Archive for the ‘Monitoring’ Category

Mystery and Adventure at Site 38

From guest blogger Karen Schaefer

(With apologies to real mystery writers everywhere)

The day began as any other for our Norton Creak Road Stream Crossing team—a 9:30 a.m. rendezvous at Dunkin’ Donuts to plot the day’s strategy. Sitting at our usual table, Larry unfurled The Map, revealing twelve sites still unexplored. Sites 37 and 38 lay in a residential area. Typically, this means easy parking followed by a fairly straightforward study. A tempting target, perfect for three of us!

Little did we know, Site 38 had other plans.

Our drive to the site was uneventful. We found the cross streets within minutes of leaving our rendezvous location. Jumping out of the car, Ryan’s sharp eyes scouted for a culvert. He quickly identified a cement structure surrounded by trees and brush, well below road grade. So this was the much sought-after Site 38! We donned our sturdiest waders to tackle the 6-foot culvert (and to avoid the clearly visible poison ivy).

Ryan and Karen disappeared into the culvert. Amid the piles of cobble in the creek bed, they quickly determined this was Site 38’s outlet. Larry went on a search for the other end. Surely, a 6-foot cement pipe would be easy to find!

Alas, no. Foiling Larry’s best “Lewis and Clark” maneuvers, Site 38’s inlet remained shrouded in mystery.

Larry returned with a proposal to the team: Were we up for risking an in-culvert search to solve the mystery of the missing inlet? The response was unanimous.

Larry broke out the “really serious gear”: hard hats for everyone, and a light. Larry and Ryan grabbed the trusty multi-purpose poles (aka specially modified 8-foot tomato stakes). Karen held onto the data sheet and her phone (because every adventure needs pictures). She added the tape measure at the last minute; you never know what might need measuring!

Bravely, we entered the gaping mouth of the culvert outlet.

We were quickly outnumbered—and surrounded on all sides—by very large, unhappy spiders! Larry led the way, fending them off right and left. The trusty pole even worked its magic by clearing the webs. Still, despite our best efforts, some spiders managed to hitch a ride and enjoyed the trek alongside of (and on top of) us.

We made our way carefully, uncertain of what lay beyond. We were shrouded in complete darkness. Zero cell phone reception. Only the occasional drain cover provided a tiny glimpse of daylight.

The depth and muckiness of the substrate varied, fortunately never deeper than our calves. Ryan attempted to open a drain cover to get our position and determine whether escape (if necessary) would be possible; it was locked tight.

Onward we trudged. For hours, it seemed. Around a slight curve. Then two bends, each approximately 45 degrees. At one point, Karen asked Larry if he had checked the weather forecast for any flash floods. Larry assured us that he had, indeed; the forecast was perfect.

Suddenly, after what was certainly hours, substantial daylight appeared in the distance. Eureka!

Our relief at seeing “light at the end of the tunnel” quickly turned to dismay…as a trash rack covering the inlet came into view. Yes, we had found the inlet! Only to be thwarted by a grate covering the entire inlet. Except….

At the bottom was a very small opening. Narrow, with metal grate spikes projecting both top and bottom. Ryan examined it and commented he just might be able to get through. Suddenly, hope! We might discover the location of the hidden inlet after all! If only Ryan could manage to escape…

Sloooowly, carefully, Ryan slid himself over the grate….and out to safety! Well, except that he popped out into the backyard of a private residence. Karen gave Ryan her phone, knowing he’d be able to call for help should the situation turn dire.

Using his backpacking orienteering skills (and making his way carefully along property lines), Ryan located the street on which the adventure had begun. He set out on the long journey back.

Trapped inside the culvert, with no hope of escaping through the inlet, Larry and Karen determined the only way out was the same as the way in…back through spiders, webs, muck, and darkness. Realizing this was an opportunity to assess the actual culvert length (albeit from the inside rather than out), they began measuring with the tape, stepping through in increments. Holding the tape’s end, Larry walked 75 feet. Then Karen reeled in in the tape while walking toward him. They repeated this…75 feet, 30 feet….

