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A Watershed Moment

HRWC 50th Logo SlugThis year HRWC celebrated our 50th anniversary with music, recreation, food and drink, and poetry. Thank you for marking this milestone with us.

For the past 50 years, we’ve been working hard to improve our watershed and we are seeing great results.  More people are enjoying the recreational opportunities that our river provides.  Their experiences are possible because of the improvements we’ve made in clean water, access, fish and bird diversity, local, state, and regional protections and laws, strong master plans, enforcement, restoration, and parks in river towns! Some of the signs of a vibrant and healthy ‘shed are the busiest canoe livery in the state, thousands of acres of protected high quality natural areas, a reputation as the cleanest urban river, active trails and trail towns, a national Water Trail designation, phosphorus reductions and a statewide phosphorus ban on residential lawn fertilizers, and some forward-thinking stormwater protection ordinances and rules.

That’s not to say our work is done.  We have a lot more to do and the HRWC board and staff have developed some guiding principles to get us there.  As our accomplishments have shown, HRWC protects and restores the river for healthy and vibrant communities.  Our vision is a future of clean and plentiful water for people and nature where citizens and government are effective and courageous champions for the Huron River and its watershed.  To achieve that, we:

  • work with a collaborative and inclusive spirit to give all partners the opportunity to become stewards;
  • generate science-based, trustworthy information for decision makers to ensure reliable supplies of clean water and resilient natural systems; and
  • passionately advocate for the health of the river and the lands around it.

So, what is next?  We will be out in the watershed monitoring our river and streams and natural areas.  We will use that information to engage stakeholders and partners in taking actions to protect and restore the watershed.  We will use that information to prioritize our outreach and education and other programs.  Finally, we will inspire others to get to the river, enjoy the river, have a new experience, love it as much as we do, and care about its future.

We also have a few key opportunities we need to seize upon:

  1. As more people engage with the river, we need to instill a river stewardship ethic and provide clear options for action;
  2. In order to develop a collaborative environment that encourages different ideas, perspectives, and experiences, we need to attract and retain volunteers, members, and stewards that represent the diversity of socioeconomic, gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation that are representative of the watershed; and
  3. We need to celebrate innovative and effective solutions that are coming from the bottom up and work to build strong local leadership in support of them.

We have far-reaching goals and we need you to get them done.  Please reflect on what inspires you to be a part of HRWC and where you can have an impact.  And then join us as we all jump in to make the next 50 years as successful as the past 50.HRWC_hi-res06

Toxic Contaminants Found in Ann Arbor Detention Basins

Stevi with the boat, ponar and "muck bucket" for mixing sediment samples

Stevi with the boat, ponar and “muck bucket” for mixing sediment samples

Recently, a team of us HRWC staff went out to see if we could detect the kind of effects scientists from elsewhere are seeing from the application of coal tar sealants. In short, coal tar sealants and their recent cousins release a class of chemicals called polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which are toxic and known to cause cancer. For more detail on that work see a previous blog entry and our web page summarizing the threats.

To find out if this is indeed a concern in our area, we identified a few detention ponds to sample within the Huron’s biggest urban area of Ann Arbor. The City of Ann Arbor staff helped us find publicly accessible ponds that would capture runoff predominantly from urban areas with lots of hardened surfaces like parking lots and driveways. The city does not use coal tar sealants on its roads, but many businesses use it on parking lots and residents use it on driveways. We selected three ponds from different parts of the city to sample in a pilot effort to determine the level of PAH contamination of pond sediments. Ponds were selected from  within the Malletts, Traver and Fleming Creek watersheds.

Ric and Paul sampling sediments for PAHs

Ric and Paul sampling sediments for PAHs

Sampling these ponds is more difficult than it sounds. It required borrowing a row boat from our friends in the Eastern Michigan University Biology Department, hauling the boat through heavy brush and up steep hills, and rowing out through shallow, mucky waters where we dropped a ponar (i.e. sediment scooper) to grab 5 samples of the bottom sediment. These samples were combined into a single sample for each pond that was then sent to a private lab (with the help of Ann Arbor’s Water Treatment Laboratory staff) for PAH identification and quantification.

