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Archive for the ‘Water Quality’ Category

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.

Honey Creek Plan Released

HRWC recently received final approval to release a new watershed management plan to address impairments in Honey Creek, a tributary to the Huron River in Scio Township. The creek is identified as “impaired” by the state Department of Environmental Quality because water samples routinely show levels of bacteria above the state’s water quality standards.

Target areas for reducing bacteria contamination in Honey Creek

Target areas for reducing bacteria contamination in Honey Creek

HRWC developed the plan in consultation with partner organizations and stakeholders in the watershed following two years of extensive study. The study included sampling throughout the creek watershed, genetic “fingerprinting” of bacteria source animals, as well as in-stream and neighborhood surveys. Overall, the study helped to identify a few critical areas of possible septic contamination and it eliminated as problem areas some other parts of the watershed. Beyond septic sources, HRWC identified pet waste, livestock waste (e.g. horses and chickens), and manure application as sources of bacteria.

Key recommendations in the plan include:

  • Identification of specific septic sources, elimination of illegal connections to the creek and remediation of failing septic systems;
  • Establishment of an ordinance in Scio Township requiring the removal of pet waste combined with the installation of pet waste stations at key locations;
  • Targeted agricultural funding in the creekshed for manure and nutrient management, animal exclusion from waterways, and the restoration of stream buffers and wetlands; and
  • Education throughout the creekshed on issues contributing to bacteria contamination.

HRWC is working with partner organizations like Scio Township, the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office, Washtenaw County Environmental Health, and the Washtenaw County Conservation District to raise funding to implement plan activities in 2015 and beyond.

News to Us

Many breweries in the area rely on Huron River water.  Credit: John Lloyd

Many breweries in the area rely on Huron River water. Credit: John Lloyd

In local news, listen to radio interviews with two HRWC staff  on our environmental education work and the addition of a new dock at Peninsular Park.  A new report identifies nature as a best defense against severe storms and flooding.  Also, land and water conservation is on the ballot throughout the nation and craft brewers are uniting around clean water.

Mother Nature Offers Best Defense From Floods and Storms Mother Nature is one of the best defenses against damage from large storms and flooding.  Protecting our forests and wetlands provides benefits far beyond beauty and biodiversity.  A recent National Wildlife Federation report explores the benefits of land protection as a flood control strategy. HRWC’s Bioreserve Program, Green Infrastructure initiatives and riparian buffer protections work all contribute to the watershed’s natural ability to lessen the impacts of storms in our area.

Freshwater Health: Caring for our rivers, lakes and streams and their aquatic inhabitants and surrounding communities WCBN’s It’s Hot in Here program this week includes three interviews on freshwater issues affecting the Great Lakes.  HRWC’s Volunteer and Stewardship Coordinator Jason Frenzel discusses our education programs and community engagement beginning around the 45 minute mark.

Craft brewers join the fight against natural gas pipelines Craft brewers understand the importance of clean water. After all, beer is 90% water.  Brewers in the Huron River watershed have been great partners to HRWC over the years. This article highlights a national initiative to unite craft brewers around water quality issues. This article is an interesting read and highlights one of the many less obvious benefits of clean, plentiful water.

Voters Will Decide On Billions For Land Conservation  On Election Day, voters will be deciding whether or not to support land and water conservation throughout the nation. Some of the biggest initiatives are in California, Florida and New Jersey.  Many local level initiatives to support the preservation of open space are being put in front of voters as well. In fact, Washtenaw County residents will vote on a millage renewal for county parks.  The Washtenaw County Parks system has contributed parks, preserves and trails that improve recreational opportunities, erosion and stormwater control, pollution prevention and the beauty of our watershed. You can learn more about the county parks system in The History of Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission video.

New Dock For Ypsilanti’s Peninsular Park As part of the RiverUp! program, a new dock has been installed at Ypsilanti’s Peninsular Park replacing a dock that had fallen into disrepair making river access and recreation difficult. This is part of a larger initiative to encourage river and trail recreation in the Huron River watershed, particularly in five “Trail Towns” along the Huron River Water Trail including Ypsilanti.

Protecting Water Under the Clean Water Act

We needy our help to bring protections back to our wetlands and small streams.

