Archive for the ‘Local Government’ Category
Take a survey to help inform the Parks and Recreation Commission master plan.
You’re on the golf course, and you’re about to take your next shot. Your eyes narrow on the flag. You take a few deep breaths and let them out. Listen to the wind and the birds sing. You swing your club and it whistles through the air. Your friend shakes his head. He knows he lost yet another round. You look around and glory in your success. Isn’t it great that you have this area in which you can play golf, enjoy the sun, and witness your friends lose? Now imagine if this didn’t exist…
The Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission is working on a master plan that acts as a guide to the development and operation of the county’s parks, preserves, and other recreational activities. Included in these activities are multiple recreation centers, water parks, and — you guessed it! — a golf course. In order to manage these areas to the best of their ability, they need information from you!
You can fill out their survey here: Washtenaw County Parks Survey. By giving your feedback, YOU can have a direct say in how your parks will be managed.
Plus, you can enter a drawing to win one of several prizes. Five lucky participants will receive one of the following: a pass to the Rolling Hills Water Park or Independence Lake’s Blue Heron Bay Spray Zone; Yearly Vehicle Entry Pass; a round of golf at Pierce Lake Golf Course; or a day pass to the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center.
If you have any other questions or additional comments, you can contact Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation office via phone at 734-971-6337 or via email at email@example.com.
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.
Climate adaptation is any action taken that reduces the vulnerability of natural communities and the built environment to the impacts of climate change. For example, if we are going to get larger storms, what do we need to do to our stormwater practices and infrastructure to reduce the chances of flooding or pipe or dam failure? If warmer air temperatures mean we are more susceptible to a new forest pest or pathogen, what do we do to reduce tree loss? These are some of the questions we are considering, along with water resource professionals from throughout the watershed, in our Making Climate Resilient Communities project.
We are not alone in our efforts to adapt to changes in climate. There are communities, agencies and organizations throughout the Great Lakes Region that are engaged in efforts to determine courses of action in response to climate change. Those of us who are working in this arena are pioneering a new field and can serve as a resource to others.
Recently, EcoAdapt, an organization focused on facilitating climate adaptation, released a report: The State of Climate Change Adaptation in the Great Lakes Region. The report provides an overview of climate change in the region, shares the results of a survey to water resource professionals capturing adaptation activities and reflects on common challenges and opportunities to push the needle forward on climate adaptation.
HRWC’s Climate Resilient Communities and Saving Water Saves Energy projects stand proudly among the 57 case studies highlighted in the report (pg 94). You will also find other examples from our watershed including the efforts of the City of Ann Arbor (pg 103) and the Great Lakes Adaptation Assessment for Cities project that has selected Ann Arbor as one of it’s assessment cities (pg 142). This report, along with many other adaptation resources can be found on CAKE (Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange) website.
A new build out report commissioned by Webster Township will help the township guide future development in a way that preserves its rural character and natural beauty.
The township commissioned Sarah Mills, a University of Michigan doctoral student at the School of Urban and Regional Planning, to perform the study, which shows the expected future level of residential and commercial development given existing allowable land uses in the township’s master plan and zoning ordinance. The study then describes several alternative “build out” scenarios given different changes to the township’s policies.
Under current policies, the township can expect to see a tripling of households, from 2,306 to 6,830. A build out study conducted by HRWC in 1992 showed similar results. Both studies measured resulting impervious surfaces, which is a leading indicator of water quality. Arms Creek, whose watershed is entirely within Webster Township, is currently a healthy creek with very little impervious surfaces covering the lands draining into it. Only about 5% of the creek’s watershed is covered by hard surfaces like roads, driveways, rooftops, or parking lots. The pattern of future development as predicted by current policies would cover up to 15% of the creek’s watershed with impervious surfaces.
However, under various alternative scenarios, using certain zoning tools designed to allow future development to occur, but in a more compact way, impervious surfaces can remain at a healthy level. The most effective of these tools included the use of transfer of development rights (TDR), where development at higher densities is transferred to areas where the community can accommodate increased development, and away from farming and natural areas where the community wishes to preserve rural character. HRWC conducted a study of TDR which also reached similar conclusions about its effectiveness at keeping impervious surface low and preserving water quality.
