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Archive for the ‘Water Quality’ Category

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.

What’s Going on in Norton Creek?

Volunteers Mary Bajcz and Larry Scheer monitoring at Norton Creek

Volunteers Mary Bajcz and Larry Scheer monitoring at Norton Creek

On June 3, 2015, the Huron River Watershed Council started sampling at 10 sites on Norton Creek, located in Oakland County.   In addition to water quality monitoring, volunteers and interns are also assessing the area by looking at the road/stream crossings, creek walking and paddling on the creek, and conducting neighborhood assessments.

Norton Creek, a tributary to the Huron River, drains 24.2 square miles and is located in portions of Commerce, Lyon and Milford Townships, and the cities of Novi, Walled Lake, Wixom and Wolverine Lake in Oakland County.

Norton Creekshed Map

Norton Creekshed Map

Bill Lee at Norton

HRWC Volunteer Bill Lee grabs samples at a Norton Creek site.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality designated Norton Creek as impaired due to excess sediments and low dissolved oxygen. Dissolved oxygen refers to the amount of oxygen that is available in water, and it is essential for aquatic life and good water quality. The cause for low dissolved oxygen in Norton Creek is attributed to high biological and sediment oxygen demand — meaning that algae and bacteria are consuming all available oxygen, leaving none for bugs and fish.

HRWC was awarded a SAW grant (Stormwater, Asset Management, and Wastewater Program) to fund the Norton Creek project.  Based upon the data collected from our monitoring efforts, a watershed management plan will be developed to address and fix the impairment.

HRWC intern Gianna Petito sampling at a Norton Creek site.

HRWC intern Gianna Petito sampling at a Norton Creek site.

 

 

The extent of impairments and the likely source contributions will be evaluated, along with the development of a realistic prescription of remediation, restoration, and protection actions.  HRWC has been and will continue to work with key stakeholders and concerned citizens in the Norton Creek communities in a collaborative effort to help restore this at-risk creek.

We want to thank the volunteers and interns who are helping HRWC with the data collection effort!  It is because of your help that we are able to quickly and efficiently gather the data we need to develop an effective watershed management plan to improve Norton Creek!

Sunshine, bugs, and volunteers

Now that is a lot of sunshine!

Now that is a lot of sunshine! credit: Kristen Baumia

People enjoying nature!

We could not have asked for better spring weather for our 120 volunteers on April 18!  They soaked in the sun and warmth while visiting 50 different creek and river locations across the Huron River Watershed. Held twice a year, HRWC’s River Roundup 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 macroinvertebrates collected during this event, we are able to keep abreast of the health of our waterways throughout the watershed. You can see all the results in April 18 River Roundup Report.

Highlight

Mill Creek is the largest tributary to the Huron River, draining  143 square miles of land, 68 of which are agriculture. Agricultural impacts have certainly taken their toll on Mill Creek, with some Mill Creek’s tributaries no more than straightened ditches, and the creek has phosphorus and E.Coli issues that come from fertilizers and animals. However, great things are happening in Mill Creek, including the removal of Mill Pond Dam in Dexter, stream stabilization projects, landowner education, and a renewed interest in bringing residents to the waterfront. 

Changes in the EPT families on Mill Creek, Shield Road. The red line shows the Mill Pond Dam removal.

Changes in the EPT families on Mill Creek, Shield Road. The red line shows the Mill Pond Dam removal.

As a part of the River Roundup, volunteers regularly visit 9 sites on Mill Creek (the main branch and several tributaries).  Four of these sample sites are showing significant improvements in the macroinvertebrate populations, indicating improving water quality and habitat.  These four sites are Shield Road (near the mouth), Manchester Road and Klinger Road (both in the headwaters), and Fletcher Road (on the north branch).

Shield Road in particular seems to be doing quite well with several highly diverse samples taken since the removal of the downstream dam.  The graph to the right shows the changes in the EPT (mayfly-stonefly-caddisfly) family diversity, with the red line in the middle of the graph indicating the dam removal. Samples in the early 2000′s were particularly poor with only 2 or 3 families found, and now we are regularly finding  6 or 7. Insect families that are now found which were not found previously include Baetid mayflies, Isonychia mayflies, Leptophlebia mayflies, and the Philopotamid caddisfly.

You can learn more about Mill Creek from our creekshed report.

Lowlight

South Ore Creek has fewer insects than we would expect despite areas of great habitat. When this happens, the likely culprit is some type of chemical pollutant.

South Ore Creek has fewer insects than we would expect despite areas of great habitat. When this happens, the likely culprit is some type of chemical pollutant.

