Archive for the ‘Water Quality’ Category

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.

News to Us

Photo credit: John Lloyd

Photo credit: John Lloyd

HRWC and EPA have taken action recently pertaining to 1,4 dioxane – the chemical contaminating groundwater in the Huron River watershed.  During road salt season, consider alternatives to reduce impacts to our lakes and rivers. Huron River residents and the Great Lakes received good news this week on funding for natural resource protection and recreation. All in this edition of News to Us.

Dioxane makes list of 10 toxic chemicals EPA giving closer look  This past summer the act that governs the regulation of chemicals in the US underwent major reform which arguably reduced barriers to regulate toxic substances. The 30 year old act had made it notoriously difficult to regulate chemicals. Under the reformed act, EPA was tasked with selecting ten substances to evaluate first. 1,4-dioxane is on that list, meaning the chemical that is contaminating groundwater under Scio Township and Ann Arbor will undergo a thorough risk evaluation over the next three years.

Huron River Watershed Council and county take legal action on dioxane Last week, HRWC filed a motion to intervene in the Gelman case that would amend the consent judgement that put cleanup of the 1,4 dioxane plume contaminating local groundwater in the hands of MDEQ and Gelman Sciences.  HRWC and Washtenaw County, who also filed a motion to intervene, argue that cleanup efforts have failed. Should the court choose to open the case again, HRWC would provide a voice for the river, aquatic life and river recreation.

Road Salt Sex Change: How Deicing Messes with Tadpole Biology  In the season of ice and snow, Huron River residents will be bringing out the road salt. There is mounting evidence of negative impacts to rivers and lakes due to high salt concentrations. This article discusses new research findings that implicate road salt in developmental issues in tadpoles, particularly by altering sex ratios. For some alternative practices for safe sidewalks visit our tips page.

Coalition Applauds Great Lakes Investments in Bill Great news for the Great Lakes. The federal government has authorized another round of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) Funding. GLRI will provide $1.5 billion in funding over the next five years for projects that help restore our water resources. GLRI has funded projects in the Huron and throughout Southeast Michigan to the benefit of people, businesses and the natural resources.

Gov. Rick Snyder applauds Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund board recommendations Several projects in the watershed were awarded grants from the Michigan Natural Resource Trust fund.  These projects will advance trail systems in our area including the Washtenaw County Border-to-Border (B2B) trail segment from Dexter to Ann Arbor.  Trail projects also build out the Huron Waterloo loop in Lyndon Township and a segment of the Iron Belle trail in Ypsilanti Township.

River Roundup Results Reviewed: October 2016

Credit: Ellen Rambo

Picking a huge log is always great for group bonding. Seriously! Credit: Ellen Rambo

Aquatic insect sampling on the Huron River and its creeks

Thanks to 154 volunteers who contributed approximately 600 volunteer hours, the October 2016 River Roundup was a great success!  As always, HRWC 100% guarantees good weather for its volunteer events or your money back.  We were once again able to fulfill that promise!

It was a very full house here in the HRWC conference rooms before the 18 teams split up and traveled to 36 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 understand how the water quality of the river and creeks may be changing. From the data collected at this semi-annual event, we are able to keep abreast of the health of our waterways throughout the watershed. You can see a summary below, or detailed results in the October 10 River Roundup Report.

Site Conditions as of October 10, 2016

Site Conditions as of October 10, 2016

 Current Watershed Health

Status

HRWC gives a rating to each site that we monitor (Excellent, Good, Fair, or Poor). The graph above shows this breakdown for the 61 locations that HRWC considers representative for the watershed. The detailed River Roundup report gives the site condition for each location.

Trends

Overall, the health of the watershed as judged by our macroinvertebrate sampling is holding steady, though there are particular areas getting worse or better.  30 sites have had no statistically significant changes over time, and 4 sites are too new to make this judgment.

Fifteen sites are declining, and these include locations on Norton Creek, Horseshoe Creek, and Honey Creek (Washtenaw Co).  Ten of the declining sites are in Livingston County, 3 are in Washtenaw, 1 is in Oakland, and 1 is in Wayne.

