Archive for the ‘Cleanups’ Category

Standing Strong for Clean Water

In the last 5 months HRWC has been regularly expressing our concern on changes to federal policy, legislation, and the budget.  I want to share with you a few of these letters and comments and assure you that HRWC is there to face new challenges coming while continuing our work to protect and restore the river for healthy and vibrant communities.

hrwc20The Healing Our Waters Coalition (HOW) composed a letter defending the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) which, under the President’s budget, would be cut completely.  HRWC signed on to this letter that stated, “The potential wide-ranging budget cuts impact many agencies that are critical to the success of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, as well as those that ensure people throughout the country have access to safe air and clean drinking water. Millions of people in the Great Lakes region and across the country—including many communities which have borne the brunt of racial, environmental and economic injustice—will pay a steep price if Congress does not reject the proposed cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and agencies like U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and others.”

HOW Coalition’s letter pushing back against the Trump Administration’s proposed budget cuts and in support of funding Great Lakes programs attracted a record 152 groups that signed on to the letter that sent a strong message to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to fund these important programs.

In response to President Trump’s regulatory reform efforts, HRWC signed on to 3 letters and participated in a national video.

One letter outlined HRWC’s objections to this proposed regulatory reform.  “We object to the false premise that public safeguards are holding back our nation.  In reality, environmental protections have saved lives, improved health, conserved resources and spurred innovation, all while allowing for economic growth and providing far more in benefits that they cost”.  In addition, HRWC signed on to a regional Great Lakes letter that outlined environmental and economic reasons for environmental protections in the Great Lakes region and highlights the importance of policies like the Clean Water Act in protecting vulnerable communities.

I was also interviewed for a video compiled by the Clean Water Network and the River Network that includes leading river protection groups talking about the importance of federal legislation on regional clean water efforts.  This video was compiled at National River Rally in May in Grand Rapids,  a conference for over 600 river and water champions.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency led the charge on another very important program facing budget cuts.  EPA’s highly successful WaterSense® program is a voluntary public-private partnership that has saved American consumers more than $33 billion (in 2015 dollars) on their water and energy bills over the past decade. WaterSense is a voluntary program, not a regulatory one, and it costs less than $2 million dollars a year to administer. It is universally supported by consumers, manufacturers and the public and private agencies charged with supplying water to American households and businesses. Since its inception in 2006, it has been immensely successful at achieving its goal of reducing water consumption. An estimated 1.5 trillion gallons have been saved using WaterSense-labeled products.

While of lesser significance to HRWC, we also signed on to letter opposing efforts to repeal or undermine protections for national parks and monuments spearheaded by the National Parks Conservation Association.

Finally, HRWC has been providing stories of our success with federal funding, legislation, and policies to national groups, policy makers, and legislators.  These on the ground examples are being used to illustrate the importance of federal grants and programs and to provide concrete water quality improvement stories.

HRWC is lending its voice and success stories to the national dialogue on federal environmental policies, budgets, and legislation.  We believe this is an example of how to Stand Strong for Clean Water.

Take Back Your Prescription Medications

Help protect local water and prevent teen substance abuse!

You can make a difference.

Pain Medication Take Back Day October 8, 2016

Take Back Day, Sat Oct 8, Pioneer High School, Ann Arbor

Take your unused medications (both for people and pets) to the UM’s Pain Medication Take-Back Day
Saturday, October 8, 10am-2pm, Ann Arbor’s Pioneer High School Parking Lot
Check the link for a listing of accepted items.
(hosted by the Ann Arbor Police, the Institute for Healthcare and Policy Innovation, and the Division of Pain Research)

Unused prescription medications are both a water quality issue–(A US Geological Survey study concluded that 80% of streams sampled contained detectable levels of compounds found in common medications) and a teen substance abuse issue (Partnership for Drug Free Kids reports that prescription medicines are now the most commonly abused drugs among 12 to 13 year olds).

Disposing of medications through a take back program keeps them out of our water and gets them away from the home where teens have access.

There are lots of drug take back options (many Sheriff Stations, pharmacies, State Police) throughout the Huron River watershed. We have found the most complete information at Washtenaw County’s Don’tFlushDrugs.com. Look closely at listings for what drugs each program accepts. Some will not accept controlled/scheduled drugs (in compliance with the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), enforced by the Drug Enforcement Administration) and some will.

Quick links at HRWC’s Take Action Take Back Drugs page.

 

Dioxane and other clean-up criteria may be delayed again!

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:

Coalition for Action on the Remediation of Dioxane

WEMU news coverage

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.

