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Archive for the ‘Adopt-A-Stream’ Category

Can stoneflies warn us of a changing climate?

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Stonefly larvae courtesy of the Flickr Creative Commons.

This post was written by guest blogger McKenzie Powers who is working with HRWC this year through the University of Michigan’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. McKenzie is researching indicators of climate change in rivers.

It is mid-January and we southeastern Michiganders have been quite spoiled thus far with fairly mild winter conditions. While we are feeling more familiar conditions currently, temperatures in the mid 40’s over the holidays with little snow to date kept it feeling more like autumn than winter. Although, us folks at the Huron River Watershed Council are feeling curious and slightly concerned about what these warmer temperatures mean in relation to one of our most climate sensitive aquatic buddies, the stoneflies.

With our annual Stonefly Search quickly approaching, we have been busy with our noses deep in piles of research trying to gain a better understanding of how stoneflies are affected by a changing climate. Macroinvertebrates, including stoneflies, are important in freshwater ecosystems because of the many different jobs they perform, which include processing of organic matter, nutrient cycling, and decomposition. Stoneflies are known to be one of the most vulnerable groups of aquatic insects because of their specific needs related to temperature and dissolved oxygen.  Several traits common in stoneflies make them particularly susceptible to impacts from climate change. They have limited dispersal potential and therefore have difficulty migrating to areas with more suitable conditions. They are large bodied with less efficient respiration than some other types of aquatic insects so dissolved oxygen needs are high. The highest dissolved oxygen levels occur in cold and flowing waters.  They also have lower reproductive capacity making populations more susceptible to impacts from drought in warmer months when eggs can be damaged from warmer, drier conditions.

A study conducted in 2014 by scientists from the University of Duisburg-Essen, used a multi-trait approach to assess the climate change vulnerability of stoneflies and other macroinvertebrates. Researchers created a vulnerability scoring system with those least vulnerable scoring a 0 and those highly vulnerable scoring a 6. Species vulnerability was measured by analyzing temperature preference, altitude preference, stream zonation preference, life history, and a few other factors. The results showed that 60 species of stoneflies were recorded with a vulnerability score of 4 or more.

HRWC has collected stonefly data for 21 years.  We can look at this data not only for signals of pollution but also of climate change.  We are currently grazing the literature for our ‘canaries in the coalmine’.  Are there ways we can look at our stonefly data to see where and how climate change is impacting our macroinvertebrate community? Are the strategies we are employing to help the Huron River system adapt to climate change actually working? With projected climate change and temperatures on the rise, these data collections give us insight on our current water quality and help us determine strategies for a cleaner and more favorable future.

Join us this weekend in our efforts to collect stoneflies from throughout the watershed.  Registration closes today.  Visit http://www.hrwc.org/volunteer/stonefly/ to register!

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Hershkovitz, Y. et al, 2015. A multi-trait approach for the identification and protection of European freshwater species that are potentially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Ecological Indicators. 50; 150-160.

What’s hot and what’s not in the Huron River Watershed

Streams ranked from best to worst: Where does your favorite fall?

On October 3, HRWC volunteers spread across Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties and looked for the aquatic insects and crustaceans that indicate the water and habitat quality of our river and creeks.  

2014 10 18 RU by John Lloyd (8)

Sampling Traver Creek in October. credit: John Lloyd

Using this and other environmental data collected by HRWC volunteers over the past 20 years, I have developed a ranking of the various streams in the Huron River Watershed.  Streams listed at the top of this list have the best aquatic life and habitat in the Huron, and streams at the bottom of list are extremely impaired with little aquatic life and highly disturbed habitat.

Volunteer-collected data directly contributes to our knowledge of the conditions of the watershed and is a key component in directing management and restoration activities.

If you want more details on the ranking below, HRWC will present it and other data findings on January 12, 2016, 6 pm at our office (1100 N Main Street, Ann Arbor). All are welcome and no registration is required.

