Archive for the ‘Energy Conservation’ Category

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.

 

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.

Progress on Climate Change

On June 2, the EPA announced the Clean Power Plan proposal, which for the first time cuts carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. The proposal will protect public health, move the United States toward a cleaner environment and fight climate change while supplying Americans with reliable and affordable power.

The proposal would

  • cut carbon emissions from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels, which is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year;
  • Cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent as a co-benefit;
  • Avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days—providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits (in Michigan, our nine oldest power plants cost Michigan families $1.5 billion each year in healthcare costs); and
  • Shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system. Recent reports for Michigan show that renewable power is 26 percent cheaper than comparable coal-fired electricity, while Michigan customers save $3.83 for every dollar invested in energy efficiency programs.

States have until 2030 to reach the goal, and will be allowed to use a variety of strategies to reach the goal.  This flexibility will allow states to reach the goal with a minimum of disruption to their economies.  In fact, many studies predict that the rules will spur markets in alternative energy and energy consumption, creating jobs and resulting in cheaper electricity bills.

EPA published the proposed rule today (June 18) in the Federal Register and will take comments for the next 120 days (up until October 16).  EPA will finalize the standards next June.  Please add your voice and let EPA know you support the new rule.  You can use the suggested text below (from the Natural Resources Defense Council) or write your own, and submit to the EPA.

“Comment on existing source pollution standard [Docket: EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602]

“Dear Environmental Protection Agency,

“Thank you for proposing this standard to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants. Without these standards in place, polluters will continue to dump an unlimited amount of carbon pollution into our air.

“This is a critical part of President Obama’s plan to cut carbon pollution coming from power plants each year. With these limits we can avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change.

“Carbon pollution fuels climate change, drives extreme weather, threatens communities and cuts too many lives short. I urge you to stand strong against their pressure and adopt this critical new standard (Docket EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602).”

Two “Families” Save Their Way To Winning!

The Thomas-Rupley family and the Benjamin Linder Co-op in Ann Arbor save water, energy and money, reduce their CO2 emissions and earn free water from HRWC.

Both entered the HRWC Saving Water Saves Energy Project’s “Pledge, Save, Win” Contest in March. Both will get their first quarter water bill paid (up to $250) for their efforts.

Save Water Comic

A comic book of savings from Benjamin Linder Co-op.

The Co-op’s savings, estimated at 100 gallons per day, were led by Emma Kelly, the group’s sustainability steward. Emma helped her housemates save water by installing 5-minute shower timers and providing grey water collection buckets in each shower. Residents re-use the grey water to flush toilets. Emma also focused housemates on saving at the washing machines — advising them to wash only full loads on cold water cycles.

SWSE Pledge Contest Rain Barrel

The Thomas-Rupley’s save with a rain barrel.

The Thomas-Rupley family, estimated savings 31.5 gallons per day, has been living a water-saving lifestyle for some time. They made their own rain barrel for watering their garden, retrofitted their toilet to make it dual-flush and installed a low flow shower head. They also use left over drinking water for houseplants, and catch excess cold water from the kitchen faucet for use in their washing machine.  The Thomas-Rupleys also wash only full loads in their clothes washer.

Entries were judged for the amount of water saved, the savings techniques and for creativity in showing and telling how savings were achieved. Extra points were awarded for saving energy-intense hot water and full participation of the entire household!

Congratulations to the Thomas-Rupleys and the residents of the Benjamin Linder Co-op! Save on!

Ann Arbor Unveils Plan for its Urban Forest

A2ForestAfter three years of study and gathering input from residents, businesses, forestry experts and stakeholder groups (including HRWC), the City of Ann Arbor is taking final public comment on their draft Urban and Community Forest Management Plan.

The Plan describes the status of the city’s “urban forest,” which includes all trees within the city, from the forests in Bird Hills and other parks, to the trees lining its streets and in back yards.  One of the findings of the plan is that trees provide $4.6 million in benefits each year to the city.  These benefits include reducing stormwater runoff , improving water and air quality, moderating summer temperatures, lowering utility costs and contributing to property values.  HRWC was a member of the Advisory Committee that provided input on plan development and fully supports the goals of the plan.

The City is accepting public comment on the plan until March 28, 2014.  Comments may be submitted via:

email:  kgray@a2gov.org
fax:  734.994.1744- attn: Kerry Gray
mail:  301 E. Huron St., PO Box 8647, Ann
Arbor, MI 48107- attn: Kerry Gray

Paper copies of the draft plan are available upon request.  Please contact Kerry
Gray at kgray@a2gov.org or 734.794.6430 x
43703.

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Save Water, Save Energy, Win Free Water

That’s right! HRWC will pay the April water bill for three lucky families in the Huron River watershed, up to $250 each!Pledge, Save, Win

HRWC’s “Pledge, Save, Win” Contest encourages watershed homeowners to make the connection between water and energy. Saving one, means saving the other. Up to 13% of our nation’s electrical energy goes to pumping, treating and heating our water supplies.

There are just three steps for entering.

1 —  GO to www.h2oheroes.org, to watch a 60-second public service announcement.

2 — PLEDGE to do one or more activities to save water daily.

3 — REPORT what you did to save water by March 31, 2014. Reporting can come in the form of stories, videos, photos or other creative ideas. Winners will be selected based on creativity and effectiveness.

To help jump start your family’s efforts, www.h2oheroes.org has many tips and tools, including an online savings calculator, and a map to verify that you live in the boundaries of the Huron River watershed if you don’t know.

Winners will be announced by April 15, 2014.

“Pledge, Save, Win” is a campaign of the Saving Water Saves Energy Project, funded by a grant from the Masco Corporation Foundation.

