Archive for the ‘River condition’ Category

Why I’m Marching

I will be joining the local March for Science this Saturday in my hometown of Ann Arbor. I am doing this because I have come to realize that those of us who are active scientists or who regularly use data or information produced by scientists need to do a better job communicating scientific discovery to the rest of the world. At its core, science is a systematic method of differentiating fact from opinion. Science is not a philosophy or religion. It is not a political platform. It is simply the best method we have to discover what is true about our world.

Here at HRWC, we engage in scientific discovery on a daily basis to learn about what is happening in the river, its tributaries and the land that drains to it. By utilizing the scientific approach to understanding, we can be confident that the actions we are taking, and the resources we ask our members and partners to invest have a strong likelihood of making a positive difference — to produce the high quality water resources that we want.

HRWC volunteer Larry and University of Michigan researcher Brandon installing stream sensor equipment.

HRWC volunteer Larry Scheer and University of Michigan researcher Brandon Wong installing stream sensor equipment.

The last few weeks I worked with our partners at the University of Michigan and our volunteers (our citizen scientists!) to install cutting-edge sensors and technology to make real-time observations of stream flows and water chemistry to help us better understand what happens during storms. This will lead us to recommend the best practices to capture and treat stormwater runoff in the future and improve water quality and river habitat. Without this evidence-based knowledge, we would just be guessing at what works.

What concerns me (and ultimately why I am marching) is that our current national leadership is proposing significant cuts to funding for all types of science. Further, policies are being proposed or established that run counter to well-established scientific understanding, like climate change, and the effects of environmental regulation. Science matters. Truth matters.

I encourage you all to get out and march with me or get out and contribute to our understanding by volunteering at events like Saturday’s River Round-up.

Trip Report: D.C. Fly In For Clean Water

The Huron River Watershed Council joined a delegation of river protection leaders from around the country to Washington, D.C. last week. The goal of the Fly In was to make it clear that clean water matters to all Americans across the country and along the political spectrum. Our group included representatives from 16 organizations hailing from Alaska to Oklahoma, Wisconsin to Florida, and Maine to California. Clean Water Network convened the event.

For two days, we shared first-hand stories – with each other and with federal agency representatives — about how water pollution affects our families, neighbors, and communities. We spoke in favor of holding a strong line of defense on everything from ensuring that infrastructure investments provide safe drinking water to preserving TMDLs that keep pollution in check in order to keep our rivers, lakes, and streams protected. The Trump Administration’s February Executive Order concerning the Clean Water Rule was foremost on everyone’s mind for its potential to jeopardize implementation of the Clean Water Act.

HRWC's Elizabeth Riggs and other D.C. Fly In participants visit US EPA on Pennsylvania Avenue.

HRWC’s Elizabeth Riggs and other D.C. Fly In participants visit US EPA on Pennsylvania Avenue.

On the first day, our Clean Water Network hosts provided information on the politics of conservation with the new Congress and the Trump Administration, the proposed rollbacks of the Clean Water Act, and drastic budget cuts to the US EPA and Army Corps of Engineers – the cops on the beat of enforcing our country’s environmental laws. We met with top decision makers in the Office of Water at agency headquarters. Having an audience with senior staff gave our group first-hand knowledge on topics ranging from stormwater and agricultural runoff, to the future of the Clean Water Rule and regional programs for the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.

Day two featured a meeting with senior staff of the Army Corps of Engineers Regulatory Program to present our concerns and pose questions on a variety of topics. (Michigan is less affected by Army Corps activities than most other states since the state is authorized to implement wetlands program permitting; in 48 states, the Army Corps implements the program.) A guided boat tour of the Anacostia River from the Anacostia Riverkeeper and Anacostia Watershed Society was a highlight. We ended the Fly In with trainings to sharpen advocacy and persuasion skills, and strategizing with other Clean Water Network members to take coordinated action to protect our local waterways.

I can share a few key conclusions from the Fly In:

  • Be ready for a shorter-than-usual public input phase on the Clean Water Rule rulemaking. We need to give specific, detailed comments during the public input period as well as inundate the agency with sheer volume of comments in order to show level of public interest.
  • EPA Administrator Pruitt is interested in nutrient pollution and understands that it is a significant problem but wants to see a state-driven nutrient framework, which is consistent with this administration’s federalism bent.
  • Advocating for regional programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is important, yet we also need to support EPA core programs like permitting and enforcement.
  • We need to seek support from our congressional delegation in Michigan to let them know that clean water is a priority.

