Archive for the ‘Local Government’ Category

Why I’m Marching

I will be joining the local March for Science this Saturday in my hometown of Ann Arbor. I am doing this because I have come to realize that those of us who are active scientists or who regularly use data or information produced by scientists need to do a better job communicating scientific discovery to the rest of the world. At its core, science is a systematic method of differentiating fact from opinion. Science is not a philosophy or religion. It is not a political platform. It is simply the best method we have to discover what is true about our world.

Here at HRWC, we engage in scientific discovery on a daily basis to learn about what is happening in the river, its tributaries and the land that drains to it. By utilizing the scientific approach to understanding, we can be confident that the actions we are taking, and the resources we ask our members and partners to invest have a strong likelihood of making a positive difference — to produce the high quality water resources that we want.

HRWC volunteer Larry and University of Michigan researcher Brandon installing stream sensor equipment.

HRWC volunteer Larry Scheer and University of Michigan researcher Brandon Wong installing stream sensor equipment.

The last few weeks I worked with our partners at the University of Michigan and our volunteers (our citizen scientists!) to install cutting-edge sensors and technology to make real-time observations of stream flows and water chemistry to help us better understand what happens during storms. This will lead us to recommend the best practices to capture and treat stormwater runoff in the future and improve water quality and river habitat. Without this evidence-based knowledge, we would just be guessing at what works.

What concerns me (and ultimately why I am marching) is that our current national leadership is proposing significant cuts to funding for all types of science. Further, policies are being proposed or established that run counter to well-established scientific understanding, like climate change, and the effects of environmental regulation. Science matters. Truth matters.

I encourage you all to get out and march with me or get out and contribute to our understanding by volunteering at events like Saturday’s River Round-up.

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.

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.

Toxic Contaminants Found in Ann Arbor Detention Basins

Stevi with the boat, ponar and "muck bucket" for mixing sediment samples

Stevi with the boat, ponar and “muck bucket” for mixing sediment samples

Recently, a team of us HRWC staff went out to see if we could detect the kind of effects scientists from elsewhere are seeing from the application of coal tar sealants. In short, coal tar sealants and their recent cousins release a class of chemicals called polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which are toxic and known to cause cancer. For more detail on that work see a previous blog entry and our web page summarizing the threats.

To find out if this is indeed a concern in our area, we identified a few detention ponds to sample within the Huron’s biggest urban area of Ann Arbor. The City of Ann Arbor staff helped us find publicly accessible ponds that would capture runoff predominantly from urban areas with lots of hardened surfaces like parking lots and driveways. The city does not use coal tar sealants on its roads, but many businesses use it on parking lots and residents use it on driveways. We selected three ponds from different parts of the city to sample in a pilot effort to determine the level of PAH contamination of pond sediments. Ponds were selected from  within the Malletts, Traver and Fleming Creek watersheds.

Ric and Paul sampling sediments for PAHs

Ric and Paul sampling sediments for PAHs

Sampling these ponds is more difficult than it sounds. It required borrowing a row boat from our friends in the Eastern Michigan University Biology Department, hauling the boat through heavy brush and up steep hills, and rowing out through shallow, mucky waters where we dropped a ponar (i.e. sediment scooper) to grab 5 samples of the bottom sediment. These samples were combined into a single sample for each pond that was then sent to a private lab (with the help of Ann Arbor’s Water Treatment Laboratory staff) for PAH identification and quantification.

The results were shocking. Of the ten PAH samples with identified toxic effects levels, sediments from the Malletts Creek pond exceeded the “probable effects concentration” (PEC) for eight of them! This is the concentration of PAHs in the water that will have adverse affects to aquatic organisms. Sediments in the Traver and Fleming ponds exceeded the PEC for 6 and 4 of the PAH species, respectively. For many of the PAH samples, the PEC was exceeded by 10- or even 100-fold, indicating that the sediments are highly toxic!

Since other studies have indicated that between 50 and 70% of PAHs in detention pond sediments originate from coal tar sealants, it appears that Ann Arbor (and most probably other urban areas in the watershed) has a problem with coal tar leaching. While we only sampled three ponds thus far (we plan to sample others this spring), the results are consistent with findings from research scientists elsewhere.

So, what do we do now? HRWC is currently working with local municipal leaders in Van Buren and Scio Townships, the City of Ann Arbor and elsewhere to pass ordinances to ban the application of coal tar sealants. A state ban would be even more effective but we need to build the political will. Contact HRWC staff to find out how to get involved in your community, and check out the links above to learn what to do on your own driveway.

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.

New study links coal-tar sealed pavement to death of aquatic organisms

Numerous studies on coal-tar based asphalt sealcoats have linked this product to human health problems and ecological damage (learn more about the issue in this recent blog and this newsletter article, page 7).  HRWC would like municipalities and homeowners to refuse to use coal-tar based sealcoats because of their environmental effects, and a recent study released by the U.S. Geological Survey gives us all another reason to do so.

In this study, researchers applied coal-tar sealcoat to a section of a parking lot, and simulated rain-falls and collected the water runoff both 3 days and 36 days after sealcoat application.  Two common aquatic species (fathead minnows and cladocerans) were exposed to the run-off.  A 1:10 dilution of the run-off (which would be an approximation of conditions in moderately urban streams and ponds) caused a 10% mortality of the fathead minnow and a 60-100% mortality of the cladocerans, with the length of time after sealcoat application not making a difference.