If you have read these updates before, you will recall that we have learned that several streams in Livingston County have had significant reductions in their insect populations over time.  In fact, of the 62 sites that we monitor across the Huron River Watershed, 20 are in Livingston County, and 9 of those have statistically significant reductions. In contrast, HRWC monitors 30 sites in Washtenaw County and the insects at 12 sites are statistically improving while zero are declining.  Now, this may simply be a coincidence, as it is difficult to explain why a political boundary can make such a difference in insect populations.  But the data speaks pretty clearly; among others, Davis Creek (South Lyon area) has been declining, and South Ore Creek (Brighton area) is also getting worse.  Thankfully, both of these creeks could still be considered relatively healthy (when compared to more heavily urbanized creeks like Malletts), but we have to make some extra efforts to get these creeks to reverse their negative trends.

 

What’s next?

You should be a creekwalker! In this unique program, you will walk up and down a stream, exploring it and looking for possible pollution sources.  Join by yourself, with friends, or with your family.  Learn more about it at http://www.hrwc.org/volunteer/creekwalker/.

New study links coal-tar sealed pavement to death of aquatic organisms

Numerous studies on coal-tar based asphalt sealcoats have linked this product to human health problems and ecological damage (learn more about the issue in this recent blog and this newsletter article, page 7).  HRWC would like municipalities and homeowners to refuse to use coal-tar based sealcoats because of their environmental effects, and a recent study released by the U.S. Geological Survey gives us all another reason to do so.

A fathead minnow, one of the aquatic species used to determine coal-tar toxicity in this study.

A fathead minnow, one of the aquatic species used to determine coal-tar toxicity in this study.

In this study, researchers applied coal-tar sealcoat to a section of a parking lot, and simulated rain-falls and collected the water runoff both 3 days and 36 days after sealcoat application.  Two common aquatic species (fathead minnows and cladocerans) were exposed to the run-off.  A 1:10 dilution of the run-off (which would be an approximation of conditions in moderately urban streams and ponds) caused a 10% mortality of the fathead minnow and a 60-100% mortality of the cladocerans, with the length of time after sealcoat application not making a difference.

There is much more to this study including looking at the effects of ultraviolet light, alternative sealcoat products, control treatments, and differing treatment lengths.  However, based on the one part of the study given above, it is clear that coal-tar sealcoat is producing toxic rain run-off. Secondly, the sealcoat continues to cause the death of aquatic life 36 days after application (and perhaps further, but this was not included in the study). Application guidelines of coal-tar sealcoat  state that the sealcoat should not be applied if rain is forecast within 24 hours to allow the product time to cure, but after this period the “risk level of runoff drops close to inconsequential.” This study reveals these application guidelines are incorrect.

Readers are welcome to check out the study for themselves; it is technical but not impossible to read. It is also copyright free, so HRWC is able to give the journal article here.

 

Brunch for Clean Water

Lena to Donate Percent of Brunch Proceeds to Huron River Watershed Council

Event Date: Sunday, April 26, 2015

Join Lena and the Huron River Watershed Council in their vision of a future with clean and plentiful water for people and nature, where citizens like you are effective and courageous champions for the Huron River.

To help celebrate HRWC’s 50th Anniversary, bring your friends and family for Sunday brunch at Lena on April 26. Lena will contribute 15% of the proceeds from brunch to the Huron River Watershed Council. Afterwards, join HRWC at The Ark for Rivering, a celebration of the river and HRWC’s 50th anniversary. Brunch is served from 10am-2pm and the full menu can be viewed online at lena-annarbor.com.

Lena is also partnering with the Huron River Watershed Council to promote membership in HRWC during the month of April. Lena invites you to join them in supporting HRWC’s mission to protect and restore the river for healthy and vibrant communities.

You can include a membership while paying your bill in one simple transaction – just ask your server for details next time you are at Lena.

Located in the landmark building on the corner of S. Main and Liberty in downtown Ann Arbor, Lena features modern food of the Americas, influenced by Latin culture and cuisine. Lena was voted Top 10 Best New Metro Detroit Restaurants of 2012 by The Detroit Free Press.

For more information, please contact Lena, Food of the Americas, 226 S. Main Street, Ann Arbor, 734.994.2773 or email lena@mission86.com

Family Volunteering

River Roundup volunteers. Photo by Rick Martin

River Roundup volunteers. Photo by Rick Martin

While it may not seem like it today, HRWC’s field season, and thus many volunteer opportunities, are right around the corner. Our first volunteer training (for our Water Quality program) is on March 21. River Roundup and Bioreserve training are sure signs that spring is imminent.