Flint Water Crisis: an HRWC perspective

Capitol Building

Michigan State Capitol, Lansing

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.

 

 

News to Us

dte site

In this edition of News to Us read about the impact of water resources on Michigan’s economy and how the State and energy providers are responding to the recent EPA rule on reducing carbon emissions associated with power production. The MichCon cleanup site and Nichols Arboretum’s School Girls Glen are also highlighted in the news recently.  Finally, dive into Popular Science this month for a full read on water.

Michigan’s University Research Corridor plays major role in protecting and advancing Michigan’s ‘Blue Economy’  At the recent Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference a report was released quantifying the impact of local universities’ investments in water research, education and outreach.  “Innovating for the Blue Economy” speaks to the importance of water resources to Michigan’s economy.

Michigan gets ready for EPA’s proposed carbon rules  What is the response, in Michigan, to EPA’s plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants? This piece reveals, generally, the State’s major power companies are not surprised by the rules and have been decreasing the amount of energy derived from coal for some time now. However, coal is still the primary source of energy in DTE’s portfolio at around 50%.  The State is left to determine how to reach the federal goal of 30% reduction in carbon pollution from power generation by 2030.

Redevelopment of riverfront MichCon site in Ann Arbor in the works  A 14-acre riverfront environmental cleanup site in Ann Arbor may have a developer to lead the redevelopment as soon as this fall.  Mixed-use development is proposed for the site including public access to the river and greenspace.  HRWC has been an advocate for the cleanup and smart redevelopment of the property which could help connect downtown and the river.

The vanishing of Schoolgirls’ Glen Read a historical account of a special spot on the watershed map – Schoolgirls’ Glen.  The Glen has a unique history. Now part of the UM Nichols Arboretum, it has been damaged by the encroachment of development and poor stormwater management. Efforts are currently underway to help restore this place which is home to a diversity of plant and bird species.

Popular Science – Water Issue 2014 And if you really like to get your feet wet in water issues and news, this month’s Popular Science magazine is designated entirely to the topic of water.  The What’s in Your Drinking Water infographic is a particularly interesting look at the problem of pharmaceuticals in our water. There is also a good Q&A on the water/energy nexus, a concept we explore here at HRWC in our Saving Water Saves Energy project.  There is also a compelling piece on water conservation and conflict, among others.

And that is the news to us.

Being a Creekwalker (Part 2)

The adventure continues!

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

Are you interested in being a creekwalker? You can recruit your own family and friends to join you on your team or ask HRWC to assign you to a team. This year’s 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

Now that the initial visit and thermometer placement was out of the way it was time to schedule the second visit. Like our previous trip, real life issues came up for most of the team, and Erin and myself continued our team of two.

Mosquitos can be bad during a creekwalk, depending on the location and weather. Long pants and long sleeves may be a good idea! Right, Erin?

Mosquitos can be bad during a creekwalk, depending on the location and weather. Long pants and long sleeves may be a good idea! Right, Erin?

We decided that Erin would handle the writing duties while I took the reading and pictures. This time around we were supposed to check for signs of wildlife and pick up any garbage. After her last losing battle with mosquitoes Erin came prepared this time. Long sleeve shirts and real insect repellent were in order. She even sprayed me down to try to keep the bugs at bay. It didn’t work.

Woods Creek was pretty much in the same state as the last time we were here. We entered at the first bridge and got to work. We took a few temperature and water conductivity readings and not much had changed. Since I didn’t have to concentrate on the readings, I spent more time checking out what signs of life there were. Erin is more of an herbologist than I am so she kept track of the plant life. She was rattling off plant names and I just took her word for it. I’m not a vegetarian.

Like last time I spotted some smaller bait fish but couldn’t get a good enough look at them to see what they were. When we got to the water thermometers I saw some larger fish hiding underneath the stump but again I couldn’t get a good look to see what they were. What I did see were a lot of crayfish. These guys I was very interested in. I wanted to know if they were native crayfish or the non-native rusty variety.  For the rest of the walk I tried to catch one and for most of the walk my efforts were pretty futile. Just as I was about to grab one it would take off and disappear in the silt. Even with my advance warning system screaming every time one ran across her foot, I still couldn’t corner one long enough to grab it.

Mark had a good time catching and identifying crayfish on his creekwalk.

Mark had a good time catching and identifying crayfish on his creekwalk.

Eventually I caught one and it wasn’t a Rusty. So far so good. I was able to catch a couple more and they were all native crayfish as well. I don’t know what kind exactly, but they weren’t Rusty crayfish. I’m sure the Rusty’s will eventually work their way into this creek but for now no sign of them.

