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River Roundup Results Reviewed

Macroinvertebrate sampling on the Huron River and its creeks

Thanks to 128 volunteers who contributed approximately 650 volunteer hours, the October 2014 River Roundup was a great success!  The weather was a little dreary and chilly for our volunteers as they split into 24 teams and traveled to 48 different creek and river locations across the Huron River Watershed to assess the aquatic benthic macroinvertebrate community.  This study is one of the most effective ways that HRWC has to understand how the water quality of the river and creeks may be changing. From the data collected at this semi-annual event, we are able to keep abreast of the health of our waterways throughout the watershed. You can see all the results in October 14 River Roundup Report.

Also, in case you missed it, on November 13 the HRWC staff presented our data summaries of 2014 to a packed in crowd.  Jason discussed the broadening of HRWC’s volunteers and volunteer programming. I walked through a case study showing how our data and volunteer programming can be used to investigate pollution problems, and Ric explained how box and whisker graphs can show us water quality data. For those who couldn’t make it, here’s a PDF of the presentation. Let us know if you have any questions!

 

Current Watershed Health

In a nutshell, the health of the watershed as judged by our macroinvertebrate sampling is holding steady.  Of the 62 sites that we monitor to judge this, 28 sites have had no statistically significant changes over time, and 6 sites are too new to make this judgment.

Fourteen sites are declining, and these include locations on Chilson Creek, Davis Creek, east branch of Fleming Creek, Norton Creek, and South Ore Creek.  Eight of the declining sites are in Livingston County, two are in Washtenaw, and three are in Oakland.

Fourteen sites are significantly improving.  Twelve of the improving sites are in Washtenaw County, including Boyden Creek, Horseshoe Creek, the main and west branches of Fleming Creek, Huron Creek, the Huron River in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Malletts Creek, and several places on Mill Creek. One site is improving in Livingston County (Mann Creek at Van Amberg Road), and 1 site is improving in Wayne County (Woods Creek at the Lower Huron Metropark).

Highlight

I’ve become a big fan of Arms Creek over the couple of years as I have learned more and more about it.  While possessing a rather mucky stream bed, the water is cold and heavily influenced by groundwater, the riparian zone is thick and undisturbed in many parts, and there is plenty of woody debris in the water. In fact, part of Arms Creek is actually in a Natural River Zone.  Also, many many years ago, the DNR stocked trout in Arms Creek because of the cold water temperature, which is a very rare thing for southeast Michigan. However, despite all of these great properties, the insect community has only ever been mediocre (probably due to the fine sand and muck dominating the streambed).

Kyle Fetters explored Arms Creek last summer with a group of U-M grad students through HRWC's Creekwalking program. credit: Nate Gainer

Kyle Fetters explored Arms Creek last summer with a group of U-M grad students through HRWC’s Creekwalking program. credit: Nate Gainer

Therefore I was very excited to see this fall’s sample was the best ever collected there since sampling started in 1994. Sixteen total insect families were found, with five of those members of the mayfly and caddisfly families, and 3 of the families classified as “sensitive”. Sensitive families are those that are first to disappear in disturbed or polluted conditions.  Finding three sensitive families is very good and usually only our best River Roundup sites have that many.

 

Lowlight

I have lowlighted Davis Creek before in this results blog, but the really poor results from this Roundup have prompted me to look into the issue again.  Both the Doane Road and Pontiac Trail sites had very poor macroinvertebrate samples; the worst seen in many years at both of these sites.  Both of these sites are on the main branch of Davis Creek, upstream from Sandy Bottom and Ten Mile Lake, on the outskirts of South Lyon.

To investigate the issue, I looked at the habitat data collected by our volunteers in the summer.  Both locations have good to excellent habitat, with good diversity of substrate, good riparian zones, and plenty of instream woody debris.  Furthermore, summer creekwalkers also explored two sections of this creek and also reported finding good habitat throughout.

