Archive for the ‘Water Quality’ Category

Salty Situation

When the leaves start to brown and jackets are unpacked from storage, you know it’s time – winter is just around the corner! One issue on all of our minds at the HRWC office is road salt.

What’s the deal with road salt?


Transportation departments and cities are often charged with keeping roads clear and safe during winter months. With our mobile population, salting increases public safety, ensures emergency services, and promotes continued economic activity. Municipalities and private homeowners most often use sodium chloride when applying rock salt. Although it is cost efficient in the short term, salt application has many long-term implications such  as harmful levels of chloride in our water bodies. Increased levels of chloride negatively impact aquatic ecosystems by disrupting the food web, inhibiting growth, and poisoning songbirds.

Decades of salt application has allowed chloride to infiltrate our groundwater supplies, meaning our rivers (and drinking water) begin with an already elevated level of chloride. Less salt is required for streams to reach harmful concentrations. Many drinking water wells and streams around the country have chloride levels above the EPA’s maximum threshold. This can be bad news for those on salt restricted diets, causing hypertension, cardiac disease, and even stroke.

How do we fix it?

Even with the same amount of urban land use over time, chloride concentrations have increased.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect, eco-friendly solution. Alternatives often labeled as environmentally friendly include salts like magnesium chloride and calcium chloride, beet juice, molasses, and vodka distillery leftovers — all of which still include salt! Fortunately, new techniques can help make that amount as small as possible. Canada has identified road salt as a national environmental hazard, and is taking definitive steps towards reducing impacts to water quality such as applying a wet brine before snowfall to prevent ice bonding with the pavement. Many cities are promoting efficiency programs like Smart About Salt in Waterloo. Data collected by the University of Waterloo five years after program implementation demonstrated a 60% reduction of chloride!

What can YOU do as a homeowner?

We have a few ideas! The best option for keeping our Huron happy and healthy is to shovel early and often, without using de-icers at all, even ones labeled as more friendly to the environment. If you must use a de-icer, use as little as needed to get the job done.

Check out our Take Action page: Use Less Salt for more information.

For a deeper dive on the issue, take a look at the following articles (some more technical than others):

Solving Slick Roads and Salty Streams, Stormwater Report, March 4, 2015

Road Salt is Polluting our Rivers, Wired, March 12, 2015

What Happens to All the Salt We Dump On the Roads?, Smithsonian.com, January 6, 2014

Winter Street & Sidewalk Maintenance, City of Ann Arbor Snow Removal webpage

Canada Sets National Targets for Road Salt, Study Shows Stream Toxicity from De-icers Increasing Rapidly, Stormwater Report, February 3, 2015

The Effect of Road Salt on Urban Watersheds and Management Options – HRWC’s very own Stevi Kosloskey was kind enough to share her research paper on road salt application and subsequent implications on water quality, including data from the Huron River. (Thanks Stevi!)

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.

What’s hot and what’s not in the Huron River Watershed

Streams ranked from best to worst: Where does your favorite fall?

On October 3, HRWC volunteers spread across Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties and looked for the aquatic insects and crustaceans that indicate the water and habitat quality of our river and creeks.  

2014 10 18 RU by John Lloyd (8)

Sampling Traver Creek in October. credit: John Lloyd

Using this and other environmental data collected by HRWC volunteers over the past 20 years, I have developed a ranking of the various streams in the Huron River Watershed.  Streams listed at the top of this list have the best aquatic life and habitat in the Huron, and streams at the bottom of list are extremely impaired with little aquatic life and highly disturbed habitat.

Volunteer-collected data directly contributes to our knowledge of the conditions of the watershed and is a key component in directing management and restoration activities.

If you want more details on the ranking below, HRWC will present it and other data findings on January 12, 2016, 6 pm at our office (1100 N Main Street, Ann Arbor). All are welcome and no registration is required.

Ranking of Aquatic Life and Habitat (from best to worst)


1. Huron Creek (Dexter)

2. Woodruff/Mann Creeks (Brighton)

3. Honey Creek (Pinckney)

4. Huron River (Upstream of Proud Lake)


5. Woods Creek (Belleville)

6. Boyden Creek (west of Ann Arbor)

7. Pettibone Creek (Milford)

8. Fleming Creek (Ann Arbor)

9. Huron River (from Proud Lake downstream to Zeeb Road)

10. Portage Creek (Multiple townships to the northwest of Ann Arbor and north of Dexter)

11. Mill Creek (Dexter and Chelsea)

12. Hay Creek (east of Pinckney)


13. Arms Creek (Webster Township)

14. Huron River (Ann Arbor and downstream)

15. Davis Creek (South Lyon)

16. South Ore (Brighton)

17. Honey Creek (west of Ann Arbor)

18. Chilson Creek (west of Brighton)


19. Horseshoe Creek (Whitmore Lake)

20. Downriver Tributaries (Port Creek, Bancroft-Noles Drain near Flat Rock)

21. Traver Creek (Ann Arbor)

22. Malletts Creek (Ann Arbor)

23. Norton Creek (Wixom)

24. Swift Run (Ann Arbor)

25. Millers Creek (Ann Arbor)

Full River Roundup report is available for download.


