Archive for the ‘Water Quality’ Category

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.

Why I’m Marching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make a Difference… Be a Scientist on Earth Day

Join a team of kids, teens, adults, and retirees during the River Roundup as you explore creeks and rivers.

Join a team of kids, teens, adults, and retirees during the River Roundup as you explore creeks and rivers.

Earth Day falls on April 22 this year, and not accidentally, so does HRWC’s spring River Roundup.  Perhaps the idea of Earth Day may strike you as a little disheartening this year, in our current political climate of science and environmental budget cuts, and widespread doubt in scientific data.  Are we making a difference at all?  Or is our country reverting back to an era of rivers catching on fire?  What is so disheartening to me personally is not a looming Federal budget that will remove funding for the Great Lakes and environmental regulation (though that is terrible, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not surprised by this), but to see so many people who agree with this course of action. Still, there is room for hope in our future, and that hopes lies in you—the many people who want clean water and clean land and who stand strong with HRWC to work for it.

Consider volunteering with us. Every participant makes an immediate difference at our local level.  HRWC volunteers collect scientific data in southeast Michigan, primarily in Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties. For the upcoming River Roundup on Earth Day, volunteers will be looking for aquatic insects that tell us about the health of the Huron River and its tributaries, and ultimately about the health of all the land that drains into the Huron.  This information gives HRWC the knowledge to conduct effective river management projects and the authority to speak  intelligently on water quality issues with local, state, and federal government, landowners, and  other decision-makers.

And in the process of collecting scientific data, HRWC volunteers are learning and teaching others.  It is always so exciting to see the adult HRWC volunteers interacting and teaching children, teens, and college students about river systems, insects, and the environment.  And in as many cases, to see the kids teaching the adults! This is the type of education that will create the long term cultural change needed in our country.

Make a difference locally by acting now to help HRWC collect scientific information that informs our management decisions and local policies; change the future by teaching the younger generation in the process. The River Roundup is on Earth Day, April 22.  Learn more about the River Roundup and register at http://www.hrwc.org/volunteer/roundup/

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

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

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

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

Phosphorus levels in the middle section of the Huron River Watershed

Phosphorus levels in the middle section of the Huron River Watershed

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

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

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.

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.

River Roundup Results Reviewed: October 2016

Credit: Ellen Rambo

Picking a huge log is always great for group bonding. Seriously! Credit: Ellen Rambo

Aquatic insect sampling on the Huron River and its creeks

Thanks to 154 volunteers who contributed approximately 600 volunteer hours, the October 2016 River Roundup was a great success!  As always, HRWC 100% guarantees good weather for its volunteer events or your money back.  We were once again able to fulfill that promise!

It was a very full house here in the HRWC conference rooms before the 18 teams split up and traveled to 36 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 a summary below, or detailed results in the October 10 River Roundup Report.

Site Conditions as of October 10, 2016

Site Conditions as of October 10, 2016

 Current Watershed Health

Status

HRWC gives a rating to each site that we monitor (Excellent, Good, Fair, or Poor). The graph above shows this breakdown for the 61 locations that HRWC considers representative for the watershed. The detailed River Roundup report gives the site condition for each location.

Trends

Overall, the health of the watershed as judged by our macroinvertebrate sampling is holding steady, though there are particular areas getting worse or better.  30 sites have had no statistically significant changes over time, and 4 sites are too new to make this judgment.

Fifteen sites are declining, and these include locations on Norton Creek, Horseshoe Creek, and Honey Creek (Washtenaw Co).  Ten of the declining sites are in Livingston County, 3 are in Washtenaw, 1 is in Oakland, and 1 is in Wayne.

Twelve sites are significantly improving.  Eleven of the improving sites are in Washtenaw County, including locations on Mill Creek, Malletts Creek, Fleming Creek, and the Huron River. 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

Mark Schaller searches for bugs in the Huron River near Ypsilanti. Credit: Ellen Rambo

Mark Schaller searches for bugs in the Huron River near Ypsilanti. Credit: Ellen Rambo

There were a lot of highly diverse samples collected this season.  The team at Pettibone Creek: Commerce Road in Milford collected the most diverse sample ever taken at the site (sampling started here in 2001).

Two sites on South Ore Creek were diverse enough to pull these creeks out of a statistically significant decline and into the “declining but not significantly so” range.

The sample taken at Davis Creek off of Silver Road was the best sample taken in about 8 years.

Lowlight

For some teams, sampling conditions were difficult.  The Huron River was running fast and deep after the area received heavy rain just a few days before the event started. The sample taken at the Huron River at Zeeb Road was particularly bad and far outside the range of normal variation.  Based on the volunteer’s feedback and the difficulty of sampling the river, this sample was marked as an outlier and will not be included in the long-term record for the site.

What’s next?

Want to learn more about the data that HRWC collected this past year? On January 19th at 6 pm at our office on 1100 N. Main Street, HRWC staff will present results and interpretation for all of the field projects conducted within the past year. Good indoor weather guaranteed!

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 21.  It is like the River Roundup, only much snowier and usually colder. Good weather guaranteed or your money back… but of course these events are always free!  You can register for the event here.

This giant water bug makes a run for freedom! Credit: Aiman Shahpurwala

This giant water bug makes a run for freedom!
Credit: Aiman Shahpurwala

Water Quality Monitoring Program Allows Active Involvement

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

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

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


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