Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

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.

Powerful Tools for Your Clean Water Toolkit

New resources and training for waterfront (river and lake) property owners.

Pleasant Lake, Freedom Township, by Lon Nordeen

Pleasant Lake, Freedom Township, by Lon Nordeen

Michigan Shoreland Stewards provides recognition for lakefront property owners who are protecting the waterquality and ecosystems of inland lakes through best practices. These include reducing fertilizer use, maintaining septic systems, creating fish habitat with woody debris and native aquatic plants, and using native trees, shrubs and wildflowers to capture runoff and prevent erosion. The free web-based questionnaire is designed to guide you through the practices and help you determine how to achieve Gold, Silver or Bronze status. Qualifying properties get a certificate and a sign. Many of the practices can be adapted for riverfront properties.

Wisconsin’s Healthy Lakes website includes five simple and inexpensive best practices that improve habitat and water quality on your lakeshore property. Factsheets, technical guidance and detailed how-to information for creating fish habitat at the water’s edge and on using native plant buffers, diversion, rock infiltration and rain gardens to capture and clean runoff. Most practices apply to riverfront properties.

Upcoming Workshops

Sat, March 25, 2017. Protecting Your Shoreline: A Workshop for Inland Lakefront Property Owners, Michigan State University 3-25-17_natural_shoreline_workshopExtension, Oakland County Executive Office Building Conference Center, Waterford, Michigan. For property owners interested in creating, restoring and managing natural shorelines. This workshop is designed to educate on natural erosion control methods and will discuss techniques for using natural landscaping along the shoreline for erosion control and habitat while maintaining the aesthetic value of the lakefront. Register by March 22.

Fri-Sat, April 21-22, 2017. 56th Michigan Lake and Stream Associations Annual Conference, “Bridging the Resource Gaps: Enhancing the Ability of Lakefront Communities to Prevent and Manage Aquatic Invasive Species,” Crystal Mountain Resort, Thompsonville, Michigan. The conference will provide participants with the knowledge, information, and ideas to improve their lakefront community’s ability to prevent and/or manage aquatic invasive species. Learn more about the latest efforts to control invasive mussel populations, the status of starry stonewort in Michigan waters, purple loosestrife management initiatives, and the efforts of the Michigan Swimmers Itch Partnership. MiCorps Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program will also hold its annual volunteer training at the MLSA Conference, on Friday.

 

Make a Difference… Be a Scientist on Earth Day

Join a team of kids, teens, adults, and retirees during the River Roundup as you explore creeks and rivers.

Join a team of kids, teens, adults, and retirees during the River Roundup as you explore creeks and rivers.

Earth Day falls on April 22 this year, and not accidentally, so does HRWC’s spring River Roundup.  Perhaps the idea of Earth Day may strike you as a little disheartening this year, in our current political climate of science and environmental budget cuts, and widespread doubt in scientific data.  Are we making a difference at all?  Or is our country reverting back to an era of rivers catching on fire?  What is so disheartening to me personally is not a looming Federal budget that will remove funding for the Great Lakes and environmental regulation (though that is terrible, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not surprised by this), but to see so many people who agree with this course of action. Still, there is room for hope in our future, and that hopes lies in you—the many people who want clean water and clean land and who stand strong with HRWC to work for it.

Consider volunteering with us. Every participant makes an immediate difference at our local level.  HRWC volunteers collect scientific data in southeast Michigan, primarily in Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties. For the upcoming River Roundup on Earth Day, volunteers will be looking for aquatic insects that tell us about the health of the Huron River and its tributaries, and ultimately about the health of all the land that drains into the Huron.  This information gives HRWC the knowledge to conduct effective river management projects and the authority to speak  intelligently on water quality issues with local, state, and federal government, landowners, and  other decision-makers.

And in the process of collecting scientific data, HRWC volunteers are learning and teaching others.  It is always so exciting to see the adult HRWC volunteers interacting and teaching children, teens, and college students about river systems, insects, and the environment.  And in as many cases, to see the kids teaching the adults! This is the type of education that will create the long term cultural change needed in our country.

Make a difference locally by acting now to help HRWC collect scientific information that informs our management decisions and local policies; change the future by teaching the younger generation in the process. The River Roundup is on Earth Day, April 22.  Learn more about the River Roundup and register at http://www.hrwc.org/volunteer/roundup/

Engage, Engage, Engage

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!

Ann Arbor floodingSo 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.

 

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.

 

Enjoy the Outdoors?

Erin Burkett examines giant leaves on a recent assessment. Can you identify the tree?

Erin Burkett examines giant leaves on a recent assessment. Can you identify the tree?

Get Outdoors and Support the Huron River!

We need volunteers to join our natural area field assessment teams!

Get outside, meet new people, learn about our local natural areas and help out HRWC’s Bioreserve Natural Areas Assessment program! HRWC is seeking field volunteers to help inventory ecologically important natural areas in the watershed.

Volunteer teams will be conducting rapid ecological assessments of grasslands, forests, wetlands, and aquatic habitats throughout this spring, summer and fall. Each visit is like a nature hike through a new woods or wetland.

The 2016 season marks our nineth field season; volunteers have so far assessed over 300 properties throughout S.E. Michigan.  These efforts have helped protect over 6,000 acres of land in the watershed. Land conservancies and community preservation programs use the data gathered to promote permanent protection of those lands identified as the highest quality and most important for protection of the Huron River. Come to our program introduction and training on

May 14, 2016
10 am to 4 pm 
at Independence Lake County Park, in Whitmore Lake

For more information, contact Kris Olsson at 734-769-5123 x 607, kolsson@hrwc.org.