Suddenly, Larry proposed measuring a length of culvert pipe and counting the sections. Brilliant! and much quicker.

Eventually, many 8-foot culvert sections later, Larry and Karen emerged from the darkness. They were greeted by Ryan at the culvert outlet. He had found his way back from the mysterious inlet down the street—previously hidden, but no longer a secret!

A quick nose count revealed the only casualty of the day: one trusty, multi-purpose pole (aka, the pink tomato stake). It will be greatly missed.

Success was enjoyed by all as we filled in key sections of the data form: inlet data with pics, actual culvert length (928 feet!), and even a somewhat representative site drawing. The thrill of completing the NCRSC data sheet was more than ample reward to the team who bravely faced the risks at mysterious Site 38.

News to Us


Volunteers collecting water quality data in Swift Run

Read articles on issues with water infrastructure in our watershed and Michigan-wide. Earlier this month the US Federal Court of Appeals made a ruling on a pesticide known to kill pollinators. Our water trail continues to make headlines. And the Swift Run creekshed is getting some special attention these days.

Ten surprising facts in Michigan’s new water strategy
In July, Michigan released a draft 30-year water strategy.  Much public discussion on the strategy has occurred since then. This is a blog written by Brad Garmon at the Michigan Environmental Commission that takes a little different look at the strategy.  Brad captures some startling statistics on the water assets Michigan owns and must steward.

Supervisor: Overuse causing discolored water in system
Lyon Township residents have been experiencing trouble with their drinking water. While the water remains safe to drink, some people are finding their water discolored. The township Supervisor attributes the color to iron in the water that occurs when backup wells are used to meet increased demand. The article highlights the issue of aging infrastructure with population growth and increasing water demand common throughout our watershed.

Michigan’s top 11 water trails named
The Huron River Water Trail was named one of the top water trails in Michigan by a public vote conducted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. But we knew that already didn’t we? Click through to see other awesome river destinations throughout the state.

Court: EPA Should Not Have Approved Bee-Killing Pesticide
A step in the right direction for the honeybee crisis. Bees and other pollinators have be in rapid decline. An agricultural chemical, sulfoxaflor, has been found to be one contributor to these declines. The lawsuit shines a spotlight on the role of federal regulators in this complex problem and will hopefully encourage more extensive testing of new chemicals before receiving EPA approval.

Swift Creek Improvements
HRWC’s Ric Lawson talks about a project we have underway to improve stormwater management and water quality in the Swift Run tributary of the Huron River.   Learn about the problems in Swift Run and the solutions HRWC, Washtenaw County and the City of Ann Arbor are supporting to improve the river.

My Huron River (Arms Creek)

One of the perks of my job as a co-director of the Adopt-a-Stream program at HRWC is that I get to see places that many others miss out on.  And so while I love the main branch of the Huron River and spend many hours at our metroparks, I decided to focus on a small creek in Webster township– Arms Creek.

An HRWC volunteer explores Arms Creek.

An HRWC volunteer explores Arms Creek.

Arms Creek at the intersection of Walsh Road is known internally here at HRWC as “Adopt-a-Stream Site Number 1″, meaning that it was the first site to be picked as a part of the program way back in 1992.  The watershed council and our many volunteers have been visiting this location and collecting information on this creek for 23 years! The creek contains many insect families that are sensitive to pollution and their presence tells us that the creek has good water quality.  In fact, the insect population has been getting better over time, so conditions here have improved over the past 20 years.  A thick riparian zone of trees and shrubs provides ample shade for the creek and plentiful groundwater inputs keep the water quite cold.  Many decades ago, the DNR actually stocked Arms Creek with trout, which is very rare for the Huron Watershed, but not enough fisherman utilized the creek to make this worth the cost. Last year HRWC staff wrote a creekshed report for Arms Creek, which can be found here along with a clickable and zoomable map.