Birds, Bat, Butterflies, and Dragonflies: Part 3

What is something that birds, bats, butterflies, and dragonflies all have in common?

Well, yes, they do fly.  But something that doesn’t occur to the typical person not well-versed in these animal types is that all of these creatures migrate.  Now that summer is ending, days are getting shorter, and the air is just a bit cooler out there, we can expect to see these animals on the move soon.

This blog is part three of a short series on migrating animals. This topic: butterflies!

The Monarch. credit: USFWS

The Monarch. credit: USFWS

The Impressive Migrating Monarch

Most butterflies do not migrate.  They have the ability to overwinter as larvae, pupae, or even adults depending on the species.  Only one species is known to migrate like birds: the Monarch.

The beautiful orange and black Monarch Butterfly makes a very impressive journey every year.  The Huron River Watershed and the rest of Michigan play an important role in that migration, having prime summer weather conditions for butterfly breeding.  Come fall, the Monarch is headed south– about 3000 miles south.  In fact, the migration path is so long that it outlasts any individual butterfly’s life span.  One Monarch generation migrates south, the next generation migrates north, breeds two or three short-lived generations in the summer, the latest of which continues the cycle by heading south.

The trip south

In late August, Monarchs in Michigan begin their trip south, traveling along the Great Lakes coastline, though the Great Plains States, and eventually reaching their winter breeding grounds in southern Mexico and Central America.  The Great Lakes are important features in the flight of the monarch– the insects use the winds over the lakes to speed them along on their journey. Monarch’s can not do this migration without proper rest and relaxation though. Shoreline habitats are important for feeding and recovering energy.

At the date this blog is being written (September 30), Monarchs are well out of Michigan.  They should be flying through Oklahoma and crossing the Texas border!

Once the butterflies reach Mexico in November, they congregate into huge populations on the highlands and mountains of Mexico and Central America. There are only 12 traditional wintering sites, which means the species is susceptible to habitat changes and bad weather.  In 2012 and 2013, bad weather conditions during the winter breeding season led to a Monarch population crash.  In 2014, weather conditions were ideal and the population rebounded slightly, but the population is still 80% below the 20 year average.


They may be in Mexico, but cold weather can still reach the high elevations of the Monarchs’ winter breeding grounds. credit: El Rosario Sanctuary

The trip back north

In the spring, Monarchs slowly move their way back north.  States on the Gulf Coast will see Monarchs return by early April, and by mid April the butterflies will have reached Kentucky and Tennesee.  By early May, the first Monarchs can be in south Michigan and they will reach the Upper Penninsula by the end of May. Monarchs do continue into southern Canada as well, though for many individuals, Michigan is their final destination.

The Monarch caterpillar: loved by elementary students everywhere! Who hasn't raised one of these in a classroom? credit: USFWS

The Monarch caterpillar: loved by elementary students everywhere! Who hasn’t raised one of these in a classroom? credit: USFWS

Give me more details!

Annenberg Learner hosts a terrific website giving photos and the migration timing for the Monarch. They keep an up-to-date blog on where the butterfly currently is found!


Mystery and Adventure at Site 38

From guest blogger Karen Schaefer

(With apologies to real mystery writers everywhere)

The day began as any other for our Norton Creak Road Stream Crossing team—a 9:30 a.m. rendezvous at Dunkin’ Donuts to plot the day’s strategy. Sitting at our usual table, Larry unfurled The Map, revealing twelve sites still unexplored. Sites 37 and 38 lay in a residential area. Typically, this means easy parking followed by a fairly straightforward study. A tempting target, perfect for three of us!

Little did we know, Site 38 had other plans.

Our drive to the site was uneventful. We found the cross streets within minutes of leaving our rendezvous location. Jumping out of the car, Ryan’s sharp eyes scouted for a culvert. He quickly identified a cement structure surrounded by trees and brush, well below road grade. So this was the much sought-after Site 38! We donned our sturdiest waders to tackle the 6-foot culvert (and to avoid the clearly visible poison ivy).

Ryan and Karen disappeared into the culvert. Amid the piles of cobble in the creek bed, they quickly determined this was Site 38’s outlet. Larry went on a search for the other end. Surely, a 6-foot cement pipe would be easy to find!

Alas, no. Foiling Larry’s best “Lewis and Clark” maneuvers, Site 38’s inlet remained shrouded in mystery.

