Archive for the ‘Green Infrastructure’ 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.

 

Community Techniques for Protecting Water Quality

Kris Olsson presents at the December 10 workshop

Kris Olsson presents at the December 10 workshop

Lively Discussions Lead to Learning

Over 60 people from the Huron River watershed and beyond gathered at the Freedom Township Hall to learn about Community Techniques for Protecting Water Quality. Elected and appointed officials from six townships attended the December forum on the vital role local governments play in protecting our region’s lakes, rivers, and streams and the natural areas that contribute to their quality. Attendees also included members of a variety of water protection groups and interested citizens, some driving as far as 200 miles from northern Michigan and Ohio.

Planning for community growth that protects natural areas is the key to ensuring clean water and vibrant communities for residents, businesses and farms. The goal of the forum was to share concepts, ideas and programs and to provide participants with an opportunity to learn from each other what works.

Harry Sheehan, the Deputy Water Resource Commissioner from Washtenaw County led the morning with an important overview on protecting water quality. Then Sally Rutzky and Erica Perry, Planning Commissioners from Lyndon and Webster Townships, communities HRWC has worked with to develop Green Infrastructure maps and plans, shared challenges and unique solutions to water and land protection issues. Monica Day, Michigan State University Extension educator, connected local water quality protection to statewide issues on the news like the Flint water crisis and algae problems in Toledo.

The forum was organized by HRWC, Mchigan State University Extension, Freedom Township, Pleasant Lake Property Owners Association, Michigan Lake and Stream Associations, the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner, Citizens Respecting Our Waters, and Washtenaw County Emergency Management.

Read about the event in The Sun Times News and the Manchester Mirror.

Forum presentations are available at HRWC’s Green Infrastructure page.

HRWC has received funding from the Knight Foundation to provide Green Infrastructure Planning Services to local governments.  This includes a workshop where residents and officials map out their community’s natural areas and greenways, an audit of their zoning ordinance, master plan and other policies, and technical support in enhancing policies to protect water quality and natural areas. If your local government would like Green Infrastructure Planning Services, email Kris Olsson or call her at (734) 769-5123 x 607.

HRWC Membership – Why Should You Join?

Greetings from the Membership Department and your friendly HRWC Membership Coordinator!

Did you know that membership support is critical to HRWC’s ongoing research and education efforts? Our membership has been growing each year, with most members contributing at the $35-$100 “invertebrate” levels (Mayfly, Crayfish, Dragonfly).  Just like in the watershed, the invertebrates are leading indicators of the health of HRWC and contributions at these levels provide over 60% of our annual membership income.

And what do we do with your money? The steady income from memberships allows HRWC to launch new programs in response to issues in the watershed – programs that do not initially have identified funding sources. When our efforts to ban the use of coal tar pavement sealants were just beginning, it was membership dollars that supported the initial research into the problem and how best to address it, which then led to our coal tar campaign to fund a broader effort to help local municipalities implement ordinance restrictions to reduce the use of this toxic material.

Some of our Green Infrastructure planning and Natural Rivers District work is also funded through membership support, which allows HRWC to send key staff members to local governments to assist in land use planning, ordinances and policies designed to protect the natural stretches of the Huron through several of our townships.

Membership also funds the little things, like when you call to let us know about an issue in the watershed. It might not seem like it takes much to respond to a call about clear-cutting property all the way to the riverbank, but once we get off the phone with you, we are making calls and sending emails to make sure the proper agencies are notified, and that they respond (so, yeah, members are funding our pestering abilities!). Often, one of our staff members will travel out to the property in question.

As a member, you can be proud of your connection to HRWC and your role in the important work we do every day in support of the Huron River and its watershed. Not a member? Consider getting in touch with your inner Mayfly and join our hundreds of other membership invertebrates! It’s easy to join online today.

News to Us

Microplastics issue far from solved. Image: Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr Creative Commons

Microplastics issue far from solved. Image: Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr Creative Commons

Stormwater management in a changing climate, buffering our rivers and lakes, emerging pollutants such as pharmaceuticals and microplastics, and drunk tubing (because, why not?) all in this edition of News to Us, HRWC’s monthly round up of noteworthy water news.

How Grand Rapids is prepping for the next big storm
Bridge Magazine takes an in-depth look at how two cities in Michigan are changing the way they build and rebuild to deal with heavier rainfall. Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor use innovative stormwater management practices to protect people and infrastructure from damage that can be caused by flooding.