The shores of Independence Lake

The Arms creekshed also contains Independence Lake, a beautiful county park located only a few miles from my
house and a spot that my family visits many times during the year. In the summer it is our go-to spot for swimming and waterslides, and in the other seasons we play on the playground and take walks through wetlands and fields. Winter is a great time to visit as the park is all but deserted.  Last winter we spent a long time throwing rocks onto the lake and listening to the musical “plunk-plink-plunk-pppppppp” of the rocks echoing and reverberating against the ice.


“More rocks, Daddy. More rocks!”

What’s Going on in Norton Creek?

Volunteers Mary Bajcz and Larry Scheer monitoring at Norton Creek

Volunteers Mary Bajcz and Larry Scheer monitoring at Norton Creek

On June 3, 2015, the Huron River Watershed Council started sampling at 10 sites on Norton Creek, located in Oakland County.   In addition to water quality monitoring, volunteers and interns are also assessing the area by looking at the road/stream crossings, creek walking and paddling on the creek, and conducting neighborhood assessments.

Norton Creek, a tributary to the Huron River, drains 24.2 square miles and is located in portions of Commerce, Lyon and Milford Townships, and the cities of Novi, Walled Lake, Wixom and Wolverine Lake in Oakland County.

Norton Creekshed Map

Norton Creekshed Map

Bill Lee at Norton

HRWC Volunteer Bill Lee grabs samples at a Norton Creek site.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality designated Norton Creek as impaired due to excess sediments and low dissolved oxygen. Dissolved oxygen refers to the amount of oxygen that is available in water, and it is essential for aquatic life and good water quality. The cause for low dissolved oxygen in Norton Creek is attributed to high biological and sediment oxygen demand — meaning that algae and bacteria are consuming all available oxygen, leaving none for bugs and fish.

HRWC was awarded a SAW grant (Stormwater, Asset Management, and Wastewater Program) to fund the Norton Creek project.  Based upon the data collected from our monitoring efforts, a watershed management plan will be developed to address and fix the impairment.

HRWC intern Gianna Petito sampling at a Norton Creek site.

HRWC intern Gianna Petito sampling at a Norton Creek site.



The extent of impairments and the likely source contributions will be evaluated, along with the development of a realistic prescription of remediation, restoration, and protection actions.  HRWC has been and will continue to work with key stakeholders and concerned citizens in the Norton Creek communities in a collaborative effort to help restore this at-risk creek.

We want to thank the volunteers and interns who are helping HRWC with the data collection effort!  It is because of your help that we are able to quickly and efficiently gather the data we need to develop an effective watershed management plan to improve Norton Creek!

Sunshine, bugs, and volunteers

Now that is a lot of sunshine!

Now that is a lot of sunshine! credit: Kristen Baumia

People enjoying nature!

We could not have asked for better spring weather for our 120 volunteers on April 18!  They soaked in the sun and warmth while visiting 50 different creek and river locations across the Huron River Watershed. Held twice a year, HRWC’s River Roundup 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 macroinvertebrates collected during this event, we are able to keep abreast of the health of our waterways throughout the watershed. You can see all the results in April 18 River Roundup Report.


Mill Creek is the largest tributary to the Huron River, draining  143 square miles of land, 68 of which are agriculture. Agricultural impacts have certainly taken their toll on Mill Creek, with some Mill Creek’s tributaries no more than straightened ditches, and the creek has phosphorus and E.Coli issues that come from fertilizers and animals. However, great things are happening in Mill Creek, including the removal of Mill Pond Dam in Dexter, stream stabilization projects, landowner education, and a renewed interest in bringing residents to the waterfront. 

Changes in the EPT families on Mill Creek, Shield Road. The red line shows the Mill Pond Dam removal.

Changes in the EPT families on Mill Creek, Shield Road. The red line shows the Mill Pond Dam removal.

As a part of the River Roundup, volunteers regularly visit 9 sites on Mill Creek (the main branch and several tributaries).  Four of these sample sites are showing significant improvements in the macroinvertebrate populations, indicating improving water quality and habitat.  These four sites are Shield Road (near the mouth), Manchester Road and Klinger Road (both in the headwaters), and Fletcher Road (on the north branch).