Twelve sites are significantly improving.  Eleven of the improving sites are in Washtenaw County, including locations on Mill Creek, Malletts Creek, Fleming Creek, and the Huron River. 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).

Highlight

Mark Schaller searches for bugs in the Huron River near Ypsilanti. Credit: Ellen Rambo

Mark Schaller searches for bugs in the Huron River near Ypsilanti. Credit: Ellen Rambo

There were a lot of highly diverse samples collected this season.  The team at Pettibone Creek: Commerce Road in Milford collected the most diverse sample ever taken at the site (sampling started here in 2001).

Two sites on South Ore Creek were diverse enough to pull these creeks out of a statistically significant decline and into the “declining but not significantly so” range.

The sample taken at Davis Creek off of Silver Road was the best sample taken in about 8 years.

Lowlight

For some teams, sampling conditions were difficult.  The Huron River was running fast and deep after the area received heavy rain just a few days before the event started. The sample taken at the Huron River at Zeeb Road was particularly bad and far outside the range of normal variation.  Based on the volunteer’s feedback and the difficulty of sampling the river, this sample was marked as an outlier and will not be included in the long-term record for the site.

What’s next?

Want to learn more about the data that HRWC collected this past year? On January 19th at 6 pm at our office on 1100 N. Main Street, HRWC staff will present results and interpretation for all of the field projects conducted within the past year. Good indoor weather guaranteed!

Do you consider yourself a Michigander, or aspire to be one? Then you should brave the cold and join the Winter Stonefly Search on January 21.  It is like the River Roundup, only much snowier and usually colder. Good weather guaranteed or your money back… but of course these events are always free!  You can register for the event here.

This giant water bug makes a run for freedom! Credit: Aiman Shahpurwala

This giant water bug makes a run for freedom!
Credit: Aiman Shahpurwala

Water Quality Monitoring Program Allows Active Involvement

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The 2016 Water Quality Monitoring Program season wrapped up at the end of September, and now I spend time compiling the data for analysis.  With the help of 60 volunteers between April and September, we gathered water samples for chemistry analysis at 37 sites throughout Washtenaw, Wayne, and Livingston Counties.  Flow measurements were also taken at several of those sites.  Monitoring sites are visited up to 12 times during the season, and it would be impossible to gather this much information, or visit as many sites, without the help of volunteers.  We are able to gather critical watershed data, as well as keep eyes on the Huron River and its tributaries for potential problems and risks such as erosion and pollution.  I am proud of this program, it allows citizens to become actively involved in protecting the Huron River watershed and the water we rely on for so much.  Thank you, volunteers, for helping us.

Mark your calendar for January 19, 2017 at 6:00pm and come to our Volunteer Appreciation and 2016 Field Season Results Presentation.

Find out more about the Water Quality Monitoring Program and sign up to volunteer in 2017.

News to Us

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Mulching fall leaves is a river friendly practice. Photo credit: Dean Hochman via Flickr Creative Commons license.

HRWC’s commitment to compiling and sharing noteworthy water-related news continues. This month’s News to Us covers the recent listing of Lake Erie as impaired waters, problems associated with low density development, a great river recovery story and some tips on good river “housekeeping” for autumn leaves.

 

Conservation Groups Applaud Michigan’s Inclusion of Lake Erie in Impaired Waters Report
Last week the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality listed western Lake Erie as impaired waters under the Clean Water Act. Environmental groups have been advocating for this for some time now as it will allow for further research, funding and action to address the nutrient pollution that leads to toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie. This is very good news for this Great Lake. Many are pushing for Ohio to follow suit.

Is the Infrastructure ‘Time Bomb’ Beginning to Blow?
It may not be immediately obvious, but low density development—what we see in suburban and rural areas where homes are built on large lots far from city centers—is not good for waters and watersheds. Here at HRWC we prefer high density development in a few areas as opposed to low density development everywhere. This article highlights one of the problems associated with sprawling development. “Low density housing cannot pay the bills.”  The tax revenue is too low to cover the cost of infrastructure maintenance like roads, sewer and water necessary to serve these developments. When this infrastructure fails, the environment suffers. Check out our Smart Growth publications to learn more.

