Archive for the ‘Water Quality’ Category
This edition of News to Us starts with a success story and we all like success stories. Learn also about the islands of plastic polluting our Great Lakes. We share a few opportunities to attend public events on flooding and fracking. Read also a refreshing perspective on approaching river conservation by finding common ground among individual objectives.
A Tern for the Better: The Detroit River Comeback The common tern has returned to Belle Isle after a 50 year absence. The refuge on Belle Isle is a bright spot showing what can be when we invest in wildlife habitat even in the most urban of places. Read about the successes of our neighbors to the north.
Polluting Plastic Waste Invades Great Lakes: Pacific Garbage Patch May Have a Rival This article brings to light a less often cited, yet major source of pollution in the Great Lakes. Plastics in our waters have implications for birds, fish and other organisms in the food chain. Consider finding ways to keep plastics out of our waterways like switching to reusable bags and cleaning debris and trash away from stormdrains that carry plastics directly to our waterways during rain events.
Ann Arbor kicks off $1.2M study of sewer system, footing drain program and basement sewage backups It is the wet season again. Spring rains rejuvenate our rivers, groundwater, forests and landscaping. But for some households the rains can mean problems when water ends up in basements or sits on roads. Ann Arbor is holding a public meeting to provide updates on ongoing efforts to reduce damaging flooding including an assessment of the sanitary sewer system and footing drain disconnection program.
Sunday Brunch: A tiny trickle turns into a torrent of conservation issues for Michigan This blog from Helen Taylor, State Director of the Nature Conservancy in Michigan, shares a nice perspective on river protection. She encourages individuals and groups to consider the “whole-system” rather than a more personal view of the river with an eye on shared goals rather than win-lose propositions—a healthy lens through which to envision the path to a healthy river serving many purposes for many interests.
University of Michigan to hold town hall on future of fracking in the state For those interested in learning more about the practice of fracking to extract natural gas, University of Michigan is hosting a forum on the topic this evening. As far as we are aware, there are no plans for fracking in the watershed at this time but there is very active debate on this topic at the national and state level.
Sadly, not a lot of good news has come across our desks over the past couple of weeks. Instead, we are hearing of major losses, or potential losses, in the gains we have made with our nation’s waters over the decades since the Clean Water Act. It is a signal that we cannot let up on our efforts to protect our freshwater, and the life it supports and the services it provides.
EPA Declares More than Half of US Rivers Unfit for Aquatic Life – A recently released report from the Environmental Protection Agency identified 55% of US rivers and stream are in poor condition for aquatic life. Major culprits include reduced riparian vegetation, phosphorus, nitrogen, mercury and bacteria. We are losing ground on our high quality rivers. Only 21% of US rivers qualified as “good biological condition compared to the 27% that fell into that category in the 2004 assessment. In the Huron, phosphorus is a big concern, as is bacterial pollution. Learn more about local water quality here or listen to a summary of our water quality monitoring results from 2012.
Judge ends federal court oversight of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department The utility responsible for delivering drinking water and treating wastewater for 4 million customers in Southeast Michigan has been under federal oversight for 35 years. Oversight will now move to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality due to significant improvements in compliance with environmental regulations. The new State permit calls for additional improvements to the facility’s wastewater treatment operations.
Spring Rain, Then Foul Algae in Ailing Lake Erie The Huron’s receiving water, Lake Erie, is in trouble. Toxic algal blooms in the lake are getting worse causing problems for fish populations, tourism and beaches. The lake had seen vast improvements since the Clean Water Act helped halt industrial pollution. Now, we are losing ground primarily due to phosphorus pollution primarily from farming practices. Climate change and zebra mussels are also cited as contributing to the problem.
Hydraulic fracturing in Michigan: Waiting for the boom So far, the Huron River watershed and much of Michigan has not been subject to natural gas extraction via the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process that has many states debating costs versus benefits of the method. The method uses a lot of water and a slurry of chemicals deep into the earth. This article shares why fracking has not yet come to our backyard and under what conditions it may.
The effort to derail ‘Biodiversity Stewardship Areas’ in Michigan Here is another voice in the debate over Senate bill 78. This is a very important issue to us and anyone who values our state’s natural areas and their inhabitants. We will continue to keep you up-to-date on our website. To learn more about the issue and how to voice your opinion see our blog Healthy Forests and Waters At-Risk in Michigan .
Chances are good that if you’re a regular to HRWC blogs, then you’ve already heard about Senate Bill 78 that would prohibit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from taking actions that achieve or maintain biological diversity. In doing so, it would prevent the department from carrying out a central tenet of its mission to conserve and protect our natural resources. Biological diversity is critical to our environmental legacy and to the health of the Huron River system.
The bill has passed the full Senate primarily along party-lines, despite the opposition of residents, professors from a number of Michigan’s universities, and environmental and conservation organizations.
