those considering DIY rain gardens. Take a look, its a good read and will inspire you to start a rain garden movement in your neighborhood.
The Flint Water crisis is on everyone’s mind. We can’t get over that it happened, the long-term impacts, the tragedy, and where we go from here. At HRWC we are saddened and angry, but not that surprised. Over the last year many environmental debacles point to a serious threat to clean water and a safe environment. Starting with Volkswagen’s admission of cheating on emission testing to the natural gas leak in California, and now to the Flint drinking water contamination, they all highlight a lack of trust, judgment, and oversight on human health and safety issues. What shocks me the most though, is the lack of accountability and regulation. I shouldn’t be surprised given Michigan’s recent derision of regulation, budget cuts to environmental protection, and a focus on shrinking government. Michigan ranks 50th among state in government transparency.
In the U.S., drinking water regulations were first enacted by the federal government in 1914 addressing the bacteriological quality of drinking water. This regulation was later strengthened in the 1960s as it became clear that industrial processes were threats to clean water and human health. Local governments were to provide clean water and safely dispose of waste. Oversight of local governments and industry was an expected role of state and federal government.
Despite dozens of statewide environmental disasters (Enbridge oil spill, the Pall Gelman contamination, industrial clean-up sites), the State of Michigan has been shrinking the budgets and staff of the oversight and regulatory departments. In 1995 Governor John Engler split the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) into the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and MDNR. The DEQ mission is to promote the wise management of Michigan’s air, land, and water resources to support a sustainable environment, healthy communities, and vibrant economy. Governor Engler said the split secured more direct oversight of state environmental policy, but then he reduced the number of state environmental employees through budget cuts. A year later, oversight for drinking water protection was transferred from the Michigan Department of Health to the MDEQ. In 2009, Governor Jennifer Granholm briefly merged the MDNR and MDEQ again as the DNRE. In 2011, Governor Rick Snyder’s first-ever executive order, Executive Order 2011-1, split the DNRE, returning DNR and DEQ into separate agencies.
Additionally, the MDEQ’s budget and resources have been dramatically reduced. In the past 15 years, the general fund contributions to the MDEQ have been cut by 59% and the full-time equated positions have been cut by 25%.
The impacts of these cuts and the general disdain for regulation is prevalent in MDEQ leadership and has led to a minimalist approach by most staff. It is clear that the primary responsibility for what happened in Flint rests with the MDEQ, despite the Governor’s efforts to spread the blame. MDEQ failed in its responsibility to ensure safe drinking water in Michigan and, again, in its dismissive and scornful tone toward residents’, health care professionals’, and scientists’ discoveries and concerns. Worse yet, the blatant misrepresentation of facts and manipulation of data to cover for bad policy decisions at the cost of children’s health suggests an agency well off the rails of its stated mission.
I see these problems regularly in our mission to protect and restore the Huron. Permits are quickly issued with little review. Corporate and municipal self-reporting with little, if any, review is common. The pursuit of scientific understanding and application is given low priority. The MDEQ staff that regulate inland lake and streams are overwhelmed with permit reviews and enforcement activities resulting in rubber stamped permits that rarely get more than a cursory review (see HRWC’s winter newsletter for an example). HRWC receives dozens of calls annually from citizens impacted by poor permitting and design, natural resource destruction or pollution violations that, having called MDEQ staff, want some help. Without our staff reviewing the problems, making site visits, and/or making phone calls and using our connections and influence, nothing would happen. Even the most well-intentioned and competent MDEQ staff are only able to respond to the most pressing problems, and much pressure is put on them to get out of the way of economic development.
What can we do to avoid these same disasters from happening again? We need to remind the Governor about MDEQ’s responsibility to ensure clean water and push him to restore budgets, add staff and training, and support staff who serve that mission. Providing clean drinking water is a series of steps, a chain of events and actions starting with the source water. We need to empower citizens and agency staff to speak up and advocate effectively. We need to use science and water quality monitoring to develop policy and action. Finally, we must listen to the disempowered, to continue to take their concerns seriously, ask the questions and not take it for granted that expertise, good judgment and oversight are a matter of course.
For the past 50 years, we’ve been working hard to improve our watershed and we are seeing great results. More people are enjoying the recreational opportunities that our river provides. Their experiences are possible because of the improvements we’ve made in clean water, access, fish and bird diversity, local, state, and regional protections and laws, strong master plans, enforcement, restoration, and parks in river towns! Some of the signs of a vibrant and healthy ‘shed are the busiest canoe livery in the state, thousands of acres of protected high quality natural areas, a reputation as the cleanest urban river, active trails and trail towns, a national Water Trail designation, phosphorus reductions and a statewide phosphorus ban on residential lawn fertilizers, and some forward-thinking stormwater protection ordinances and rules.
