Archive for the ‘Lakes’ Category
Let’s hear what you think about the future of state public lands……
Governor Snyder has tasked the Department of Natural Resources with developing a public land management strategy which will assist regions in meeting their prosperity goals. The plan is a requirement under a law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder last year that capped how much land the DNR can own. The DNR has drafted a strategy and wants to hear from you.
I attended a regional meeting last week that provided an interactive discussion on our region’s priority community, economic, and environmental strategies that are impacted and enhanced by public land resources (state parks, recreation areas, access, and game areas). We discussed the main strategies in the draft plan–the pros and cons, what is missing, the challenges to meet them, and how to have better collaboration.
To summarize: “The draft land use strategy calls for improved access on DNR-managed public lands and, for the first time, sets a standard for public access to the Great Lakes and rivers. The draft plan also includes a new strategy for the possible disposal of approximately 250,000 acres of DNR-managed public lands and promotes increased opportunities in southern Michigan. The plan also discusses objectives to grow Michigan’s natural resources-based economy through the use of DNR-managed public lands.”
The highpoints for me are:
1. Improved management and greater collaboration are needed and I welcome the emphasis!
2. Increasing public land opportunities and/or access and recreation in Southern MI, where the greatest population lives, makes sense and supports HRWC RiverUp! efforts.
3. The word BIODIVERSITY is missing and given the current threats (see earlier blog Forests and Waters At-Risk in Michigan) I worry about an overly strong emphasis on timber and mining where the economic benefits are more easily quantified than biodiversity and habitat protection.
The Huron River Watershed is lucky to have a wealth of state public lands from Highland to Proud Lake State Rec. Areas and from Island Lake to Pinckney State Rec. Areas. If you use these lands and care about the future of them please review the DNR strategy and comment!
This edition of News to Us starts with a success story and we all like success stories. Learn also about the islands of plastic polluting our Great Lakes. We share a few opportunities to attend public events on flooding and fracking. Read also a refreshing perspective on approaching river conservation by finding common ground among individual objectives.
A Tern for the Better: The Detroit River Comeback The common tern has returned to Belle Isle after a 50 year absence. The refuge on Belle Isle is a bright spot showing what can be when we invest in wildlife habitat even in the most urban of places. Read about the successes of our neighbors to the north.
Polluting Plastic Waste Invades Great Lakes: Pacific Garbage Patch May Have a Rival This article brings to light a less often cited, yet major source of pollution in the Great Lakes. Plastics in our waters have implications for birds, fish and other organisms in the food chain. Consider finding ways to keep plastics out of our waterways like switching to reusable bags and cleaning debris and trash away from stormdrains that carry plastics directly to our waterways during rain events.
Ann Arbor kicks off $1.2M study of sewer system, footing drain program and basement sewage backups It is the wet season again. Spring rains rejuvenate our rivers, groundwater, forests and landscaping. But for some households the rains can mean problems when water ends up in basements or sits on roads. Ann Arbor is holding a public meeting to provide updates on ongoing efforts to reduce damaging flooding including an assessment of the sanitary sewer system and footing drain disconnection program.
Sunday Brunch: A tiny trickle turns into a torrent of conservation issues for Michigan This blog from Helen Taylor, State Director of the Nature Conservancy in Michigan, shares a nice perspective on river protection. She encourages individuals and groups to consider the “whole-system” rather than a more personal view of the river with an eye on shared goals rather than win-lose propositions—a healthy lens through which to envision the path to a healthy river serving many purposes for many interests.
University of Michigan to hold town hall on future of fracking in the state For those interested in learning more about the practice of fracking to extract natural gas, University of Michigan is hosting a forum on the topic this evening. As far as we are aware, there are no plans for fracking in the watershed at this time but there is very active debate on this topic at the national and state level.
Sadly, not a lot of good news has come across our desks over the past couple of weeks. Instead, we are hearing of major losses, or potential losses, in the gains we have made with our nation’s waters over the decades since the Clean Water Act. It is a signal that we cannot let up on our efforts to protect our freshwater, and the life it supports and the services it provides.