Aside from restricting the ability of the DNR to make decisions based on a basic scientific principle, the legislation could also jeopardize Michigan’s ability to receive federal funding for forest management, endanger our forest certifications and put at risk areas of our state that have long been appreciated by Michigan residents for outdoor recreation and their scenic beauty.
The bill is now on its way to the House Natural Resources Committee. To share your views and concerns about SB 78, tell your State Representative to contact Rep. Andrea LaFontaine, Chairwoman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and urge her to stop this bill.
SB 78 is anything but Pure Michigan.
For additional reading on this issue, we recommend the following links:
“State Senate bill puts forests at risk of disease, pests, environmentalists say.” Detroit Free Press.
“Legislation redefining conservation puts Michigan’s diversity of nature at risk: MEC Commentary.” Detroit Free Press
“Anti-Biodiversity Bill hearings Continue.” MEC blog: http://michigandistilled.org/
Sepp Holzer To Lecture on Ecological Farming Techniques at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Tuesday, April 2, 6:30-9pm
Rackham Amphitheatre, (Rackham Building, 4th floor)
OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
In-depth Three Day Permaculture Course, April 2-4, 2013 also offered.
Permaculture is a whole-systems-design-approach to land, water, food, energy and buildings. When it comes to water, permaculture designers create landscapes that catch, store, clean and reuse water resources. These methods have numerous benefits to ecosystems and watersheds, including water conservation, aquifer restoration, minimizing soil runoff and erosion control. Permaculture utilizes organic agriculture practices, eliminating the use of toxic pesticides and chemicals that pollute our rivers, streams, and damage biodiversity. The goal of Permaculture design is to provide for human needs and protect diverse ecosystems, all within the flow of natural patterns and cycles.
Sepp Holzer has pioneered the use of ecological farming and Permaculture throughout the world. He began farming this way in Austria in the 1960’s after being unsuccessful with conventional agriculture methods. He is known as the “rebel farmer” because he persisted despite being fined and even threatened with prison. His “Krameterhoff” farm in the Austrian alps receives thousands of students and visitors each year.
- A beautiful Huron River, where it crosses Zeeb Road. credit: John Lloyd
- Dave Wilson samples Woods Creek! credit: Nate Antieau
- Digging through the muck of Port Creek. credit: Mark Schaller
- A quick break for the camera! credit: John Lloyd
- "Do you see anything?" credit: John Lloyd
Bring on the “brrr!”
On January 26, 110 intrepid volunteers faced the harsh winter elements and spread across the Huron River watershed in search of stoneflies, which are only found in clean and healthy streams. Everyone made it back safe, which is the number one priority, and it seemed that a good time was had by all.
In 2012 the Stonefly Search volunteers had to deal with melting snow and flood conditions, but this year we had a deep freeze in the week preceeding the Search, and most of the teams had to break their way through the ice in order to sample the stream macroinvertebrates. Despite this challenging problem, stoneflies were found in great abundance at many locations. The results are in, and are given in this pdf report.
1. The status quo is being maintained for most of the sampling sites. Sites that have had stoneflies in the past are still able to support them, and sites that were not healthy enough to hold stoneflies still do not have them. That being said, we did see a few changes this year which are detailed below.
2. Four sites had the best stonefly samples that had ever been seen at those locations: Chilson Creek at Chilson Road, Fleming Creek at Galpin Road, the Huron River at Flat Rock, and Woodruff Creek at Buno Road. At each of these sites, the stoneflies normally found at the location were there, but also new stonefly families were found that had never been seen there before! A greater diversity of stoneflies indicates greater stream health. These are promising results and hopefully it will continue into longer term trends.
3. The team searching for stoneflies in Woods Creek in Belleville came back disappointed. Wood’s Creek at the Lower Huron Metropark has been sampled 12 times since 1997, and this is the first time that stoneflies could not be found. The problem likely comes from the thick ice and difficult conditions rather than pollution or disturbed stream habitat, but we will keep an eye on Wood’s Creek next year.
4. Traver Creek is a stream in north Ann Arbor that has typical urban stream problems- in particular, flashy flows and runoff, oil, and sediment from roads. In the past couple of years, part of the train track berm washed out and released a large plume of sediment to Traver Creek. However, we were pleased that both of the sites sampled on Traver Creek this year turned up stoneflies. The sites were both upstream and downstream of the wash-out.
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 24. 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!
2012 was a dry year for the watershed. No significant storms occurred after mid-April, and very little precipitation fell at all through the entire month of July. Flows in the river and tributary streams hit record lows in late July and early August. What effect did this dry spring and summer have on the water quality in the watershed? Results from HRWC’s Water Quality Monitoring Program help answer this question.