The township will examine all the alternatives described in the study, and they plan to use the study as a guide in developing policies that will maintain their community’s rural character as well as the health of Arms Creek.
Our weather patterns are definitely becoming less recognizable! Remember the really warm and early spring (and the frost snap where we lost our prized fruit!), to the summer drought and heat with little to no water in the river, and now to Sandy who devastated much of the East Coast and gave us early sleet and wind gusts that caused power outages.
And why isn’t climate change and adaptation a conversation in the current elections? There may be disagreement about who caused the mess we are in, but there can’t be disagreement about the massive climate extremes we are experiencing. Storms are increasing in number per year, by intensity, and by the amount of rain. Republicans and Democrats are now talking about building and re-building our cities to be more climate resilient.
Increasingly, community leaders, planners, and natural resource managers are expressing the need to understand local impacts of climate change and implement adaptation strategies. The HRWC has been leading an effort to create climate-resilient communities within the watershed by working with three sectors likely to be significantly impacted by climate change and in a position to take actions to reduce and respond to those impacts.
Downscaled climate models predict more frequent large rain events, a shift in the timing of these events, and increases in the frequency and severity of droughts. These changes threaten safety of residents via increased risk of flooding, stormwater runoff, infrastructure failure, availability and quality of drinking water and the quality of natural areas that mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events.
HRWC has created a model process for watersheds where need is determined by sector members. The process creates climate-informed decision-makers who can influence relevant practices, policies and emergency management. Participants representing in-stream flows (dam operators, fisheries biologists, hydrologists), natural infrastructure (wildlife biologists, aquatic ecologists, natural lands managers), and water infrastructure (drinking water, wastewater, stormwater professionals) sectors have met over the last year to discuss local climate data, determine vulnerabilities and decide a course of action to reduce vulnerability to climate change.
Actions currently proposed for implementation include:
-Initiate and coordinate a network of dam operators to improve preparedness and communications strategies for larger, more frequent storm events and drought conditions and allow for proactive management to changes in flow and exchange of knowledge and solutions
-Revision of regional rainfall frequency curves to improve the ability to establish appropriate stormwater management regulations and storm drain sizing, reducing risk of flooding, property damage and infrastructure failures; and
-Report and provide training on predicted impacts to species and natural communities to inform urban forestry, land management and protection.
HRWC is collaborating with NOAA’s Great Lakes Integrated Sciences & Assessments Center (GLISA) to provide local climate data. The River Network, EcoAdapt and others are following this effort in order to export the process to other watersheds.
This past Saturday, I went to the ribbon cutting ceremony in Dexter for the Mill Creek Park, a 1.4-acre public park located in the heart of the downtown business district. Wow, is it beautiful. I know the beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the Mill Pond was a weed-choked, stinky pond. Now we have an open central park with an amphitheater, trails, fishing piers and overlooks, boat access, benches, and pretty flowers and trees. And then there’s the creek. Anglers have spotted brown trout jumping this past week!
And the increased activity is palpable. Runners, walkers, and cyclists go by on the path, connecting to the downtown, the trails to the library, and to the river where there are trails completed or near completion both upstream and downstream to HCMA parks. There were a half dozen anglers and people learning to fly fish as Colton Bay and Ann Arbor Trout Unlimited folks were giving fly fishing demonstrations. And then the people ambling in from downtown Dexter. People who had just been to the farmers market, the bakery or running errands who came to the water edge to rest and watch.
The Mill Creek dam removal in 2008 sparked the idea of a central park in Dexter. Restoration included some in-stream and bank activities to enhance habitat, direct the stream, and slow flows. The Village of Dexter went to work establishing a vision for a vibrant, beautiful, and well connected park in downtown Dexter. The project includes an amphitheater, boardwalk, two boat launches, two observation and fishing decks and benches along the path.
The project cost $1.24 million with most of the money coming from grant funding. The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund provided $450,000, the Waterways Infrastructure Program gave $50,000, Washtenaw County assisted with $200,000 in funding, and DTE provided $4,000.
