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Fishing with a Little Help from our Friends AC/DC

A smallmouth bass with bright markings.

A smallmouth bass with bright markings.

When scientists want to sample a fish population, they don’t rely on a rod and bait. Under certain circumstances they will use nets, and often in streams and rivers they will use electrofishing. HRWC got the chance to do a little electrofishing this past week.

To electrofish in a shallow river, a gasoline generator is put into a light boat. The generator is hooked to two long poles, called booms, that are placed into the water and create an electric field between themselves and the bottom of the boat.  The electric field does not kill fish but temporarily stuns those that get within a few feet of the booms.  While stunned, workers with nets scoop up the fish and put them in tubs filled with water. The fish are then identified and sorted, and eventually released back to the river safe and sound.

Last Wednesday, several HRWC staff went out with our partners from Environmental Consulting Technology (ECT) to sample the Huron River along Riverside Park in Ypsilanti.  We saw plenty of fish in this stretch, including several big smallmouth bass and one big walleye.  While we still need to officially work up the results, our initial observations were that the fish are indeed using the cover and deep water habitat that HRWC  installed two years ago, and the fish were bigger and more numerous than when we electrofished the same reach before the habitat was installed.

We will report back when the final results are in. Until then, enjoy some fish pictures!

pulling a eletrofishing barge at River side Park, Ypsi

ECT staff pull an eletrofishing barge at Riverside Park, Ypsilanti

watch for those teeth!

We caught a walleye at Riverside Park. Watch out for those teeth!

The fish are measured before we let them go.

The fish are measured before we let them go.

Standing Strong for Clean Water

In the last 5 months HRWC has been regularly expressing our concern on changes to federal policy, legislation, and the budget.  I want to share with you a few of these letters and comments and assure you that HRWC is there to face new challenges coming while continuing our work to protect and restore the river for healthy and vibrant communities.

hrwc20The Healing Our Waters Coalition (HOW) composed a letter defending the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) which, under the President’s budget, would be cut completely.  HRWC signed on to this letter that stated, “The potential wide-ranging budget cuts impact many agencies that are critical to the success of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, as well as those that ensure people throughout the country have access to safe air and clean drinking water. Millions of people in the Great Lakes region and across the country—including many communities which have borne the brunt of racial, environmental and economic injustice—will pay a steep price if Congress does not reject the proposed cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and agencies like U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and others.”

HOW Coalition’s letter pushing back against the Trump Administration’s proposed budget cuts and in support of funding Great Lakes programs attracted a record 152 groups that signed on to the letter that sent a strong message to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to fund these important programs.

In response to President Trump’s regulatory reform efforts, HRWC signed on to 3 letters and participated in a national video.

One letter outlined HRWC’s objections to this proposed regulatory reform.  “We object to the false premise that public safeguards are holding back our nation.  In reality, environmental protections have saved lives, improved health, conserved resources and spurred innovation, all while allowing for economic growth and providing far more in benefits that they cost”.  In addition, HRWC signed on to a regional Great Lakes letter that outlined environmental and economic reasons for environmental protections in the Great Lakes region and highlights the importance of policies like the Clean Water Act in protecting vulnerable communities.

I was also interviewed for a video compiled by the Clean Water Network and the River Network that includes leading river protection groups talking about the importance of federal legislation on regional clean water efforts.  This video was compiled at National River Rally in May in Grand Rapids,  a conference for over 600 river and water champions.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency led the charge on another very important program facing budget cuts.  EPA’s highly successful WaterSense® program is a voluntary public-private partnership that has saved American consumers more than $33 billion (in 2015 dollars) on their water and energy bills over the past decade. WaterSense is a voluntary program, not a regulatory one, and it costs less than $2 million dollars a year to administer. It is universally supported by consumers, manufacturers and the public and private agencies charged with supplying water to American households and businesses. Since its inception in 2006, it has been immensely successful at achieving its goal of reducing water consumption. An estimated 1.5 trillion gallons have been saved using WaterSense-labeled products.