The program had a banner year in 2012 with the greatest number of volunteers (49) trained and deployed to the most sites (36) across three counties. HRWC added 14 new sites in 2012 alone as the program expanded into Wayne County. This diligent corps of dedicated volunteers collected nearly 500 sets of water quality samples for analysis at municipal labs administered by the cities of Ann Arbor and Brighton and the Ypsilanti Communities Utility Authority (YCUA).
The state of Michigan does not have a numerical standard for phosphorus levels, but 50 µg/l is used for area lakes as a level to stay below in order to avoid serious algae blooms and fish kills. Concentrations of total phosphorus (TP) in monitored streams were roughly the same, on average, as the past two years. Wayne County streams (which include some that drain directly to the Detroit River) had the highest mean concentration at 100 µg/l, while Washtenaw County streams averaged 80 µg/l, and Livingston County streams were much lower at 30 µg/l. The portion of the watershed in Livingston County retains more wetland area (wetlands filter phosphorus), and a smaller developed or urbanized area than in Washtenaw or Wayne County. Mean stream flow, or discharge, was much less in 2012 than in previous years resulting in an overall “load” of phosphorus (i.e., the total mass of phosphorus moving downstream over a given period of time) from these streams that was lower than in previous years. Also, sediments (measured as Total Suspended Sediments or TSS) were slightly lower on average this year. Fewer storms means less erosion, or soil runoff, which may have also helped to keep phosphorus levels down, since phosphorus readily attaches to soil particles.
Bacteria Still a Health Concern
Bacteria levels, as measured by Eschericia coli, continue to be high in several areas of the watershed during 2012. Levels regularly exceeded state standards for human health in most monitored tributary streams in Washtenaw and Wayne counties. Notable exceptions were Woods Creek, Fleming Creek, and the Huron River upstream of Ann Arbor. Efforts to identify specific sources of bacteria in Honey Creek in Scio Township were not particularly fruitful. Bacteria counts were high throughout the streams of Honey Creek, and genetic tracking showed that a wide variety of animals contributes to the problem (including humans).
Stormwater Runoff Problem Persists
While the lack of major storms this season may have reduced the overall amount of erosion and other runoff pollution, tributary streams continue to exhibit unnatural flows. Streams throughout Wayne County (with the exception of Woods Creek) and the urbanized areas of Washtenaw County exhibited much higher peak flows following storms than would be expected from the size of their watersheds, and the flows returned to low flow much more quickly. Notably, at the driest points in July and August, some smaller creeks stopped flowing altogether. Typically, unaltered perennial streams should continue to receive sufficient groundwater in-flow even through the drought experienced in 2012.
Some of these flow characteristics also led to dissolved oxygen levels that were below state standards set to protect aquatic life. The streams in question are ones that were severely channelized (straightened and deepened), and the low water levels isolated sections from in-flow of oxygen-rich water, causing them to stagnate for long periods. Bugs, fish and other aquatic life will return to these creeks as flow returns, but they will have a difficult time sustaining a healthy, diverse population over the long term with such periodic oxygen starvation. While a number of programs and projects to reduce stormwater runoff are encouraging, these results suggest there is still a long way to go.
The Water Quality Monitoring Program is funded by local government agencies through HRWC partnerships for stormwater and watershed management.
A new build out report commissioned by Webster Township will help the township guide future development in a way that preserves its rural character and natural beauty.
The township commissioned Sarah Mills, a University of Michigan doctoral student at the School of Urban and Regional Planning, to perform the study, which shows the expected future level of residential and commercial development given existing allowable land uses in the township’s master plan and zoning ordinance. The study then describes several alternative “build out” scenarios given different changes to the township’s policies.
Under current policies, the township can expect to see a tripling of households, from 2,306 to 6,830. A build out study conducted by HRWC in 1992 showed similar results. Both studies measured resulting impervious surfaces, which is a leading indicator of water quality. Arms Creek, whose watershed is entirely within Webster Township, is currently a healthy creek with very little impervious surfaces covering the lands draining into it. Only about 5% of the creek’s watershed is covered by hard surfaces like roads, driveways, rooftops, or parking lots. The pattern of future development as predicted by current policies would cover up to 15% of the creek’s watershed with impervious surfaces.
However, under various alternative scenarios, using certain zoning tools designed to allow future development to occur, but in a more compact way, impervious surfaces can remain at a healthy level. The most effective of these tools included the use of transfer of development rights (TDR), where development at higher densities is transferred to areas where the community can accommodate increased development, and away from farming and natural areas where the community wishes to preserve rural character. HRWC conducted a study of TDR which also reached similar conclusions about its effectiveness at keeping impervious surface low and preserving water quality.
The township will examine all the alternatives described in the study, and they plan to use the study as a guide in developing policies that will maintain their community’s rural character as well as the health of Arms Creek.
There was a time in America’s history when rivers were so polluted that they caught fire.
A time when Lake Erie was pronounced “dead.”
