Archive for the ‘Legislation’ 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.

News to Us

Tubing at Argo Cascades. Photo credit: Andy Piper via Flickr Creative Commons License.

Tubing at Argo Cascades. Photo credit: Andy Piper via Flickr Creative Commons License.

Climate change, river recreation and regulating toxics are all in this edition of News to Us – the HRWC monthly brief on water and watershed related news that catches our attention.

In hot water: Climate change is affecting North American fish
This blog summarizes the conclusions from several recent research articles on the impacts of climate change to fish. Coldwater species and those in arid environments are most vulnerable.  Fisheries are already experiencing measurable change from climate change that impacts ecosystems, recreation and the economy.  HRWC is wrapping up a two year project to help the Huron adapt to climate change.  You can read more about this project here.

U.S. Needs Smarter Disaster Planning
Disaster planning is one way to protect human communities from the impacts of climate change.  Extreme weather events are becoming more common. Municipalities each develop plans to protect their communities from, respond to and recover from natural disasters.  This article discusses the importance of incorporating climate change into these plans.

Ann Arbor trying to curb alcohol, parking problems at popular tubing spot
A growing number of complaints pertaining to visitors of Argo Cascades in Ann Arbor is leading the city to consider how to address the issues. While we love to see people enjoying the river, we encourage everyone to consider appropriate safety and etiquette.  Visit the Huron River Water Trail website for ways to have fun on the river without impacting other users, river neighbors and the river itself.

Editorial: Ann Arbor joins VBT, Scio in banning coal tar sealants
The Belleville Independent published an editorial highlighting progress locally to ban coal tar pavement sealers. Van Buren Township led the way on this issue in Michigan banning the toxic substance in December 2015.  Recently, Scio Township and Ann Arbor have joined Van Buren on the front lines to reduce health risks to humans and aquatic communities due to PAH compounds which occur in very high amounts in a commonly used pavement sealer. You can help HRWC continue to tackle this issue in our watershed by donating to our Coal Tar Free Huron campaign.

Strange brew: How chemical reform legislation falls short
Last month, the federal government signed into law a reform of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  The new law has met with very mixed reviews from companies and groups working to reduce the number of toxic chemicals in consumer products. The chemicals ultimately end up in our bodies and environment and little is known about the thousands of chemical brought to market each year. Read this bloggers take on the good and the bad of the new law.  It may have implications for our ability to regulate chemicals at the local level including coal tar pavement sealers.

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.

News to Us

It has bAnn Arbor floodingeen a busy news month. Many exciting things happening at the global, national and state level that affects us right here in the Huron.  The environment took front seat in international news this month with Pope Francis’ encyclical. Our federal government finally provided clarity on the Clean Water Act by better defining “waters of the US”.  The State of Michigan has released a draft vision for water that includes a dramatic reduction in phosphorus to our waterways.  And not to leave out local action, the Ann Arbor Observer provides a look at how the University of Michigan handles stormwater.

Pope Francis, in Sweeping Encyclical, Calls for Swift Action on Climate Change. The recent papal encyclical has been making waves among Catholics and far beyond. The document is a call to action bringing a moral argument to environmental protection and climate change.  A fascinating and welcome contribution to the environmental movement, if you haven’t read much about this, the article is a nice summary of the report and the implications.

Issues of The Environment: The Clean Water Rule. HRWC’s Elizabeth Riggs is interviewed about EPA’s ruling on Waters of the US, or the waters protected under the Clean Water Act.  She discusses how this ruling will impact our state and watershed and why this ruling is so important.

DEQ announces 30-year vision for water. The State’s draft water strategy addresses nutrient pollution, invasive species, boating and harbors and water trails.  The strategy also calls for investment in technologies that support clean water and the establishment of a fund to finance implementation of water strategy.  The vision is out in draft and the DEQ is accepting comments until August 28th.

More information on Michigan’s Water Strategy and how to comment can be viewed here

Calming the waters.  This editorial provides a deeper dive into the issue of phosphorus pollution, reduction goals, and how Michigan needs to do more to make meaningful progress toward those goals and make appropriate contributions to a region-wide effort to reduce problems in the Great Lakes resulting from excess phosphorus in our lakes and waterways.