Huron Natural River District One Step Closer In Webster
HRWC has been working with municipalities along the stretch of the Huron River designated a Natural River District.  Webster is strengthening protections for the river by adopting a local ordinance that requires buildings be set back a distance from lakes and rivers to minimize impacts of development to the ecological health and beauty of the Township’s water ways.

Emerging pollutants are those that are relatively new to our collective awareness of what negatively impacts our environment. Two recent articles illustrate the myriad ways that these pollutants show up and wreak havoc and how little we know about sources, impact and solutions. There is more work to be done.

And just for a little fun…

Fifteen hundred possibly drunk Americans successfully invade Canada via the St. Clair River
No this is not satire.  It is a real headline. A chuckle worthy headline.  None-the-less, a reminder to mind your manners and your neighbors when recreating in our state’s beautiful lakes and rivers. Read our Share the River Code here.

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.

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.

News to Us

France Climate Countdown

Eiffel Tower during Paris Climate Convention. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

News to Us covers a diversity of topics this month including articles that chronicle two significant threats to local water resources – stormwater runoff and coal tar pavement sealcoat, and three (yea!) bright spots highlighting solutions to – wastewater treatment, microbead contamination and global climate change.

Healing fractured water: How Michigan’s roadways impact our waterways. In Oakland County alone there is “nearly 2,700 miles of county roads that average 24 feet wide. With an estimated average annual rainfall of 30 inches, these roads generate over five billion gallons of stormwater runoff in just one year.” Learn more about roadway runoff, the issues and solutions (including mention of Ann Arbor’s Green Streets policy) in this article that is part of a series on the Great Lakes water cycle.

Coal tar sealants: Challenges ahead. This article provides a good overview of the issues associated with coal tar and other high PAH pavement sealcoats that residents commonly use to maintain and beautify asphalt surfaces.  This is an issue HRWC has been educating our partners and supporters about because of the significant water quality and human health impacts.  Read this article and visit our webpage www.hrwc.org/coaltar to learn what you can do.

Dexter Brewery Turning Wastewater To Energy. The City of Dexter and Northern United Brewing Company have come up with an innovative solution to a big water problem. Northern United has invested in a state of the art onsite wastewater treatment system that turns wastewater into energy and reusable water. This is allowing the company to expand its water use and treatment needs without overburdening Dexter’s municipal wastewater treatment plant.

Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris. Reason for celebration is the agreement reached at the Paris Climate negotiations last week.  The last set of negotiations in Copenhagen 6 years ago ended in gridlock and a lot of disappointing finger pointing with nations shirking responsibility, including our own. While there are significant weaknesses to the Paris accord, nearly every country signed the commitment including the U.S. and China, the world’s leading emitters. Many are viewing the accord the beginning of a global shift away from a fossil fuel based economy.  As global citizens we need to keep up the pressure on our countries to hold to their commitments.

U.S. House approves bill to ban plastic microbeads. News to Us has been tracking the issue of plastic microbead pollution in water for some time now.  Good news on this front as well. A bill banning this ingredient used in personal care products like soaps and toothpastes has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill now awaits a Senate vote.  A similar bill has be stalled in the Michigan legislature for some time now.

Geomorphologists Assemble!

HRWC recently hosted the first Michigan Aquatic Restoration Conference (MARC) with partners at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, Michigan Departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources, as well as business sponsors Stantec, North State Environmental, Inter-Fluve, and Spicer Group. Located at the retreat setting of the Kettunen Center, the MARC brought together over 120 agency and academic scientists and engineers and industry professionals from all over Michigan as well as several other Great Lakes states. Much of the conference focused on geomorphology, or the study of the processes that shape a river channel and produce the habitat that exists in its present state.

Studying the Pine River

Participants visited the Pine River to study a recent restoration effort.

The MARC was led off with a workshop on “Woody Debris Management” by one of the founding fathers of geomorphology, Dr. David Rosgen from Wildland Hydrology. He also provided a keynote presentation on lessons he has learned from more than two decades of stream restoration work. National restoration expert Will Harman from Stream Mechanics discussed a popular conceptual framework he developed — the “Functional Pyramid” — and discussed how restoration practitioners should seek to provide rivers and streams with “functional lift.”