As many of our volunteers and supporters know, most HRWC programs are family friendly. It’s been a delight seeing many of our youth volunteers grow into thoughtful, giving, young professionals. Numerous studies have linked volunteering to being happier and healthier. So why not get your favorite kid involved in the community, especially HRWC? For some tips, see this Points of Light blog on getting kids into volunteering. To see if your youth is a good fit for one of our programs just ask the program lead!

If you’re interested in HRWC’s volunteer programming in general, Jason would love to hear from you: jfrenzel@hrwc.org.

Thinking About A Rain Garden This Summer?

“Ask the Experts” at the Home, Garden & Lifestyle Show, March 20-22

Residential Rain Garden

This rain garden captures and infiltrates rooftop runoff from a nearby home.

Rain gardens are beautiful landscaping features that capture, hold and soak in runoff from storms. They are specifically designed for areas where rain water habitually pools or to which it is deliberately channeled. Their loose, deep soils and deep-rooted native plants absorb water and filter pollutants.

Get information and advice from local experts  Drew Lathin of Creating Sustainable Landscapes (Sat 10am-7pm) and  Susan Bryan (Sun 1:30-3:30pm) of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner’s Rain Garden Design Program. They’ll be on hand at the HRWC-WCWRC booth to share some “deep-rooted” know-how including tips on site and plant selection, garden layout, installation, and maintenance.

Home, Garden & Lifestyle Show
Fri, March 20, 2-8pm;
Sat, March 21, 10am-7pm;
Sun, March 22, 11am-5pm
Building E, Booth 169
Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds
5055 Ann Arbor-Saline Road

Admission is $5, children ages 12 and under are admitted for free.

For FREE tickets, HRWC members can contact Pam Labadie, plabadie@hrwc.org, (734)769-5123 x 602.

Rain water infiltration projects like this rain garden capture and help clean stormwater.

Rain water infiltration projects like this rain garden capture and help clean stormwater.

Rain Gardens are low maintenance, drought tolerant and environmentally friendly. They beautify your property and your neighborhood. They help keep water away from your home’s foundation. They can be designed as a manicured formal garden or you can create a more natural look. You can choose plants that purposely attract butterflies and other wildlife.

Make this the summer you commit to protecting water quality with a rain garden in your yard!

Stoneflies! Cute AND educational!

Stonefly Search 2015 Wrap Up

A Surprisingly Pleasant January Day
So cute! Who wouldn't want to spend a cold Saturday in January looking for one of these?

So cute! Who wouldn’t want to spend a cold Saturday in January looking for one of these?

You never know what a Michigan January will bring; last year HRWC was forced to cancel the Stonefly Search because of sub-zero temperatures and blizzard conditions.  But this year, on January 17, 125 intrepid volunteers enjoyed bright sunshine and 30 degree weather as they spread across the Huron River watershed. They were in search of stoneflies, which are only found in clean and healthy streams.  Everyone made it back safe, and not a single leaky wader was reported! Overall, it was a great success!

The results are in, and are given in this pdf report.

What We Found

1. Usually when we look at the data after an aquatic bug search, we see that some sites do better than normal, some sites do worse, but most sites stay the same. This was a strange year because while most sites stayed the same, several did worse than normal, and none did better.  Overall, the count of stonefly families was down about 10% from our last sampling event (2013). There is no clear explanation for this; weather conditions were great and the ice wasn’t any thicker than other year.  We will start to be concerned if we continue to see this happen year after year. However, there is always natural variation in the data and collecting and this year will likely not be the start of a downward trend in terms of the overall sampling.

 

Caroline, HRWC Intern and volunteer, scours Malletts Creek in hopes of scoring a Capnid.

Caroline, HRWC Intern and volunteer, scours Malletts Creek in hopes of scoring a Capnid.

2. That being said, there are specific locations that have shown long-term degradation. For example, Honey Creek in Ann Arbor. The team searching for stoneflies in Honey Creek at Wagner were unable to find stoneflies. This site has been sampled 14 times since 1995, and this is the first time that stoneflies could not be found. This is a site with lots of turbulent highly oxygenated water and should be a great place for stoneflies. Taken in isolation, the absence of the stoneflies at Wagner Road would not be concerning given that this is a single sample.  However, two upstream Honey Creek Adopt-a-Stream sites used to have stoneflies but haven’t in years.  Stoneflies haven’t been seen in Honey Creek at Jackson Road since 2008; they haven’t been at Honey Creek at Pratt Road since 2003. All of the pieces combined indicates that the overall quality of Honey Creek is degrading over the last decade.

