Archive for the ‘Water Quality’ Category

HRWC releases first-of-its kind study on river’s economic impact

Read the newly released “Summary of The Economic Impact of the Huron River.”

In 2016, HRWC commissioned a unique study to measure the economic impact of the river on local communities, focusing on Huron River Water Trail activities and the value of natural systems that maintain a healthy, clean river.

The Huron River contributes enormous benefit to the local economy.

That’s one of the key takeaways from research conducted by a research team with Grand Valley State University lead by Dr. Paul Isely, associate dean. Their work, supported by HRWC and the RiverUp! initiative, represents a significant step forward in quantifying the economic value of the Huron River corridor and the Huron River Water Trail, a designated National Water Trail.

Read the “Full Study of The Economic Impact of the Huron River by Grand Valley State University.”

Key Findings

The Huron River and Huron River Water Trail are conservatively estimated to have the following economic impact on the five-county region in which they are located:

  • $53.5M in economic output ($29.9M direct + $23.6M indirect spending) annually
  • $150M annual economic value of ecosystem services provided by the Huron River
  • $3.8B total economic value of services provided by the Huron River
  • 2.6 million visitor days

The study provides robust baseline information about who’s using the river and trails along it, how the downtowns and businesses near the river relate to it, and how the value of maintaining the river corridor’s natural features can be monetized. As a result, HRWC and its partners can make more targeted investments, track changes over time, and have another tool for engaging new partners.economic-impact-pull-quote-web

The team followed a two-part approach to understanding the value of the Huron River: measure the river’s economic impact using visitor and business surveys; and assess the positive benefits of the Huron River watershed to people, also known as ecosystem services. The Huron River supports recreation, tourism, and business activities that greatly support the local economy. The majority of this spending is driven by outdoor activity around or near the water.

The second part of the study estimates the ecosystem value of the Huron River. Nature provides vital contributions to economic and social well-being that are often not traded in markets or fully considered in land use, business, and other economic decisions. In the case of a river, these contributions include protection against erosion and flooding, habitat for diverse birds, fish, and mammals, and cultural and aesthetic benefits that come from people’s interactions with nature.

Measuring the economic impact of the Huron River will benefit local partners as well as similar placemaking efforts and water trails around the country. A 2015 survey of impact studies for water trails by the National Park Service found only three reference studies. Water trails in Michigan and around the country through the National Water Trails System are ready to learn from findings on the Huron River Water Trail.economic-output-and-aesthetic-value-pull-quote-web

Since it began in 2012, RiverUp! has contributed more than $2 million in private and public investments to restore and protect the Huron River, revitalize community waterfronts, and increase water-based recreation for all. RiverUp!’s work is leveraged by an additional $40 million in riverfront improvements by partners over that time. This new report provides HRWC and its RiverUp! partners with reliable information on the value of these investments compared to the river-based economy.

On the chopping block: clean water

***  UPDATE: On August 16, 2017, the EPA and the Army extended the comment period by 30 days for the proposed first step of the review of the definition of ‘Waters of the U.S.’ to provide additional time for stakeholders to weigh in. *** The comment period, as now extended, will close on September 27, 2017. ***

While we are working to clean up the Huron River system for a good quality of life, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is working to roll back the Clean Water Act. The current administration is rushing through a repeal of the Clean Water Rule and we have only until September 27th during public comment to try and stop it. It’s critical for your voice to be heard in D.C.

The proposal has been published in the federal register.

You can help by submitting a request to stop the repeal of this important rule on or before Wednesday, Sept. 27, 11:59pm EST.hrwc-clean-water-rule-wetlands

Get sample comment letter language, links into the Federal eRulemaking Portal, Michigan impacts, and news articles HERE.

Background:

What is the Clean Water Rule? In 2015, the previous administration clarified and finalized protections for streams and wetlands across the country. These safeguards protected the small streams that feed the drinking water sources for nearly 1 in 3 Americans. They protected wetlands throughout the nation that filter pollutants from water, absorb floodwaters, and provide habitat for countless wildlife. In fact, industry and other permittees asked for this clarification as an end to regulatory confusion about which of the country’s waterways the Clean Water Act protects. The rule was supported by millions of Americans.