EPA Declares More than Half of US Rivers Unfit for Aquatic Life – A recently released report from the Environmental Protection Agency identified 55% of US rivers and stream are in poor condition for aquatic life. Major culprits include reduced riparian vegetation, phosphorus, nitrogen, mercury and bacteria. We are losing ground on our high quality rivers. Only 21% of US rivers qualified as “good biological condition compared to the 27% that fell into that category in the 2004 assessment. In the Huron, phosphorus is a big concern, as is bacterial pollution. Learn more about local water quality here or listen to a summary of our water quality monitoring results from 2012.
Judge ends federal court oversight of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department The utility responsible for delivering drinking water and treating wastewater for 4 million customers in Southeast Michigan has been under federal oversight for 35 years. Oversight will now move to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality due to significant improvements in compliance with environmental regulations. The new State permit calls for additional improvements to the facility’s wastewater treatment operations.
Spring Rain, Then Foul Algae in Ailing Lake Erie The Huron’s receiving water, Lake Erie, is in trouble. Toxic algal blooms in the lake are getting worse causing problems for fish populations, tourism and beaches. The lake had seen vast improvements since the Clean Water Act helped halt industrial pollution. Now, we are losing ground primarily due to phosphorus pollution primarily from farming practices. Climate change and zebra mussels are also cited as contributing to the problem.
Hydraulic fracturing in Michigan: Waiting for the boom So far, the Huron River watershed and much of Michigan has not been subject to natural gas extraction via the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process that has many states debating costs versus benefits of the method. The method uses a lot of water and a slurry of chemicals deep into the earth. This article shares why fracking has not yet come to our backyard and under what conditions it may.
The effort to derail ‘Biodiversity Stewardship Areas’ in Michigan Here is another voice in the debate over Senate bill 78. This is a very important issue to us and anyone who values our state’s natural areas and their inhabitants. We will continue to keep you up-to-date on our website. To learn more about the issue and how to voice your opinion see our blog Healthy Forests and Waters At-Risk in Michigan .
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.
We glimpse the future under a changed climate
Weeks of air temperatures above 90 degrees F have lots of people talking about extreme weather and the role of climate change. Such extreme heat yields myriad human and environmental effects. A previously unexplored effect is the stress that court-established water levels on lakes will have on the Huron River system under drought conditions that are projected by climate scientists to occur with greater frequency over the next 30-50 years.
State laws at odds
Michigan law prohibits reduced river flows under Section 324.301 of the 1994 Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act. The section states that diminishing an inland lake or stream is prohibited without a permit. ”Diminish” means to reduce flows to a creek, as happens when gates of a lake level control structure are closed.
However, read a bit further and you’ll see that Michigan law allows for reduced river flow under Section 324.307. Under this law, lake residents are allowed to obtain a regulated lake level by building a lake-level control structure that maintains a lake’s water level while reducing flow to downstream lakes and rivers. Lake residents are motivated to pursue lake levels to make it easier to boat, recreate in the lake, and build docks that they can reliably use despite changes in weather conditions. Many lakes in the watershed, including in-line lakes that are impoundments of the Huron River, have court-ordered lake levels.
Lake residents are able to obtain these designations through a process with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Once a lake level is set by a judge, then the county government (often the Drain or Water Resources Commissioner) is responsible for altering the outflow of the water from these lakes via structures so that the the lake is able to maintain a constant depth. Dams are one type of structure used to control flows. Other structures like the one pictured above also are present in the watershed.
Typically, though not always, the DEQ gives section 307 precedence over section 301, meaning that permitted lake-control structures are allowed to diminish the downstream lake or stream in order to maintain their lake levels.
Keeping a lake level in drought conditions
Maintaining a court-ordered lake level may go unnoticed during periods of normal or wet weather. But this manipulation of a natural system has the potential to stress the ecology of the lake during drought periods. Since the county is obligated to maintain a certain water level it is possible that they would need to “hoard” incoming water and only allow reduced flow — or even no flow — downstream. The graphics below show a simple input and output system to illustrate the issue.
Under typical flow conditions, the amount of water entering a lake will equal the amount of water leaving the lake, plus any additions from rain, and minus any water lost through evaporation. Under drought conditions, the amount of water entering the lake is already reduced from low stream flows, no additional input is provided from rain, and the amount of evaporation can be significantly high. As a result, it is possible that the county would have to close the gates altogether to maintain the lake’s court-ordered water level, and no water or very reduced flows will reach downstream to keep the fish alive or provide water to the next lake or river section downstream.
How can the situation be improved?