We need your help to bring protections back to our wetlands and small streams.

Wait, what?  The Clean Water Act doesn’t protect clean water?  How can that be?

Well in 2001 and 2006 there were 2 Supreme Court Decisions that confused the implementation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and placed many wetlands and streams out of protection and at risk.

Earlier this year, the U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers released a very important draft rulemaking. This draft rule clarifies which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act.  This rulemaking will fundamentally influence our work to protect or restore our watershed.

Please comment on the draft US EPA rule on Clean Water Protection (aka Waters of the US) Rulemaking

Comments on this important rulemaking are due October 20, 2014. We encourage river lovers (YOU) to speak up! If you haven’t been following this issue or need a refresher, please check out this link.

Your comments can be as simple as, “Clean water is important to me. I want EPA to protect it for my health, my family, and my community” or as specific as, “I support the agencies proposal to define “waters of the United States” in section (a) of the proposed rule for all sections of the CWA to mean: Traditional navigable waters; interstate waters, including interstate wetlands; the territorial seas; impoundments of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, including interstate wetlands, the territorial seas, and tributaries, as defined, of such waters; tributaries, as defined, of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, or the territorial seas; and adjacent waters, including adjacent wetlands. Waters in these categories would be jurisdictional “waters of the United States” by rule—no additional analysis would be required.”

Thank you!

Rainy and warm? The forecast for a toxic algal bloom.

On August 2nd, Mayor of Toledo Michael Collins, issued a ban on drinking water.  Microcystis, a bacteria*, reached toxic levels in the City’s drinking water supply in western Lake Erie. The ban lasted two days and left nearly half a million people without water including residents of Monroe County, Michigan.  During that time there was much media coverage discussing cause, response, extent of the impacts and who was to blame.

Toledo's drinking water intake in Lake Erie.  Credit: Haraz N. Ghanbari, Associated-Press

Toledo’s drinking water intake in Lake Erie. Credit: Haraz N. Ghanbari, Associated-Press

What you may not have read is that this event is not unique. Increasingly, and across the globe, our lakes and oceans are experiencing booms of algae and bacteria populations that are reaching levels toxic to both wildlife and people. The question I want to explore here is how may climate change be contributing to this issue that is plaguing Lake Erie and many other coastal waterways?

Lake Erie has seen an increase in the frequency and size of blooms since the 1990’s.  A harmful bloom of algae and bacteria occurs when waters are warm and nutrients are high. Lake Erie is shallow and therefore warmer than other Great Lakes. Additionally, there is extensive agricultural and urban development in the watersheds that drain to the lake.  Nitrogen and phosphorus reach our rivers from farm fields, leaking septic systems and discharge pipes from industry.

Climate change can make conditions worse in two major ways.  As air temperatures increase, water temperatures increase.  In our area we have already experienced a 1.1° F increase in average annual temperature in the past 30 years.** Models predict an additional increase of 4-12° F (depending on what carbon emissions values are used) over the course of this century.  Additionally, not all rains are created equal. More nutrients run off of land and through pipes during large rain events. These nutrients are carried from the source, to a river, which eventually delivers the “food” to Lake Erie where it is used to fuel a bloom. In Southeast Michigan we are already experiencing an average of 2.9 inches more precipitation (much falling as rain) each year than we were 30 years ago.  Models predict further increases to our average annual rainfall, and more importantly to this story, that rain is expected to fall in larger events. An analysis of Toledo rainfall records revealed that they have experienced a 40% increase in the number of strongest storms in the last 30 years when compared to the previous 30 years. This is typical for the entire Midwest region of the US.

So, while harmful algal blooms have occurred in Lake Erie for decades, there is reason to believe that climate change is an additional, and increasingly important, factor leading to the uptick in frequency and severity of these events.

You can read more about microcystis and the Huron River watershed in our upcoming newsletter scheduled for release in December.  If you do not receive our newsletter, you can subscribe here.

________

*Point of clarification — Microcystis is a bacteria, not an algae, though the two tend to bloom simultaneously under the right conditions.
** All climate data was provided by the Great Lakes Integrated Science and Assessments Center www.glisa.umich.edu

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

Capture

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.”


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