The Clean Water Rule followed a robust public process. Before finalizing the Clean Water Rule in 2015, EPA held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country and published a synthesis of more than 1,200 peer-reviewed scientific publications, which showed that the small streams and wetlands the Rule safeguards are vital to larger downstream waters.

What is this administration proposing? Administrator Pruitt does not want to implement the Clean Water Rule. Instead, he plans to rush through the repeal of the Clean Water Rule this year, then propose and finalize a less protective rule in less than a year. President Trump signed an Executive Order instructing the EPA to propose a new rule based on former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s opinion of which waterways the Clean Water Act protects. A rule following Scalia’s interpretation would result in drastic exclusions of wetlands and streams from protection; fewer than half of wetlands and fewer than 40 percent of streams would receive federal protection. If that scenario comes to pass, then the nation’s waters will be less protected than they were in 1975!

Who is opposing the Clean Water Rule? Lobbyists for oil and gas producers, homebuilders, and farm bureaus.

What’s at stake? Our right to clean drinking water is in jeopardy. Rolling back hrwc-clean-water-rule-at-riskthe rule will result in the same regulatory confusion that resulted in broad-based calls for clarity about which of our nation’s waterways the Clean Water Act protects. Rolling back the rule is bad governance, bad for businesses who rely on regulatory certainty, and bad for our communities that deserve clean water.

Michigan’s rivers play a key role in economic and community building. Here in the Huron River watershed, we know the value of a healthy river system that includes healthy wetlands and smaller feeder streams. The river and water trail are conservatively estimated to have the following economic impact:

  • $53.5 million in annual economic output (direct, indirect, and induced spending)
  • $628 million in added property value
  • $150 million in annual environmental value (such as clean drinking water, wetlands and floodplains that prevent flooding, and forested riverbanks that foster rich fisheries and healthy streams)

Please speak up – send a message to the EPA today. Tell Administrator Pruitt: Hands off our water. We’ve provided a sample public comment letter. We encourage you to add your own description of the value of clean water.

Postscript: Republicans, meanwhile, are targeting the rule on a second front. A section of the Defense Department spending bill (page 277, line 12) allows the administration to revoke the rule with no strings attached — strings being requirements for public consultation.

Get sample comment letter language, links into the Federal eRulemaking Portal, Michigan impacts, and news articles HERE.

 

2017 Water Quality Monitoring Season Marks Halfway Point

Volunteers Jacinda Bowman, Daniel Tanner, Ron Fadoir, and Charlotte Weinstein at Silver Creek having fun and taking flow measurements.

Volunteers Jacinda Bowman, Daniel Tanner, Ron Fadoir, and Charlotte Weinstein at Silver Creek in Wayne County having fun and taking flow measurements.

In March, HRWC’s Water Quality Monitoring Program began the season with a volunteer orientation where we introduced what we do and gave an overview of the goals we hope to achieve. 50 enthusiastic individuals had field training just a few weeks later, and have been going out every two weeks to our 39 monitoring sites throughout Livingston, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties. At these site visits, volunteers grab water samples for chemistry analysis by a laboratory, gather field data such as dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and temperature, and also take flow measurements.

Another 18 volunteers attended our mid-season orientation in June. These new volunteers are joining the current team to help finish out the remainder of the monitoring season, which ends on September 28.

Pat Rodgers and Peg White gather field data at Woodruff Creek in Livingston County.

Volunteers Pat Rodgers and Peg White gather field data at Woodruff Creek in Livingston County.

Thanks to all of our Water Quality Monitoring Program volunteers for their help in gathering important watershed data, and to the leaders in the program who assist in training and overseeing the data collection in the field. We could not do it without you! We are at the halfway point!

For more information about the Water Quality Monitoring Program, click here.