Ranking of Aquatic Life and Habitat (from best to worst)

Excellent

1. Huron Creek (Dexter)

2. Woodruff/Mann Creeks (Brighton)

3. Honey Creek (Pinckney)

4. Huron River (Upstream of Proud Lake)

Good

5. Woods Creek (Belleville)

6. Boyden Creek (west of Ann Arbor)

7. Pettibone Creek (Milford)

8. Fleming Creek (Ann Arbor)

9. Huron River (from Proud Lake downstream to Zeeb Road)

10. Portage Creek (Multiple townships to the northwest of Ann Arbor and north of Dexter)

11. Mill Creek (Dexter and Chelsea)

12. Hay Creek (east of Pinckney)

Fair

13. Arms Creek (Webster Township)

14. Huron River (Ann Arbor and downstream)

15. Davis Creek (South Lyon)

16. South Ore (Brighton)

17. Honey Creek (west of Ann Arbor)

18. Chilson Creek (west of Brighton)

Poor

19. Horseshoe Creek (Whitmore Lake)

20. Downriver Tributaries (Port Creek, Bancroft-Noles Drain near Flat Rock)

21. Traver Creek (Ann Arbor)

22. Malletts Creek (Ann Arbor)

23. Norton Creek (Wixom)

24. Swift Run (Ann Arbor)

25. Millers Creek (Ann Arbor)

Full River Roundup report is available for download.

 

Autumn Roundup: October 3

Find insects, crayfish and other small river creatures as a part of the River Roundup!

Kids and adults welcome! Photo by Rick Martin

Kids and adults welcome! Photo by Rick Martin

Join a small team with your friends and family for a unique activity and (hopefully) some time in gorgeous spring weather! Collect a sample of the bugs and other creatures that live in our streams.  Like canaries in a coal mine, these creatures indicate the health of our creeks and rivers.  In healthy places, the amount of life  in these fresh water systems is amazing!

All volunteers first meet in Ann Arbor, and then trained volunteer leaders take you to two stream sites, where you help them search through stones, leaves, and sediment.  Only trained volunteers have to go in the water.  Dress to be in the field for a couple hours.   Please register.

Children are welcome to attend with an adult.

WHERE: Meet at the HRWC office in Ann Arbor.  Then car pool to two streams in Livingston, Oakland, Wayne and/or Washtenaw Counties.

WHEN: Two times: October 3, 2015 from 9:00 AM to 3:30 PM, or 10:30 AM to 5 PM

DEADLINE: Registration closes on September 30, 2015.

NEXT STEPS: Fill out the registration page for the time and general area that you desire to work in.

1. 9 AM. Washtenaw and Livingston Counties

2. 9 AM. Belleville and Flat Rock

3. 9 AM. Western Washtenaw and Livingston Counties

4. 9 AM. Oakland County

5. 10:30 AM. Washtenaw and Livingston Counties

MORE INFO: Please email Jason at jfrenzel@hrwc.org.

PHOTOS and STORY: Get a sense of what this event is like from a HRWC volunteer here.

My Huron River (Arms Creek)

One of the perks of my job as a co-director of the Adopt-a-Stream program at HRWC is that I get to see places that many others miss out on.  And so while I love the main branch of the Huron River and spend many hours at our metroparks, I decided to focus on a small creek in Webster township– Arms Creek.

An HRWC volunteer explores Arms Creek.

An HRWC volunteer explores Arms Creek.

Arms Creek at the intersection of Walsh Road is known internally here at HRWC as “Adopt-a-Stream Site Number 1″, meaning that it was the first site to be picked as a part of the program way back in 1992.  The watershed council and our many volunteers have been visiting this location and collecting information on this creek for 23 years! The creek contains many insect families that are sensitive to pollution and their presence tells us that the creek has good water quality.  In fact, the insect population has been getting better over time, so conditions here have improved over the past 20 years.  A thick riparian zone of trees and shrubs provides ample shade for the creek and plentiful groundwater inputs keep the water quite cold.  Many decades ago, the DNR actually stocked Arms Creek with trout, which is very rare for the Huron Watershed, but not enough fisherman utilized the creek to make this worth the cost. Last year HRWC staff wrote a creekshed report for Arms Creek, which can be found here along with a clickable and zoomable map.

 

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The shores of Independence Lake

The Arms creekshed also contains Independence Lake, a beautiful county park located only a few miles from my
house and a spot that my family visits many times during the year. In the summer it is our go-to spot for swimming and waterslides, and in the other seasons we play on the playground and take walks through wetlands and fields. Winter is a great time to visit as the park is all but deserted.  Last winter we spent a long time throwing rocks onto the lake and listening to the musical “plunk-plink-plunk-pppppppp” of the rocks echoing and reverberating against the ice.

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“More rocks, Daddy. More rocks!”

Sunshine, bugs, and volunteers

Now that is a lot of sunshine!

Now that is a lot of sunshine! credit: Kristen Baumia

People enjoying nature!

