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Archive for the ‘Water Quality’ Category

Want to seal your driveway? Don’t use coal-tar based sealant!

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Beautiful but deadly? Credit: USGS

Many people like to use driveway sealants to prolong the life of their asphalt driveways and to give them an attractive, shiny glow.  However, in recent years there have been a number of scientific studies that indicate using coal tar sealants have significant environmental and health effects.  Coal tar sealants contain very high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), many of which are suspected or known carcinogens.

  • Coal tar pitch from sealcoat reaches streams and lakes via runoff as the sealcoat erodes. Coal tar sealcoat was determined in a study to be the largest source of PAH contamination to urban lakes.
  • PAHs are toxic to mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, invertebrates and plants. Invertebrates that live in the bottom sediment where PAHs accumulate are particularly susceptible to PAH contamination. Possible effects include reduced reproduction, forcing creatures from their habitat, and death.
  • The routine wear and tear of coal tar sealcoated pavements produces dust and particles contaminated with PAHs that can be breathed and accidentally ingested by people living by the pavements.  For someone who spends their entire lifetime living adjacent to coal tar sealcoated pavement, the average excess lifetime cancer risk is estimated to be 38 times higher than the urban background exposure. More than one-half of the risk occurs during the first 18 years of life.
  • Much of the scientific argument against coal tar comes from the USGS, and you can learn more here: Studies and information from the United States Geological Survey.

There is a safer alternative if sealants are needed.  Asphalt based sealcoats are safer, readily available, and very affordable according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website.  (The state of Minnesota has banned coal tar sealcoats and provides information on alternatives.)  The most common and least expensive alternative to coal tar sealcoat now on the market is petroleum asphalt based sealcoat.  Asphalt sealcoats contain PAHs, but at far lower levels than coal tar sealcoats—about 1/1000th the PAH level of coal tar sealcoats.

HRWC is currently investigating how wide-spread the use of coal tar sealants is in our communities.  We are not sure if this is a minor problem here, or a serious issue. We will release more information as more is learned over the coming month. However, one thing seems undeniable- you do not want this material used at your house, at your neighbors’ houses, or on parking lots that you and your children walk on.

This June 20, 2013 USA Today article gives some pertinent advice. “Before sealing your driveway, hire only a contractor who provides a MSDS (material data safety sheet) for the intended product. Check to see if it contains this CAS number for coal tar: 65996-93-2. If doing the work yourself, buy only products with a “coal tar free” logo.”

 

 

Toxic Algae Bloom in Lake Erie

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

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

Last week,  nearly 500,000  people lost access to clean water for drinking and bathing due to a toxic algae bloom that occurred around the City of Toledo’s drinking water intake. The bloom was likely caused by excessive amounts of phosphorus (and perhaps other nutrients) in the Western Lake Erie Basin.

Although the immediate crisis in the city of Toledo has passed, the threat to drinking water supplies in Toledo and other Lake Erie communities has not.  Lake Erie supplies water for 11 million people who live near the lake.

Watershed councils and environmental groups, including HRWC, have been working for years to reduce nutrients, like phosphorus, in our watersheds.  It is these nutrients – from agricultural practices, lawn fertilizers, wastewater treatment plants, and polluted runoff from pavement  – that are a chief cause of the algae blooms. The changing climate and alterations in invasive mussel populations also contribute to the algae blooms. On top of it all, our lakes also suffer from the cycling of nutrients deposited in the lake from years past.

Here in the Huron River watershed, HRWC and municipalities along the river have made major investments to reduce our nutrient inputs such as stronger soil erosion controls, phosphorus and buffer ordinances, streambank restoration, and wetlands and natural area protection and construction to hold and infiltrate water. As a result phosphorus levels in the middle section of the watershed entering Ford Lake have been reduced substantially. While the lakes still have occasional algae blooms, the length and size has been reduced.