Taking Down Dams and Letting the Fish Flow
Last issue we shared an article about the human safety benefits of dam removal. This heartening story shows how quickly an ecosystem can rebound after dam removals. Three dams were removed on the Penobscot River in Maine in 2012 and 2013. Just three years later, huge numbers of native migratory fish have resumed their migration up the river—a trip they have not been able to make for nearly 200 years!

Leave The Leaves–Putting Organic Waste To Work
Leaves and grass that make their way into waterways add excess nutrients and use up valuable oxygen as they decompose. Local Master Composter Nancy Stone gives advice on how to utilize fall yard waste to maximize the benefits of fallen leaves. Leaves can be used in your yard to improve your soil and reduce weed growth. Nancy recommends mowing the leaves into your lawn. Mulching leaves can also reduce the greenhouse gas methane. Give this interview a listen as you are getting ready to clean up fall leaves. For more tips on river friendly home care visit our pollution prevention page.

Honey, We Got the Grant!

Breaking news here at HRWC headquarters: we have been awarded a grant to implement our Honey Creek Watershed Management Plan! In 2012 -2013 we researched within the Honey Creek watershed to identify problems. Primarily, we scoured the watershed looking at bacteria levels and fingerprinting their sources. Honey Creek’s poor water quality is due to high bacteria levels, which can threaten human health.

Target areas for reducing bacteria contamination in Honey Creek

Target areas for reducing bacteria contamination in Honey Creek

Our research led us to some recommendations on how to protect and restore the area in ways that address the most critical issues. We are pleased to report that the Department of Environmental Quality has provided funding for this work within the Honey Creek watershed. Our Honey Creek project starts this autumn and will end in autumn 2019.

With this grant, we will:

  • Hire canine teams (dogs!) to sniff out sources of human sewage waste in 2 key areas of the watershed. Once the dogs help us identify specific areas with septic issues, we will work with Washtenaw County and property owners to help them address problems. We will also do homeowner outreach on ways to maintain septic systems.
  • Scoop that poop! We will raise awareness of the importance of removing pet waste from yards and parks, and install pet waste pick-up stations. Pet waste is one of the predominant sources of bacteria in Honey Creek.
  • Mark 1,000 storm drains and hand out door-to-door flyers to raise awareness of their direct connection to Honey Creek and what people can do to capture and reduce runoff pollution.
  • Identify farmers in the Middle Huron watershed for a Farmer Advisory Council (FAC). The FAC will advise HRWC and project partners on future plans to address bacteria and nutrient reduction from agriculture including innovative approaches such as “pay for performance” subsidies for nutrient and bacteria reduction practices.

For questions about our new project, contact Ric here.

This project has been funded wholly or in part through Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Nonpoint Source Program by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

News to Us

crayfishA new livery will open in the Huron next year! This month’s roundup of water news also includes articles on three contaminants we are watching closely here that affect the Huron River watershed – blue-green algae, Dioxane and coal tar based pavement sealers.

Former Mill Creek Sports Center in Dexter to become canoe livery
Exciting news! Dexter will be home to a new canoe livery.  Occupying a vacant building on Mill Creek in the heart of downtown Dexter, Michigan native Nate Pound hopes to renovate and be open for business by paddling season in 2017. Long term plans include a climbing wall and/or bike rentals.

Blue-green algae adapting easily to rising carbon dioxide levels
Climate change will challenge all species to adapt to new conditions.  Some will fare better than others. New research shows that blue-green algae, the type of algae that includes Microcystis – the algae that contaminated Toledo’s water system in 2014 – are likely to be particularly good at adapting. There are implications for water quality, drinking water and aquatic ecosystems as we move to a more carbon dioxide-rich environment.