We could not have asked for better spring weather for our 120 volunteers on April 18!  They soaked in the sun and warmth while visiting 50 different creek and river locations across the Huron River Watershed. Held twice a year, HRWC’s River Roundup is one of the most effective ways that HRWC has to understand how the water quality of the river and creeks may be changing. From the macroinvertebrates collected during this event, we are able to keep abreast of the health of our waterways throughout the watershed. You can see all the results in April 18 River Roundup Report.

Highlight

Mill Creek is the largest tributary to the Huron River, draining  143 square miles of land, 68 of which are agriculture. Agricultural impacts have certainly taken their toll on Mill Creek, with some Mill Creek’s tributaries no more than straightened ditches, and the creek has phosphorus and E.Coli issues that come from fertilizers and animals. However, great things are happening in Mill Creek, including the removal of Mill Pond Dam in Dexter, stream stabilization projects, landowner education, and a renewed interest in bringing residents to the waterfront. 

Changes in the EPT families on Mill Creek, Shield Road. The red line shows the Mill Pond Dam removal.

Changes in the EPT families on Mill Creek, Shield Road. The red line shows the Mill Pond Dam removal.

As a part of the River Roundup, volunteers regularly visit 9 sites on Mill Creek (the main branch and several tributaries).  Four of these sample sites are showing significant improvements in the macroinvertebrate populations, indicating improving water quality and habitat.  These four sites are Shield Road (near the mouth), Manchester Road and Klinger Road (both in the headwaters), and Fletcher Road (on the north branch).

Shield Road in particular seems to be doing quite well with several highly diverse samples taken since the removal of the downstream dam.  The graph to the right shows the changes in the EPT (mayfly-stonefly-caddisfly) family diversity, with the red line in the middle of the graph indicating the dam removal. Samples in the early 2000′s were particularly poor with only 2 or 3 families found, and now we are regularly finding  6 or 7. Insect families that are now found which were not found previously include Baetid mayflies, Isonychia mayflies, Leptophlebia mayflies, and the Philopotamid caddisfly.

You can learn more about Mill Creek from our creekshed report.

Lowlight

South Ore Creek has fewer insects than we would expect despite areas of great habitat. When this happens, the likely culprit is some type of chemical pollutant.

South Ore Creek has fewer insects than we would expect despite areas of great habitat. When this happens, the likely culprit is some type of chemical pollutant.

If you have read these updates before, you will recall that we have learned that several streams in Livingston County have had significant reductions in their insect populations over time.  In fact, of the 62 sites that we monitor across the Huron River Watershed, 20 are in Livingston County, and 9 of those have statistically significant reductions. In contrast, HRWC monitors 30 sites in Washtenaw County and the insects at 12 sites are statistically improving while zero are declining.  Now, this may simply be a coincidence, as it is difficult to explain why a political boundary can make such a difference in insect populations.  But the data speaks pretty clearly; among others, Davis Creek (South Lyon area) has been declining, and South Ore Creek (Brighton area) is also getting worse.  Thankfully, both of these creeks could still be considered relatively healthy (when compared to more heavily urbanized creeks like Malletts), but we have to make some extra efforts to get these creeks to reverse their negative trends.

 

What’s next?

You should be a creekwalker! In this unique program, you will walk up and down a stream, exploring it and looking for possible pollution sources.  Join by yourself, with friends, or with your family.  Learn more about it at http://www.hrwc.org/volunteer/creekwalker/.

HRWC staff take it on the road

HRWC staff frequently presents our work at conferences and convenings both locally and farther afield. We don’t always get around to sharing that information with our followers, but May has been particularly full with such opportunities to share Huron River programs while learning from colleagues and making new connections. Here’s a snapshot of those appearances . . .

RiverUp! @ River Rally

Some river people say that if you can attend only one conference each year, then it should be River Rally. More than 400 members of the river and watershed conservation community gathered in early May at Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico, and I was happy to be among them. My session titled “Transforming Your River into Main Street” showcased our RiverUp! efforts to restore and revitalize the river corridor through diverse partnerships, creative financing, and community engagement. Terrific reactions and conversations ensued with attendees from around the country such as Connecticut, Ohio, and California. Rally is hosted by River Network, a network of more than 2,000 state, regional and local grassroots organizations whose primary mission is protecting water resources.