Therefore, it is probable that there is something dissolved in the water, rather than poor habitat, that is reducing the macroinvertebrate diversity and abundance.  Our volunteers regularly take water samples during the River Roundup that we analyze for conductivity (a proxy for total dissolved solids, which includes inorganic or organic substances, naturally found and pollutants).  I plotted out conductivity over time and did indeed notice an increase of conductivity since 1994.  Conductivity is going up; bugs are going down.  A correlation like this does not prove anything especially given  the variability in the data, but it is an interesting clue.

Conductivity measurements in microsiemens/cm for the Davis Creek: Doane Road site.

Conductivity measurements in microsiemens/cm for the Davis Creek: Doane Road site.

As a followup, it could be useful to get a water analysis to determine the exact chemical constituents of Davis Creek. We may be dealing with herbicides or pesticides, or perhaps excessive chloride (from water softeners). There is also more of the creek to explore on foot, as there are some light industrial and residential areas that we have not visited yet.

What’s next?

Do you consider yourself a Michigander, or aspire to be one? Then you should brave the cold and join the Winter Stonefly Search on January 17.  It is like the River Roundup, only much snowier.  You can register for the event here.

Honey Creek Plan Released

HRWC recently received final approval to release a new watershed management plan to address impairments in Honey Creek, a tributary to the Huron River in Scio Township. The creek is identified as “impaired” by the state Department of Environmental Quality because water samples routinely show levels of bacteria above the state’s water quality standards.

Target areas for reducing bacteria contamination in Honey Creek

Target areas for reducing bacteria contamination in Honey Creek

HRWC developed the plan in consultation with partner organizations and stakeholders in the watershed following two years of extensive study. The study included sampling throughout the creek watershed, genetic “fingerprinting” of bacteria source animals, as well as in-stream and neighborhood surveys. Overall, the study helped to identify a few critical areas of possible septic contamination and it eliminated as problem areas some other parts of the watershed. Beyond septic sources, HRWC identified pet waste, livestock waste (e.g. horses and chickens), and manure application as sources of bacteria.

Key recommendations in the plan include:

  • Identification of specific septic sources, elimination of illegal connections to the creek and remediation of failing septic systems;
  • Establishment of an ordinance in Scio Township requiring the removal of pet waste combined with the installation of pet waste stations at key locations;
  • Targeted agricultural funding in the creekshed for manure and nutrient management, animal exclusion from waterways, and the restoration of stream buffers and wetlands; and
  • Education throughout the creekshed on issues contributing to bacteria contamination.

HRWC is working with partner organizations like Scio Township, the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office, Washtenaw County Environmental Health, and the Washtenaw County Conservation District to raise funding to implement plan activities in 2015 and beyond.

Voting for a Clean River

govoteenvironmentWhile HRWC does not endorse candidates, we can give you some helpful information in guiding your voting decisions.

First of all, PLEASE VOTE!  So many issues in Lansing and Washington, D.C. affect our watershed. Every person who can vote and who has any concern for the environment and the Huron River should take the time on November 4th to go to your precinct and vote.

Michigan House, Senate, and Governor

Half of the State House and Senate districts in our watershed are in play this election season. These representatives and senators will make important decisions about water quality and the environment in the coming years. The Governor plays a pivotal role in not only producing and signing legislation, but in implementing state laws. Here are some issues you will want your candidates to address:

  • Energy – climate change is one of the biggest threats to watershed health, and we need legislation that supports renewable energy and encourages energy conservation.  Vote for candidates who support energy efficiency and renewable energy policies.
  • Biodiversity – the state legislature has been acting to limit the Department of Natural Resources’s ability to manage for and promote  biodiversity in State parks. Find out which of your candidates supports Michigan ecosystems.
  • Hydraulic fracturing – commonly referred to as “fracking,” this practice is increasingly utilized  to obtain natural gas from deep beneath Michigan lands. No statute exists that requires the contents and volume of potentially hazardous chemicals used in fracking to be publicly disclosed. Additionally, no statute exists that requires oil and gas drilling to use Michigan’s water withdrawal reporting requirements. Find out how your candidate stands on requiring full disclosure of fracking chemicals and measures to ensure fracking will not result in depletion of Michigan’s most precious resource – our water.
  • The Departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Quality have suffered severe budget cuts in the past, leaving them both understaffed and underfunded, thus compromising the departments’ abilities to adequately protect our natural resources, communities, Great Lakes, and recreation areas. Vote for candidates who strongly supports funding these agencies.