Storm Over the U-M: The city and county have strict new stormwater requirements. But the university isn’t on board.  Water knows no political boundaries which can create tension over responsibility for and management of this resource. When it rains on our cities and towns, it needs to be managed to avoid flooding, erosion and other stormwater related issues. This article chronicles ongoing tension around stormwater management by the University of Michigan.

What the Clean Water Rule could mean for the Huron

Sometimes just maintaining the status quo is the goal. Such is the case with federal protections for waterways through the Clean Water Act that are clarified with the Clean Water Rule developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers. The rule provides definition to “Waters of the United States” and will become effective on August 28, 2015. The rule only protects waters that have historically been covered by the Clean Water Act.

credit: John Lloyd

credit: John Lloyd

The administration wrote the rule in an attempt to clarify its jurisdiction after two U.S. Supreme Court decisions made it murky beginning in the early 2000s. While about three percent  more area is covered by the Clean Water Act than before, the protections are still less than they were during President Bill Clinton’s administration. The Clean Water Act protects the nation’s waters. A Clean Water Act permit is only needed if these waters are going to be polluted or destroyed.

In my interview this week with David Fair on WEMU’s Issues of the Environment radio show, we talked about what the Rule does:

  • Provides greater clarity and certainty regarding the waters protected under the Clean Water Act
  • Makes the jurisdictional determination process more straight-forward for businesses and industry
  • Reflects the best current science (more than 1,200 peer-reviewed studies were consulted)
  • Aligns with the Supreme Court decisions
  • Reflects public input and comments (400 meetings around the country)
  • Protects public health, the economy, and the environment

and doesn’t do:

  • Regulate new types of waters, land use, most ditches, groundwater, farm ponds
  • Change policy on stormwater or water transfers or irrigation
  • Limit agricultural exemptions
  • Regulate water in tile drains
  • And my favorite, regulate puddles
How might the Clean Water Rule impact Michigan and, more specifically, Huron River waters?

The Department of Environmental Quality, the state’s permitting authority, expects little impact to Michigan water protection programs. Michigan is one of only two states (New Jersey is the other state) that administers its own wetlands permit program instead of the Army Corps of Engineers, and the state-run program is more protective than the federal program. On the Huron River, the collective effort to improve water quality is yielding gains in quality of life after decades of effort focused on education, new technologies to reduce pollution and water consumption, and water quality monitoring.

The Huron River Watershed Council formed seven years before the enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972. As we celebrate 50 years of protecting and restoring the river for healthy and vibrant communities, we have the perspective to recognize this Rule as a watershed moment for the country to rededicate itself to clean water. Find out more about the Clean Water Rule from the EPA’s Clean Water Rule web page. A Michigan fact sheet is available about the value of clean water in the state for the economy, the environment, and public health.

Protecting Water Under the Clean Water Act

We needy our help to bring protections back to our wetlands and small streams.

We need your help to bring protections back to our wetlands and small streams.

Wait, what?  The Clean Water Act doesn’t protect clean water?  How can that be?

Well in 2001 and 2006 there were 2 Supreme Court Decisions that confused the implementation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and placed many wetlands and streams out of protection and at risk.

Earlier this year, the U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers released a very important draft rulemaking. This draft rule clarifies which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act.  This rulemaking will fundamentally influence our work to protect or restore our watershed.

Please comment on the draft US EPA rule on Clean Water Protection (aka Waters of the US) Rulemaking

Comments on this important rulemaking are due October 20, 2014. We encourage river lovers (YOU) to speak up! If you haven’t been following this issue or need a refresher, please check out this link.

Your comments can be as simple as, “Clean water is important to me. I want EPA to protect it for my health, my family, and my community” or as specific as, “I support the agencies proposal to define “waters of the United States” in section (a) of the proposed rule for all sections of the CWA to mean: Traditional navigable waters; interstate waters, including interstate wetlands; the territorial seas; impoundments of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, including interstate wetlands, the territorial seas, and tributaries, as defined, of such waters; tributaries, as defined, of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, or the territorial seas; and adjacent waters, including adjacent wetlands. Waters in these categories would be jurisdictional “waters of the United States” by rule—no additional analysis would be required.”