The results were shocking. Of the ten PAH samples with identified toxic effects levels, sediments from the Malletts Creek pond exceeded the “probable effects concentration” (PEC) for eight of them! This is the concentration of PAHs in the water that will have adverse affects to aquatic organisms. Sediments in the Traver and Fleming ponds exceeded the PEC for 6 and 4 of the PAH species, respectively. For many of the PAH samples, the PEC was exceeded by 10- or even 100-fold, indicating that the sediments are highly toxic!

Since other studies have indicated that between 50 and 70% of PAHs in detention pond sediments originate from coal tar sealants, it appears that Ann Arbor (and most probably other urban areas in the watershed) has a problem with coal tar leaching. While we only sampled three ponds thus far (we plan to sample others this spring), the results are consistent with findings from research scientists elsewhere.

So, what do we do now? HRWC is currently working with local municipal leaders in Van Buren and Scio Townships, the City of Ann Arbor and elsewhere to pass ordinances to ban the application of coal tar sealants. A state ban would be even more effective but we need to build the political will. Contact HRWC staff to find out how to get involved in your community, and check out the links above to learn what to do on your own driveway.

Holiday Shopping with HRWC!

Holiday Giving for email-01 (002)You know it. I know it. We all know it.

Nobody really wants another tie. And please don’t re-gift that fruitcake.

Shopping for a meaningful gift? Of course you are, and we have you covered. Shop with us this holiday season!

We have Paddler’s Companions, waterproof map flip books of the Huron River, for that river recreationist in your life – AND these are interesting and useful even if you don’t own a kayak or canoe. Want to float down a section of the river on an inner tube? Need to know where to park and access the river for fishing or just splashing around with the kids? Did you know the Huron is a National Water Trail? $15, and they are easy to wrap, mail or stuff in a stocking.

Are you an HRWC member? Do you want all your friends and relatives to be members? (We do.) Membership dollars help support our programs and new initiatives, adding to our ability to be responsive to issues as they arise in the watershed. You can join here, and also purchase gift memberships for all those friends and relatives. Membership levels start at $35.

For the map or history geeks (or art, or engineering, or river, or…just about any kind of geek, really) in your life, we have archival-quality reproductions of Gardner Williams’ survey maps of the Huron River, c. 1905-1908. Generously donated by Stantec engineering, and now housed at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, these maps are a detailed and beautiful view of the river and its surrounding landscape a century ago. The level of detail requires a large format, so these maps come in a 3 ft x 3 ft size for $110 and a 4 ft x 4 ft for $150. These maps are printed to order, so please order by December 9 for pick-up at our offices by December 22. Shipping is available for the 3 x 3 size only for an extra $10.

And now…for that impossible-to-buy-for-person. Everyone has at least one of these, right? I know I have, like, five. You can make a contribution to HRWC in their honor. Gifts to the Wilson Water Quality Fund are directed to our water quality programs that monitor river and watershed conditions to ensure science-based responses to protect the Huron. Just click the “make this a gift” box on the checkout page, and choose to donate on behalf, in honor, or in memory of that special someone.

Thank you for shopping with HRWC and supporting our river protection work in the process!

 

 

 

News to Us

This edition of News to Us shares local news on recovering Osprey populations, increasing entrance fees in our metroparks system and an examination of Livingston County drinking water issues.  At the state level, Michigan is considering banning of plastic microbeads. And in national news, aging dams are making headlines again.

Osprey population booms in Southeast Michigan Osprey populations are rebounding in the Huron River watershed. The Huron River Watershed Council helped install two new platforms for nesting sites in the river. Learn about the bird and its recovery in this article.  See more on HRWC’s role in this mini-documentary.

Microbeads and the Great Lakes We have shared stories about the issue of plastic microbeads from bath and beauty products in previous editions of News to Us.  These beads end up in our lakes and rivers as they are not captured in the wastewater treatment process. Now, the Michigan legislature is considering a ban. Michigan is the last remaining Great Lakes state without a ban.  Here’s hoping we can join the rest of the region in protecting our lakes and streams from this pollutant.

