Archive for the ‘Monitoring’ 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.

Exploring the Home Waters

A special Earth Day tribute from an HRWC volunteer

Pat Chargot water quality monitoring on a Huron River creekIf you have ever volunteered with HRWC, explored one of its many creeks on your own, or even wondered “where are these creeks HRWC keeps talking about?” you will want to read this thoughtful essay of observations from author Pat Chargot. Pat volunteered for HRWC’s Water Quality Monitoring Program in 2016. She shares what she learned about her home waters and more in Exploring the Home Waters.”

Thank you Pat for protecting the Huron River.

Enjoy and happy Earth Day!

2015-16 Snapshot

We often write about our projects and give updates on how we are achieving our goals.  Today, we are sharing a quick, at-a-glance summary of what we accomplished from 2015-2016.

You can also learn about our 2016 accomplishments at our upcoming Annual Meeting on April 27, 5:30-7:30 pm at the Ann Arbor District Library, Traverwood Branch, 3333 Traverwood Drive (at Huron Parkway). Program staff will present results and answer questions. And we will celebrate some very special HRWC contributors with Stewardship Awards. This event is open and free to all, refreshments included.  Please join us!

2015-2016 Annual Report Infographic

Want more details now? Check out our 2015-2016 Annual Report.

 

Make a Difference… Be a Scientist on Earth Day

Join a team of kids, teens, adults, and retirees during the River Roundup as you explore creeks and rivers.

Join a team of kids, teens, adults, and retirees during the River Roundup as you explore creeks and rivers.

Earth Day falls on April 22 this year, and not accidentally, so does HRWC’s spring River Roundup.  Perhaps the idea of Earth Day may strike you as a little disheartening this year, in our current political climate of science and environmental budget cuts, and widespread doubt in scientific data.  Are we making a difference at all?  Or is our country reverting back to an era of rivers catching on fire?  What is so disheartening to me personally is not a looming Federal budget that will remove funding for the Great Lakes and environmental regulation (though that is terrible, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not surprised by this), but to see so many people who agree with this course of action. Still, there is room for hope in our future, and that hopes lies in you—the many people who want clean water and clean land and who stand strong with HRWC to work for it.

Consider volunteering with us. Every participant makes an immediate difference at our local level.  HRWC volunteers collect scientific data in southeast Michigan, primarily in Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties. For the upcoming River Roundup on Earth Day, volunteers will be looking for aquatic insects that tell us about the health of the Huron River and its tributaries, and ultimately about the health of all the land that drains into the Huron.  This information gives HRWC the knowledge to conduct effective river management projects and the authority to speak  intelligently on water quality issues with local, state, and federal government, landowners, and  other decision-makers.

And in the process of collecting scientific data, HRWC volunteers are learning and teaching others.  It is always so exciting to see the adult HRWC volunteers interacting and teaching children, teens, and college students about river systems, insects, and the environment.  And in as many cases, to see the kids teaching the adults! This is the type of education that will create the long term cultural change needed in our country.

Make a difference locally by acting now to help HRWC collect scientific information that informs our management decisions and local policies; change the future by teaching the younger generation in the process. The River Roundup is on Earth Day, April 22.  Learn more about the River Roundup and register at http://www.hrwc.org/volunteer/roundup/

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.

 

2016 Results Are In! (at least some of them)

Watershed tour stop showing phosphorus levels at sites on South Ore Creek

Watershed tour stop showing phosphorus levels at sites on South Ore Creek

In January, HRWC staff and volunteers got together to celebrate another successful season of data collection. Call it a Water-Nerd-Fest, if you like, as we all geeked-out on the results from this year’s monitoring. The new twist this year was structuring our findings to focus on different tributary “Creeksheds,” similar to the way we have developed Creekshed Reports. Using that framework, we took volunteers on a tour of the watershed from the mouth at Lake Erie to the river’s named origin flowing out of Big Lake.

Phosphorus levels in the middle section of the Huron River Watershed

Phosphorus levels in the middle section of the Huron River Watershed

Stevi Kosloskey and I talked about results from the Water Quality Monitoring Program, in which we sample stream water chemistry and track stream flows. The results from 2016 and past years really provide a tale of three different watersheds: the lower section is characterized by lots of developed land which corresponds with generally poorer water quality. The middle section also has some development, but is also mixed with forest and agriculture lands, and much effort and resources have been invested in treating urban runoff (see Summer 2016 and 2015 newsletter articles for more detailed analysis of the impacts of those investments). Subsequently, we saw our lowest phosphorus concentrations from that region in 2016 and the bacteria levels are strongly declining as well. Upstream in the Chain of Lakes region, there is much less development and large areas of protected lands, and we see generally better water quality, though there are signs of decline to keep our eyes on.