The Rio Grande near Albuquerque, NM

The Rio Grande near Albuquerque, NM

Lakes Monitoring @ Boyne

Paul Steen reprised his trainer role at the annual Cooperative Lakes Monitoring training hosted by the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association at Boyne Mountain Resort, Michigan. The 50 participants, from all over Michigan, attend to improve their skills in various water quality measurements for lakes. The training attracts registered participants in the Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program (CLMP) and other interested people about how to make water quality measurements and nearshore habitat assessments on their lakes. CLMP is the second oldest lake volunteer monitoring program beginning in 1974 by the state natural resource agency. Check out the inaugural webinar training co-hosted by Paul from earlier this month for details on the CLMP.

Climate Preparedness @ National Adaptation Forum

Rebecca Esselman represented HRWC at the 2nd National Adaptation Forum in St. Louis. While in the Show-Me-State, she participated in a day-long workshop on “Collaborating for Climate Preparedness” where a local non-profit pairs with a local municipality partner to learn about various examples for collaborating. Matt Naud, City of Ann Arbor Environmental Coordinator, joined Rebecca. The National Adaptation Forum, hosted by the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, gathers adaptation practitioners from around the country to foster knowledge exchange, innovation, and mutual support for a better tomorrow in face of climate extremes.

Contact me if you would like to continue reading about HRWC Staff appearances like the ones mentioned in this blog.

Stoneflies! Cute AND educational!

Stonefly Search 2015 Wrap Up

A Surprisingly Pleasant January Day
So cute! Who wouldn't want to spend a cold Saturday in January looking for one of these?

So cute! Who wouldn’t want to spend a cold Saturday in January looking for one of these?

You never know what a Michigan January will bring; last year HRWC was forced to cancel the Stonefly Search because of sub-zero temperatures and blizzard conditions.  But this year, on January 17, 125 intrepid volunteers enjoyed bright sunshine and 30 degree weather as they spread across the Huron River watershed. They were in search of stoneflies, which are only found in clean and healthy streams.  Everyone made it back safe, and not a single leaky wader was reported! Overall, it was a great success!

The results are in, and are given in this pdf report.

What We Found

1. Usually when we look at the data after an aquatic bug search, we see that some sites do better than normal, some sites do worse, but most sites stay the same. This was a strange year because while most sites stayed the same, several did worse than normal, and none did better.  Overall, the count of stonefly families was down about 10% from our last sampling event (2013). There is no clear explanation for this; weather conditions were great and the ice wasn’t any thicker than other year.  We will start to be concerned if we continue to see this happen year after year. However, there is always natural variation in the data and collecting and this year will likely not be the start of a downward trend in terms of the overall sampling.

 

Caroline, HRWC Intern and volunteer, scours Malletts Creek in hopes of scoring a Capnid.

Caroline, HRWC Intern and volunteer, scours Malletts Creek in hopes of scoring a Capnid.

2. That being said, there are specific locations that have shown long-term degradation. For example, Honey Creek in Ann Arbor. The team searching for stoneflies in Honey Creek at Wagner were unable to find stoneflies. This site has been sampled 14 times since 1995, and this is the first time that stoneflies could not be found. This is a site with lots of turbulent highly oxygenated water and should be a great place for stoneflies. Taken in isolation, the absence of the stoneflies at Wagner Road would not be concerning given that this is a single sample.  However, two upstream Honey Creek Adopt-a-Stream sites used to have stoneflies but haven’t in years.  Stoneflies haven’t been seen in Honey Creek at Jackson Road since 2008; they haven’t been at Honey Creek at Pratt Road since 2003. All of the pieces combined indicates that the overall quality of Honey Creek is degrading over the last decade.

3. Davis Creek at Pontiac Trail is another location where the stonefly population has dropped over time. This change is concerning because it happened slowly over the last ten years and our spring and fall samples show a very similar pattern.  In the early 2000s we regularly found one or two stonefly families at the creek, but they started to drop off and now have not been found since 2009.

4. All this doom and gloom needs to be put in perspective, though. Remember, most of the sites we visited were as healthy as ever.  Of the 61 Adopt-a-Stream sites that HRWC uses to assess the overall water quality of the watershed, stoneflies are regularly found at 38 of them. In other words, 62% of our watershed has very high water quality and habitat. This agrees with recent analyses of other HRWC data, showing that 66% of the watershed was good to very high quality, 28% was fair to good, and 7% was highly impacted (2014 State of the Huron)

Next on the horizon!

Interested in doing more with our macroinvertebrate searches?  Think about becoming a trained leader or collector by coming to the next training on March 29.  This is an extremely important job because every team needs both a trained leader and collector, and we often do not have enough to meet the demand.  Sign up for the training!