Overall, the phosphorus load contributed by the Huron River watershed to Lake Erie pales in comparison to the massive load from the heavily agricultural Maumee River watershed. In response to this heavy agricultural input, the International Joint Commission has called for better nutrient management  and soil erosion controls by agriculture including a ban on winter manure application. They also recommend continued reduction of urban sources and wetland restoration. Last week, a New York Times editorial called for similar action.

Nutrient pollution is a clear danger not only to  drinking water, but to efforts to develop a “blue economy” for the Great Lakes, including HRWC’s RiverUp program to promote the river as a recreational, economic, and cultural resource.  This new economic future cannot stand with national headlines declaring Great Lakes water unsafe to drink.

Until we stop polluting our lakes and rivers, our economy, drinking water and way of life are in jeopardy. To learn more about what you can do to reduce your impact on the Huron River Watershed and Lake Erie downstream, take a look at our tips on how to become an H2O Hero and how to be a responsible shoreline property owner.

 

 

 

Rounding Up the River

River and creek sampling

Thanks to 108 volunteers who contributed a total of 643 volunteer hours, the 2014 River Roundup was a great success!  The weather was perfect for our volunteers as they split into 21 teams and traveled to 42 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 keep its finger on the pulse of the stream. From the data collected at this semi-annual event, we get a better understanding of which creeks and rivers are getting better, which are getting worse, and how we can direct our management activities.

You can see all the results in April 2014 River Roundup Report.

  • Emily checks out a crayfish! credit: Max Bromley Emily checks out a crayfish! credit: Max Bromley
  • Bruce collects insects in South Ore Creek. credit: Dick Chase Bruce collects insects in South Ore Creek. credit: Dick Chase
  • Picnic tables! Volunteers love these. (Mill Creek at Warrior Park in Dexter) credit: Eric Bassey Picnic tables! Volunteers love these. (Mill Creek at Warrior Park in Dexter) credit: Eric Bassey
  • Sampling the Huron River by Riverside Park in Ypsilanti. credit: Kristen Baumia Sampling the Huron River by Riverside Park in Ypsilanti. credit: Kristen Baumia
  • Hay Creek winds through wetlands and forests. credit: David Amamoto Hay Creek winds through wetlands and forests. credit: David Amamoto
  • Sorting the bugs on ID Day! credit: David Amamoto Sorting the bugs on ID Day! credit: David Amamoto
  • "What the heck is it?"--Paul Steen.  credit: David Amamoto "What the heck is it?"--Paul Steen. credit: David Amamoto
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Current Watershed Healthconditions April 2014

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

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

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

Highlights

The finger-net caddisfly (Philopotamidae) had never been seen in Malletts Creek before the spring of 2014. credit: Jude Walton

The finger-net caddisfly (Philopotamidae) had never been seen in Malletts Creek before the spring of 2014. credit: Jude Walton

1. Malletts Creek is an urban creek in Ann Arbor that has been the focus of restoration efforts for well over a decade. Last fall, we noticed a more diverse insect community in Malletts Creek than had ever been seen before.  We are happy to report that this spring we once again saw a healthier insect community than ever before.  From 1993-2013, volunteers have found an average of 5 insect families in spring samples, but in 2014 volunteers found 9 insect families. One of these insect families is a finger-net caddisfly, which is common in healthy streams but has never been found in Malletts Creek until now. The increase in insect families over time is statistically significant.

Our congratulations go out to all of the partners involved in fixing Malletts Creek! An increase in the diversity of aquatic insects reflects an increase in the overall water quality, water stability, and habitat quality. This is a major accomplishment!

2. The volunteers who sampled in Boyden Creek along Delhi Road pulled in a bonanza of caddisflies! They found 5 different types of caddisflies: the common net-spinner (Hydropsychidae), the square barked case- maker (Lepidostomatidae), the northern caddisfly (Limnephilidae), the finger-net caddisfly (Philopotamidae), and the rock case-maker (Uenoidae).  They also found two families of stoneflies and two families of mayflies.  We have been seeing good changes in Boyden Creek for several years now, and this sample was one of the best taken this spring.

