Archive for the ‘Phosphorus’ Category
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.
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!
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.
HRWC’s commitment to compiling and sharing noteworthy water-related news continues. This month’s News to Us covers the recent listing of Lake Erie as impaired waters, problems associated with low density development, a great river recovery story and some tips on good river “housekeeping” for autumn leaves.
Conservation Groups Applaud Michigan’s Inclusion of Lake Erie in Impaired Waters Report
Last week the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality listed western Lake Erie as impaired waters under the Clean Water Act. Environmental groups have been advocating for this for some time now as it will allow for further research, funding and action to address the nutrient pollution that leads to toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie. This is very good news for this Great Lake. Many are pushing for Ohio to follow suit.
Is the Infrastructure ‘Time Bomb’ Beginning to Blow?
It may not be immediately obvious, but low density development—what we see in suburban and rural areas where homes are built on large lots far from city centers—is not good for waters and watersheds. Here at HRWC we prefer high density development in a few areas as opposed to low density development everywhere. This article highlights one of the problems associated with sprawling development. “Low density housing cannot pay the bills.” The tax revenue is too low to cover the cost of infrastructure maintenance like roads, sewer and water necessary to serve these developments. When this infrastructure fails, the environment suffers. Check out our Smart Growth publications to learn more.
Taking Down Dams and Letting the Fish Flow
Last issue we shared an article about the human safety benefits of dam removal. This heartening story shows how quickly an ecosystem can rebound after dam removals. Three dams were removed on the Penobscot River in Maine in 2012 and 2013. Just three years later, huge numbers of native migratory fish have resumed their migration up the river—a trip they have not been able to make for nearly 200 years!
Leave The Leaves–Putting Organic Waste To Work
Leaves and grass that make their way into waterways add excess nutrients and use up valuable oxygen as they decompose. Local Master Composter Nancy Stone gives advice on how to utilize fall yard waste to maximize the benefits of fallen leaves. Leaves can be used in your yard to improve your soil and reduce weed growth. Nancy recommends mowing the leaves into your lawn. Mulching leaves can also reduce the greenhouse gas methane. Give this interview a listen as you are getting ready to clean up fall leaves. For more tips on river friendly home care visit our pollution prevention page.
Local osprey are being outfitted with tracking devices so you and researches can monitor their travels, a new online learning opportunity will improve your knowledge of lakes, and researchers are predicting another severe algal bloom in Lake Erie this summer. Oil and gas pipeline accountability has been in the news a lot lately. Here we pulled together three articles that will catch you up on the latest happenings. And that is what is News to Us.
DNR monitoring osprey chick migration with GPS. Several osprey chicks have been outfitted with backpacks to help monitor the bird’s movements and growth. Two of the four chicks that will be monitored are from a nest in Kensington Metropark in Milford. There is a site where you can track the birds too at michiganosprey.org.
Introduction to Lakes course coming soon to a computer near you. With over 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan is home to many lake enthusiasts. If that describes you and you have always wanted to know more, Michigan State University Extension is now offering an online course providing in introduction to lakes.
‘Severe’ algal blooms forecast this summer on Lake Erie. Researchers are predicting a more significant algal bloom this year than the one last summer that shutdown Toledo’s water supply for several days. The bloom won’t necessarily lead to issues with drinking water but will certainly impact recreation on Lake Erie and the organisms that live in the lake. Phosphorus runoff and heavy rains in June are two major contributors to the severity of the bloom. Conservationists are targeting large livestock operations for phosphorus reduction.
July has been a big month for news on oil and gas pipelines in Michigan. Here is a sampling of articles sharing pieces of the larger issue of moving oil through our state’s waterways.
- Life 5 years after the nation’s worst inland oil spill – NPR’s Environment Report revisits the Kalamazoo River oil spill which is the largest inland oil spill in US history caused by a break in an Enbridge pipeline that traversed this waterway.
- Report calls for heavy crude oil ban in Straits of Mackinac pipeline – The Michigan DEQ led a special task force that released a report last week on the status and future of pipelines in the state. Of particular focus is the Enbridge pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac. Some say the recommendations are a big step in the right direction for safety and accountability. Others assert it does not go far enough to protect our freshwater resources.
- National Wildlife Federation to Sue Dept. of Transportation over Oil Pipeline Oversight Failures — On the heels of this report, the NWF announced they plan to sue the federal government for failing to uphold the Oil Pollution Act which requires approval of a safety plan for pipelines which travel in, on or under inland waters. This lawsuit comes after much scrutiny and investigation into the safety of the Enbridge pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.
It has been 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.
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).
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.
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.
On August 2nd, Mayor of Toledo Michael Collins, issued a ban on drinking water. Microcystis, a bacteria*, reached toxic levels in the City’s drinking water supply in western Lake Erie. The ban lasted two days and left nearly half a million people without water including residents of Monroe County, Michigan. During that time there was much media coverage discussing cause, response, extent of the impacts and who was to blame.
What you may not have read is that this event is not unique. Increasingly, and across the globe, our lakes and oceans are experiencing booms of algae and bacteria populations that are reaching levels toxic to both wildlife and people. The question I want to explore here is how may climate change be contributing to this issue that is plaguing Lake Erie and many other coastal waterways?
Lake Erie has seen an increase in the frequency and size of blooms since the 1990’s. A harmful bloom of algae and bacteria occurs when waters are warm and nutrients are high. Lake Erie is shallow and therefore warmer than other Great Lakes. Additionally, there is extensive agricultural and urban development in the watersheds that drain to the lake. Nitrogen and phosphorus reach our rivers from farm fields, leaking septic systems and discharge pipes from industry.