We also discussed findings from River Roundup, habitat and Bioreserve programs. Sign-up to volunteer for these in 2017 so you can join the fun, learn more about the watershed, and get your science geek on!

River Roundup Results Reviewed: October 2016

Credit: Ellen Rambo

Picking a huge log is always great for group bonding. Seriously! Credit: Ellen Rambo

Aquatic insect sampling on the Huron River and its creeks

Thanks to 154 volunteers who contributed approximately 600 volunteer hours, the October 2016 River Roundup was a great success!  As always, HRWC 100% guarantees good weather for its volunteer events or your money back.  We were once again able to fulfill that promise!

It was a very full house here in the HRWC conference rooms before the 18 teams split up and traveled to 36 different creek and river locations across the Huron River Watershed to assess the aquatic benthic macroinvertebrate community.  This study is one of the most effective ways that HRWC has to understand how the water quality of the river and creeks may be changing. From the data collected at this semi-annual event, we are able to keep abreast of the health of our waterways throughout the watershed. You can see a summary below, or detailed results in the October 10 River Roundup Report.

Site Conditions as of October 10, 2016

Site Conditions as of October 10, 2016

 Current Watershed Health

Status

HRWC gives a rating to each site that we monitor (Excellent, Good, Fair, or Poor). The graph above shows this breakdown for the 61 locations that HRWC considers representative for the watershed. The detailed River Roundup report gives the site condition for each location.

Trends

Overall, the health of the watershed as judged by our macroinvertebrate sampling is holding steady, though there are particular areas getting worse or better.  30 sites have had no statistically significant changes over time, and 4 sites are too new to make this judgment.

Fifteen sites are declining, and these include locations on Norton Creek, Horseshoe Creek, and Honey Creek (Washtenaw Co).  Ten of the declining sites are in Livingston County, 3 are in Washtenaw, 1 is in Oakland, and 1 is in Wayne.

Twelve sites are significantly improving.  Eleven of the improving sites are in Washtenaw County, including locations on Mill Creek, Malletts Creek, Fleming Creek, and the Huron River. One site is improving in Livingston County (Mann Creek at Van Amberg Road), and 1 site is improving in Wayne County (Woods Creek at the Lower Huron Metropark).

Highlight

Mark Schaller searches for bugs in the Huron River near Ypsilanti. Credit: Ellen Rambo

Mark Schaller searches for bugs in the Huron River near Ypsilanti. Credit: Ellen Rambo

There were a lot of highly diverse samples collected this season.  The team at Pettibone Creek: Commerce Road in Milford collected the most diverse sample ever taken at the site (sampling started here in 2001).

Two sites on South Ore Creek were diverse enough to pull these creeks out of a statistically significant decline and into the “declining but not significantly so” range.

The sample taken at Davis Creek off of Silver Road was the best sample taken in about 8 years.

Lowlight

For some teams, sampling conditions were difficult.  The Huron River was running fast and deep after the area received heavy rain just a few days before the event started. The sample taken at the Huron River at Zeeb Road was particularly bad and far outside the range of normal variation.  Based on the volunteer’s feedback and the difficulty of sampling the river, this sample was marked as an outlier and will not be included in the long-term record for the site.

What’s next?

Want to learn more about the data that HRWC collected this past year? On January 19th at 6 pm at our office on 1100 N. Main Street, HRWC staff will present results and interpretation for all of the field projects conducted within the past year. Good indoor weather guaranteed!

Do you consider yourself a Michigander, or aspire to be one? Then you should brave the cold and join the Winter Stonefly Search on January 21.  It is like the River Roundup, only much snowier and usually colder. Good weather guaranteed or your money back… but of course these events are always free!  You can register for the event here.

This giant water bug makes a run for freedom! Credit: Aiman Shahpurwala

This giant water bug makes a run for freedom!
Credit: Aiman Shahpurwala

New Ambassadors scout Water Trail for all

Trail Ambassador Graham Battersby completes his survey of the Water Trail in early spring.

Trail Ambassador Graham Battersby completes his survey of the Water Trail in early spring, and the local media took notice.

HRWT Ambassador Hat

Earlier this year, 20 hardy paddlers stepped up to serve as the first class of HRWC’s new volunteer-led program to monitor the river for recreation. Huron River Water Trail Ambassadors adopt sections of the river to check conditions for safe and accessible paddling. This class covered 17 sections of the water trail ranging in length from 3.5 to nearly 10 miles.