I am grateful to Clean Water Network for inviting HRWC on this recent trip to DC. It is important that local watershed and river groups show up and speak to lawmakers and agency staff about issues that impact us. Americans didn’t vote for more pollution in their water, no matter how they voted in the election. If you are interested in Standing Strong for Clean Water with HRWC, join us as we come together to fight rollbacks to our bedrock clean water laws.

Engage, Engage, Engage

In the last 2 months I’ve been asked a lot about my thoughts on sustainability and climate going forward. At a recent climate rally I shared what we do best at HRWC—the climate science and trends, and what people can do.

Here is a synopsis of my comments:

For 50 years our job has been to study and protect the Huron River, which runs right through many communities, including Ann Arbor. We have 25 years of data about this ecosystem. And the data confirms what we’ve seen this February. We have a migrating climate. Days like this are what we would have expected to see in Kentucky 20 years ago. Within 50 years our seasons will feel more like Oklahoma. This has massive implications for our natural ecosystems and our economy, and our quality of life!

Ann Arbor floodingSo let me tell you about what our science shows us about Michigan today:

  • It’s warmer. Annually by 2 degrees F; by 2070 an increase of 3.5 to 6 degrees.
  • Today, the growing season, or the frost-free season, has gotten longer by 9 days. In the future, it could increase by 1-2 months.
  • Today, Michigan gets more rain and snow—an 11% increase. In Ann Arbor 24% more.
  • The strongest storms have become more intense and more frequent. These rain storms are so heavy they overwhelm our storm sewers, our dams, and our wastewater treatment plants.

But, that’s facts and figures, let me tell you a couple of stories about how that affects us all.

  • People might remember that three years ago, a rain caused flooding in our watershed and in particular, on the UM campus. It was so intense and with so much water, students kayaked down the East University Street.
  • HRWC researches the river. Every January, we send about 100 volunteers out, up and down the river, to collect Stoneflies. Stoneflies are little bugs that are sensitive to changes and pollution, so they tell us how healthy the river is. Two years ago we had to cancel because of the extreme cold. The volunteers couldn’t break the thick ice to get in to the river. This year, we had the opposite problem: our volunteers could not get in the river in certain places due to high flows from a 50 degree thaw. We heard from volunteers that they were already seeing stoneflies that had hatched rather than in their larval stage. This means that when the fish start spawning in April, they won’t have as many stoneflies to eat….that damages the entire aquatic ecosystem.

So we’ve had an extremely warm February, but these unexpected extremes should now be expected.

So what can we do about this? Engage, engage, engage. I hear from people day in and out that they are frustrated and yearning to take action. We need big change; to change the way we operate major infrastructure systems of this country—transportation, energy, stormwater, housing, waste, and food.

As somebody who has spent my career working on environmental issues, here’s what I find effective: 1. Take individual steps on your own and with your family; 2. Build connections with people (your colleagues, elected officials, friends, neighbors) to work on issues at a larger scale.

Stand up against the things you don’t want (a weaker EPA, the Dakota pipeline, Line 5), but at the same time take actions to create the things you do.

There’s lots of things we can do as individuals. We also have elected officials, business, and government employees, and it’s important to do things collectively and scale them up.

  • To change our transportation systems, Take the bus—and advocate for robust public transit;
  • To change our stormwater systems, Put in a rain garden or rain barrel—and work with neighbors to push your university or town to install better rain capture systems on roads, parks, and rooftops;
  • To change our energy system, Put in solar—and help your elected officials pass tax incentives and ease of permitting for alternative energy; and
  • To improve our housing system, Live near your work or school—and encourage affordable housing so others can too.

Finally, it’s important to volunteer—engage in your community, sit on a board or commission. This is tough but necessary work. This is where change is made.

In my work as Director of HRWC, I bring very different people together to protect something we all love, the Huron River. I do that by talking to everyone who plays a part—farmers, drain commissioners, hunters, anglers, politicians, scientists, and homeowners. We’re all really different people with different political perspectives. We don’t always agree, but we find ways to make real change. Because all these people work together, the river is cleaner than it’s been in 50 years. It’s that steady engaged work that makes a difference and gives me hope.

Go get involved, take up the challenge, and let’s get to work!

Here are some of our projects that exemplify how our partnerships address climate change.