While of lesser significance to HRWC, we also signed on to letter opposing efforts to repeal or undermine protections for national parks and monuments spearheaded by the National Parks Conservation Association.

Finally, HRWC has been providing stories of our success with federal funding, legislation, and policies to national groups, policy makers, and legislators.  These on the ground examples are being used to illustrate the importance of federal grants and programs and to provide concrete water quality improvement stories.

HRWC is lending its voice and success stories to the national dialogue on federal environmental policies, budgets, and legislation.  We believe this is an example of how to Stand Strong for Clean Water.

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

30158738441_16b87bda57_oNews to Us this month provides an update on the dioxane contamination case. Also, two new projects bring money to improve water quality in the Huron. Finally, read articles on two widespread water quality issues – PAH contamination due to coaltar pavement sealers and bacterial pollution from failing septic systems.

Judge grants local intervention in Ann Arbor dioxane pollution case In a precedent setting decision, Judge Connors granted intervention on legal negotiations associated with the Gelman dioxane plume to HRWC. Washtenaw County and the City of Ann Arbor were also granted intervention. As the Attorney General’s counsel stated, “…. in our experience we’ve never seen a circumstance where an environmental policy group or a public interest group basically has intervened and been a participant in the negotiation of a consent judgment, whether it’s the very first negotiation of a consent judgment, or in this case the fourth amendment to a consent judgment.” HRWC will represent the needs of the river ecosystem and recreational users.

$1.8M in federal funds to help protect Huron River watershed A significant award through a federal Farm Bill program is coming to the Huron. These funds will be used to protect natural and farmed lands and support farming practices that protect water quality. Efforts led by the Legacy Land Conservancy will be focused on the headwaters of the Huron in Oakland, Livingston and western Washtenaw counties. HRWC is one of many local groups involved in this unique partnership.

$675K design contract for new tunnel to Ann Arbor riverfront approved A major stormwater management and river access project in Ann Arbor now has the funding it needs to move forward. A tunnel will be built underneath the railroad tracks connecting pedestrians from Depot Street to the Border-to-Border trail and Argo park. This tunnel will also act as a release valve for stormwater which tends to back up and flood land and property in this low lying area where Allen Creek meets the Huron River.

Coal tar main source of toxicity in streams A recent study found that up to 94% of PAHs found in sediments in Milwaukee-area creeks and streams came from coaltar pavement sealants and that 78% of all samples had enough PAH content to be considered toxic. PAHs are a toxic class of chemicals that impact aquatic life and human health. HRWC has been working, in the face of mounting evidence, to ban the use of coaltar and other high PAH sealcoats to reduce the impacts of this unnecessary contaminant. Learn more about area bans at hrwc.org/coaltar

Aging septic systems fouling Michigan waters Did you know that Michigan is the only state that does not regulate septic systems? As many as 1.4 million of these systems exist within our state, very few are under any inspection and maintenance requirements. Sixty four rivers sampled in Michigan had bacterial contamination that was traced back to human sources. This is one of the biggest threats to Michigan waterways. HRWC has more information on this issue and how you can maintain your septic system here and will be investing in septic system education in Honey Creek, a tributary of the Huron considering impaired by the State for bacterial contamination.

Stonefly Search and Volunteer Night

Start 2017 at our volunteer events this week!


Volunteer Night
Thursday, January 19
6-8pm
HRWC Offices
1100 N Main Street, Ann Arbor

Join HRWC staff, volunteers and partner organizations in recapping and appreciating the 2016 field season. We collect and analyze a lot of data that tells us about the health of the Huron River and its watershed. HRWC will present results and share stories to entertain and enchant at this must-go event!