Lowlights

The volunteers who sampled at Greenock Creek near South Lyon were not impressed with the size and abundance of the leeches they pulled out of their trays, nor were they impressed with the total abundance and diversity of the overall insect community.  Greenock Creek was never a very healthy creek, but conditions have significantly worsened here since monitoring began in 1993.  The creek is located downstream of Nichwagh Lake, which is impounded by a dam.  Water exiting the lake and entering the creek is quite warm, regularly reaching 85 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, which is too warm for many types of aquatic life. It is quite possible that dissolved oxygen levels are very low in the creek also (even in the non-summer months when the water is not as warm).  This is something that HRWC will look into.

Looking upstream in Greenock Creek, October 2012.  It looks picturesque, but looks can be deceiving when it comes to water quality! credit: Max Bromley

Looking upstream in Greenock Creek, October 2012. It looks picturesque, but looks can be deceiving when it comes to water quality! credit: Max Bromley

 What’s next?

Consider being a creekwalker this summer!  You can learn more about this experience through our recent blog series. Check it out here: Part 1 and Part 2.  You can register to be a creekwalker here.

Make A Stormdrain Mural at the Mayor’s Green Fair

Inspire River Protection With Art! Stormdrain Art at 2013 Green Fair

Come decorate the curbside connections to the Huron River! Ann Arbor artist David Zinn and Karim Motawi will lead the crowd in chalking four of our downtown stormdrain inlets into works of art. We provide the chalk, you bring the creativity!

When: Friday, June 13, 2014, 6-8pm

Where: The Ann Arbor Mayor’s Green Fair, at the Liberty and Main intersection and the Huron River Watershed Council booth in front of the Melting Pot.

Presented by HRWC in partnership with the 14th Annual Mayor’s Green Fair and the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission.

Stormdrain Art at 2013 Green FairWe depend on stormdrains to keep our streets from flooding during storms. Yet, these devices also direct litter and polluted rainwater straight into the Huron River. We’ll show and tell the stormdrain connection and recruit families to adopt their neighborhood stormdrains, keeping them for rain only by removing litter, leaves and other debris in the spring, summer, and fall months.

Can’t make it to the Green Fair? Do your part by Adopting A Stormdrain in your neighborhood . . . learn more about it HERE.

 

NOW AVAILABLE: SOHC 2014 Presentations

The State of the Huron Conference 2014 is now history, but you can re-live the excitement by checking out the presentations from the day’s speakers.

Look for a summary of the Conference in the Summer 2014 Huron River Report available June 1st.

Widget SOHC 2014

Where are the Mudpuppies?

mudpuppy2The University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, and the Herpetological Resource and Management are asking for help in collecting dead specimens of Mudpuppies. Due to the extreme weather conditions this year, herpetologists are anticipating a large winterkill, which provides a unique opportunity to assess population health.

What is a Mudpuppy?

• Michigan’s largest, fully aquatic salamander

Why Are They Important?

• “Bioindicator” species: Due to their sensitivity to pollutants and poor water quality, these salamanders act as an early warning system for environmental problems

• Are the only intermediate host to the Endangered Salamander Mussel

• Great Lakes populations are declining, and the true abundance is currently unknown

How Can I Help?

Place the whole Mudpuppy(s) in ziploc bag, seal, and freeze the bag. Tissue samples may be placed in storage tubes containing ethanol.

Include the following information on a 3×5 card placed within the bag (using pencil) and on the outside of the bag (using permanent marker). In the case of tissue samples, label outside of tube with permanent marker.

1.) Observer

2.) Date

3.) Precise Collection Location

Contact one of the following people:

1.) David Mifsud 517-522-3525 DMifsud@HerpRMan.com

2.) Maegan Stapleton 517-522-3525 Stapleton@HerpRMan.com

3.) Amber Stedman 815-761-8941  AStedman@EMich.edu

4.) Greg Schneider 734-647-1927, 734-763-0740 ES@UMich.edu

mudpuppy1

Frackers in the Watershed?