Wild & Scenic Film Festival Comes to Ann Arbor, April 21

Celebrate Earth Day! Watch inspiring award-winning films like “eXXpedition” and meet local non-profits working together to protect the environment.

eXXpedition

“eXXpedition” follows the journey of 14 women who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on a scientific research mission to make the unseen seen – from the plastics and toxics in our oceans to those in our bodies. A story of sailing, science, female leadership, exploration, citizen engagement and the vital interconnections between human and environmental health – it aims to inspire hope for a healthier future.

Wild & Scenic Film Festival
Date:  Thursday, April 21, 2016
Location:  Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty, Ann Arbor
Time:  Doors open at 6pm; films start at 6:30pm

Tickets are available online through the Michigan Theater.
$10—general admission
$8—students and seniors and donors to any of the presenting organizations
$7.50—Michigan Theater members (Gold members will not be admitted for free) and host organization members

Featured films include eXXpedition, Monarchs and Milkweed, I Heard, Soil Carbon Cowboys and HRWC’s own Osprey Return to the Huron, produced by local film makers 7 Cylinders Studio.

Motivation to take on the world’s most pressing environmental challenges often stems from a personal connection to nature and the resources involved. Wild & Scenic films speak to the environmental concerns and celebrations of our planet telling stories about the environment and outdoor adventure.

The Wild & Scenic Film Festival On Tour is a collection of films specially chosen by local hosts from the annual festival held the third week of January in Nevada City, California. Now in its 14th year, the 5-day event features over 150 award-winning films, guest speakers, celebrities, and activists. The home festival kicks-off an international tour to over 150 communities around the globe.

The Wild & Scenic Film Festival Ann Arbor is hosted by a unique partnership of six locally based environment and nature organizations – The Ecology Center, Huron River Watershed Council, Legacy Land Conservancy, Leslie Science & Nature Center, School of Natural Resources and Environment through the University of Michigan, and The Stewardship Network.

Working for the Huron at Home

In addition to being the director at HRWC, I own a home. As a homeowner we’ve been trying to reduce our carbon footprint and save water and energy.IMG_0104

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 . . .

Rain Gardens

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.

Solar Panels

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.

For You!

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.

Quiet Water Symposium, March 5

Plan your summer paddling adventures!

Algonquin canoe routes, the Georgian Bay coastline, the Grand Traverse Islands, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Canada’s Yukon and Teslin Rivers, Lake Superior, the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, the Huron River and more will be featured by over 30 presenters at the 21st Annual Quiet Water Symposium.

Join the Huron River Water Trail for “RiverUp! in Moving Pictures,” a screening of 4 short films, produced by RiverUp! in Moving Pictures, 2pm, Betsie RoomHRWC with 7 Cylinders Studio that tell the story of our river’s revitalization. Talks from outdoor recreation experts on camping secrets, top backpacking treks and kayaking college campuses in Michigan, packing, portaging, safety, cycling and nature photography along with demonstrations and exhibits round out the day.

Date:  Saturday, March 5, 2016

Location: The Pavilion for Livestock and Agriculture Education
(Farm Lane, south of Mt Hope – on the campus of MSU)

Time: 9am to 5:30pm
(RiverUp! in Moving Pictures, 2pm in the Betsie Room)

Admission: Adults $10.00; Students (with ID) $5.00; Under 12 Free

Exhibitors include clubs and nature centers, handcrafted and historic watercraft, conservation and watershed groups, outfitters, liveries, and biking, hiking and water trails.

Come to QWS to plan your summer paddling adventures!

FOR MORE INFORMATION: www.quietwatersymposium.org

Widget-HRWTThe Huron River Water Trail is a 104-mile inland paddling trail connecting people to the Huron’s natural environment, its history, and the communities it touches in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

Happy World Wetlands Day!

In honor of World Wetlands Day today, we at HRWC thought we’d share a little bit of info about our wetlands here in the Huron watershed.

Huron River wetland in Ann Arbor Township.

Wetlands – Nature’s Kidneys

Wetlands, along with floodplains and shorelines, are critical environmental areas. Wetlands are saturated lowland areas (e.g. marshes and swamps) that have distinctive soils and ecology. Wetland areas filter flowing water, hold flood water, and release water slowly into surrounding drier land. These functions are critical to keeping the Huron River clean and safe for wildlife, drinking, paddling, fishing, and swimming. See our Wetland Page for more details.

The Huron Watershed’s Wetlands

The Huron watershed is home to many kinds of wetlands (the Michigan Natural Features Inventory lists 26 different kinds of wetlands that exist in our watershed!); including wet prairies, hardwood swamps, and bogs. Unfortunately, due to agricultural drainage and development, only about half of our wetlands remain.

Wetland Protection

With all the ecological services that wetlands provide to the River, it is important to keep our wetlands healthy and restore wetlands when we can. HRWC highly recommends local communities enact wetland ordinances, along with building setback requirements from wetlands, to protect our remaining wetlands.

HRWC’s Bioreserve Project is mapping and assessing wetlands and other natural areas to help target conservation efforts (come to our Field Assessment Training to learn how you can assess wetlands and other natural areas), and our Green Infrastructure programs are  working with communities to protect existing and create new wetland areas, to restore the landscape’s ability to filter and control stormwater runoff.

What You Can Do

Volunteer with HRWC, learning to evaluate wetlands (their special features and plants) on May 14 at our Field Assessment Training and then join us this summer for some field assessments!

 

 


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