This evening you will witness… The amazing and mesmerizing Stevi Kosloskey as she daringly describes the results from HRWC’s Water Quality Monitoring Program. Always magical and mysterious, Dr. Paul Steen will spin a story about benthic macroinvertebrates that is not for the faint of heart! The one, the only, Thursday night only, Ric Lawson will fill your head with Water Quality data in mere minutes. Last, but not least, Kris Olsson, our Bioreserve leader (wooooo aaaahhhhh) will tell you tales from beautiful, far away lands (natural areas in the ‘shed).

Please register with the man behind the curtain: JFrenzel@hrwc.org.
***


Stonefly Search
Saturday, January 21
9 or 10:30am, for 3-4 hours
Throughout the watershed

We have ordered up the best of winter weather just for you! Enjoy March in January as you help us collect water quality data that supports long-term decisions by our partner organizations and informs much of the program work we do here at HRWC! This year only, with a predicted high of 51 degrees, the weather is going fast! In 2014 it was negative 20 degrees for this event!

Register and info: www.hrwc.org/volunteer/stonefly

How Science-y Are HRWC Scientists? Very.

img_6161We have a very large whiteboard in the conference room at HRWC, and the holidays prompted some doodling across its vast expanse. Suddenly, the Huron River was populated with all sorts of creatures having some winter fun, skating away…you know, like they do.

The scientists loved it – mostly. Just a few quibbles, really, and what struck me was that the concerns were NOT that the scene included Santa and his reindeer, a snowman, and that all the watershed animals were on skates. Oh, no. That was all fine! The two issues were:

  1. the crayfish was skating forward and not backward as nature intended
  2. there was a bear in the scene, and there are no bears in the watershed

The ensuing conversation, while amusing (the 2011 black bear sighting at Hudson Mills was submitted, and rejected, as evidence as it seems he/she was “just passing through”), showed the depth and breadth of scientific inquiry that is the norm at HRWC. We take a good hard look at everything, and that is to the advantage of the river, the watershed and all the creatures in it.

You just can’t get away with fake news at HRWC. A skating bear on the Huron is going to get fact-checked in all directions. A crayfish with forward momentum is simply not right, and all the

Crayfish, skating in the correct direction now

Crayfish, skating in the correct direction now

scientists on staff are going to let you know this (nicely, of course!), and then you are going to get to examine the crayfish poster (yes, we have a crayfish poster!) for information, and the conversation spirals off into what are common to the watershed (virile, northern clearwater and others) and can you eat them like crawdads (yes) and what kind of crayfish are crawdads anyway (red swamp crayfish – invasive to Michigan).

And when you have that level of examination over a cartoon crayfish, you can imagine what happens here on the more serious issues. Impacts of 1,4 dioxane on aquatic life? We are searching globally for the latest science. PAH content of “synthetic” coal tar sealants? We’re on it.

Because that’s how we do things here.

To learn more about the science behind our work, please join us on Thurs, Jan 19, 6-8pm for our Volunteer Appreciation and Season Results Presentation. Through the lens of the Huron’s many creeksheds, HRWC staff will share stories and lessons learned from our 2016 field season at this fun annual event. We will feature 2016 highlights and 2017 plans from our Bioreserve, Fish Habitat, River Bug Studies, and Water Quality programs. NEW Center, 2nd Floor, 1100 North Main Street, Ann Arbor. Register by email: jfrenzel@hrwc.org.

–Rebecca Foster, Development Associate

Community Techniques for Protecting Water Quality

Kris Olsson presents at the December 10 workshop

Kris Olsson presents at the December 10 workshop

Lively Discussions Lead to Learning

Over 60 people from the Huron River watershed and beyond gathered at the Freedom Township Hall to learn about Community Techniques for Protecting Water Quality. Elected and appointed officials from six townships attended the December forum on the vital role local governments play in protecting our region’s lakes, rivers, and streams and the natural areas that contribute to their quality. Attendees also included members of a variety of water protection groups and interested citizens, some driving as far as 200 miles from northern Michigan and Ohio.

