Archive for the ‘Pollution Prevention’ Category

2016 Stewardship Awardees

Last night, HRWC’s Annual Meeting featured highlights from 2016: progress on the Huron River Water Trail, green infrastructure projects and plans, updates on pollution prevention initiatives like coal tar and dioxane, and efforts to ready the watershed for climate change. Our work would not be possible without the amazing support given by our donors, funders, volunteers, and peer organizations. Please join us in celebrating a few who went above and beyond in recent years. You can read more about these folks in our summer newsletter, the Huron River Report, coming out in June.

HRWC Stewardship Awardees 2017

Janet Kahan, Melissa Damaschke, John M. Erb, Sally Rutzky and Wendy Schultz

Janet Kahan
Volunteer of the Year
Janet leads HRWC’s youth streamside education program, working with volunteers of all sorts to teach stream ecology and water quality to over 1000 students per year.

Sally Rutzky
Herb Munzel Achievement Award
Sally has been a stalwart supporter of the Huron, HRWC, and local communities as she’s advocated for better zoning and planning, gotten in the way of sand mining, and used her expert plant identification skills on behalf of the watershed.

Wendy Schultz
Extraordinary Partner Award
A key ally of HRWC’s water quality monitoring program, Wendy and her staff test our samples from Washtenaw County, identify and solve programmatic problems, and graciously greet our volunteers throughout the season offering tips and encouragement for collecting much needed water samples from our streams.

Erb Family Foundation
Big Splash Award
The Erb Family Foundation has been a forerunner in funding organizational growth and new programmatic initiatives including our RiverUp! program. Long-term support like theirs is key to nonprofit organizational health.

Join us in congratulating these watershed champions!

 

Powerful Tools for Your Clean Water Toolkit

New resources and training for waterfront (river and lake) property owners.

Pleasant Lake, Freedom Township, by Lon Nordeen

Pleasant Lake, Freedom Township, by Lon Nordeen

Michigan Shoreland Stewards provides recognition for lakefront property owners who are protecting the waterquality and ecosystems of inland lakes through best practices. These include reducing fertilizer use, maintaining septic systems, creating fish habitat with woody debris and native aquatic plants, and using native trees, shrubs and wildflowers to capture runoff and prevent erosion. The free web-based questionnaire is designed to guide you through the practices and help you determine how to achieve Gold, Silver or Bronze status. Qualifying properties get a certificate and a sign. Many of the practices can be adapted for riverfront properties.

Wisconsin’s Healthy Lakes website includes five simple and inexpensive best practices that improve habitat and water quality on your lakeshore property. Factsheets, technical guidance and detailed how-to information for creating fish habitat at the water’s edge and on using native plant buffers, diversion, rock infiltration and rain gardens to capture and clean runoff. Most practices apply to riverfront properties.

Upcoming Workshops

Sat, March 25, 2017. Protecting Your Shoreline: A Workshop for Inland Lakefront Property Owners, Michigan State University 3-25-17_natural_shoreline_workshopExtension, Oakland County Executive Office Building Conference Center, Waterford, Michigan. For property owners interested in creating, restoring and managing natural shorelines. This workshop is designed to educate on natural erosion control methods and will discuss techniques for using natural landscaping along the shoreline for erosion control and habitat while maintaining the aesthetic value of the lakefront. Register by March 22.

Fri-Sat, April 21-22, 2017. 56th Michigan Lake and Stream Associations Annual Conference, “Bridging the Resource Gaps: Enhancing the Ability of Lakefront Communities to Prevent and Manage Aquatic Invasive Species,” Crystal Mountain Resort, Thompsonville, Michigan. The conference will provide participants with the knowledge, information, and ideas to improve their lakefront community’s ability to prevent and/or manage aquatic invasive species. Learn more about the latest efforts to control invasive mussel populations, the status of starry stonewort in Michigan waters, purple loosestrife management initiatives, and the efforts of the Michigan Swimmers Itch Partnership. MiCorps Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program will also hold its annual volunteer training at the MLSA Conference, on Friday.