What do you do if someone wants to lease your oil/gas development rights?

Natural gas fracking drill

Do you really want this to be part of your view? Credit: Daniel Foster

That is a question we have been hearing recently. There may be new interest in potential natural gas reserves beneath the watershed that could be accessed via traditional drilling, directional drilling or hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. “fracking”), which we have been hearing so much about nationally. The companies interested in leasing drilling rights and their representatives (colloquially referred to as “landmen”) often are quite aggressive in their pursuit of lease signatures. Oil or gas exploration and extraction can have a significant impact on the land and our water resources, so careful consideration should be given before signing away your rights.

 

Folks in the northern half of the lower peninsula have been dealing with this issue for a number of years now, so I called one of our sister organizations, the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, for some advice. Here is what they recommend if the landmen come knocking on your door with promises of riches:

1. Get a lawyer experienced in oil and gas leases to review any contract prior to signing. It’s just too easy to sign away your rights and once you do, it is hard to stop the drillers if they start mucking things up. Your county bar association can refer you to qualified attorneys or HRWC can suggest one (call or e-mail Ric).

2. Check out Michigan State University’s information for land owners. Consider going to a landowner meeting. http://msue.anr.msu.edu/program/info/oil_and_gas

3. If your neighbors do start signing leases and drillers start planning for exploration, get your surface and groundwater tested. You want this done professionally in case you need to prove damage later down the road. The Michigan DEQ maintains a list of certified labs at https://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3307_4131_4156-36940–,00.html. Tip of the Mitt has some great advice on deciding what to test and when at http://www.watershedcouncil.org/learn/hydraulic-fracturing/baseline-testing/.

 

Thanks to the staff at Tip of the Mitt for the helpful advice.

 

If you have been contacted about selling your oil/gas rights, let us know in the comments. We are interested in tracking this issue and it’s spread across the watershed.

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Senate approves bill to battle algal blooms

The Senate last night approved legislation from a bipartisan group of lawmakers to boost federal efforts against the harmful algae blooms that haunt many of the nation’s waters.

S. 1254, the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2013, is sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and 18 colleagues, would authorize interagency work on algae blooms and the dead zones, suffering from a lack of oxygen, or hypoxia, that they frequently spawn. The legislation would also create a national program with a research plan and action strategy. The legislation also requires the interagency Task Force to: (1) submit within 18 months to Congress and the President an integrated assessment that examines the causes, consequences, and approaches to reduce hypoxia and harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes; and (2) develop and submit to Congress a plan, based on such assessment, for reducing, mitigating, and controlling such hypoxia and blooms.

The upper chamber approved the legislation by unanimous consent.

Algae blooms, a result of nutrient pollution that washes off farm fields and suburban streets and comes from wastewater treatment plants, are an entrenched problem across the United States. Sprawling algae blooms on Florida’s east and west coasts this summer kept people from the water and contributed to the deaths of sea animals, including the highest recorded annual death count for manatees (Greenwire, Dec. 20, 2013). Closer to home, nuisance algal blooms impact Ford Lake and Belleville Lake, impoundments of the Huron River, reducing access to the waters for fishing, swimming, and other outdoor pursuits.

“We can’t sit back and let endangered creatures disappear along with jobs in the fishing industry,” Nelson said when he introduced the legislation in June.

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News to Us

Fish consumption advisories will likely be in place for a long time.

Fish consumption advisories will likely be in place for a long time.

Dexter’s Mill Creek Park recieves an award.  Also, learn more about the problem underlying Michigan fish consumption advisories, what all this snow means as temperatures warm, and the status of negotiations on the future of Detroit Water and Sewer. Finally, we share two articles on proposed developments in the watershed that are making waves.