Planning for community growth that protects natural areas is the key to ensuring clean water and vibrant communities for residents, businesses and farms. The goal of the forum was to share concepts, ideas and programs and to provide participants with an opportunity to learn from each other what works.

Harry Sheehan, the Deputy Water Resource Commissioner from Washtenaw County led the morning with an important overview on protecting water quality. Then Sally Rutzky and Erica Perry, Planning Commissioners from Lyndon and Webster Townships, communities HRWC has worked with to develop Green Infrastructure maps and plans, shared challenges and unique solutions to water and land protection issues. Monica Day, Michigan State University Extension educator, connected local water quality protection to statewide issues on the news like the Flint water crisis and algae problems in Toledo.

The forum was organized by HRWC, Mchigan State University Extension, Freedom Township, Pleasant Lake Property Owners Association, Michigan Lake and Stream Associations, the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner, Citizens Respecting Our Waters, and Washtenaw County Emergency Management.

Read about the event in The Sun Times News and the Manchester Mirror.

Forum presentations are available at HRWC’s Green Infrastructure page.

HRWC has received funding from the Knight Foundation to provide Green Infrastructure Planning Services to local governments.  This includes a workshop where residents and officials map out their community’s natural areas and greenways, an audit of their zoning ordinance, master plan and other policies, and technical support in enhancing policies to protect water quality and natural areas. If your local government would like Green Infrastructure Planning Services, email Kris Olsson or call her at (734) 769-5123 x 607.

News to Us

Photo credit: John Lloyd

Photo credit: John Lloyd

HRWC and EPA have taken action recently pertaining to 1,4 dioxane – the chemical contaminating groundwater in the Huron River watershed.  During road salt season, consider alternatives to reduce impacts to our lakes and rivers. Huron River residents and the Great Lakes received good news this week on funding for natural resource protection and recreation. All in this edition of News to Us.

Dioxane makes list of 10 toxic chemicals EPA giving closer look  This past summer the act that governs the regulation of chemicals in the US underwent major reform which arguably reduced barriers to regulate toxic substances. The 30 year old act had made it notoriously difficult to regulate chemicals. Under the reformed act, EPA was tasked with selecting ten substances to evaluate first. 1,4-dioxane is on that list, meaning the chemical that is contaminating groundwater under Scio Township and Ann Arbor will undergo a thorough risk evaluation over the next three years.

Huron River Watershed Council and county take legal action on dioxane Last week, HRWC filed a motion to intervene in the Gelman case that would amend the consent judgement that put cleanup of the 1,4 dioxane plume contaminating local groundwater in the hands of MDEQ and Gelman Sciences.  HRWC and Washtenaw County, who also filed a motion to intervene, argue that cleanup efforts have failed. Should the court choose to open the case again, HRWC would provide a voice for the river, aquatic life and river recreation.

Road Salt Sex Change: How Deicing Messes with Tadpole Biology  In the season of ice and snow, Huron River residents will be bringing out the road salt. There is mounting evidence of negative impacts to rivers and lakes due to high salt concentrations. This article discusses new research findings that implicate road salt in developmental issues in tadpoles, particularly by altering sex ratios. For some alternative practices for safe sidewalks visit our tips page.

Coalition Applauds Great Lakes Investments in Bill Great news for the Great Lakes. The federal government has authorized another round of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) Funding. GLRI will provide $1.5 billion in funding over the next five years for projects that help restore our water resources. GLRI has funded projects in the Huron and throughout Southeast Michigan to the benefit of people, businesses and the natural resources.

Gov. Rick Snyder applauds Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund board recommendations Several projects in the watershed were awarded grants from the Michigan Natural Resource Trust fund.  These projects will advance trail systems in our area including the Washtenaw County Border-to-Border (B2B) trail segment from Dexter to Ann Arbor.  Trail projects also build out the Huron Waterloo loop in Lyndon Township and a segment of the Iron Belle trail in Ypsilanti Township.