One of the other things we had to do during this trip was pick up garbage. I’m glad to say that there wasn’t much. I expected to find plastic worm containers, fish line, and empty cans. All I really found was some pieces of broken glass and an old shirt.  Nice to see that there wasn’t much trash!

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Stayed tuned for the third and final part of Mark’s creekwalking experience.

Being a Creekwalker (Part 1)

 Scout and Walk a River

This past summer, several teams of volunteers participated in a new program: Creekwalking!

Mark Schaller was one of those volunteers, and he wrote about being a Creekwalker for the Downriver Walleye Federation newsletter, the fishing organization that he belongs to.  Mark has given HRWC his permission for us to reproduce his adventures here on our blog.

Are you interested in being a creekwalker? You can recruit your own family and friends to join you on your team or ask HRWC to assign you to a team. This year’s 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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Mark Schaller tests the water in Woods Creek.

Mark tests the water in Woods Creek.

Guest Author: Mark Schaller

Several months back I received an email from the Huron River Watershed Council. They were looking for volunteers for a new program they were starting up, Creek Walking. The council members are trying to collect data on the hundreds of miles of creeks and tributaries that feed into the Huron River. Since funds are tights for this kinds of field work they need volunteers. I volunteered!

I had to attend a training meeting to find out what this was about. I was going to be part of a 5 person team that was assigned to Woods Creek. This little stream is located in Lower Huron Metro Park. My team and I would be making visits throughout the summer to take readings, pictures, clean up garbage and record any observations concerning wildlife or any aquatic critters. Seems simple, right? Oh, was I in for a surprise.

I was worried about the water levels at this time as the prior weekend the levels were about 4 feet above normal and made wading the stream hazardrous.  I stopped by two days prior to our field day and the water had dropped some. My fingers were crossed that a few more days and no rain would finally allow the team to do the initial testing.

On our field day, myself and another teammate, Erin, were the only ones who were able to make it.  The two of us packed up the gear and headed to the stream. The water level was back down to normal so we waded in. After one step I remembered that I never fixed the leak in my hip boots. Erin just waded in with what she was wearing. She soon found out that the all natural insect repellant that she was wearing didn’t do a thing for her. They attacked her in swarms. For some strange reason they left me alone, not that I was complaining.

Woods Creek in July! Looks nice, doesn't it?

Woods Creek in July! Looks nice, doesn’t it?

Part of our work was to take temperature and water conductivity readings. The meter that HRWC gave us takes both temperature and measures the ions in the stream.  Anything under a reading of 800 microsiemens meant that the water was clean and healthy. We had to take a reading every 30 feet and make it with GPS coordinates as well.All of our readings were around 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) and a conductivity of around 800. All seemed good. The stream itself had a gravel bottom the whole length we checked. A good sign for all those Steelheaders out there. A staff member of HRWC told me that they have had reports of steelhead fingerlings this far up the Huron so this may be a viable spawning area for them.

Another part of our job was to take pictures of the surrounding vegetation and make notes of any aquatic or land based wildlife. We didn’t see any critters but did see lots of baitfish in the stream. As far as insects go, there were a lot of damselflies and of course about a gazillion mosquitoes. Because of this and the total failure of Erin’s repellant we hurried through our sampling and got off the stream in a hurry. She was was a little annoyed that I never got bit. Sometimes it’s good to be me.  She was a good sport about it though and offered to enter all our data into the spreadsheet we were given. I volunteered to go through the pictures and the file names and GPS coordinates to the datasheet.

Mission Accomplished! Our task for another day was to walk upstream in Woods Creek and continue the process.

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Stayed tuned for part 2 of Mark’s creekwalking experience.

 

 

 

 

 

Senate approves bill to battle algal blooms

The Senate last night approved legislation from a bipartisan group of lawmakers to boost federal efforts against the harmful algae blooms that haunt many of the nation’s waters.

S. 1254, the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2013, is sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and 18 colleagues, would authorize interagency work on algae blooms and the dead zones, suffering from a lack of oxygen, or hypoxia, that they frequently spawn. The legislation would also create a national program with a research plan and action strategy. The legislation also requires the interagency Task Force to: (1) submit within 18 months to Congress and the President an integrated assessment that examines the causes, consequences, and approaches to reduce hypoxia and harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes; and (2) develop and submit to Congress a plan, based on such assessment, for reducing, mitigating, and controlling such hypoxia and blooms.