Huron-Clinton parks plan: Higher fees, bigger offices Huron Clinton Metroparks are a significant landholder in the Huron River watershed, much of it along the river itself.  The parks are wonderful amenities for our residents and play a role in protecting water quality and freshwater ecosystems. The park system is considering raising rates for entrance fees.  This article shares more.

Aging And Underfunded: America’s Dam Safety Problem, In 4 Charts  America’s dams are getting old. The nation received a D grade in a recent assessment (Michigan received a D as well). On a day to day basis, this may not be a big deal. But the flooding that occurred in South Carolina last month illustrates why we must be proactive about this issue.  During those floods, more than 20 dams collapsed, dramatically increasing the impact of already damaging rainfall.  Funding is a challenge but preventing a collapse is almost always less expensive than recovering from one.

Safe to drink? Livingston faces own water issues In response to the Flint drinking water crisis, one reporter decided to look into the potential for this kind of disaster in Livingston County.  While the Flint scenario is not a likely one, the article does share the myriad issues that can occur with drinking water and how water suppliers, the county and residents are helping to ensure safe drinking water for everyone.

Density is Our Friend

SmartGrowthBlogImageIn order to keep the river system healthy, we need to encourage compact development in areas with existing infrastructure (like cities and villages and other urban areas), and preserve natural and rural areas so they can continue to provide the ecological services necessary to maintain quality of water, air, land, and life.  (See our “Smart Growth Publications” webpage for more details)

Here are three recent articles that underscore this message.

A recent blog posted on the Smart Growth Network Newsletter (originally posted by the Nature Conservancy) bemoans the prevalence of zoning codes that do not allow higher density (i.e. that have minimum lot sizes), since that results in sprawling development patterns that consume more land and create more impervious cover per household. Given that all the communities in the watershed currently have these kinds of zoning codes, we have a lot of work to do to promote sustainable land use patterns.

Another SGN Newsletter post (from the Washington Post) gives a little perspective on what density looks like by comparing densities in dozens of urban areas throughout the world, and showing that most U.S. cities have plenty more room for more population and density.  Even New York City has about a third of the density as London, England. 

And finally, a report from the Transportation Research Board (part of the U.S. Academies of Sciences) finds that transit oriented development (which designs compact development around nodes of mass transit) greatly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, due to reduction of automobile usage.

HRWC has many programs that are encouraging communities to take a look at their land use policies, including Green Infrastructure and Climate Resilient Communities. The Green Infrastructure project maps out communities’ networks of natural areas so that they can guide development to areas appropriate to growth.  As climate change impacts our watershed with increasing rainfall, the importance of managing stormwater in urban areas, maintaining natural areas and keeping development out of floodplains and low lying areas becomes increasingly important.

Webster Township partnered with HRWC to create a map showing the network of hubs (larger natural areas), sites (smaller ones) and linkages between them.

Webster Township partnered with HRWC to create a map showing the network of hubs (larger natural areas), sites (smaller ones) and linkages between them.

Using road stream crossing surveys to understand creek health

Road Stream Crossing team getting into it!

Road Stream Crossing team getting into it!

Advanced volunteer Larry Sheer led our pilot Road Stream Crossing this year. This project is helping us in numerous ways: developing our Norton Creek Management Plan, expanding our data collection options, expanding our volunteer opportunities, and creating more leadership in our organization. Kudos to Larry!

See Larry’s article on the Road Stream Crossing program, published as part of his participation in MSUE’s Michigan Lake and Stream Leaders Institute.

Assessing and Enjoying the Huron’s Natural Areas

Open grown oak, Northfield Township

Open grown oak, Northfield Township

From Guest Blogger Kate Chapel

I’ve had the opportunity to coordinate the Bioreserve Project this summer as an intern for HRWC. During that time, I’ve travelled three counties including nine different townships in the watershed in over a dozen different Bioreserve sites. The sites are tracks of natural area that still remain in our watershed, helping to filter rain water, offer protection and food to wildlife, and serve humans as green infrastructure. You can check out the Bioreserve Map and learn more about how it was created here.