Other presentations and discussions focused on the various and sundry nuances of stream restoration in practice throughout Michigan, the Great Lakes region, and parts south and west. There was a genuine excitement in the air throughout the conference as participants engaged in vibrant discussion about how to apply principles (some theoretical at this point) to stream restoration, in what is a relatively new applied science.

Local TV news coverage of the MARC

If you missed the conference this year, check out the MARC website for a sampling of the presentations and discussions, and keep your eye out for an announcement of the next iteration.

News to Us

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Volunteers collecting water quality data in Swift Run

Read articles on issues with water infrastructure in our watershed and Michigan-wide. Earlier this month the US Federal Court of Appeals made a ruling on a pesticide known to kill pollinators. Our water trail continues to make headlines. And the Swift Run creekshed is getting some special attention these days.


Ten surprising facts in Michigan’s new water strategy
In July, Michigan released a draft 30-year water strategy.  Much public discussion on the strategy has occurred since then. This is a blog written by Brad Garmon at the Michigan Environmental Commission that takes a little different look at the strategy.  Brad captures some startling statistics on the water assets Michigan owns and must steward.

Supervisor: Overuse causing discolored water in system
Lyon Township residents have been experiencing trouble with their drinking water. While the water remains safe to drink, some people are finding their water discolored. The township Supervisor attributes the color to iron in the water that occurs when backup wells are used to meet increased demand. The article highlights the issue of aging infrastructure with population growth and increasing water demand common throughout our watershed.

Michigan’s top 11 water trails named
The Huron River Water Trail was named one of the top water trails in Michigan by a public vote conducted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. But we knew that already didn’t we? Click through to see other awesome river destinations throughout the state.

Court: EPA Should Not Have Approved Bee-Killing Pesticide
A step in the right direction for the honeybee crisis. Bees and other pollinators have be in rapid decline. An agricultural chemical, sulfoxaflor, has been found to be one contributor to these declines. The lawsuit shines a spotlight on the role of federal regulators in this complex problem and will hopefully encourage more extensive testing of new chemicals before receiving EPA approval.

Swift Creek Improvements
HRWC’s Ric Lawson talks about a project we have underway to improve stormwater management and water quality in the Swift Run tributary of the Huron River.   Learn about the problems in Swift Run and the solutions HRWC, Washtenaw County and the City of Ann Arbor are supporting to improve the river.

The Power of Water

So far we have had a pretty wet summer. I am sure that is not news to you. The river levels are well above average all along the Huron. Generally this is a good thing, viagra as it keeps the tributaries flowing, provides new habitat for critters to populate or feed at, and allows more of the river to be floated by us all.

Sometimes these higher flows can be bad. The current is more rapid making it difficult for fish and other wildlife to move against it to find food or shelter. Strong currents can also be dangerous for paddlers.

In some places, sales our actions as humans, interacting with and changing the structure of our environment, exacerbates the consequences of heavy rains, which are occurring more frequently due to climate change. In natural environments, heavy rains slowly collect (after saturating the soil) and flood lowlands and eventually the river after a long period (days, even). In built up environments with lots of hard, impervious surfaces, and straightened channels or underground pipes, the rain does not even have a chance to soak into the ground, let alone move out into a flood plain. The result can be a rapid rise in water level and velocity that can be destructive or even deadly to wildlife and humans alike. A good example of a built-up area like this is Allens Creek in Ann Arbor. Over 90% of the stream in this tributary watershed is piped underground, and over 40% of the land cover in the watershed is impervious.

During a 3-inch rain storm on June 14, the top video here was recorded at the outfall of Allens Creek to the Huron River, just downstream of Argo Dam. The flow out of Allens Creek exceeded 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) on two separate occasions during the storm, and hit a peak flow of 1,350 cfs. The flow returned to its usual trickle within a matter of hours. The second/bottom video shows what it looked like the next day.

Nothing could survive, human or otherwise, in a concentrated flow with such a velocity. The flow is strong enough to send logs and boulders downstream and scour the river bed of any finer materials or living plants. Note how the downstream river condition following the blast looks more like a Rocky Mountain gorge river than the Midwestern meander the Huron usually is. Such “flashy” flows are not natural, and HRWC is working with partner municipalities to change the way stormwater is managed. New approaches utilize green infrastructure to capture and infiltrate rains into the groundwater before they hit the pipes or streams. Other, larger storage projects, like the one under Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor or in Mary Beth Doyle Park are being installed to hold storm flows back. It all makes a difference, but more is needed to overcome past actions and return our streams and the river to a more natural state.


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