Larry returned with a proposal to the team: Were we up for risking an in-culvert search to solve the mystery of the missing inlet? The response was unanimous.

Larry broke out the “really serious gear”: hard hats for everyone, and a light. Larry and Ryan grabbed the trusty multi-purpose poles (aka specially modified 8-foot tomato stakes). Karen held onto the data sheet and her phone (because every adventure needs pictures). She added the tape measure at the last minute; you never know what might need measuring!

Bravely, we entered the gaping mouth of the culvert outlet.

We were quickly outnumbered—and surrounded on all sides—by very large, unhappy spiders! Larry led the way, fending them off right and left. The trusty pole even worked its magic by clearing the webs. Still, despite our best efforts, some spiders managed to hitch a ride and enjoyed the trek alongside of (and on top of) us.

We made our way carefully, uncertain of what lay beyond. We were shrouded in complete darkness. Zero cell phone reception. Only the occasional drain cover provided a tiny glimpse of daylight.

The depth and muckiness of the substrate varied, fortunately never deeper than our calves. Ryan attempted to open a drain cover to get our position and determine whether escape (if necessary) would be possible; it was locked tight.

Onward we trudged. For hours, it seemed. Around a slight curve. Then two bends, each approximately 45 degrees. At one point, Karen asked Larry if he had checked the weather forecast for any flash floods. Larry assured us that he had, indeed; the forecast was perfect.

Suddenly, after what was certainly hours, substantial daylight appeared in the distance. Eureka!

Our relief at seeing “light at the end of the tunnel” quickly turned to dismay…as a trash rack covering the inlet came into view. Yes, we had found the inlet! Only to be thwarted by a grate covering the entire inlet. Except….

At the bottom was a very small opening. Narrow, with metal grate spikes projecting both top and bottom. Ryan examined it and commented he just might be able to get through. Suddenly, hope! We might discover the location of the hidden inlet after all! If only Ryan could manage to escape…

Sloooowly, carefully, Ryan slid himself over the grate….and out to safety! Well, except that he popped out into the backyard of a private residence. Karen gave Ryan her phone, knowing he’d be able to call for help should the situation turn dire.

Using his backpacking orienteering skills (and making his way carefully along property lines), Ryan located the street on which the adventure had begun. He set out on the long journey back.

Trapped inside the culvert, with no hope of escaping through the inlet, Larry and Karen determined the only way out was the same as the way in…back through spiders, webs, muck, and darkness. Realizing this was an opportunity to assess the actual culvert length (albeit from the inside rather than out), they began measuring with the tape, stepping through in increments. Holding the tape’s end, Larry walked 75 feet. Then Karen reeled in in the tape while walking toward him. They repeated this…75 feet, 30 feet….

Suddenly, Larry proposed measuring a length of culvert pipe and counting the sections. Brilliant! and much quicker.

Eventually, many 8-foot culvert sections later, Larry and Karen emerged from the darkness. They were greeted by Ryan at the culvert outlet. He had found his way back from the mysterious inlet down the street—previously hidden, but no longer a secret!

A quick nose count revealed the only casualty of the day: one trusty, multi-purpose pole (aka, the pink tomato stake). It will be greatly missed.

Success was enjoyed by all as we filled in key sections of the data form: inlet data with pics, actual culvert length (928 feet!), and even a somewhat representative site drawing. The thrill of completing the NCRSC data sheet was more than ample reward to the team who bravely faced the risks at mysterious Site 38.

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.

News to Us


Volunteers collecting water quality data in Swift Run

Read articles on issues with water infrastructure in our watershed and Michigan-wide. Earlier this month the US Federal Court of Appeals made a ruling on a pesticide known to kill pollinators. Our water trail continues to make headlines. And the Swift Run creekshed is getting some special attention these days.

Ten surprising facts in Michigan’s new water strategy
In July, Michigan released a draft 30-year water strategy.  Much public discussion on the strategy has occurred since then. This is a blog written by Brad Garmon at the Michigan Environmental Commission that takes a little different look at the strategy.  Brad captures some startling statistics on the water assets Michigan owns and must steward.

Supervisor: Overuse causing discolored water in system
Lyon Township residents have been experiencing trouble with their drinking water. While the water remains safe to drink, some people are finding their water discolored. The township Supervisor attributes the color to iron in the water that occurs when backup wells are used to meet increased demand. The article highlights the issue of aging infrastructure with population growth and increasing water demand common throughout our watershed.

Michigan’s top 11 water trails named
The Huron River Water Trail was named one of the top water trails in Michigan by a public vote conducted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. But we knew that already didn’t we? Click through to see other awesome river destinations throughout the state.