For the waterfront resident
Given the current hot and dry conditions in southeastern Michigan, waterfront residents likely are seeing reduced water flow especially if living downstream of a lake with a court-mandated lake level. Understandably, this imbalance of “water power” may feel unfair and residents could be looking for a fast and easy solution to secure more water for their section of the river or lake. Such a solution doesn’t exist. Aggrieved residents have sought justice through our legal system. Typically, these cases are eventually dropped since droughts end and rain, and consequently higher water flow, mute the problem.
Yet, droughts are predicted to become more common and more severe over the next several decades, and we may see a resurgence of court cases.
A measure of relief may be found in the operation of the structures. Some lakes have an ungated pipe or dam bypass that drains downstream, so that some amount of water is always flowing downstream, even when the dam’s gates are completely closed. However, such a bypass is not a requirement in obtaining the establishing a legal lake level. Building this in a requirement would be an important and wonderful safeguard to ensure that some level of water is always going downstream.
And for the river
The DEQ has the responsibility to examine the problem with stream flow as it relates to drought and mandated lake levels. In particular, giving the priority of maintaining lake levels over allowing for run-of-the-river flows is dangerous for the survival of downstream ecosystems when facing drought situations.
After speaking with DEQ staff, I am happy to report that the issue is on their radar and under consideration. HRWC will keep an eye on this complex issue at the state level, and work with local partners to find workable solutions to this increasingly urgent problem.
While we don’t have much great lakes coastline in the Huron River watershed, this is an important issue for the health of the Great Lakes–clean water and a healthy and diverse ecosystem.
Last week the state legislature voted to pass SB 1052, which deregulates beach grooming activities between the ordinary high water mark and the waters edge, an area the Michigan Supreme Court considers part of the public trust along Great Lakes shorelines.
The bill is on its way to the Governor now, and we are asking for a veto. His contact info is: 517.335.7858; RickSnyder@michigan.gov
In its final form, this bill:
- Removes the requirement that property owners get a permit before mowing or removing vegatation within that zone.
- Allows mowing live Phragmites all the way down to the water’s edge without any state review whatsoever ~ the very thing that spreads this destructive invasive! It could undo the fantastic success rate of controlling it using community programs, from Mackinaw City to Manistee.
- Allow removing all plants on broad areas of shoreline ~ destroying habitat for 90% of Great Lakes fish species and decimating good fishing for future generations.
- Eliminate state restrictions for mechanical plant removal on Great Lakes shorelines ~ this is not in line with our Pure Michigan values.
Native plants provide critical habitat for breeding waterfowl, filter polluted runoff and protect the shoreline from eroding. Removing native plants encourages invasives to take over. AND REMEMBER: this bill replaces a successful General Permit (GP) program that has been in place for 5 years; 600 applications received and only 4 denied! That is not an onerous regulatory program! But the beach grooming bill it is what this legislature has decided will replace that GP program.
Please make it to the Governor to veto this terrible bill. Thanks for your work. His contact info is: 517.335.7858; RickSnyder@michigan.gov
Michigan’s Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program enters its 39th field season!
One of my jobs at the Huron River Watershed Council is to serve as a manager for the state of Michigan’s volunteer lake monitoring program, the Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program (CLMP). The CLMP has been around since 1974… that is an impressive length of time!
Since that first year, the thousands of volunteers across Michigan have:
- Taken 92,185 secchi disk measurements
- Grabbed 4,274 water samples for phosphorus analysis
- Filtered 5,956 water samples for chlorophyll
- Made 2,023 observations of the dates that ice melted off their lakes
- Measured dissolved oxygen and temperature 52,290 times and created 3,486 dissolved oxygen and temperature lake profiles
- Searched 17 lakes for exotic plants and mapped out full plant communities on 12 lakes.
All of this delicious data is entered by our volunteers and staff into a publicly accessible and searchable database!
In total, 827 inland lake basins have been monitored through one test or another through the CLMP. Michigan lake volunteers have contributed about 57,400 hours of work, not counting the time spent driving samples to State offices and going to trainings. Assuming field technicians across this time period would make an average of $9/hour, that means these volunteers have donated well over a half a million dollars in labor.