Congratulations to the Village of Dexter and Paul Cousins, Village council member and HRWC board member, who took the lead on the project. At the ribbon cutting on Saturday, Allison Bishop, Community Development Director at the Village, told me that she is receiving numerous calls from residents saying that Dexter is turning in to one of the coolest places to live and is very vibrant. The river is one of the “coolest” things we have going for us in SE Michigan and when we restore it by removing dams, improving access and recreation, and opening up economic opportunities, we are seeing a real river (and community) renaissance.
and more work to come:
A second phase of the park’s construction will probably begin within the next five years. A path to connect Hudson Mills Metropark to Mill Creek Park is slated for this fall/winter.
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.
People are talking and writing about the newly completed portage on the Huron River!
The RiverUp! initiative proudly announces the official re-opening of the portage around Superior Dam. The new portage features a low dock for canoe and kayak take-out, a graded gravel path, and new sheltered launch area in quiet waters. And the rustic black willow bench really ties the portage site together.
The portage improvements are the result of the generous support of Thomas Buhr and John Carver, and coordination and cooperation from St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, City of Ann Arbor, and Superior Township. The portage was officially re-opened recently with a ribbon cutting and champagne toasts. New way-finding signs sporting the Huron River Water Trail logo debuted at the site, as well.
Paddlers, enjoy the new safe and accessible portage. And while you are there, please leave only footprints and clean-up any debris you find to show the good stewardship of the paddling community.
Yesterday the Malletts Creek Coordinating Committee was led on a field trip by the City of Ann Arbor’s Nick Hutchinson to the Willard Street porous pavement reconstruction. Porous pavement has many advantages including greatly reduced (if not completely eliminated) stormwater runoff. To see a video of the new pavement in action check out this video: http://youtu.be/QqWkXzrftHU
The MCCC is a formal organization that meets monthly to review projects that have direct or indirect impact on the Malletts Creek. Direct impacts such as the Malletts Creek restoration projects in Mary Beth Doyle and County Farm Parks are part of the committee’s action plans. Indirect impacts such as all development proposals within the creekshed are reviewed and commented on by the committee. Members of the committee are representatives from the City of Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township, UM, professional environmental consultants, the Malletts Creek Association (citizen group), and HRWC.
Several new redevelopment projects are moving forward in the City of Ann Arbor that should make river lovers happy.
The City has formed a new task force to develop a vision for connecting North Main Street and the Huron River. It’s first project is to create a plan for turning the old fleet services garage at 721 N. Main into a greenway park.
The task force will also address opportunities to enhance pedestrian and bicycle connections between downtown, Bandemer Park, and Huron River Drive, as well new uses for the riverside MichCon property off Broadway Street, where DTE Energy is undertaking a major cleanup project.
Other potential projects include creating a greenway over and around the currently underground Allen Creek along its historical creekbed through the west side of Ann Arbor.
Across town, the DEQ recently announced a $1 million brownfield redevelopment grant to help return the former Georgetown Mall in Ann Arbor to commercial use. The long-vacant mall will become a bicycle and pedestrian friendly center, with both shops and apartments, as well as a small park. The redevelopment will also feature new stormwater management controls and underground parking.
How do these activities help the Huron?
Here are the reasons why redevelopment, or infill, projects, and projects that create people-friendly amenities are good for the river:
1. Developments occurring on existing urban properties do not add impervious surfaces to our watershed. The river will not know the difference between the old Georgetown Mall site and the new mixed use development. In fact, it will enjoy improvements due to the new stormwater controls to accompany the new development.
2. These projects create opportunities for people to live and work within the city, a welcome improvement over the land-consuming low density pattern of development that has characterized residential and commercial growth in Michigan over the past decade. The best way to keep the river healthy is to create livable, compact communities that result in the least amount of impervious surface in the watershed, and to keep natural lands natural.
3. Creating greenways and connecting people to the great recreation and scenic resource the river provides brings people not only to the river (thus increasing their appreciation for and the importance of protecting the river), but also to the city, where they will be attracted to it as a place to live and work.