Climate change can make conditions worse in two major ways. As air temperatures increase, water temperatures increase. In our area we have already experienced a 1.1° F increase in average annual temperature in the past 30 years.** Models predict an additional increase of 4-12° F (depending on what carbon emissions values are used) over the course of this century. Additionally, not all rains are created equal. More nutrients run off of land and through pipes during large rain events. These nutrients are carried from the source, to a river, which eventually delivers the “food” to Lake Erie where it is used to fuel a bloom. In Southeast Michigan we are already experiencing an average of 2.9 inches more precipitation (much falling as rain) each year than we were 30 years ago. Models predict further increases to our average annual rainfall, and more importantly to this story, that rain is expected to fall in larger events. An analysis of Toledo rainfall records revealed that they have experienced a 40% increase in the number of strongest storms in the last 30 years when compared to the previous 30 years. This is typical for the entire Midwest region of the US.
So, while harmful algal blooms have occurred in Lake Erie for decades, there is reason to believe that climate change is an additional, and increasingly important, factor leading to the uptick in frequency and severity of these events.
You can read more about microcystis and the Huron River watershed in our upcoming newsletter scheduled for release in December. If you do not receive our newsletter, you can subscribe here.
________*Point of clarification — Microcystis is a bacteria, not an algae, though the two tend to bloom simultaneously under the right conditions. ** All climate data was provided by the Great Lakes Integrated Science and Assessments Center www.glisa.umich.edu
This 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.
News to Us today highlights a couple of local stories from Milford and Scio Township. Several climate-related articles came across our desks recently including a press release on a new report connecting climate change to pest outbreaks and some promising bi-partisan legislation in New York. Finally, more fall out from the recent flooding in Detroit — raw sewage in local rivers and ultimately Lake Erie.
Milford activists aim to integrate river, downtown Recently, interested community members met in Milford to discuss the Huron River. As one of the Huron River Trail Towns, Milford is looking for ways to connect all the downtown assets available to people from the river, to parks to downtown businesses. Improved canoe landing areas, signage, and new development opportunities were among the topics discussed. Trail towns are part of HRWC’s RiverUp! program.
Scio Township imposes moratorium on oil and gas operations Following the installation of the first drilling operation in Scio Township on Miller Rd and W. Delhi, the township has established a 6-month moratorium on further oil and natural gas developments. This will give the township time to consider existing protections related to oil and gas activities such as ordinances on noise, odor, and hours of operation.
Warming Climate Brings Greater Numbers of Bugs and Outdoor Pests A new report is linking factors related to climate change are responsible, in part, for high populations of mosquitoes and ticks as well as the toxicity of poison ivy. Read the full report: Ticked Off: America’s Outdoor Experience and Climate Change.
Legislature sends climate change bill to Cuomo Across the nation, from the federal to local levels, people are planning and taking action to prepare communities for a changing climate. Last month, New York took a significant leap by bring legislation to Governor Cuomo that would require all state-funded projects to address climate change and extreme weather into planning and implementation of these projects. Legislation passed a democratic controlled Assembly and Republican controlled Senate and awaits the Governer’s approval expected sometime late this summer.
Metro Detroit’s sewage overflow feeds Lake Erie algae growth The historic flooding that occurred in the Detroit area this August caused trouble beyond flooded roadways and basements. Many areas affected by the flood have combined stormwater and sewer systems that, when overwhelmed, deliver raw sewage directly to rivers, streams and ultimately Lake Erie further exacerbating recent water quality issues in the lake. We are fortunate in the Huron River Watershed not to have combined sewer systems. However, stormwater and sewer infrastructure failures affect us all. Improving this infrastructure to handle large rainfall events will help protect against future failures.
Last week, nearly 500,000 people lost access to clean water for drinking and bathing due to a toxic algae bloom that occurred around the City of Toledo’s drinking water intake. The bloom was likely caused by excessive amounts of phosphorus (and perhaps other nutrients) in the Western Lake Erie Basin.
Although the immediate crisis in the city of Toledo has passed, the threat to drinking water supplies in Toledo and other Lake Erie communities has not. Lake Erie supplies water for 11 million people who live near the lake.
Watershed councils and environmental groups, including HRWC, have been working for years to reduce nutrients, like phosphorus, in our watersheds. It is these nutrients – from agricultural practices, lawn fertilizers, wastewater treatment plants, and polluted runoff from pavement – that are a chief cause of the algae blooms. The changing climate and alterations in invasive mussel populations also contribute to the algae blooms. On top of it all, our lakes also suffer from the cycling of nutrients deposited in the lake from years past.
Here in the Huron River watershed, HRWC and municipalities along the river have made major investments to reduce our nutrient inputs such as stronger soil erosion controls, phosphorus and buffer ordinances, streambank restoration, and wetlands and natural area protection and construction to hold and infiltrate water. As a result phosphorus levels in the middle section of the watershed entering Ford Lake have been reduced substantially. While the lakes still have occasional algae blooms, the length and size has been reduced.
Overall, the phosphorus load contributed by the Huron River watershed to Lake Erie pales in comparison to the massive load from the heavily agricultural Maumee River watershed. In response to this heavy agricultural input, the International Joint Commission has called for better nutrient management and soil erosion controls by agriculture including a ban on winter manure application. They also recommend continued reduction of urban sources and wetland restoration. Last week, a New York Times editorial called for similar action.
Nutrient pollution is a clear danger not only to drinking water, but to efforts to develop a “blue economy” for the Great Lakes, including HRWC’s RiverUp program to promote the river as a recreational, economic, and cultural resource. This new economic future cannot stand with national headlines declaring Great Lakes water unsafe to drink.
Until we stop polluting our lakes and rivers, our economy, drinking water and way of life are in jeopardy. To learn more about what you can do to reduce your impact on the Huron River Watershed and Lake Erie downstream, take a look at our tips on how to become an H2O Hero and how to be a responsible shoreline property owner.