That’s not to say our work is done. We have a lot more to do and the HRWC board and staff have developed some guiding principles to get us there. As our accomplishments have shown, HRWC protects and restores the river for healthy and vibrant communities. Our vision is a future of clean and plentiful water for people and nature where citizens and government are effective and courageous champions for the Huron River and its watershed. To achieve that, we:
- work with a collaborative and inclusive spirit to give all partners the opportunity to become stewards;
- generate science-based, trustworthy information for decision makers to ensure reliable supplies of clean water and resilient natural systems; and
- passionately advocate for the health of the river and the lands around it.
So, what is next? We will be out in the watershed monitoring our river and streams and natural areas. We will use that information to engage stakeholders and partners in taking actions to protect and restore the watershed. We will use that information to prioritize our outreach and education and other programs. Finally, we will inspire others to get to the river, enjoy the river, have a new experience, love it as much as we do, and care about its future.
We also have a few key opportunities we need to seize upon:
- As more people engage with the river, we need to instill a river stewardship ethic and provide clear options for action;
- In order to develop a collaborative environment that encourages different ideas, perspectives, and experiences, we need to attract and retain volunteers, members, and stewards that represent the diversity of socioeconomic, gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation that are representative of the watershed; and
- We need to celebrate innovative and effective solutions that are coming from the bottom up and work to build strong local leadership in support of them.
We have far-reaching goals and we need you to get them done. Please reflect on what inspires you to be a part of HRWC and where you can have an impact. And then join us as we all jump in to make the next 50 years as successful as the past 50.
One of my favorite spots to visit on the Huron is just downstream of the Flook (Portage Lake) dam and upstream of the old Bell Road bridge on the main stem of the river. The Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority (HCMA) opened a fishing access site on Dexter-Pinckney Road about 10 years ago. This section of the river is noted for it’s exceptional smallmouth bass fishery, but I love it for the gravel and cobble bottom, the shallow depth, and the clear, cool water.
It’s an perfect place to visit on a warm summer day for some wading and swimming. You must wear some footwear to protect the soles of your feet (the zebra mussel shells are pretty sharp!). But my family simply wades in and walks upstream and downstream exploring the rocks and riffles and the occasional plunge pool. It’s a popular spot for anglers but when I’ve visited it is relatively quiet and you feel like no one is around.
HRWC is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year!
Tell us your favorite watershed spot HERE.
Appreciate the River, Sunday July 12, by joining HRWC for some fun or heading to YOUR favorite spot with friends.
This year, HRWC is developing a new strategic plan in 2015 coinciding with the organization’s 50th year. As part of that process, we held a focus group of staff and board members and a core group of advisers to review and provide input into a new organizational mission, vision and core values earlier this year and at the recent annual meeting the HRWC Board of Director’s approved the new missives.
The Huron River Watershed Council protects and restores the river for healthy and vibrant communities.
We envision a future of clean and plentiful water for people and nature where citizens and government are effective and courageous champions for the Huron River and the watershed.
To achieve that, we do the following:
We work with a collaborative and inclusive spirit to give all partners the opportunity to become stewards;
We generate science-based, trustworthy information for decision makers to ensure reliable supplies of clean water and resilient natural systems; and
We passionately advocate for the health of the river and the lands around it.
Please let me know your thoughts or comments (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Next, we will engage in a visioning process with the staff this summer that will define and document a vision of success for the organization. With common vision in hand, the staff and board will have the foundation for identifying strategic goals, outcomes, and metrics. A proposed strategic plan will be presented for review to this Board at the October 2015/January 2016 meeting.
There is no wi-fi on the river but we promise you a better connection!
Saturday, May 16, 8 AM
Paddling Bird Watch, Bruin Lake Chain
Join Dea Armstrong and HRWC staff on the first HRWC Summer Recreation paddle of the year. This birding-focused paddle will be guided by expert paddlers Barry Lonik and Ron Sell. If you need a canoe or kayak Hell’s Canoe and Kayak Rental is donating boats. Please let us know if you need a boat.
Experience the quiet waters of the Huron River with expert paddlers Ron Sell, Barry Lonik, and the HRWC staff. The trip includes discussion regarding the river’s water ecology, history, and unique features. In addition to watercraft, bring your own gear, food, drinking water, binoculars, and appropriate clothing for the weather. Every paddler must wear a flotation device – bring your own.
To register, please fill out this form.
For a Paddler’s Safety Checklist click HERE.
All paddlers must register in advance.