U.S. House and Senate

I’m sure you’ve seen the ads (yuk) for the race to replace Senator Carl Levin, who is retiring. In addition to that race, all 6 House seats in the watershed are in play this year.

The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed two major measures this year that will require legislative support for successful implementation:

  • Waters of the U.S.  As HRWC’s blog from last week details, the EPA is proposing rules to clarify which tributaries and wetlands qualify for protection under the Clean Water Act.  The rules would restore protections to 60% of the nation’s waterways.
  • Climate Change.  The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan proposal would cut carbon emissions by power plants 30% by 2030.  This proposal is the United States’s biggest effort so far to limit greenhouse gases.

Ask your House and Senate candidates if they support these two initiatives.

Some environmental groups do endorse candidates and provide more guidance on elections, such as Michigan League of Conservation Voters and The Sierra Club.  Also, this issue of Earth Island Journal provides a roundup of electoral races nationally.

More information about U.S. and State Districts and Candidates

Your congressional districts (including a map) and current representatives

U.S. congressional candidates

Your state senate districts and candidates

State Senate district map

Your state house districts and candidates

To find your state house district

 

River Roundup, here we come!

photo by Max Bromley

photo by Max Bromley

Bring out your friends! Your family! Your coworkers! (We’re happy to supply some too!)

Enjoy a lovely autumn day while giving the Huron a hand. Participants will enjoy seeing unique locations throughout the watershed, learning about the Huron and water quality.

Start times at 9:00 and 10:30 on October 18. Lots of details here:www.hrwc.org/roundup

 

 

Protecting Water Under the Clean Water Act

We needy our help to bring protections back to our wetlands and small streams.

We need your help to bring protections back to our wetlands and small streams.

Wait, what?  The Clean Water Act doesn’t protect clean water?  How can that be?

Well in 2001 and 2006 there were 2 Supreme Court Decisions that confused the implementation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and placed many wetlands and streams out of protection and at risk.

Earlier this year, the U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers released a very important draft rulemaking. This draft rule clarifies which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act.  This rulemaking will fundamentally influence our work to protect or restore our watershed.

Please comment on the draft US EPA rule on Clean Water Protection (aka Waters of the US) Rulemaking

Comments on this important rulemaking are due October 20, 2014. We encourage river lovers (YOU) to speak up! If you haven’t been following this issue or need a refresher, please check out this link.

Your comments can be as simple as, “Clean water is important to me. I want EPA to protect it for my health, my family, and my community” or as specific as, “I support the agencies proposal to define “waters of the United States” in section (a) of the proposed rule for all sections of the CWA to mean: Traditional navigable waters; interstate waters, including interstate wetlands; the territorial seas; impoundments of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, including interstate wetlands, the territorial seas, and tributaries, as defined, of such waters; tributaries, as defined, of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, or the territorial seas; and adjacent waters, including adjacent wetlands. Waters in these categories would be jurisdictional “waters of the United States” by rule—no additional analysis would be required.”

Thank you!

Paddle and Pedal the Huron this Sunday

We have a paddle trip for people looking for adventure and an interest in trying their skills at biking and paddling.  This Sunday, September 21st, at 1:00 we are hosting a paddle trip from Hudson Mill Metropark to Dexter-Huron Metropark with a bike to the beginning along the recently completed border to border trail.Huron River Watershed Council

Ron Sell and Barry Lonik, experienced paddlers (and bikers), will be leading this trip down a beautiful stretch of the river in the Natural River’s zone.  Elizabeth Riggs, HRWC’s River-Up Manager will be on the trip too, adding her expertise and knowledge of RiverUp! and Huron River Water Trail improvement projects within this section of the river.  Join the fun and learn about the river and try your skill with paddling and pedaling! Register here.

