Archive for the ‘Water Quality’ Category
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.”
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.
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
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.”
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.
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
- 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
- Sampling the Huron River by Riverside Park in Ypsilanti. credit: Kristen Baumia
- Hay Creek winds through wetlands and forests. credit: David Amamoto
- Sorting the bugs on ID Day! credit: David Amamoto
- "What the heck is it?"--Paul Steen. credit: David Amamoto
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).
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.
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.
Inspire River Protection With Art!
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.
We 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.
The 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.
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
What do you do if someone wants to lease your oil/gas development rights?
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.
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.