 

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.

 

News to Us

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Mulching fall leaves is a river friendly practice. Photo credit: Dean Hochman via Flickr Creative Commons license.

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.

Honey, We Got the Grant!

Breaking news here at HRWC headquarters: we have been awarded a grant to implement our Honey Creek Watershed Management Plan! In 2012 -2013 we researched within the Honey Creek watershed to identify problems. Primarily, we scoured the watershed looking at bacteria levels and fingerprinting their sources. Honey Creek’s poor water quality is due to high bacteria levels, which can threaten human health.

Target areas for reducing bacteria contamination in Honey Creek

Target areas for reducing bacteria contamination in Honey Creek

Our research led us to some recommendations on how to protect and restore the area in ways that address the most critical issues. We are pleased to report that the Department of Environmental Quality has provided funding for this work within the Honey Creek watershed. Our Honey Creek project starts this autumn and will end in autumn 2019.

With this grant, we will:

  • Hire canine teams (dogs!) to sniff out sources of human sewage waste in 2 key areas of the watershed. Once the dogs help us identify specific areas with septic issues, we will work with Washtenaw County and property owners to help them address problems. We will also do homeowner outreach on ways to maintain septic systems.
  • Scoop that poop! We will raise awareness of the importance of removing pet waste from yards and parks, and install pet waste pick-up stations. Pet waste is one of the predominant sources of bacteria in Honey Creek.
  • Mark 1,000 storm drains and hand out door-to-door flyers to raise awareness of their direct connection to Honey Creek and what people can do to capture and reduce runoff pollution.
  • Identify farmers in the Middle Huron watershed for a Farmer Advisory Council (FAC). The FAC will advise HRWC and project partners on future plans to address bacteria and nutrient reduction from agriculture including innovative approaches such as “pay for performance” subsidies for nutrient and bacteria reduction practices.

For questions about our new project, contact Ric here.

This project has been funded wholly or in part through Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Nonpoint Source Program by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Take Back Your Prescription Medications

Help protect local water and prevent teen substance abuse!

You can make a difference.

Pain Medication Take Back Day October 8, 2016

Take Back Day, Sat Oct 8, Pioneer High School, Ann Arbor

Take your unused medications (both for people and pets) to the UM’s Pain Medication Take-Back Day
Saturday, October 8, 10am-2pm, Ann Arbor’s Pioneer High School Parking Lot
Check the link for a listing of accepted items.
(hosted by the Ann Arbor Police, the Institute for Healthcare and Policy Innovation, and the Division of Pain Research)

Unused prescription medications are both a water quality issue–(A US Geological Survey study concluded that 80% of streams sampled contained detectable levels of compounds found in common medications) and a teen substance abuse issue (Partnership for Drug Free Kids reports that prescription medicines are now the most commonly abused drugs among 12 to 13 year olds).

Disposing of medications through a take back program keeps them out of our water and gets them away from the home where teens have access.

There are lots of drug take back options (many Sheriff Stations, pharmacies, State Police) throughout the Huron River watershed. We have found the most complete information at Washtenaw County’s Don’tFlushDrugs.com. Look closely at listings for what drugs each program accepts. Some will not accept controlled/scheduled drugs (in compliance with the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), enforced by the Drug Enforcement Administration) and some will.

Quick links at HRWC’s Take Action Take Back Drugs page.

 

Trees, plant one!

Is fall the best time to plant trees? Good question. Seems that the answer is debatable. With the onset of fall, there are a couple of compelling reasons to plant — availability and affordability! We know of at least two upcoming tree sales here in the shed:Tree at Island Lake by Anita Daley

Washtenaw County Conservation District fall tree sale (Order by September 30)

Matthaei Botanical Gardens fall native plant and tree sale (October 1/October 2, 10am-4:30pm)

What is not up for debate is that trees are good for protecting local waterways. “Polluted stormwater runoff is the number one threat to the Huron’s health. Trees soak up stormwater with their roots and intercept rainwater in their canopies. They filter pollution such as pesticides, fertilizers, and animal wastes out of runoff; and they shade the river and its streams, keeping them cool. One tree can intercept 1,763 gallons of runoff water each year.” Huron River Report, Fall 2014, Hardworking Trees, Low-cost watershed workers.