Videos That Make a Difference

PSAs, PSAs and more PSAs . . .A Hero Rises

In addition to HRWC’s own PSA,  “A Hero Rises”  produced by our Saving Water Saves Energy project with Detroit Public Television and funded by the Masco Corporation Foundation, we are happy to report that several local college students have been bitten by the film arts bug! I am currently working with a terrific group of Washtenaw Community College students and their instructor Matt Zacharias to review and debut a bevy of Huron-related PSAs (coming in January).

And this is just in from the University of Michigan!

Ever wonder how people understand and make sense of climate change? Ever wanted to convince people that the issue is important? Well now is your chance.

The Erb Institute, in collaboration with the department of Screen Arts & Cultures, has sponsored a competition to create the best student-produced video aimed at engaging the public in climate change.

Public voting for student-produced videos for the Climate Change Communication Challenge is now open!

They challenged U-M students to create a public service announcement that would inspire positive action on climate change. Eleven teams of students put their skills to the test. Now is your chance to weigh in on the best video!

The video receiving the most votes will receive the $1,500 Popular Vote Award. The poll closes at 12 PM EST onThursday, November 21.

Spread the word! Encourage your friends, family, students, and colleagues to vote!

 

Autumn Tree Sale

The Washtenaw County Conservation District, sick a wonderful peer organization to HRWC, has an annual tree and native plant sale. This is a great opportunity to buy get into natives or purchase small saplings in bulk!

WCCD Tree Sale

Concolor Fir

Concolor Fir

If you want to plant trees this fall for such conservation purposes as windbreaks and screens, rx stormwater management, wildlife habitat, erosion control or reforestation, the Washtenaw County Conservation District is conducting a fall tree sale.  Orders will be accepted through September 27, sildenafil 2013 with tree pick-up scheduled for October 11, 2013.

Tree species available this fall include: concolor fir, red pine, white pine, blue spruce, Norway spruce and white spruce.  These are three or four year-old bare-root transplants which can be ordered in several quantities.  Also available are marking flags, fertilizer tablets, root dip moisture absorbent, Green Screen and Plantskydd animal repellents and Mosquito Barrier garlic concentrate to repel mosquitoes.

Information and order forms can be obtained from the Conservation District office, 7203 Jackson Road, Ann Arbor; on the District web site, www.washtenawcd.org (click on the Order Trees Now! link on the home page), or by e-mail or mail upon request.  For more information, contact the Conservation District at: (734) 761-6721 ext. 5.

Join our watershed students in taking shorter showers!

Our handy shower timer! Can you stop in 5?

Our handy shower timer! Can you stop in 5?

Mill Creek Middle School shower survey raises awareness on climate change, water and energy!

Seventh grade teacher Cheryl Darnton and her students learned about climate change this spring, capping off their studies with an experiment in water conservation. Will middle schoolers take shorter showers to help save water and energy?  Ms. Darnton began the study in May by surveying her 80 students, asking them to record how long and how often they showered. She also asked parents how often and long they thought their kids were showering. A few weeks later, Ms. Darnton gave all of her students some handy 5-minute shower timers compliments of HRWC’s Saving Water Saves Energy project (reducing a 10-minute shower to 5 minutes can save 12.5 gallons of water or more, depending on the flow rate). In June, students and parents took a final survey recording and observing how their shower times changed.

So, how did they do?

While the results weren’t overwhelmingly positive, there was some improvement. When asked, students reported that they had cut down their shower times – some by at least 10 minutes! The amount of students showering between 21 to 30 minutes went down by 12%, while the amount between 1 and 10 minutes went up by 18%. That’s a lot of change!

“I take shorter showers because of the red timer.”

Ms. Darnton asked the parents what they thought of the survey. Most parents said that it had a very positive impact on their children – 46% said that the timer decreased their shower times! One parent said, “Just being aware of counting the minutes of when the water is running has motivated her to use less.” Often, Ms. Darnton found that usage of the timer spread to the rest of the family. One student even said, “My brother uses it sometimes.”

Want to find out more about saving water and energy in your home? Visit our new H2O Heroes website!

Skyline students battle it out…

Who can take the shortest showers?

This past year, thumb a group of six students from Ann Arbor’s Skyline High School tapped into HRWC’s “Saving Water Saves Energy” project by producing a “how to” video for their school’s community. Inspired by the water conservation information they were learning, health they decided to create a unique contest for their fellow classmates.

These students, who were members of the Communications, Media and Public Policy magnet, wanted to see how their classmates were doing – how much water were they using? And if they were using a lot, why not teach them a little about water conservation?

Are you ready to rumble?

They challenged 30 students from each of the four magnet programs offered at Skyline to cut their water – and as a result, energy — consumption. The classes were competing for the shortest shower, and were encouraged to bring their times down to a quick five minutes per shower!

Our students talked to their peers about where their water comes from as well as the energy it takes to process and deliver the water they use every day. They hoped that with this awareness, students would bring advice home to their families and friends about water usage and conservation.

Each competitor took an initial survey to set a baseline, and then took daily surveys in the following week to see if they were able to cut down their shower time. At the end of the week the students looked at the results and found that the Health and Medicine magnet class cut their average shower time by five minutes, going from 15 minute showers to ten.

The winning class at Skyline High School!

The winning class at Skyline High School!

But I don’t want to!

The students found that coordinating this competition had some challenges. These included recruiting participants and making sure that everyone submitted accurate data. They visited classrooms often to remind everyone to take part. One class seemed to be submitting false data, and the students actually threatened to disqualify them!

Our students thought that this was a great project to work on within their school and would like to expand it in the future. They would like to include the rest of the school, or maybe even their district! They all acknowledged that there is a lot of potential in changing the habits of high school students, and with their input we can make a significant impact on the way Ann Arbor views water.


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