Shield Road in particular seems to be doing quite well with several highly diverse samples taken since the removal of the downstream dam.  The graph to the right shows the changes in the EPT (mayfly-stonefly-caddisfly) family diversity, with the red line in the middle of the graph indicating the dam removal. Samples in the early 2000′s were particularly poor with only 2 or 3 families found, and now we are regularly finding  6 or 7. Insect families that are now found which were not found previously include Baetid mayflies, Isonychia mayflies, Leptophlebia mayflies, and the Philopotamid caddisfly.

You can learn more about Mill Creek from our creekshed report.


South Ore Creek has fewer insects than we would expect despite areas of great habitat. When this happens, the likely culprit is some type of chemical pollutant.

South Ore Creek has fewer insects than we would expect despite areas of great habitat. When this happens, the likely culprit is some type of chemical pollutant.

If you have read these updates before, you will recall that we have learned that several streams in Livingston County have had significant reductions in their insect populations over time.  In fact, of the 62 sites that we monitor across the Huron River Watershed, 20 are in Livingston County, and 9 of those have statistically significant reductions. In contrast, HRWC monitors 30 sites in Washtenaw County and the insects at 12 sites are statistically improving while zero are declining.  Now, this may simply be a coincidence, as it is difficult to explain why a political boundary can make such a difference in insect populations.  But the data speaks pretty clearly; among others, Davis Creek (South Lyon area) has been declining, and South Ore Creek (Brighton area) is also getting worse.  Thankfully, both of these creeks could still be considered relatively healthy (when compared to more heavily urbanized creeks like Malletts), but we have to make some extra efforts to get these creeks to reverse their negative trends.


What’s next?

You should be a creekwalker! In this unique program, you will walk up and down a stream, exploring it and looking for possible pollution sources.  Join by yourself, with friends, or with your family.  Learn more about it at http://www.hrwc.org/volunteer/creekwalker/.

Enjoy the Outdoors?

Erin Burkett examines giant leaves on a recent assessment. Can you identify the tree?

Erin Burkett examines giant leaves on a recent assessment. Can you identify the tree?

Want to Get Outdoors and Help the Huron River?

We need volunteers to join our natural area field assessment teams!

Get outside, meet new people, learn about our local natural areas and help out HRWC’s Bioreserve Natural Areas Assessment program! HRWC is seeking field volunteers to help inventory ecologically important natural areas in the watershed.
Volunteer teams will be conducting rapid ecological assessments of grasslands, forests, wetlands, and aquatic habitats throughout this spring, summer and fall.
Each visit is like a nature hike through a new woods or wetland.
The 2015 season marks our seventh field season; volunteers have so far assessed over 260 properties throughout S.E. Michigan.  These efforts have helped protect over 6,000 acres of land in the watershed. Land conservancies and community preservation programs use the data gathered to promote permanent protection of those lands identified as the highest quality and most important for protection of the Huron River. Come to our program introduction and training on
May 9, 2015 
10am to 4pm 
at Independence Lake County Park, in Whitmore Lake
Register here
For more information, contact Kris Olsson at 734-769-5123 x 607, kolsson@hrwc.org.

Stoneflies! Cute AND educational!

Stonefly Search 2015 Wrap Up

A Surprisingly Pleasant January Day
So cute! Who wouldn't want to spend a cold Saturday in January looking for one of these?

So cute! Who wouldn’t want to spend a cold Saturday in January looking for one of these?

You never know what a Michigan January will bring; last year HRWC was forced to cancel the Stonefly Search because of sub-zero temperatures and blizzard conditions.  But this year, on January 17, 125 intrepid volunteers enjoyed bright sunshine and 30 degree weather as they spread across the Huron River watershed. They were in search of stoneflies, which are only found in clean and healthy streams.  Everyone made it back safe, and not a single leaky wader was reported! Overall, it was a great success!

The results are in, and are given in this pdf report.