Suds on the River

The BIG tent!

The BIG tent!

Thank you to our Sponsors and Supporters, many River Revelers and River Guardians, our hard working Host Committee, and our hosts Walt Weber and Iva Corbett for helping us celebrate the river at our 2014 Suds on the River.  Last Thursday night, we welcomed over 350 guests under a big tent at Walt and Iva’s house in Ypsilanti Township on Ford Lake.  With 7 breweries, 6 chefs, 28 restaurants, and a spectacular view, river enthusiasts were treated to a lovely evening eating, drinking and socializing. We always say “we cannot do it without you” and this year 127 volunteers helped manage registration, two parking lots, 6 shuttle buses, food deliveries and pick-ups, cars and traffic and the clean-up after everyone goes home, to make it come together so beautifully. Thank you to everyone for making this Suds such a great success.

Matt Turner arriving at Suds from a kayak!

Matt Turner arriving at Suds in a kayak! Now that’s alternative transportation.

Toxic Algae Bloom in Lake Erie

Algae bloom on Lake Erie, in 2011. Source: New York Times

Algae bloom on Lake Erie, in 2011. Source: New York Times

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.

 

Single Fly tournament 2014

single fly participants

Schultz Outfitters and HRWC hosted the 4th annual Single Fly tournament recently. With more participation this year than the previous year; the Single Fly tournament raised upwards of $2,220 to help RiverUp!, and a fish habitat restoration project in Ypsilanti on the Huron River. Special thanks to Rick Taylor of Reinhart Realtor’s for donating the food and drinks for the after-party. Another very special thanks goes out to all of our Single Fly participants to Mike Schultz of Schultz Outfitters. For a listing of the winner’s click here.

The Single Fly tournament is an annual event that celebrates watershed protection and a special group of folks that spends a great deal of time on the river, Anglers. Anglers are important stewards of the watershed because they are out in the field observing and monitoring the Huron River and its tributaries throughout the year. HRWC greatly values the anglers for their stewardship because they often serve as our eyes and ears out in the field when we cannot be there.

If you would like to know a little more about fly fishing on the Huron River, check out the newest posting in Aaron Rubel’s blog about kayak fishing and fly fishing.

News to Us

Adult Emerald Ash Borer. Image courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Adult Emerald Ash Borer. Image courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Today’s News to Us shares an article on how the winter impacted Emerald Ash Borer populations in the area.  Also read two articles on the status of a couple of developments on Huron riverfront properties- Milford has a new brewery and Ypsilanti struggles to fill Water Street.  Finally, Washtenaw County has a new reporting service for flood and drainage issues.

After the Trees Disappear: Ash Forests After Emerald Ash Borers Destroy Them  The cold weather did nothing to deter the Emerald Ash Borer’s march through the northern Midwest and east coast. The insect is decimating ash tree populations with implication far exceeding the loss of landscape and street trees. This article shares the status of the invasion and potential consequences for forests in our area.

Water Street property falls short of initial expectations  Debate about the fate of Ypsilanti’s Water Street property continues. There are high hopes for this riverfront property to provide river and open space recreation activities along with benefits for downtown businesses and residents. But interest in the property from investors has been sparse. Read about the latest discussions in this article.

New River’s Edge Brewery now open in downtown Milford  A new brewery has opened in the watershed.  River’s Edge in Milford will bring brews to the river front.  Stop by and welcome our new neighbor, either in car or kayak!

Residents can now report flooding, drainage problems to county using online form  Washtenaw County residents can now submit reports of flooding and drainage issues online.  Photos can be uploaded too, to help identify the problem.  This is a new feature.  Residents can still report issues on email or by phone.  Emergency issues should still be reported using 911.


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