Archive for the ‘Monitoring’ Category

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

dsc_2704_resized

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.

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?

Get Outdoors and Support 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 2016 season marks our nineth field season; volunteers have so far assessed over 300 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 14, 2016
10 am to 4 pm 
at Independence Lake County Park, in Whitmore Lake

For more information, contact Kris Olsson at 734-769-5123 x 607, kolsson@hrwc.org.

Stonefly Search: Lots of searching, not so many stoneflies

January 23rd was a beautiful day for the annual Stonefly event.  The weather hovered around 30 degrees and the sun shone nicely throughout the volunteers’ time outside.  They were searching for stoneflies, an insect that only lives in the healthiest creeks and rivers. The absence and presence of stoneflies, and the trends in their population that we see after visiting a location over and over again, give us clues as to how the water is changing over time.

stonefly_jackie Richards

The beautiful Fleming Creek at Parker Mill County Park. credit: Jackie Richards

Strange Weather

Unfortunately for the purposes of data analysis and clear-cut answers, stoneflies are affected by more than water quality, however.  Strange weather can also play havok on their ecosystems, causing populations to drop off. Our volunteers came back with very low amounts of stoneflies this year, and while we can’t be certain, it is possible that our variable Michigan weather is to blame.  You may recall that December was unseasonably warm in 2015, and wonder how that might affect the insects.   However, in this case, it wasn’t a warm December that hurt the stoneflies, but instead February 2015, a month that was extremely cold.  In fact, it was one of the coldest February’s on record.  When streams and rivers are covered by thick ice, oxygen levels decline, which is bad for all aquatic life but particularly bad for stoneflies, who have high oxygen requirements.  Also, February and early March are when winter stonefly adults are emerging, mating, and depositing eggs; all activities hampered by extreme cold and ice cover. In summary, the cold 2015 winter had direct consequences for the stoneflies in 2016.

Volunteers did not find stoneflies at many places this year, but five locations in particular that did not have stoneflies were noteworthy as all of them have a long (10+ years) history of always holding stoneflies.  In addition, all of these locations have great insect populations at our other events and there are no indications of water quality issues, further strengthening the argument that this year was a weather-related population decline. These five locations were three places on the main branch of the Huron (White Lake, Zeeb, and Bell Roads), Arms Creek at Walsh Road, and Boyden Creek at Delhi Road. Many other locations had reduced numbers or family counts.

Those interested in all results can see them here: PDF report.

A spud is an essential tool for any stonefly searcher. credit: Francis Connolly

A spud is an essential ice-smashing tool for any stonefly searcher. credit: Francis Connolly

Other Results:

Prior to the event, I laid out several examples of things that we would watch for this year:

Davis Creek at Pontiac Trail:  Stoneflies have been dropping off here for the past decade.  Volunteers did come back with stoneflies this year, though not the winter stoneflies but rather a family that is more widely available.  Still, this is good news.

Honey Creek at Wagner Road: Stoneflies were missing here in 2014 for the first time, and unfortunately volunteers did not find them this year either.

Woods Creek at Lower Huron Metropark: Just like Honey Creek at Wagner Road, stoneflies were not found here for the second year in a row.

Insect populations are resilient and can bounce back with good water quality and suitable weather conditions.  While this year was disappointing, the mild winter we are experiencing right now may result in a bumper crop in 2017. Come next January, HRWC and its volunteers will be ready to check it out!

 

Answering Questions with Bugs: The Stonefly Search

The slender winter stonefly, Capniidae.  Credit: www.troutnut.com

The slender winter stonefly, Family Capniidae. Credit: www.troutnut.com

It is January, which means that one of HRWC’s favorite events, the Stonefly Search, is right around the corner.

Stoneflies are interesting because they are the most pollution intolerant group of aquatic insects that we have in Michigan.  They can only thrive in the cleanest water with high levels of dissolved oxygen.  When they are found at a location it is a confirmation of high water quality, and when they disappear from a stream it is a warning sign that water quality has degraded.

It might seem strange to many that we hunt for stoneflies in the winter.  This is because two of the stonefly families, the Capniidae and the Taeniopterygidae, change from aquatic nymphs to terrestrial adults in the late winter and early spring.  This means that we can’t find them during the normal April River Roundup, and so we have to look for them earlier in the year!

The Stonefly Search always produces interesting results.  Let’s take a look at some of the findings in recent years.

Stonefly Successes!