Standing Strong for Clean Water

In the last 5 months HRWC has been regularly expressing our concern on changes to federal policy, legislation, and the budget.  I want to share with you a few of these letters and comments and assure you that HRWC is there to face new challenges coming while continuing our work to protect and restore the river for healthy and vibrant communities.

hrwc20The Healing Our Waters Coalition (HOW) composed a letter defending the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) which, under the President’s budget, would be cut completely.  HRWC signed on to this letter that stated, “The potential wide-ranging budget cuts impact many agencies that are critical to the success of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, as well as those that ensure people throughout the country have access to safe air and clean drinking water. Millions of people in the Great Lakes region and across the country—including many communities which have borne the brunt of racial, environmental and economic injustice—will pay a steep price if Congress does not reject the proposed cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and agencies like U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and others.”

HOW Coalition’s letter pushing back against the Trump Administration’s proposed budget cuts and in support of funding Great Lakes programs attracted a record 152 groups that signed on to the letter that sent a strong message to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to fund these important programs.

In response to President Trump’s regulatory reform efforts, HRWC signed on to 3 letters and participated in a national video.

One letter outlined HRWC’s objections to this proposed regulatory reform.  “We object to the false premise that public safeguards are holding back our nation.  In reality, environmental protections have saved lives, improved health, conserved resources and spurred innovation, all while allowing for economic growth and providing far more in benefits that they cost”.  In addition, HRWC signed on to a regional Great Lakes letter that outlined environmental and economic reasons for environmental protections in the Great Lakes region and highlights the importance of policies like the Clean Water Act in protecting vulnerable communities.

I was also interviewed for a video compiled by the Clean Water Network and the River Network that includes leading river protection groups talking about the importance of federal legislation on regional clean water efforts.  This video was compiled at National River Rally in May in Grand Rapids,  a conference for over 600 river and water champions.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency led the charge on another very important program facing budget cuts.  EPA’s highly successful WaterSense® program is a voluntary public-private partnership that has saved American consumers more than $33 billion (in 2015 dollars) on their water and energy bills over the past decade. WaterSense is a voluntary program, not a regulatory one, and it costs less than $2 million dollars a year to administer. It is universally supported by consumers, manufacturers and the public and private agencies charged with supplying water to American households and businesses. Since its inception in 2006, it has been immensely successful at achieving its goal of reducing water consumption. An estimated 1.5 trillion gallons have been saved using WaterSense-labeled products.

While of lesser significance to HRWC, we also signed on to letter opposing efforts to repeal or undermine protections for national parks and monuments spearheaded by the National Parks Conservation Association.

Finally, HRWC has been providing stories of our success with federal funding, legislation, and policies to national groups, policy makers, and legislators.  These on the ground examples are being used to illustrate the importance of federal grants and programs and to provide concrete water quality improvement stories.

HRWC is lending its voice and success stories to the national dialogue on federal environmental policies, budgets, and legislation.  We believe this is an example of how to Stand Strong for Clean Water.

Why I’m Marching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make a Difference… Be a Scientist on Earth Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phosphorus levels in the middle section of the Huron River Watershed

Phosphorus levels in the middle section of the Huron River Watershed

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

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

News to US

30158738441_16b87bda57_oNews to Us this month provides an update on the dioxane contamination case. Also, two new projects bring money to improve water quality in the Huron. Finally, read articles on two widespread water quality issues – PAH contamination due to coaltar pavement sealers and bacterial pollution from failing septic systems.

Judge grants local intervention in Ann Arbor dioxane pollution case In a precedent setting decision, Judge Connors granted intervention on legal negotiations associated with the Gelman dioxane plume to HRWC. Washtenaw County and the City of Ann Arbor were also granted intervention. As the Attorney General’s counsel stated, “…. in our experience we’ve never seen a circumstance where an environmental policy group or a public interest group basically has intervened and been a participant in the negotiation of a consent judgment, whether it’s the very first negotiation of a consent judgment, or in this case the fourth amendment to a consent judgment.” HRWC will represent the needs of the river ecosystem and recreational users.