3. Davis Creek at Pontiac Trail is another location where the stonefly population has dropped over time. This change is concerning because it happened slowly over the last ten years and our spring and fall samples show a very similar pattern.  In the early 2000s we regularly found one or two stonefly families at the creek, but they started to drop off and now have not been found since 2009.

4. All this doom and gloom needs to be put in perspective, though. Remember, most of the sites we visited were as healthy as ever.  Of the 61 Adopt-a-Stream sites that HRWC uses to assess the overall water quality of the watershed, stoneflies are regularly found at 38 of them. In other words, 62% of our watershed has very high water quality and habitat. This agrees with recent analyses of other HRWC data, showing that 66% of the watershed was good to very high quality, 28% was fair to good, and 7% was highly impacted (2014 State of the Huron)

Next on the horizon!

Interested in doing more with our macroinvertebrate searches?  Think about becoming a trained leader or collector by coming to the next training on March 29.  This is an extremely important job because every team needs both a trained leader and collector, and we often do not have enough to meet the demand.  Sign up for the training!

 

The team gathers around the white trays to sort debris and hunt for stoneflies!

The team gathers around the white trays to sort debris and hunt for stoneflies!

 

 

STONEFLIES!

2009-Stonefly-TrainingWednesday is your last chance to sign up for the January 17 Stonefly Search !

Join a small team led by a Stonefly Hunter who goes in the river so you don’t have to. You will be amazed at the lively creatures living under the ice.

Help HRWC collect data for a long-term study of our watershed. Aquatic insects are sensitive to their surroundings and can tell us about problems in the river and its streams.

Reserve your place at www.hrwc.org/volunteer/stonefly/ No prior experience needed.

This event lasts roughly 5 hours, is FREE and the activities are suitable for all ages, from responsible children to seniors.

2014 Leaves the Huron Nutrient Story Complicated

An excessive amount of nutrients is the top water quality concern in the Huron River watershed and the Great Lakes region, if not the entire county. This summer’s drinking water crisis in Toledo is a prime example of the potential impact. Waters in the Huron River watershed have suffered similar impacts, though somewhat less dramatic. Still, multiple millions of dollars have been invested within the watershed to reduce the sources of phosphorus (the growth-limiting nutrient in the region). So, where are we today, as we close out 2014? Have the programs, projects and other investments made any impact? HRWC’s Water Quality Monitoring Program results should shed some light on this question. 

The first look at the phosphorus trends suggests that we have made little recent progress. As shown in the first chart, raw phosphorus concentrations in the middle Huron River watershed steadily declined from the beginning of the monitoring program (2003) through 2009, when the average phosphorus concentration rose above target levels (red line). From 2010 through this year, concentrations were much more variable, but averages were distinctly above the target. Phosphorus concentrations were also well above the target in the Lower Huron watershed over the last three years (not shown).

Total phosphorus concentrations in the middle Huron River Watershed

Total phosphorus concentrations in the middle Huron River Watershed

These raw results do not provide a complete picture, however. Concentrations can vary tremendously (just look at the error bars) depending on a number of variables, most importantly stream flow. 2008 was a particularly dry year, for example, while stream flows were well above average in 2011. HRWC storm sampling shows that, as stream flows increase during a rain storm, phosphorus concentrations increase, often dramatically.

When we account for the stream flow at the time of sampling, we get a somewhat different picture. The second chart shows phosphorus concentrations at Ford Lake, when adjusted for river flow (also shown as the blue line). The chart shows four periods — 1995 when the state DEQ sampled to set a phosphorus control policy, and three periods after the monitoring program began.

Phosphorus concentrations and river flow at Ford Lake

Phosphorus concentrations and river flow at Ford Lake

From this view, it is obvious that concentrations have come way down from original ’95 levels. Also, phosphorus concentrations have come back up since 2009, but by less than it seems from raw concentrations.

It is unclear why we have seen the recent increase in phosphorus concentrations. It does not appear to be linked to sediment concentration (i.e. erosion) as those data are not well correlated. Some national studies suggest that historical fertilizer application may be dissolved and slowly moving through the groundwater. If that is the case, while direct application of phosphorus in fertilizer has been addressed (through fertilizer policy in the City of Ann Arbor and later statewide law), we are still seeing the legacy effects of over-fertilization in our urban/suburban areas. There also has been an increase in phosphorus loading from the more heavily agricultural Mill Creek watershed, which could partially explain the increase.

HRWC provides a more detailed tributary evaluation in its annual monitoring report. For reports, presentations and 2014 raw data, see the Water Quality Monitoring page.


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