The upper chamber approved the legislation by unanimous consent.

Algae blooms, a result of nutrient pollution that washes off farm fields and suburban streets and comes from wastewater treatment plants, are an entrenched problem across the United States. Sprawling algae blooms on Florida’s east and west coasts this summer kept people from the water and contributed to the deaths of sea animals, including the highest recorded annual death count for manatees (Greenwire, Dec. 20, 2013). Closer to home, nuisance algal blooms impact Ford Lake and Belleville Lake, impoundments of the Huron River, reducing access to the waters for fishing, swimming, and other outdoor pursuits.

“We can’t sit back and let endangered creatures disappear along with jobs in the fishing industry,” Nelson said when he introduced the legislation in June.

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River Scouts Successes Continue

 Success!

Cleaning up the Huron from Dexter Huron to Delhi Metropark

Cleaning up the Huron from
Dexter Huron to Delhi Metropark

This spring saw two nice river cleanups and a clearing workshop. In April we hosted a guest presenter from the Friends of the Rouge to help train new and experienced HRWC volunteers. William Craig who co-created the Clean and Open method taught how to take out enough woody debris for river paddling, while leaving as much debris as possible for healthy stream ecosystems.

Earlier in May we had two river cleanups. A dozen volunteers paddled from Dexter Huron to Delhi Metropark. Simultaneously, another dozen folks on floatboats put in at Flat Rock and picked up debris down to South Rockwood.

A Little Work To Do…

Downriver Cleanupphoto by Jimmy Chang

Downriver Cleanup photo by Jimmy Chang

Woody Debris Removal. We need a few more folks to help our newly trained woody debris removers. No experience necessary, but a willingness to get dirty and wet while being safe and helpful!

Stream Walks. Join us on June 9 (2pm) to learn how to walk the Huron’s tributaries and identify problems you see along the way.

If you’re interested in either of these contact Jason, jfrenzel@hrwc.org.

Thank You!

A HUGE thanks to REI for financially supporting the River Scouts programs over the past three years, and continuing that support this year! Thanks goes to Green Oak Township for allowing us to use your conference rooms! Thanks to Bill Craig for sharing his expertise and experience. Thanks to Schultz Outfitters for coordinating the Flat Rock cleanup (and buying hotdogs!). Thanks to the City of South Rockwood and Delhi Metropark for picking up the trash after we delivered it! Thanks to the Huron River Fishing Association for showing up in force! Thanks to Skip’s Canoe Livery for loaning boats for the Metropark cleanup! Thanks to Whole Foods for the snacks! And, of course, thanks to all the volunteers for your hard work, inspiration, and perspiration!!!

 

Happy 40th, Clean Water Act!

Clean Water Act Huron River

In 1972, the Huron River Watershed Council was a seven-year-old organization with a staff of one part-time director caring for a river that changed color (and odor) depending on which industry was dumping waste water into it.

Forty years later, a full-time Executive Director oversees a staff of ten professionals who study, plan, implement and facilitate for the benefit of the Huron River and its communities. Quantifying the impact of the Clean Water Act of 1972 on this watershed is challenging yet undeniable.

Since the 1990s, when the US EPA began awarding grants through the provisions of the Clean Water Act, HRWC has received about 24 grants valued at over $3,000,000 that reach into all communities of the watershed with the unifying goal of making the river more swimmable, fishable and drinkable. These grants have restored creeks, protected high quality streams, and developed forward-looking plans that commit stakeholders to restoration and protection actions.

Add to those impressive numbers the low-interest loans and grants awarded to HRWC’s partners for drinking water, waste water and storm water infrastructure improvements, and the investment in the Huron River watershed through the Clean Water Act is unmatched. Of course, the Act provides more than financial resources; it gives citizens and communities a tool to advocate for and expect clean water.

In this auspicious year of presidential and local elections, learning about the Clean Water Act is an important step to understanding its reach and value. The US EPA, the  federal agency primarily responsible for implementing the Act, highlights the 40th anniversary, as well.

HRWC is honored to share the podium on October 18th at a 40th Anniversary Celebration of this landmark legislation with one of its architects, Congressman John Dingell, on the banks of the Huron River in Flat Rock.

Everyone is invited to be a part of history at Huroc Park (Arsenal and Huron Streets) where the Congressman will make remarks and be joined by other speakers including HRWC Executive Director Laura Rubin and Elizabeth Riggs for RiverUp!

Rain or shine, friends of the Huron and fresh water everywhere will come together to celebrate the Act’s legacy and share hopes for the future.


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