Ambassadors check river conditions in the early spring before most paddlers are out on the river, as well as at the end of the paddling season in the fall. Their efforts make the river more enjoyable, protect its health and scenic beauty, and assist HRWC and the water trail partners with prioritizing improvements.

What does an Ambassador do?

1. Paddles a section of the Huron River once in early spring and a second time in the fall, at a minimum.
2. Makes general observations about the conditions of water trail launches, signs and portages, the shoreline, woody debris, spills and how people are using the river.
3. Represents HRWC by answering questions from the public, helping people out on the river and teaching responsible river use.
4. Takes photos of areas of interest or concern.
5. Submits information and photos to HRWC.

Some Ambassadors also clean-up trash and measure water temperature and conductivity with HRWC equipment.

How do you spot an Ambassador?

Check their hat! All Ambassadors are outfitted in brimmed hats with the water trail logo and the “Ambassador” title.

Contact Jason Frenzel if you’d like more information on becoming an Ambassador.

Water Quality Monitoring Program Allows Active Involvement

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The 2016 Water Quality Monitoring Program season wrapped up at the end of September, and now I spend time compiling the data for analysis.  With the help of 60 volunteers between April and September, we gathered water samples for chemistry analysis at 37 sites throughout Washtenaw, Wayne, and Livingston Counties.  Flow measurements were also taken at several of those sites.  Monitoring sites are visited up to 12 times during the season, and it would be impossible to gather this much information, or visit as many sites, without the help of volunteers.  We are able to gather critical watershed data, as well as keep eyes on the Huron River and its tributaries for potential problems and risks such as erosion and pollution.  I am proud of this program, it allows citizens to become actively involved in protecting the Huron River watershed and the water we rely on for so much.  Thank you, volunteers, for helping us.

Mark your calendar for January 19, 2017 at 6:00pm and come to our Volunteer Appreciation and 2016 Field Season Results Presentation.

Find out more about the Water Quality Monitoring Program and sign up to volunteer in 2017.

Searching for European Water Clover

Graham Battersby, HRWC volunteer, surveyed Barton Pond for water clover in 2015. credit: G. Battersby

Graham Battersby, HRWC volunteer, surveyed Barton Pond for water clover in 2015. credit: G. Battersby

As mentioned in the Summer 2016 HRWC newsletter, both Barton and Argo Pond on the Huron River are home to a new exotic aquatic plant, the European Water-Clover (Marsilea quadrifolia). In 2015, Michigan DEQ alerted HRWC that this plant was only in two places in the state, Barton/Argo Ponds and a location in the Clinton River Watershed.  However, they were unaware of  how widespread this plant was in our system.  In 2015, HRWC volunteers searched those ponds and found many patches of the plant and reported their location back to DEQ.

The scientific community at large is generally ignorant about the European Water Clover; people do not know how it spreads, to what extent it can out-compete nearby native plants, and how it might change the ecology of the system.  This is often an issue with new exotic species; scientists often don’t know how damaging something will be until it becomes a problem. It is important to get a handle on these new plants, though, because you can’t predict when the next Phragmites will arrive- a plant that spreads very rapidly and changes its ecosystem. And any control methods have to be done very carefully, as so many plants (such as Eurasian Water Milfoil) can actually spread faster and further if they are carelessly ripped out.

This past spring, HRWC put a monitoring plan together with DEQ.  To determine when the plant first emerged, HRWC visited two known problem areas weekly in Argo and Barton Ponds through the late spring and early summer.  The water clover was first detected in early June.

steen kayak water clover

Not at bad day at the office. Paul Steen searches for water clover on the Huron River. credit: G. Battersby

To determine possible spread of the water clover, HRWC and DEQ waited until early August of this year, when the plant would be at its full summer growth, and surveyed upstream of Barton Pond, from Delhi Metropark to the Maple Street Bridge.  Thankfully, that section of the Huron River was clear of the plant.  It does seems that the plant strongly prefers very slow water, and the Huron upstream of Barton generally flows at a moderate to rapid rate.

HRWC is planning additional monitoring downstream, through Gallup Park and Superior Pond, which contains more promising habitat for the plant. DEQ is also planning to try out some control methods, conducting both herbicide treatments in a greenhouse and an exclusion method using a mat that covers the plants in the river.

HRWC will continue to watch this exotic plant and report out as more is learned about European Water Clover in the Huron River system.


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