What We Found

1. Usually when we look at the data after an aquatic bug search, we see that some sites do better than normal, some sites do worse, but most sites stay the same. This was a strange year because while most sites stayed the same, several did worse than normal, and none did better.  Overall, the count of stonefly families was down about 10% from our last sampling event (2013). There is no clear explanation for this; weather conditions were great and the ice wasn’t any thicker than other year.  We will start to be concerned if we continue to see this happen year after year. However, there is always natural variation in the data and collecting and this year will likely not be the start of a downward trend in terms of the overall sampling.


Caroline, HRWC Intern and volunteer, scours Malletts Creek in hopes of scoring a Capnid.

Caroline, HRWC Intern and volunteer, scours Malletts Creek in hopes of scoring a Capnid.

2. That being said, there are specific locations that have shown long-term degradation. For example, Honey Creek in Ann Arbor. The team searching for stoneflies in Honey Creek at Wagner were unable to find stoneflies. This site has been sampled 14 times since 1995, and this is the first time that stoneflies could not be found. This is a site with lots of turbulent highly oxygenated water and should be a great place for stoneflies. Taken in isolation, the absence of the stoneflies at Wagner Road would not be concerning given that this is a single sample.  However, two upstream Honey Creek Adopt-a-Stream sites used to have stoneflies but haven’t in years.  Stoneflies haven’t been seen in Honey Creek at Jackson Road since 2008; they haven’t been at Honey Creek at Pratt Road since 2003. All of the pieces combined indicates that the overall quality of Honey Creek is degrading over the last decade.

3. Davis Creek at Pontiac Trail is another location where the stonefly population has dropped over time. This change is concerning because it happened slowly over the last ten years and our spring and fall samples show a very similar pattern.  In the early 2000s we regularly found one or two stonefly families at the creek, but they started to drop off and now have not been found since 2009.

4. All this doom and gloom needs to be put in perspective, though. Remember, most of the sites we visited were as healthy as ever.  Of the 61 Adopt-a-Stream sites that HRWC uses to assess the overall water quality of the watershed, stoneflies are regularly found at 38 of them. In other words, 62% of our watershed has very high water quality and habitat. This agrees with recent analyses of other HRWC data, showing that 66% of the watershed was good to very high quality, 28% was fair to good, and 7% was highly impacted (2014 State of the Huron)

Next on the horizon!

Interested in doing more with our macroinvertebrate searches?  Think about becoming a trained leader or collector by coming to the next training on March 29.  This is an extremely important job because every team needs both a trained leader and collector, and we often do not have enough to meet the demand.  Sign up for the training!


The team gathers around the white trays to sort debris and hunt for stoneflies!

The team gathers around the white trays to sort debris and hunt for stoneflies!



2014 Leaves the Huron Nutrient Story Complicated

An excessive amount of nutrients is the top water quality concern in the Huron River watershed and the Great Lakes region, if not the entire county. This summer’s drinking water crisis in Toledo is a prime example of the potential impact. Waters in the Huron River watershed have suffered similar impacts, though somewhat less dramatic. Still, multiple millions of dollars have been invested within the watershed to reduce the sources of phosphorus (the growth-limiting nutrient in the region). So, where are we today, as we close out 2014? Have the programs, projects and other investments made any impact? HRWC’s Water Quality Monitoring Program results should shed some light on this question. 

The first look at the phosphorus trends suggests that we have made little recent progress. As shown in the first chart, raw phosphorus concentrations in the middle Huron River watershed steadily declined from the beginning of the monitoring program (2003) through 2009, when the average phosphorus concentration rose above target levels (red line). From 2010 through this year, concentrations were much more variable, but averages were distinctly above the target. Phosphorus concentrations were also well above the target in the Lower Huron watershed over the last three years (not shown).

Total phosphorus concentrations in the middle Huron River Watershed

Total phosphorus concentrations in the middle Huron River Watershed

These raw results do not provide a complete picture, however. Concentrations can vary tremendously (just look at the error bars) depending on a number of variables, most importantly stream flow. 2008 was a particularly dry year, for example, while stream flows were well above average in 2011. HRWC storm sampling shows that, as stream flows increase during a rain storm, phosphorus concentrations increase, often dramatically.