Need more proof? Check out Trees Tame Stormwater, an interactive poster from the Arbor Day Foundation. Drag the slider from few trees to abundant trees. Notice how clean and sparkly the urban river becomes — no doubt due to less polluted stormwater coming through that stormdrain (middle right).

Want to dig deeper?  Take a look at a Review of climate impacts to tree species of the Huron River watershed, from HRWC’s Climate Resilient Communities project. As climate zones shift across the Great Lakes region, some populations of native tree species will be stressed, and habitats may become more suitable for species from outside the region. Geared toward natural resource managers in the region, the guide includes tree species change summaries. You can see general trend predictions for trees like Red Maple and White Pine.

For more how-to info see Home Trees & Shrubs from Michigan State University Extension.

 

Working for the Huron at Home

In addition to being the director at HRWC, I own a home. As a homeowner we’ve been trying to reduce our carbon footprint and save water and energy.IMG_0104

My work in the environmental field makes me familiar with the many things we can do at home to protect the environment. But it takes money and time to act on these tips. This past year we were finally able to work on a few “greening” home improvements, shared here for inspiration . . .

Rain Gardens

Last year we reached out to the Washtenaw County Water Resource Commissioner’s Office to help develop a plan to capture and infiltrate more of the runoff from our roof.  Years ago we installed a rain barrel but it is limited to 50 gallons per rain, with use in between rains.  I live in Ann Arbor on a pretty small parcel and there is not much room for rain storage and infiltration…or a garden.  But we were able to identify 2 different rain garden locations—one a swale along one side of the house and another in the front of the house.

After choosing plants and a design we installed the rain garden last spring—digging, mulching, and placing rocks and native plants strategically for rain water capture and aesthetics.

At first it didn’t look like much but as the summer and fall wore on the plants blossomed and grew.  We enjoyed running outside when it was raining to see the water gushing out of the gutter/downspout and in to the rain garden where it soaked in to the ground.  We found out that we have pretty sandy soils, unusual for this area, so the water soaked in quickly.  If anything, we can divert more runoff to this garden it was so “thirsty”.  I also learned, through trial and error, what was a weed and what wasn’t.  Staying on top of the weeding is the biggest challenge now that the rain garden is in.

Solar Panels

Last summer we also decided to install solar panels.  Since we had last looked in to solar panels the cost has come down substantially.  There are also substantial tax incentives in place this year that help with the price of the panels. We got quotes, talked with colleagues and friends who had installed panels and chose an installer, Homeland.  It took over 4 months until the system was up and running but in early November we were generating electricity!  We’re still getting familiar with how it all works but we have a nice looking box in the basement that hums when we are generating energy and a website to track our power generation.  We’re looking forward to the summer when the sun really shines to see how much energy we can generate and reduce our carbon.

For You!

If you are considering home improvements, or even smaller actions that help protect the environment, HRWC promotes many of them at our Take Action pages. Our booth at the Home, Garden & Lifestyle Show, March 18-20, will feature two sustainable landscaping experts providing free information on rain gardens and native plants: Susan Bryan leader of Washtenaw County’s Rain Garden Program (Saturday) and Drew Laithin of Creating Sustainable Landscapes (Friday/Sunday).

Susan also wrote the cover story for the Spring 2016 Huron River Report, sharing success installing private rain gardens in our Swift Run Project and offering some great tips for those considering DIY rain gardens. Take a look, its a good read and will inspire you to start a rain garden movement in your neighborhood.

Become a Master Rain Gardener!

You can help keep the Huron clean from your own backyard!