Even our own Huron River ran different colors, depending on which industry was dumping its waste that day (see HRWC blog post for October 17, below).
We’ve come a long way since then thanks to the Clean Water Act, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. But now the U.S. Senate is considering a bill, S. 3558, that could undo decades of progress and attack the heart of the Clean Water Act.
Our friends at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have made it easy to speak up for clean water through the link below:
The Clean Water Act is an American success story: Our nation’s waters are far cleaner today than they were 40 years ago. More waters are available for fishing, swimming and as drinking water sources. The act also protects wetlands, which help filter pollutants and limit flooding.
But S. 3558 would undermine that progress and jeopardize the health of our waters. This bill weakens the Clear Water Act in two critical ways:
- It limits the federal government’s ability to enforce clean water standards.
- It restricts the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to protect our waters from the most destructive waste dumping proposals.
We simply cannot afford to roll back 40 years of progress by allowing our waters to become increasingly polluted and dangerous.
In 1972, the Huron River Watershed Council was a seven-year-old organization with a staff of one part-time director caring for a river that changed color (and odor) depending on which industry was dumping waste water into it.
Forty years later, a full-time Executive Director oversees a staff of ten professionals who study, plan, implement and facilitate for the benefit of the Huron River and its communities. Quantifying the impact of the Clean Water Act of 1972 on this watershed is challenging yet undeniable.
Since the 1990s, when the US EPA began awarding grants through the provisions of the Clean Water Act, HRWC has received about 24 grants valued at over $3,000,000 that reach into all communities of the watershed with the unifying goal of making the river more swimmable, fishable and drinkable. These grants have restored creeks, protected high quality streams, and developed forward-looking plans that commit stakeholders to restoration and protection actions.
Add to those impressive numbers the low-interest loans and grants awarded to HRWC’s partners for drinking water, waste water and storm water infrastructure improvements, and the investment in the Huron River watershed through the Clean Water Act is unmatched. Of course, the Act provides more than financial resources; it gives citizens and communities a tool to advocate for and expect clean water.
In this auspicious year of presidential and local elections, learning about the Clean Water Act is an important step to understanding its reach and value. The US EPA, the federal agency primarily responsible for implementing the Act, highlights the 40th anniversary, as well.
HRWC is honored to share the podium on October 18th at a 40th Anniversary Celebration of this landmark legislation with one of its architects, Congressman John Dingell, on the banks of the Huron River in Flat Rock.
Everyone is invited to be a part of history at Huroc Park (Arsenal and Huron Streets) where the Congressman will make remarks and be joined by other speakers including HRWC Executive Director Laura Rubin and Elizabeth Riggs for RiverUp!
Rain or shine, friends of the Huron and fresh water everywhere will come together to celebrate the Act’s legacy and share hopes for the future.
Suds on the River goes Zero Waste!
The Huron River Watershed Council worked with Recycle Ann Arbor to go Zero Waste at this year’s Suds on the River fundraiser. From this event, 141 pounds of waste were produced, but 136 pounds were recycled and composted- that is a 96% waste diversion!
The recycling from this event saved 6 gallons of gasoline and 298 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.
How does a Zero Waste Event run?
The goal at a Zero Waste event is to plan ahead to limit the amount of waste produced, by only distributing materials that are locally recyclable or compostable (no materials that have to be landfilled), and maximize reusable products. Landfills have been shown to be the most environmentally detrimental option for legal waste disposal. Zero Waste services ensure that events have the smallest possible impact upon the environment.
During a Zero Waste event, volunteers are stationed at the three-bin Zero Waste stations to assist patrons in sorting waste into the correct receptacles for compost, recyclables, or trash. Through a partnership with WeCare Organics, Recycle Ann Arbor is able to collect more materials for composting than are accepted in the Ann Arbor curbside compost program or than can be composted at home.
Recycle Ann Arbor has been able to offer expanded special events Zero Waste services in Washtenaw County due to a recent grant from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation which allowed the organization to purchase 20 compost and recycling bins from ClearStream Recycling, as well as a floor scale for tracking weights of all waste produced at events.
All non-durable dishware and utensils at this event were certified compostable by Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). Besides plain paper plates and napkins, these included compostable potato or corn starch tubs, cups, containers, lids, and clamshells. These products can be purchased locally at Bgreen, located at 2111 Packard Rd., Ann Arbor.
Recycle Ann Arbor has coordinated Zero Waste efforts at five environmental events this year: the Ann Arbor Earth Day Festival on April 22nd, the Mayor’s Green Fair on June 8th, the Ecology Center’s Dance for the Earth on April 21st and EcoRide on June 24th, and HomeGrown Festival on Sept 8th. In total, these events produced 952.4 lbs. of waste, of which 903.9 lbs. (95%) was diverted from landfill through recycling and composting.