Robin's nest in a buttonbush swamp

Robin’s nest in a buttonbush swamp

I’ve been to just under 30 different properties this summer, which has allowed me to see some of the most diverse and beautiful land in our watershed. Many of these properties are neighboring, which has resulted in being able to see almost the entirety of three Bioreserve sites, 91, 195, 216. While much of the time I have only been able to see glimpses of a larger forest/wetland complex, I’ve been able to see the whole of these sites, right to their edges. The sites are 778, 213 and 96 acres, respectively, totaling 1,087 acres. Site 91 is Lyon Oaks County Park in Wixom.

In addition to feeling like I’m just playing in the woods, I’ve been fortunate enough to see these places with over 20 different and amazing volunteers. I’m very grateful to these dedicated people for taking time to come out with me and for teaching me so much. Interested in volunteering next year?  Check out our web page for volunteers.

Kate Chapel

Kate Chapel

The data collected this summer acts as a record for HRWC about the quality of the natural areas in the watershed. It is used by local governments and land conservancies to prioritize and purchase high quality land.  The data also is combined into a report for the property owners and local land conservancies as a tool for land use planning and management. If you’re interested in an ecological assessment of your land, please check out our our web page for property owners, or contact Kris Olsson at kolsson@HRWC.org.

The Big Ballooning Adventure

“Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.” – Winnie The Pooh

Bit of a nice view, yes? Kent Lake from our balloon, with a companion balloon nicely providing the "money shot."

Bit of a nice view, yes? Kent Lake from our balloon, with a companion balloon nicely providing the “money shot.”

Pooh Bear, he knows. My husband and I were grinning for two hours, from beginning to end of our first hot air balloon ride. And really, we still grinning.

A bucket list item for both of us, this trip also coincided with our 25th wedding anniversary. And although we did not have any inflated expectations (come on, it had to be said!), what few preconceived notions we had were pretty much…burst.

Ha, sorry.

OK, not really.

I thought I would need a jacket. It’s cooler at higher altitudes, right? Didn’t think about the propane burner, and the very small space shared with two large men.

We both thought the ride would be bumpier, but there’s more turbulence on your average domestic airline flight than we experienced on this ride. Heck, my drive into work is rougher.

We also both envisioned a large landing area – you know, BIG, like a field, or open park space. We landed in the cul-de-sac of a subdivision. Much the delight of the residents – and the 6 kids who got a short tethered ride as a result.

Pilot Scott Lorenz filling the balloon

Pilot Scott Lorenz filling the balloon

Our pilot was Scott Lorenz of Westwind Balloon Company, which typically takes off near Kensington Metropark and Island State Recreation Area near Milford, MI. We met him at a park-and-ride lot, along with three other balloon companies. After sending up two trial balloons to test the wind direction – both of which went in opposite directions, leading all the pilots to shrug and say “OK, whatever” – we drove over to Island State Rec, which has thoughtfully provided a possibly-unofficial balloon “docking” area for just this activity.

After helping lay out and inflate the balloon with a huge fan, we climbed in the basket, and with a few shot of the burner – up, up and away we went (yes, in a beautiful balloon, just like the song, you old geezers you).

Kent Lake view

Kent Lake view

Wow. We could see the Detroit skyline, that’s how clear it was…and the view of the Huron River and Kent Lake was amazing. My photos don’t remotely capture the real thing. Picturesque also seems like an inadequate word for the view of our companion balloons, splashes of color against a gorgeous backdrop of Island Lake Rec Area and Kensington Metropark, the Huron glistening below them.

We flew for about 45 minutes in a remote kind of quiet that was interrupted only by the bursts from the propane burner to keep us aloft at about 500-1000 feet, and occasional conversation on what we were seeing.