Catie Wytychak, Susan Bryan, Mary Sheaffer-Manthey and Frank Commisky planting a new rain garden at Thurston Elementary

Don’t miss this great opportunity offered by the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner! Sign up for the February/March Master Rain Gardener Training to become an expert on these beautiful landscape features that filter and cool storm water before it enters our streams and rivers.

Attend all five classes and plant your own garden to become a certified Master Rain Gardener.

Thursday mornings 9:30am-12:30, February 25 – March 24, 2016. 

Location:  705 N. Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor. MSU Extension Classroom.

Cost:  $90  (Scholarships available)

REGISTER ONLINE

Questions?   bryans@ewashtenaw.org  or 734-730-9025; or visit www.ewashtenaw.org/MRG

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Can’t attend in February? Stay tuned for the free webinar classes, August 11-September 8, 2016, Thursdays Noon-1:30pm. Login via your work or home computer, or smartphone for this live, online class.

If you would like to be sent a registration link when it becomes available for the next class, e-mail bryans@ewashtenaw.org to be put on the list.

LEARN MORE ways to Capture Rainwater at Home with native plants and rain barrels!

Salty Situation

When the leaves start to brown and jackets are unpacked from storage, you know it’s time – winter is just around the corner! One issue on all of our minds at the HRWC office is road salt.

What’s the deal with road salt?

hrwc_rs

Transportation departments and cities are often charged with keeping roads clear and safe during winter months. With our mobile population, salting increases public safety, ensures emergency services, and promotes continued economic activity. Municipalities and private homeowners most often use sodium chloride when applying rock salt. Although it is cost efficient in the short term, salt application has many long-term implications such  as harmful levels of chloride in our water bodies. Increased levels of chloride negatively impact aquatic ecosystems by disrupting the food web, inhibiting growth, and poisoning songbirds.

Decades of salt application has allowed chloride to infiltrate our groundwater supplies, meaning our rivers (and drinking water) begin with an already elevated level of chloride. Less salt is required for streams to reach harmful concentrations. Many drinking water wells and streams around the country have chloride levels above the EPA’s maximum threshold. This can be bad news for those on salt restricted diets, causing hypertension, cardiac disease, and even stroke.

How do we fix it?

Even with the same amount of urban land use over time, chloride concentrations have increased.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect, eco-friendly solution. Alternatives often labeled as environmentally friendly include salts like magnesium chloride and calcium chloride, beet juice, molasses, and vodka distillery leftovers — all of which still include salt! Fortunately, new techniques can help make that amount as small as possible. Canada has identified road salt as a national environmental hazard, and is taking definitive steps towards reducing impacts to water quality such as applying a wet brine before snowfall to prevent ice bonding with the pavement. Many cities are promoting efficiency programs like Smart About Salt in Waterloo. Data collected by the University of Waterloo five years after program implementation demonstrated a 60% reduction of chloride!

What can YOU do as a homeowner?

We have a few ideas! The best option for keeping our Huron happy and healthy is to shovel early and often, without using de-icers at all, even ones labeled as more friendly to the environment. If you must use a de-icer, use as little as needed to get the job done.

Check out our Take Action page: Use Less Salt for more information.

For a deeper dive on the issue, take a look at the following articles (some more technical than others):

Solving Slick Roads and Salty Streams, Stormwater Report, March 4, 2015

Road Salt is Polluting our Rivers, Wired, March 12, 2015

What Happens to All the Salt We Dump On the Roads?, Smithsonian.com, January 6, 2014

Winter Street & Sidewalk Maintenance, City of Ann Arbor Snow Removal webpage

Canada Sets National Targets for Road Salt, Study Shows Stream Toxicity from De-icers Increasing Rapidly, Stormwater Report, February 3, 2015

The Effect of Road Salt on Urban Watersheds and Management Options — HRWC’s very own Stevi Kosloskey was kind enough to share her research paper on road salt application and subsequent implications on water quality, including data from the Huron River. (Thanks Stevi!)


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