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Get Outdoors and Support the Huron River!
We need volunteers to join our natural area field assessment teams!
Get outside, meet new people, learn about our local natural areas and help out HRWC’s Bioreserve Natural Areas Assessment program! HRWC is seeking field volunteers to help inventory ecologically important natural areas in the watershed.
Volunteer teams will be conducting rapid ecological assessments of grasslands, forests, wetlands, and aquatic habitats throughout this spring, summer and fall. Each visit is like a nature hike through a new woods or wetland.
The 2016 season marks our nineth field season; volunteers have so far assessed over 300 properties throughout S.E. Michigan. These efforts have helped protect over 6,000 acres of land in the watershed. Land conservancies and community preservation programs use the data gathered to promote permanent protection of those lands identified as the highest quality and most important for protection of the Huron River. Come to our program introduction and training on
May 14, 2016
10 am to 4 pm
at Independence Lake County Park, in Whitmore Lake
Here at our office, we call them “Swifties.” But really we are referring to Mitchell Neighborhood Ann Arbor residents. HRWC is working with these neighbors on a project to capture polluted runoff from rain and melting snow before it can flow into the Swift Run Creek.
We began this project by assessing the health of the creek in 2015. Results give us a baseline so we can return to evaluate the stream’s health after rain gardens are installed and are actively soaking up stormwater.
This pre-project check-up is complete and we have begun phase two, which is to build rain gardens in parks, schools, and street bump-outs in partnership with the City of Ann Arbor. Free assessments are also available to Mitchell neighbors to help them identify ways to capture rain water on their property. Examples include planting rain gardens, trees, and other deep-rooted native plants, using rain barrels, and changing the direction of their roof gutters. The Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner is providing discounts to Mitchell residents who take classes from the County Master Rain Gardener Program, and the project will subsidize rain garden installation.
While this project will beautify the neighborhood and protect its creek, some neighbors have raised concerns about the bump outs, anticipating that they could reduce parking availability and impact traffic. That’s why project partners are using proven methods for choosing criteria for the bump out locations. HRWC will present the plans to the neighborhood for input before they are finalized.
The Swifties are enthusiastic. Six have already taken the County’s master rain gardener classes. As a result, five private rain gardens have been created — see them featured in our Huron River Report, Spring 2016. And we’ve been getting thoughtful feedback and questions from neighbors, like these:
What about flooding? The existing stormwater drainage system is NOT being removed, so if it works for the neighborhood currently, it will continue to do so. The proposed rain gardens will be designed to capture and infiltrate the first inch of runoff. The rest of the overflow will go into the existing stormwater system. This design will improve water quality by filtering the initial runoff from small storms. There currently is no water quality treatment of stormwater runoff from the neighborhood.
Won’t the bump outs take away street parking? Once a preliminary design is drafted, we will present the proposed design and gather input from the neighborhood at a public meeting in April. Streets in the neighborhood are currently much wider than current design standards. However, if there are serious concerns about the loss of on-street parking, the design team will relocate rain gardens. There is quite a bit of flexibility in the placement of street-side rain gardens within the project.
Will they cause traffic congestion? The design team has many years of experience with street projects, including residential road bump outs. Maintaining efficient traffic flow is one of a number of design criteria that are being considered in drafting the plans. The team would like to hear about concerns at specific locations following the initial draft design so that they might alter the design.
Rain gardens seem complicated unless you are a gardener. Do I have to maintain the rain garden if it is on the street in front of my house? Once the gardens are built, they will be incorporated into the City’s Green Infrastructure Maintenance Program, which ensures that all Rain Gardens installed on City property (including the right-of-way area) are maintained, either by residents, volunteers, City/County staff or a contractor.
As this project picks up speed we will update our project page. Here are links to more information:
Swift Run Creek Report (great information on why the creek needs protection)
Learn more about using native plants and creating rain gardens at the Home, Garden & Lifestyle Show, March 18-20, at the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds, Saline. HRWC and the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office will feature information and experts on rain gardens, native plants and shoreline best practices at our booth (E-169). Admission is $5. HRWC has a limited number of complimentary tickets available–please contact Pam Labadie, firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Friday evening HRWC will be at the Michigan Theater for the Fly Fishing Film Tour (www.flyfilmtour.com).
We’ll be hanging out with some of the Huron’s biggest supporters (and HRWC’s too!). This is an amazing event for those new to the sport as well as long-time enthusiasts. I especially love that the movies tell amazing stories of beautiful places and inspiring people. They’re each a quick journey into far away adventures, this year’s list is amazing – Guyana, Scandinavia, BC, Zambia – I’m excited!
If you haven’t seen our fly fishing video yet, check it out here.
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:
- As more people engage with the river, we need to instill a river stewardship ethic and provide clear options for action;
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
In 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.