Thank you!

News to Us

Milford Asset Mapping. Photo: Oakland County PEDs

Milford Asset Mapping. Image credit: Oakland County PEDs

News to Us today highlights a couple of local stories from Milford and Scio Township.  Several climate-related articles came across our desks recently including a press release on a new report connecting climate change to pest outbreaks and some promising bi-partisan legislation in New York. Finally, more fall out from the recent flooding in Detroit — raw sewage in local rivers and ultimately Lake Erie.

Milford activists aim to integrate river, downtown Recently, interested community members met in Milford to discuss the Huron River.  As one of the Huron River Trail Towns, Milford is looking for ways to connect all the downtown assets available to people from the river, to parks to downtown businesses. Improved canoe landing areas, signage, and new development opportunities were among the topics discussed.  Trail towns are part of HRWC’s RiverUp! program.

Scio Township imposes moratorium on oil and gas operations  Following the installation of the first drilling operation in Scio Township on Miller Rd and W. Delhi, the township has established a 6-month moratorium on further oil and natural gas developments. This will give the township time to consider existing protections related to oil and gas activities such as ordinances on noise, odor, and hours of operation.

Warming Climate Brings Greater Numbers of Bugs and Outdoor Pests  A new report is linking factors related to climate change are responsible, in part, for high populations of mosquitoes and ticks as well as the toxicity of poison ivy. Read the full report: Ticked Off: America’s Outdoor Experience and Climate Change.

Legislature sends climate change bill to Cuomo Across the nation, from the federal to local levels, people are planning and taking action to prepare communities for a changing climate.  Last month, New York took a significant leap by bring legislation to Governor Cuomo that would require all state-funded projects to address climate change and extreme weather into planning and implementation of these projects. Legislation passed a democratic controlled Assembly and Republican controlled Senate and awaits the Governer’s approval expected sometime late this summer.

Metro Detroit’s sewage overflow feeds Lake Erie algae growth  The historic flooding that occurred in the Detroit area this August caused trouble beyond flooded roadways and basements. Many areas affected by the flood have combined stormwater and sewer systems that, when overwhelmed, deliver raw sewage directly to rivers, streams and ultimately Lake Erie further exacerbating recent water quality issues in the lake. We are fortunate in the Huron River Watershed not to have combined sewer systems.  However, stormwater and sewer infrastructure failures affect us all.  Improving this infrastructure to handle large rainfall events will help protect against future failures.

Michigan trails get a boost with new legislation

A few weeks ago I promised to share an update on the status of the bills package being considered in Lansing to expand the definition of ‘trails’ to include water trails and provide funding to support trails across the state.

Today, Governor Rick Snyder signed the bills, now Public Acts 210-215 of 2014 that redefines the designation process of special trails in the state and supports the development of a statewide network of multiple use trails and water trails.

The bills give the director of the Department of Natural Resources the authority to name trailways as “Pure Michigan Trails,” water trails as “Pure Michigan Water Trails” and towns as “Pure Michigan Trail Towns,” pending approval from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. They also allow statewide volunteer activities to include trail enhancement programs in support of trail upkeep and maintenance.

More from the State’s press release here.

Our RiverUp! work includes establishing the Huron River Water Trail and developing Trail Towns in each of 5 largest towns on the river. We’ll all pretty excited here about this new investment that can benefit these efforts. Anita Twardesky, our Trail Towns Coordinator, shares, “What an exciting time for trails in our State! Southeast Michigan is home to many water trails, Trail Town programs and bike paths. Our trail systems are poised to become a great addition to the statewide system.”

We applaud this legislation and look forward to working with the Department of Natural Resources to ensure that Southeast Michigan is well-represented to help showcase our unlimited outdoor recreation activities.

Delhi Rapids on the Huron River Water Trail. Photo courtesy of T. Janiuk

Delhi Rapids on the Huron River Water Trail. Photo courtesy of T. Janiuk

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).”

News to Us

dte site

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is the news to us.


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