Court: EPA Should Not Have Approved Bee-Killing Pesticide
A step in the right direction for the honeybee crisis. Bees and other pollinators have be in rapid decline. An agricultural chemical, sulfoxaflor, has been found to be one contributor to these declines. The lawsuit shines a spotlight on the role of federal regulators in this complex problem and will hopefully encourage more extensive testing of new chemicals before receiving EPA approval.

Swift Creek Improvements
HRWC’s Ric Lawson talks about a project we have underway to improve stormwater management and water quality in the Swift Run tributary of the Huron River.   Learn about the problems in Swift Run and the solutions HRWC, Washtenaw County and the City of Ann Arbor are supporting to improve the river.

Conservation Stewards Leadership Training

indian springsLooking for a way to expand your knowledge about ecosystems, invasives, and the history of conservation in Michigan?

The Michigan Conservation Stewards program has been brought back to Washtenaw County by a collaboration of HRWC and peer organizations. We hope you, as a supporter of the Huron, will take the opportunity to strengthen your knowledge and thus ability to advocate for our natural resources. This 6-week course covers all the basics of conservation, introduces participants to a wide-array of topic experts, and is a great networking opportunity.


Click here for details and to register.



Registration Open for Full Moon Paddle – July 31st

9449170677_2af0040543_zFriday, July 31st, 7:00 p.m.

Join us for the Full Moon Paddle Trip with bonfire and s’mores: Pickerel Lake to Crooked Lake

Experience the quiet waters of the Huron River with expert paddler Barry Lonik, HRWC staff, and other river enthusiasts.

Complete this form to register. Spaces are limited so registration is necessary by Wednesday, July 29th.

The trip begins at the Pickerel Lake beach, accessible off Hankerd Road, north of N. Territorial Road. We will meet there at 7:00 p.m. Sunset and moonrise are just before 9:00 p.m.. There is a short carry from the parking area to the water. We will paddle around Pickerel Lake, chat about natural history, watersheds and water quality, and gradually make our way down the channel to Crooked Lake. A campfire and s’mores fixings will greet us at Crooked Lake. Then our group will make the return trip hopefully under the light of the Full Moon.

Bring your own watercraft, gear, food, drinking water, and appropriate clothing for the weather. Every paddler must wear a flotation device – bring your own. A flashlight or headlamp also is a good idea.

For a Paddler’s Safety Checklist click HERE.

What the Clean Water Rule could mean for the Huron

Sometimes just maintaining the status quo is the goal. Such is the case with federal protections for waterways through the Clean Water Act that are clarified with the Clean Water Rule developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers. The rule provides definition to “Waters of the United States” and will become effective on August 28, 2015. The rule only protects waters that have historically been covered by the Clean Water Act.

credit: John Lloyd

credit: John Lloyd

The administration wrote the rule in an attempt to clarify its jurisdiction after two U.S. Supreme Court decisions made it murky beginning in the early 2000s. While about three percent  more area is covered by the Clean Water Act than before, the protections are still less than they were during President Bill Clinton’s administration. The Clean Water Act protects the nation’s waters. A Clean Water Act permit is only needed if these waters are going to be polluted or destroyed.

In my interview this week with David Fair on WEMU’s Issues of the Environment radio show, we talked about what the Rule does:

  • Provides greater clarity and certainty regarding the waters protected under the Clean Water Act
  • Makes the jurisdictional determination process more straight-forward for businesses and industry
  • Reflects the best current science (more than 1,200 peer-reviewed studies were consulted)
  • Aligns with the Supreme Court decisions
  • Reflects public input and comments (400 meetings around the country)
  • Protects public health, the economy, and the environment

and doesn’t do:

  • Regulate new types of waters, land use, most ditches, groundwater, farm ponds
  • Change policy on stormwater or water transfers or irrigation
  • Limit agricultural exemptions
  • Regulate water in tile drains
  • And my favorite, regulate puddles
How might the Clean Water Rule impact Michigan and, more specifically, Huron River waters?

The Department of Environmental Quality, the state’s permitting authority, expects little impact to Michigan water protection programs. Michigan is one of only two states (New Jersey is the other state) that administers its own wetlands permit program instead of the Army Corps of Engineers, and the state-run program is more protective than the federal program. On the Huron River, the collective effort to improve water quality is yielding gains in quality of life after decades of effort focused on education, new technologies to reduce pollution and water consumption, and water quality monitoring.

The Huron River Watershed Council formed seven years before the enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972. As we celebrate 50 years of protecting and restoring the river for healthy and vibrant communities, we have the perspective to recognize this Rule as a watershed moment for the country to rededicate itself to clean water. Find out more about the Clean Water Rule from the EPA’s Clean Water Rule web page. A Michigan fact sheet is available about the value of clean water in the state for the economy, the environment, and public health.

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