Reported in 2013: Four sites had the best stonefly samples that had ever been seen at those locations: Chilson Creek at Chilson Road, Fleming Creek at Galpin Road, the Huron River at Flat Rock, and Woodruff Creek at Buno Road.  At each of these sites, the stoneflies normally found at the location were there, but also new stonefly families were found that had never been seen there before! A greater diversity of stoneflies indicates greater stream health.  These are promising results and hopefully it will continue into longer term trends.

Reported in 2011: Since 2007 and up through last year, our volunteers have found 4 families of stoneflies in Mann Creek. This includes 2 stonefly families that can be found in creeks year round (Perlidae & Perlodidae), and the 2 stonefly families that are only found in the winter (Capniidae & Taeniopterygidae). Even in the Huron’s healthiest streams, it is unusual to find more than 2 families of stoneflies during the Stonefly Search.  So, Mann Creek is special indeed. Mann Creek flows through a residential neighborhood- but one really interesting thing about Mann Creek is that there is a very wide natural riparian zone surrounding the creek.  This riparian area provides habitat and food for stoneflies as branches and leaves fall into the creek. To see Mann Creek and its impressive riparian zone, click here.

Stonefly Failures!

Stonefly Search: Kid friendly since 1995. credit: Peter Jung

Stonefly Search: Kid friendly since 1995. credit: Peter Jung

Reported in 2015: Davis Creek at Pontiac Trail (near South Lyon) is a 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.

Reported in 2015:  The team searching for stoneflies in Honey Creek at Wagner Road (Ann Arbor) 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.

Reported in 2013: The team searching for stoneflies in Woods Creek in Belleville came back disappointed.  Wood’s Creek at the Lower Huron Metropark has been sampled 12 times since 1997, and this is the first time that stoneflies could not be found. The problem likely comes from the thick ice and difficult conditions rather than pollution or disturbed stream habitat, but we will keep an eye on Wood’s Creek next year.

What will we find in 2016?

Will Mann Creek continue to reign as the king of Huron River stoneflies?  Will we find stoneflies where they have never been before?

Will we find stoneflies this year at Davis, Honey, and Woods Creek, or has the water quality there continued to decline?

We will see you on January 23 and we will answer these questions together!

Click here for registration and more information.

What will this Search find this year? credit: Dan Myer

What will HRWC volunteers find this year? credit: Dan Myer

Winter Stoneflies in Arctic Michigan

A Celebration of a Very Cold Event

by Dr.David Wilson

We don our coats and boots, go forth to break the ice

In frigid, frosty weather that no one could say is nice

We flounder through the streams in search of a great prize

Taeniopterids and Capniids, precious winter stoneflies

 

Winter stones are quite the thing

Though one surely might be wondering

How these tiny creatures could ever be so bold

As to live and thrive in this bitter winter cold

 

Paul tells us that in winter these critters really thrive

Cold water holds the oxygen to keep them all alive

And winter is helpful in another major way

The cold keeps fierce predators so very far away

 

Quite sensitive to any water pollution,

Winter stones provide a quick solution

If we find ‘em we can be sure

That the stream is sweet and pure

 

The critters are small and rather dark

In this frigid weather they have a lark

Scamper about in the ice and snow

There’s no other place for them to go

 

To ID them here’s what you do

Look for wingpads four and cerci two

Along the flanks no gills are found

And on each leg two claws astound

 

The ice is thick, the water chills,

With cold I’m fed up to the gills

But none could say that we are quitters

We’ll search ‘til we find those little critters

 

Believe me, I know whereof I speak

You’ll find out fast if your waders leak

One hears screams of pain from the bravest jocks

When that icy water hits their socks

 

Collectors and runners can stay in motion

Stay warmer thus, I have a notion

But picking requires that one stand still

Can be quite bleak, cause many a chill

 

Don’t go on ice unless waders you wear

If you’re not wearing waders your weight it won’t bear

If you should venture this dumb thing to do

I guarantee you’ll surely break through

 

Let me warn you right now; listen up and take heed

Bring twice the wraps you think that you’ll need

That usually turns out to be about right

So that you are not left in a piteous plight

 

A jug of warm water is always quite pleasing

Helps to keep that D-net from freezing

And stout rubber gloves keep collectors’ hands dry

Help a great deal when frostbite is nigh

 

On these trips a truly most gracious amenity

May help the participants keep some of their sanity

A big jug of cocoa sure hits the spot

Beloved by all if it’s nice and hot.

Stonefly Search is coming January 23! Registration and info here.

About the author:

Dave Wilson is a HRWC volunteer and trained collector who has attended 9 Stonefly Searches and countless other HRWC events.

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.


Dave Wilson
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