$1.8M in federal funds to help protect Huron River watershed A significant award through a federal Farm Bill program is coming to the Huron. These funds will be used to protect natural and farmed lands and support farming practices that protect water quality. Efforts led by the Legacy Land Conservancy will be focused on the headwaters of the Huron in Oakland, Livingston and western Washtenaw counties. HRWC is one of many local groups involved in this unique partnership.

$675K design contract for new tunnel to Ann Arbor riverfront approved A major stormwater management and river access project in Ann Arbor now has the funding it needs to move forward. A tunnel will be built underneath the railroad tracks connecting pedestrians from Depot Street to the Border-to-Border trail and Argo park. This tunnel will also act as a release valve for stormwater which tends to back up and flood land and property in this low lying area where Allen Creek meets the Huron River.

Coal tar main source of toxicity in streams A recent study found that up to 94% of PAHs found in sediments in Milwaukee-area creeks and streams came from coaltar pavement sealants and that 78% of all samples had enough PAH content to be considered toxic. PAHs are a toxic class of chemicals that impact aquatic life and human health. HRWC has been working, in the face of mounting evidence, to ban the use of coaltar and other high PAH sealcoats to reduce the impacts of this unnecessary contaminant. Learn more about area bans at hrwc.org/coaltar

Aging septic systems fouling Michigan waters Did you know that Michigan is the only state that does not regulate septic systems? As many as 1.4 million of these systems exist within our state, very few are under any inspection and maintenance requirements. Sixty four rivers sampled in Michigan had bacterial contamination that was traced back to human sources. This is one of the biggest threats to Michigan waterways. HRWC has more information on this issue and how you can maintain your septic system here and will be investing in septic system education in Honey Creek, a tributary of the Huron considering impaired by the State for bacterial contamination.

Community Techniques for Protecting Water Quality

Kris Olsson presents at the December 10 workshop

Kris Olsson presents at the December 10 workshop

Lively Discussions Lead to Learning

Over 60 people from the Huron River watershed and beyond gathered at the Freedom Township Hall to learn about Community Techniques for Protecting Water Quality. Elected and appointed officials from six townships attended the December forum on the vital role local governments play in protecting our region’s lakes, rivers, and streams and the natural areas that contribute to their quality. Attendees also included members of a variety of water protection groups and interested citizens, some driving as far as 200 miles from northern Michigan and Ohio.

Planning for community growth that protects natural areas is the key to ensuring clean water and vibrant communities for residents, businesses and farms. The goal of the forum was to share concepts, ideas and programs and to provide participants with an opportunity to learn from each other what works.

Harry Sheehan, the Deputy Water Resource Commissioner from Washtenaw County led the morning with an important overview on protecting water quality. Then Sally Rutzky and Erica Perry, Planning Commissioners from Lyndon and Webster Townships, communities HRWC has worked with to develop Green Infrastructure maps and plans, shared challenges and unique solutions to water and land protection issues. Monica Day, Michigan State University Extension educator, connected local water quality protection to statewide issues on the news like the Flint water crisis and algae problems in Toledo.

The forum was organized by HRWC, Mchigan State University Extension, Freedom Township, Pleasant Lake Property Owners Association, Michigan Lake and Stream Associations, the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner, Citizens Respecting Our Waters, and Washtenaw County Emergency Management.

Read about the event in The Sun Times News and the Manchester Mirror.

Forum presentations are available at HRWC’s Green Infrastructure page.

HRWC has received funding from the Knight Foundation to provide Green Infrastructure Planning Services to local governments.  This includes a workshop where residents and officials map out their community’s natural areas and greenways, an audit of their zoning ordinance, master plan and other policies, and technical support in enhancing policies to protect water quality and natural areas. If your local government would like Green Infrastructure Planning Services, email Kris Olsson or call her at (734) 769-5123 x 607.


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