There is much more to this study including looking at the effects of ultraviolet light, alternative sealcoat products, control treatments, and differing treatment lengths.  However, based on the one part of the study given above, it is clear that coal-tar sealcoat is producing toxic rain run-off. Secondly, the sealcoat continues to cause the death of aquatic life 36 days after application (and perhaps further, but this was not included in the study). Application guidelines of coal-tar sealcoat  state that the sealcoat should not be applied if rain is forecast within 24 hours to allow the product time to cure, but after this period the “risk level of runoff drops close to inconsequential.” This study reveals these application guidelines are incorrect.

Readers are welcome to check out the study for themselves; it is technical but not impossible to read. It is also copyright free, so HRWC is able to give the journal article here.

 

How is Your Local Government Doing?

Ever wonder how best to protect the river and its watershed?

We think about this everyday here at HRWC.

There are 63 different local governments in the Huron watershed

There are 63 different local governments in the Huron watershed. Click map to enlarge.

One of the best ways to is to encourage location and design of neighborhoods and businesses to keep excess runoff and pollution out of the river.  Each local government (cities, villages, and townships) in the watershed is responsible for reviewing land use development and designs within their own boundaries.  That means one of the best ways to help the Huron is to ensure each local government has policies in place that allow residential and commercial development in a way that allows the river and its ecosystems to continue to function.

HRWC has two tools that can help citizens in any of the 63 different local governments in the watershed get involved in their city, village or township planning commission, board, or council.

  • The Citizen’s Guide to Land Use Planning (click on link. the Citizens Guide is halfway down the page), takes readers step-by-step through the land use planning process and its importance to water quality.
  • As part of a new project, Green Infrastructure Services for Local Governments, funded by the Americana Foundation, HRWC has created two checklists; one for elements recommended in a local government’s Zoning Ordinance, and another for elements recommended for their Master Plan. See how many recommended elements are in your local government’s ordinance and master plan.

HRWC is currently using the checklist in partnership with Webster Township as part of their master plan revision process.  HRWC plans to be working with at least two more local governments in the next year as part of this project.

News to Us

Rain GardenThis edition of News to Us shares articles on rainfall — how to use rain gardens to manage it, site how it carries nutrients to our waterways causing issues with algae and microcystin blooms and when extreme, how much damage it can cause.  Learn also about efforts in Ann Arbor to revitalize the riverfront and how communities throughout the nation are building climate resilience.

Washtenaw County Rain Garden Program To Be Shared Across Michigan Listen to a brief story aired on WEMU about the Washtenaw County Rain Garden program and how to learn more. Rain gardens help keep pollution and stormwater out of the Huron River increasing the health of the system. Washtenaw County is a leader in this area and can serve as a great resource for anyone interested in installing a rain garden.

Manchester-area farmers finding ways to reduce waste run-off after Lake Erie scare  A group of local farmers from the Raisin River watershed to our south, remedy spent time touring Lake Erie and discussing ways to reduce nutrient contributions from farms to the Great Lakes. Excess nutrients in the lakes contributed to the microcystin contamination of Toledo’s drinking water last month. This tour provided a unique opportunity to learn about nutrient management practices and exchange ideas among farmers.

The Green Room: River Renaissance  In a recent WEMU Green Room story, sildenafil Laura Rubin and others are interviewed to discuss the river and riverside revitalization efforts underway in the Argo area of the Huron River in Ann Arbor. Highlighting Argo Cascades and the MichCon brownfield redevelopment site, interviewees tell a story of the ups and downs associated with the river’s new found popularity.

Facing Climate Change, Cities Embrace Resiliency This article discusses community resilience – a concept emerging in cities and towns throughout the United States in response to the increased number and severity of extreme weather events.  Building resilience entails anything that improves the preparedness of a community to literally, weather the storm, minimizing damage and the threat to public health and safety. Several communities within the Huron River watershed are working to build resilience to changes we are seeing here.

Deadly Once-in-1,000-Years Rains Wipe Out Roads in Arizona, Nevada Many places across the globe are experiencing extreme rainfall events. While the Detroit area recently experienced a 100-year rain (1 % chance of occurring in any given year) parts of Arizona and Nevada experienced a rainfall event with even lower probability of occurring – some areas experience the 1000 year event (0.1% chance)! These larger evens cause extensive damage to infrastructure and personal property. Many communities are working to prepare for these larger events which are predicted to occur more frequently as the global climate warms.

Make A Stormdrain Mural at the Mayor’s Green Fair

Inspire River Protection With Art! Stormdrain Art at 2013 Green Fair

Come decorate the curbside connections to the Huron River! Ann Arbor artist David Zinn and Karim Motawi will lead the crowd in chalking four of our downtown stormdrain inlets into works of art. We provide the chalk, you bring the creativity!

When: Friday, June 13, 2014, 6-8pm

Where: The Ann Arbor Mayor’s Green Fair, at the Liberty and Main intersection and the Huron River Watershed Council booth in front of the Melting Pot.

Presented by HRWC in partnership with the 14th Annual Mayor’s Green Fair and the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission.

Stormdrain Art at 2013 Green FairWe depend on stormdrains to keep our streets from flooding during storms. Yet, these devices also direct litter and polluted rainwater straight into the Huron River. We’ll show and tell the stormdrain connection and recruit families to adopt their neighborhood stormdrains, keeping them for rain only by removing litter, leaves and other debris in the spring, summer, and fall months.

Can’t make it to the Green Fair? Do your part by Adopting A Stormdrain in your neighborhood . . . learn more about it HERE.

 


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