 

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

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

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

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

Phosphorus levels in the middle section of the Huron River Watershed

Phosphorus levels in the middle section of the Huron River Watershed

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

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

New Ambassadors scout Water Trail for all

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

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

HRWT Ambassador Hat

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

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

What does an Ambassador do?

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

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

How do you spot an Ambassador?

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

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

Water Quality Monitoring Program Allows Active Involvement

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

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

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

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!)

Mill Creek: the many benefits of field work

AATU members opening Mill Creek

AATU members opening Mill Creek

HRWC’s woody debris maintenance program, piloted in 2014, has expanded its staffing and impact. As the spring (and early summer) high waters recede, Ann Arbor Trout Unlimited (AATU) members have been working in conjunction with HRWC to keep Mill Creek open for fishing and paddling. As of last week Mill Creek is now free of impediments from the Sloan Preserve, through Dexter, to the Huron River. Note, Mill Creek from Dexter down to the Huron can be a leisurely paddle, while upstream is sometimes technical due to rock outcroppings and narrow passage.

Illicit Construction on Mill Creek

Illicit Construction on Mill Creek

Field work always offers multiple benefits. There’s the obvious work – clearing the stream or collecting water quality data. Another reason for field work is to offer citizens the opportunity to experience nature or gain some responsibility over our shared resources. Lastly, HRWC volunteers often discover amazing things. Sometimes a heron, baled eagle, turtle, or clam. Sometimes an egregious violation of local and state law. AATU volunteers came across a sea wall being installed on Mill Creek, with nearly zero protections to the creek, and no township, county, or state permits. With a quick call to HRWC’s office and a little detective work by staff, this work site was stopped within 18 hours. County and state officials will be working with the land owner and construction company to remediate the damage that has been done to this lovely riparian area.

As the summer draws to an end, make sure you get out and enjoy the river and its creeks. And while you’re there, keep your eyes open – you’ll never know what you’ll discover!

What the Clean Water Rule could mean for the Huron

Sometimes just maintaining the status quo is the goal. Such is the case with federal protections for waterways through the Clean Water Act that are clarified with the Clean Water Rule developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers. The rule provides definition to “Waters of the United States” and will become effective on August 28, 2015. The rule only protects waters that have historically been covered by the Clean Water Act.

credit: John Lloyd

credit: John Lloyd

The administration wrote the rule in an attempt to clarify its jurisdiction after two U.S. Supreme Court decisions made it murky beginning in the early 2000s. While about three percent  more area is covered by the Clean Water Act than before, the protections are still less than they were during President Bill Clinton’s administration. The Clean Water Act protects the nation’s waters. A Clean Water Act permit is only needed if these waters are going to be polluted or destroyed.

In my interview this week with David Fair on WEMU’s Issues of the Environment radio show, we talked about what the Rule does:

  • Provides greater clarity and certainty regarding the waters protected under the Clean Water Act
  • Makes the jurisdictional determination process more straight-forward for businesses and industry
  • Reflects the best current science (more than 1,200 peer-reviewed studies were consulted)
  • Aligns with the Supreme Court decisions
  • Reflects public input and comments (400 meetings around the country)
  • Protects public health, the economy, and the environment

and doesn’t do:

  • Regulate new types of waters, land use, most ditches, groundwater, farm ponds
  • Change policy on stormwater or water transfers or irrigation
  • Limit agricultural exemptions
  • Regulate water in tile drains
  • And my favorite, regulate puddles
How might the Clean Water Rule impact Michigan and, more specifically, Huron River waters?

The Department of Environmental Quality, the state’s permitting authority, expects little impact to Michigan water protection programs. Michigan is one of only two states (New Jersey is the other state) that administers its own wetlands permit program instead of the Army Corps of Engineers, and the state-run program is more protective than the federal program. On the Huron River, the collective effort to improve water quality is yielding gains in quality of life after decades of effort focused on education, new technologies to reduce pollution and water consumption, and water quality monitoring.

The Huron River Watershed Council formed seven years before the enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972. As we celebrate 50 years of protecting and restoring the river for healthy and vibrant communities, we have the perspective to recognize this Rule as a watershed moment for the country to rededicate itself to clean water. Find out more about the Clean Water Rule from the EPA’s Clean Water Rule web page. A Michigan fact sheet is available about the value of clean water in the state for the economy, the environment, and public health.

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.

Highlight

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.

Lowlight

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/.


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