 

The team gathers around the white trays to sort debris and hunt for stoneflies!

The team gathers around the white trays to sort debris and hunt for stoneflies!

 

 

STONEFLIES!

2009-Stonefly-TrainingWednesday is your last chance to sign up for the January 17 Stonefly Search !

Join a small team led by a Stonefly Hunter who goes in the river so you don’t have to. You will be amazed at the lively creatures living under the ice.

Help HRWC collect data for a long-term study of our watershed. Aquatic insects are sensitive to their surroundings and can tell us about problems in the river and its streams.

Reserve your place at www.hrwc.org/volunteer/stonefly/ No prior experience needed.

This event lasts roughly 5 hours, is FREE and the activities are suitable for all ages, from responsible children to seniors.

Measuring a Stream

Community High students at Traver Creek by Haley Buffman

Community High students at Traver Creek.
Photo by Haley Buffman

Have you ever found yourself in the shower or washing the dishes thinking to yourself, “Self, I wish I knew more about geomorphology.” Well, you are not alone! In fact, HRWC’s geomorphology support group meets in just a few weeks and it’s likely a good idea that you attend.

HRWC’s Measuring and Mapping project teams up all sorts of cool people (like you!) to quantify (really – we’re using this word per it’s definition, not it’s typical public use as of late) how the GEOMORPHOLOGY of our bug collection sites is changing over time.

Now, you’re going to have to trust us that this “data” is “useful” and simply attend the “training” support group. Well, or you could read Tony, “the volunteer extraordinaire,” Pitts’ writeup on the matter, here.

Registration and details may be found by mousing over and left clicking the hyperlink found here:
www.hrwc.org/volunteer/measure-and-map.

Fine Print: HRWC staff will do our best to ensure your safety and preparedness. Be advised, this is not an assurance of our abilities to do so, nor our professionalism therein.

 

Being a Creekwalker (Part 3)

The adventure comes to a close!

You can read Mark Schaller’s first post and second post about his experiences with HRWC’s Creekwalking Program.

Are you interested in being a creekwalker? You can recruit your family and friends to join you on your team or ask HRWC to assign you to a team. The training is on June 10, 6:30- 8 pm. Check out this webpage and email Jason at jfrenzel@hrwc.org to volunteer.

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Guest Author: Mark Schaller

It all comes down to this, the final visit.  This time, I arrived early so I could set some crayfish and minnow traps.  I had seen fish on earlier visits but could never get a good look at any of them.  The deepest part of the stream was where I placed the thermometer so I figured that would be a good site for a trap.  I also placed a crayfish trap further upstream in a rocky area hoping to catch some more crayfish and get a good positive ID.  Everything was set!

Creekwalkers look pick up trash, take water measurements, and record and photograph erosion and infrastructure problems.

Creekwalkers pick up trash, take water measurements, and record and photograph erosion and infrastructure problems.

As I walked back to my Jeep, Erin was heading down the trail.  After our “Hello’s” we headed back to the parking lot to get the rest of the gear.  We picked up the paperwork, meter, measuring stick and my camera and headed back to the stream.  Our starting point was where I placed my crayfish trap and we had 6 crayfish already in the trap.  As I started to pull them out for pictures I found that 3 of them were the invasive Rusty.  The other 3 were northern crayfish.  They were a lot bigger than the Rusty’s so I’m hoping they are holding their own against them.  Too bad; after our last trip I thought that there weren’t any Rusty’s in here.

In midsummer, Woods Creek is a great place to sit down and soak in the cool water... if the mosquitos aren't too bad.

In midsummer, Woods Creek is a great place to sit down and soak in the cool water… if the mosquitoes aren’t too bad.

We then started by taking the water temperature and conductivity readings. When we reached the halfway point I handed the GPS and water conductivity meter over to Erin.  She wanted to see how the meter worked and I needed to get some pictures of her as well.  She took about 4 more readings and then next thing we knew we were at the end of our sample area.  All that was left now was for Erin to compile all the data and for me to turn it in with all the equipment. Mission Accomplished!

I have to say the creekwalking experience was a lot of fun.  Walking up and down Wood Creek brought back a lot of fond memories of myself as a kid exploring all the creeks and streams of my youth.

Good times.

________________________________

Our big thanks go to Mark and Erin, and all our other creekwalking volunteers, from this past summer!


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