DEXTER: Dexter Village recognized by Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors for Mill Creek Park   Area realtors give a nod to Dexter’s Mill Creek Park, awarding the Village of Dexter one of two Environmental Awareness Awards.  Several groups came together including HRWC and the Village to remove a dam from Mill Creek in 2008. The dam removal and riverside improvements on this tributary of the Huron River show how social, cultural and ecological goals can align and result in something remarkable.

Michigan’s toxic fish face long recovery, state finds  Most fish consumption advisories in the State are in place because of high levels of mercury and PCB’s in fish tissue.  These pollutants are particularly challenging to reduce as the majority of the pollutants originate in places outside of Michigan and are deposited here when it rains. A sobering analysis conducted by MDEQ concludes clean-up requires global commitments to reduce emissions of these toxins and could take 50 or more years before we see improvements here in Michigan.

Could all this snow bring spring flooding in Ann Arbor? City official says it depends  The weather forecast for next week shows warm temperatures at last.  Will we see flooding as record setting snowfall accumulations melt?

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson on Detroit water deal: ‘We’re probably going to walk’
Many residents of the watershed receive their drinking water from Detroit Sewer and Water, particularly in Wayne County and parts of Oakland County.  With major budget issues DSW has been in flux and one solution on the table is to create a regional water authority. Communities have mixed opinions on the current proposal for this new entity.

CHELSEA: Public hearing on Lyndon sand mine expected to attract concerned residents There are a couple of pending developments in the watershed that are creating a stir.  This article shares a proposed sand mining operation in Lyndon Township near Green Lake and Waterloo Recreation Area. To voice your concerns, attend a public hearing scheduled for Monday February 17th at 7:00 PM at Sylvan Township Hall.

Development spurs debate Another development making headlines is a proposed subdivision on one of the last remaining natural areas on Woodland Lake in Brighton Township.  A public hearing took place last week.  A rezoning proposal now resides with the Livingston County Planning Commission.

News to Us

Winter scene in Fleming Creek

Winter scene in Fleming Creek

This edition of News to Us shares several articles on pollution, both where we are losing ground and making some gains.  Two stories provide updates on pending park improvements.  Finally, take a look back at January’s weather in a piece that captures the month in numbers.

Michigan rivers polluted by human, animal waste more than double previous estimates Occurrences of pathogen pollution have more than doubled in Michigan’s rivers and lakes in recent years.  The new numbers are thought to be the result of better monitoring rather than marked changes in water quality.  The problem is, and has been, widespread.  Most of the waters impaired by pathogens (from human and animal waste) are located in southeast Michigan.  Failing septic tanks, manure from farm fields, sewer overflows and polluted runoff are the leading contributors to the problem.

Can sewage treatment plants protect fish from the chemicals in the water? Building on the story we published in the last edition of News to Us on trace chemicals in drinking water, Michigan Radio’s The Environment Report, covers potential impacts to fish from emerging contaminants – pharmaceuticals.

Michigan: Thornapple River. Removing Dam Improves Dissolved Oxygen Levels in River It is not all bad news when it comes to water quality.  Before and after monitoring data showed improved dissolved oxygen (DO) levels at the site of a dam removal. Prior to the removal of the dam, DO levels were so low, the river was listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act.  The river will be delisted for its DO impairment.

By the numbers: See how Ann Arbor’s cold and snowy January stacks up against history  This is a fun look at this month’s weather.  It uses Ann Arbor’s weather stations but similar numbers would apply across the watershed.  Spoiler alert: It’s been coooold!

Milford Village Council Approves Final Submittal for Phase I of AMP Project  Milford is one step closer to making significant improvements its Central Park that includes an amphitheater for their summer concert series. Pettibone Creek, a tributary of the Huron River, runs through this park.  Milford is one of five Huron River Trail Towns.

Next steps for Ann Arbor greenway project uncertain after grant funds denied  A key parcel in the Allen’s Creek Greenway, did not receive state funding for improvements necessary to take it from a retired city maintenance yard to a welcoming civic space.  The Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy and the City of Ann Arbor will be meeting to determine what the next steps for keeping the greenway project moving forward.


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