The Green Room: The Ann Arbor Area’s 1,4 Dioxane Plume
HRWC Board Member and Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner, Evan Pratt, shares his thoughts on pursuing Superfund designation for the Dioxane plume contaminating the groundwater in Ann Arbor. Mayor Chris Taylor discusses the City’s involvement and how he is engaging with State and Federal elected officials.

HRWC’s campaign to ban coal tar based sealcoats throughout the watershed continues to make headlines. So far Van Buren Township, Scio Township, Ann Arbor, Hamburg and Dexter have passed ordinances with many other communities reviewing potential action. WEMU’s Issues of the Environment interview discusses the issue broadly and the Detroit Local 4 News spot highlights the recent ban in Hamburg Township.

News to Us

The Waukesha Plan would divert water from Lake Michigan to a location outside of the Great Lakes basin. Image: NASA via Flickr Creative Commons.

The Waukesha Plan would divert water from Lake Michigan to a location outside of the Great Lakes basin. Image: NASA via Flickr Creative Commons.

Michigan’s water has had the attention of the national news for months now.  While Flint dominates the headlines, there have been other news worthy water issues in this state including the Waukesha water withdrawal request hearing for a diversion of Great Lakes water to a location outside of the basin, and the very local issue of the spreading dioxane plume under Ann Arbor and Scio Township. The Huron also gets a nod in a national recreational magazine as a source of inspiration for one rising musician.

Dioxane in Ann Arbor’s groundwater: a slow-motion environmental disaster The dioxane contamination of the groundwater in Ann Arbor and Scio Township has been making headlines recently. The Pall Corporation is responsible for the contamination and the cleanup. The City has been pushing the Department of Environmental Quality to set stricter limits on dioxane levels for some time now without success. Current standards allow 85 parts per billion of dioxane. Ann Arbor would like to see standards require concentrations in the single digits, consistent with recent research on cancer risk.

Michigan Holds Hearing On Waukesha Plan To Divert Great Lakes Water – A hearing was held last week on what would be the first inter-basin transfer of Great Lakes water. The 2008 Great Lakes Compact is an agreement among Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces that requires strict criteria be met before permitting a diversion. HRWC’s Laura Rubin was on hand to provide comment along with several other water and policy experts from throughout the state. This will be a precedent setting ruling as it has the potential to open the door to more requests for Great Lakes water outside of the Great Lakes basin.

Why didn’t state officials heed the warnings in Flint? The Flint water crisis is all over the news. One storyline HRWC has been shining a light on is highlighted in this piece. The state’s environmental regulatory agency, the Department of Environmental Quality, has seen a steady decline in political support. The agency, along with other regulatory agencies, suffers under a culture that discourages staff from speaking up when issues are identified. Financial support, political backing and a culture that promotes adherence to regulations and transparency are necessary to avoid future Flints. Read more about Laura Rubin’s thoughts on this issue in her recent blog.

Chris Bathgate Goes Back to Nature Huron River watershed native Chris Bathgate is featured in Outside magazine. The acclaimed musician named the Huron River as one of his sources of inspiration. Imagine that! Bathgate talks about the importance of nature and quiet to his wellbeing and creative process. You may even “hear” the Huron on his latest album.

Stonefly Search: Lots of searching, not so many stoneflies

January 23rd was a beautiful day for the annual Stonefly event.  The weather hovered around 30 degrees and the sun shone nicely throughout the volunteers’ time outside.  They were searching for stoneflies, an insect that only lives in the healthiest creeks and rivers. The absence and presence of stoneflies, and the trends in their population that we see after visiting a location over and over again, give us clues as to how the water is changing over time.

stonefly_jackie Richards

The beautiful Fleming Creek at Parker Mill County Park. credit: Jackie Richards

Strange Weather

Unfortunately for the purposes of data analysis and clear-cut answers, stoneflies are affected by more than water quality, however.  Strange weather can also play havok on their ecosystems, causing populations to drop off. Our volunteers came back with very low amounts of stoneflies this year, and while we can’t be certain, it is possible that our variable Michigan weather is to blame.  You may recall that December was unseasonably warm in 2015, and wonder how that might affect the insects.   However, in this case, it wasn’t a warm December that hurt the stoneflies, but instead February 2015, a month that was extremely cold.  In fact, it was one of the coldest February’s on record.  When streams and rivers are covered by thick ice, oxygen levels decline, which is bad for all aquatic life but particularly bad for stoneflies, who have high oxygen requirements.  Also, February and early March are when winter stonefly adults are emerging, mating, and depositing eggs; all activities hampered by extreme cold and ice cover. In summary, the cold 2015 winter had direct consequences for the stoneflies in 2016.