Eunice Burns Made a Difference

Eunice enjoying a paddle on her river.

Eunice enjoying a paddle on her river.

HRWC’s longtime Board Member, Eunice L. Burns, peacefully passed away on October 20, 2016 at the age of 93. Eunice is the longest serving member of the HRWC board and the co-founder of Ann Arbor’s Huron River Day with her friend Shirley Axon. Eunice’s commitment to clean water and a healthy Huron River began with her service on the Ann Arbor City Council in 1962.  She became involved with HRWC in the early 1970s and served as Chairwoman 3 times.  “Eunice cared deeply about the Huron River and the Watershed Council” said Laura Rubin, HRWC’s Executive Director, “She was always there to help out, stand up and let her opinion be known, and offer a big smile of encouragement”.

Eunice was the embodiment of a good citizen. She never backed away from what she thought was right no matter the opposition and was courageous and dedicated in her actions.  Her love for her community has stood as a shining example for her children, grandchildren, and those who knew her, of a vibrant, purposeful life rich in impact and meaning. Eunice liked to say that she had multiple careers, starting as a physical education teacher, and then entering political life in 1962 as a member of Ann Arbor City Council from the First Ward. She served three terms and went on to run for Mayor in 1965, the second woman in the city’s history to do so. In 1971, she began working for the University of Michigan as Executive Assistant to the Dean in the School of Education, and Chair of the Commission for Women. After ten years at the university, she became Manager of the historic Kerrytown Market, and in 1983, obtained her real estate license and worked as a realtor with Charles Reinhart Company until she was 85.

Her family asks for donations in her memory to the Huron River Watershed Council or the Eunice Burns Fund for Water Policy Education in the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy.

Follow the Huron River Water Trail to adventure . . .

Try Fishing a Stretch of the Huron’s Productive Waters

logo-hrwt

I love to explore the watershed and hunt for fish habitat. The Huron River watershed is full of great habitat for a variety of species including sport fishes like small and large-mouth bass, rock bass, perch, steelhead, walleye and pike, and many other unique and diverse species. I like to fly fish the river and some of the larger tributaries for bass because bass are aggressive predators and strong fighters and I enjoy trying to mimic their prey. I am getting better at actually catching them, and our productive river is a good teacher with its wide gentle flow and lots of good hidey holes for big and small fish alike. Mostly, I just like the peaceful time to stand in the flow and take in the sights and sounds of life along the river.

Fly fish the Huron River.

Fly fish the Huron River.

Now that my kids are bigger, I have started taking each of them along with me. Both enjoy different aspects of the experience. Foster likes to think like a fish, while Ally likes being in the water and perfecting her casting skill.

One of our favorite places to fish is along Riverside Park in Ypsilanti. The river is wide there and fairly easy to navigate. We usually start by paying a visit to Schultz Outfitters to get the low down on river conditions and what the fish are feeding on. They have lots of great flies to fill our bait boxes as well. This stretch of the river has LOTS of bass! Most of them are on the small side, but since the RiverUp! restoration project was completed, the guides have been seeing some larger catch.

Ally with her first lake fish

Ally with her first lake fish

There are other great places to fish along the river. There is really good lake fishing in many of the in-line lakes throughout the watershed, and many river runs near Milford, Dexter, Ann Arbor, and Flat Rock. One of our most memorable times was when my wife caught her first fish while we were canoeing upstream of Barton Pond. She was so excited that she screamed and frightened then 2-year-old Ally.

Have fun, stay safe with these TIPS from the Trail!

Join HRWC for Huron River Appreciation Day, Sunday July 10! Come along on a guided trip of the Huron River Water Trail in Dexter, paddle the Lower Huron from Flat Rock or paddle to Milford from Proud Lake, hear a talk on paddling safety and get a free life jacket, hear a river history talk or learn to fly fish! 

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Huron River Appreciation Day is sponsored by TOYOTA.


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