View from the basket, as the burner sends a shot of hot air into the balloon

View from the basket, as the burner sends a shot of hot air into the balloon

Scott started scanning for a landing spot and decided – much to our surprise – on a cul-de-sac in a small subdivision. His crew captain, Gary, had already spotted us and was waiting for specifics on where we were going to end up.  By the time we touched down, several dads and assorted kids had already gathered, and Scott piled the kids into the basket for a short tethered lift.

After deflating and packing up the balloon, it was time for the post-ballooning champagne – a tradition started with the earliest French ballooning flights. Upon seeing the smoke-belching balloons landing in their fields, residents were inclined to get out the pitchforks and stab the “demons” into submission. The French being…well, French…the problem was solved by offering champagne upon landing.

Watching the balloon gracefully defalte

Watching the balloon gracefully defalte

 

Champagne is almost always a good idea, isn’t it? And a perfect ending to a ballooning adventure.

 

 

 

 

My Huron River (Argo)

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HRWC staff picks of favorite watershed spots, celebrating 50 years of river protection and restoration work.

My desk at work faces the office window overlooking Argo Pond. Since my arrival 8 years ago it has been a constant source of inspiration, for my life and my fundraising work.  Some would argue that I am writing about a pond, an impoundment and not the river.  However, like the river, I will keep moving on, and appreciate the view of Argo and what it has taught me as a companion of solace all these years. The view has taught me to take my time, and to enjoy the scenery and the beauty and to see what is more interesting by not rushing through my work day. It reminds me that my work is all about what I am looking at.  It encourages me to go with the flow, but to also diverge when the opportunity presents, because changing direction can have beneficial impacts. I am but a witness to change. Change in weather, the change of light from morning to night and changes in color of trees over seasons. In my neighborhood, just outside my window, I have seen the most popular sport change from club rowing to paddle boarding.  I have seen eagles, osprey, foxes, ice skaters, early morning runners training, cyclists, walkers, and pet owners with all species of dogs go round the pond.  And then there is the dam.  A favorite inspiration on difficult days? The dam. The dam reminds me that we can overcome obstacles, because the river always finds a way.

HRWC is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year!

Tell us your favorite watershed spot HERE.

Connect and share river ruminations or captured moments with us on FacebookTwitter and InstagramUse #huronriver50 to mark your posts!

Appreciate the River, today, Sunday July 12, by joining HRWC for some fun or heading to YOUR favorite spot with friends.

My Huron River (Happy Hour on Little Portage Lake)

HRWC staff picks of favorite watershed spots, celebrating 50 years of river protection and restoration work.

A typical view while sipping wine on Little Portage Lake In Pinckney

                                            A typical view while sipping wine on Little Portage Lake in Pinckney

I live in Pinckney and one of my favorite places is Little Portage Lake on the Chain of Lakes. Little Portage is a small lake that is the western end of the Chain and is also fed by Portage Creek, one of the most pristine creeks in the watershed.

This is not your typical Michigan inland lake, crowded with houses and docks. The lake is surrounded on 3 sides by woods and wetlands, and on weekday evenings in particular, there is virtually no boat traffic.

We rent dock space from Klave’s at the mouth of Portage Creek, and my husband and I often head out for happy hour, knowing we will only be sharing the lake with swans, swallows, frogs, turtles, and the occasional muskrat and sandhill crane.

We like to drop anchor in a cove at the west end of the lake. The water is about 15′ deep here, and there are no houses at all. Just woods and wetlands, and the background music is the soft slap of the water against the boat, bird calls, insect songs, and sometimes a swan kerfluffle with wings batting at the water surface and echoing across the lake.

It’s the very definition of peace and tranquility, and goes well with a chilled sauvignon blanc or your favorite microbrew.

HRWC is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year!

Tell us your favorite watershed spot HERE.

Connect and share river ruminations or captured moments with us on FacebookTwitter and InstagramUse #huronriver50 to mark your posts!

Appreciate the River, Sunday July 12, by joining HRWC for some fun or heading to YOUR favorite spot with friends.

 

 

 


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