If you live on a lake, HRWC wants you to care for it and do what you can to keep it healthy. The first step is to figure out what is going on beneath the surface, and the CLMP can help you do this. It is not too late to sign up for the entry parameters: secchi disk and summer phosphorus. Register now for the 2012 field season!
Information and “how-to” for shoreline property owners.
There are a couple of opportunities for lakeshore residents this spring to learn about innovative practices to protect their shorelines now and in a changing future climate. One is a local workshop in Oakland County and the other is a statewide conference.
The local workshop on natural shorelines, Creation, Restoration, and Management of Natural Shoreline Landscapes on Michigan Inland Lakes is being held on Saturday, March 17, 2012, 9 am- 12:30 pm, at the Independence Oaks County Park, Wint Nature Center in Clarkston. See the workshop flyer for more information and to register by the March 9 deadline.
For those interested in more detailed technical information and broad-ranging discussion on a number of shoreline-related topics, the 2nd Annual “Shoreline and Shallows” Conference may be for you. The conference will be held in Lansing on Wednesday, March 7. Visit the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership’s website for more information on the conference. Register by March 1.
Recently, I went to Washtenaw County Circuit Court about a lake level for Portage and Base (aka Baseline) Lakes in Washtenaw and Livingston County. Under Michigan’s Lake Level Control Act, residents who live on the lake can petition a judge to set a legal lake level. Yes, Legal! The County Drain Commissioner (or now know as the Water Resources Commissioner) has to keep the lake at the court ordered level. These lake levels are controlled by dams and their operators.
Most lakes that are formed by a dam for recreational purposes have a winter and summer level set by a judge. Higher in the summer for docks and boat traffic and lower in the winter to protect docks and shorelines from ice and damage.
The Court case I attended was to establish a winter lake level for Portage and Base Lakes. Standard practice was to lower the lake level in the winter, but there wasn’t a court set winter level. The Livingston and Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioners petitioned the court to set a winter level 15-18 inches below the summer level. Some residents wanted the lake to be lowered 30 inches and the MDNR was opposed to a winter lake lowering.
In terms of this petition, HRWC understands the balance of interests in setting lakes levels—fisheries, homeowners, recreational enthusiasts, ecologists, and more. We also know the impacts of changing lake levels on the Huron River and its lakes. While a river and its watershed is a changing and dynamic system, there are boundaries to how far those variations should go. Three feet is too much. While scientists argue for no lowering of the lake level in winter, this is not publically acceptable at this time. Given past practices and expectations, a 15 inch winter draw down is the best strategy.
Why is three feet too much? Although drawdowns can produce relatively weed free conditions for short periods of time, over the long-term, frequent drawdowns may result in less diverse plants and native species and more monocultures or invasive nuisance species. Drawdowns resulting in bare sediment favor those species that colonize the fastest. Not surprisingly, these tend to be non-native nuisance species such as Eurasion watermilfoiil and Curlyleaf Pondweed. Over time, the drawdown can promote the replacement of a diverse native plant assemblage by monocultures of invasive exotic species….nuisance species that then result in lakewide herbicide and pesticide applications.
I agree with the direction of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to limit the range of seasonal lake level controls as we’ve seen the detrimental effects of dry spring rivers. A gradual draw down and increase should be best practice for dam operators with the goal of minimizing extreme flows and providing a base flow. In terms of future policy and changes to the lake level control act, we strongly support a better quantification of minimum river flows for aquatic habitat and fisheries.
Yes, aliens are in our midst!
“Aliens” is how we refer to aquatic invasive plants, which are encroaching the Great Lakes and the Huron River, it’s tributaries and lakes. Eurasian water milfoil and other invasive plants clog boat propellers, gunk up swimming beaches, crowd out plant life that native fish and many aquatic animals rely on, and just generally ruin a beautiful lake. Check out this Aquatic Invasive Plant photo sheet online or drop by the HRWC office to pick one up — you can be on the front line taking action to keeping our lakes, streams, and the river free from alien invasion.
Early detection is key to keeping invasive species out of our waters. If you can find a plant before it becomes established throughout the lake, we can prevent the further spread of the plant, which is much easier, cheaper, and effective. It is virtually impossible to remove the plants once they are established.
Luckily, HRWC has a program you can join to become an early detector – part of the Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program is the Aquatic Exotic Plant Watch – you can join and help keep our waters clear.
For more information about invasive plants, check out the Midwest Invasive Plant Network.