When we account for the stream flow at the time of sampling, we get a somewhat different picture. The second chart shows phosphorus concentrations at Ford Lake, when adjusted for river flow (also shown as the blue line). The chart shows four periods — 1995 when the state DEQ sampled to set a phosphorus control policy, and three periods after the monitoring program began.

Phosphorus concentrations and river flow at Ford Lake

Phosphorus concentrations and river flow at Ford Lake

From this view, it is obvious that concentrations have come way down from original ’95 levels. Also, phosphorus concentrations have come back up since 2009, but by less than it seems from raw concentrations.

It is unclear why we have seen the recent increase in phosphorus concentrations. It does not appear to be linked to sediment concentration (i.e. erosion) as those data are not well correlated. Some national studies suggest that historical fertilizer application may be dissolved and slowly moving through the groundwater. If that is the case, while direct application of phosphorus in fertilizer has been addressed (through fertilizer policy in the City of Ann Arbor and later statewide law), we are still seeing the legacy effects of over-fertilization in our urban/suburban areas. There also has been an increase in phosphorus loading from the more heavily agricultural Mill Creek watershed, which could partially explain the increase.

HRWC provides a more detailed tributary evaluation in its annual monitoring report. For reports, presentations and 2014 raw data, see the Water Quality Monitoring page.

Honey Creek Plan Released

HRWC recently received final approval to release a new watershed management plan to address impairments in Honey Creek, a tributary to the Huron River in Scio Township. The creek is identified as “impaired” by the state Department of Environmental Quality because water samples routinely show levels of bacteria above the state’s water quality standards.

Target areas for reducing bacteria contamination in Honey Creek

Target areas for reducing bacteria contamination in Honey Creek

HRWC developed the plan in consultation with partner organizations and stakeholders in the watershed following two years of extensive study. The study included sampling throughout the creek watershed, genetic “fingerprinting” of bacteria source animals, as well as in-stream and neighborhood surveys. Overall, the study helped to identify a few critical areas of possible septic contamination and it eliminated as problem areas some other parts of the watershed. Beyond septic sources, HRWC identified pet waste, livestock waste (e.g. horses and chickens), and manure application as sources of bacteria.

Key recommendations in the plan include:

  • Identification of specific septic sources, elimination of illegal connections to the creek and remediation of failing septic systems;
  • Establishment of an ordinance in Scio Township requiring the removal of pet waste combined with the installation of pet waste stations at key locations;
  • Targeted agricultural funding in the creekshed for manure and nutrient management, animal exclusion from waterways, and the restoration of stream buffers and wetlands; and
  • Education throughout the creekshed on issues contributing to bacteria contamination.

HRWC is working with partner organizations like Scio Township, the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office, Washtenaw County Environmental Health, and the Washtenaw County Conservation District to raise funding to implement plan activities in 2015 and beyond.

Underwater Mussel Shenanigans

While doing a habitat assessment on the Huron River, I was lucky enough to see a pocketbook mussel in the process of attracting a fish host and managed to get some pictures and a video of it.

Please excuse the poor video quality- it looks like a bubble got trapped on our underwater camera lens! But you can make it out. The mussel is buried in the sediment, positioned so that its opening is facing up. The mussel is extending a part of its mantle into the current to use it in its reproduction process.

Mussels reproduce by releasing their glochidia (microscopic larvae) in the presence of fish.  The glochidia latch onto the fish’s gills and fins where they dwell for days or weeks, depending on the species and water conditions.  During this time the glochidia develop into microscopic juveniles and eventually drop off the fish.  If they land in a suitable place, they can create a new mussel bed.

mussel reproduction

Therefore, since fish are integral to a mussel’s life cycle, the mussels have developed ways to get a fish’s attention. By extending the colorful mantel into the current, the mussel acts like an angler’s fish lure! When a fish gets closer- the mussel shoots out the glochidia!

Special acknowledgments go to Ryan and Marty of ECT, for experiencing this really cool find with me.

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