Volunteers did not find stoneflies at many places this year, but five locations in particular that did not have stoneflies were noteworthy as all of them have a long (10+ years) history of always holding stoneflies.  In addition, all of these locations have great insect populations at our other events and there are no indications of water quality issues, further strengthening the argument that this year was a weather-related population decline. These five locations were three places on the main branch of the Huron (White Lake, Zeeb, and Bell Roads), Arms Creek at Walsh Road, and Boyden Creek at Delhi Road. Many other locations had reduced numbers or family counts.

Those interested in all results can see them here: PDF report.

A spud is an essential tool for any stonefly searcher. credit: Francis Connolly

A spud is an essential ice-smashing tool for any stonefly searcher. credit: Francis Connolly

Other Results:

Prior to the event, I laid out several examples of things that we would watch for this year:

Davis Creek at Pontiac Trail:  Stoneflies have been dropping off here for the past decade.  Volunteers did come back with stoneflies this year, though not the winter stoneflies but rather a family that is more widely available.  Still, this is good news.

Honey Creek at Wagner Road: Stoneflies were missing here in 2014 for the first time, and unfortunately volunteers did not find them this year either.

Woods Creek at Lower Huron Metropark: Just like Honey Creek at Wagner Road, stoneflies were not found here for the second year in a row.

Insect populations are resilient and can bounce back with good water quality and suitable weather conditions.  While this year was disappointing, the mild winter we are experiencing right now may result in a bumper crop in 2017. Come next January, HRWC and its volunteers will be ready to check it out!

 

Flint Water Crisis: an HRWC perspective

Capitol Building

Michigan State Capitol, Lansing

The Flint Water crisis is on everyone’s mind.  We can’t get over that it happened, the long-term impacts, the tragedy, and where we go from here.  At HRWC we are saddened and angry, but not that surprised.  Over the last year many environmental debacles point to a serious threat to clean water and a safe environment.  Starting with Volkswagen’s admission of cheating on emission testing to the natural gas leak in California, and now to the Flint drinking water contamination, they all highlight a lack of trust, judgment, and oversight on human health and safety issues. What shocks me the most though, is the lack of accountability and regulation.  I shouldn’t be surprised given Michigan’s recent derision of regulation, budget cuts to environmental protection, and a focus on shrinking government.  Michigan ranks 50th among state in government transparency.

In the U.S., drinking water regulations were first enacted by the federal government in 1914 addressing the bacteriological quality of drinking water. This regulation was later strengthened in the 1960s as it became clear that industrial processes were threats to clean water and human health. Local governments were to provide clean water and safely dispose of waste. Oversight of local governments and industry was an expected role of state and federal government.

Despite dozens of statewide environmental disasters (Enbridge oil spill, the Pall Gelman contamination, industrial clean-up sites), the State of Michigan has been shrinking the budgets and staff of the oversight and regulatory departments. In 1995 Governor John Engler split the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) into the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and MDNR.  The DEQ mission is to promote the wise management of Michigan’s air, land, and water resources to support a sustainable environment, healthy communities, and vibrant economy.  Governor Engler said the split secured more direct oversight of state environmental policy, but then he reduced the number of state environmental employees through budget cuts.  A year later, oversight for drinking water protection was transferred from the Michigan Department of Health to the MDEQ.  In 2009, Governor Jennifer Granholm briefly merged the MDNR and MDEQ again as the DNRE.  In 2011, Governor Rick Snyder’s first-ever executive order, Executive Order 2011-1, split the DNRE, returning DNR and DEQ into separate agencies.

Additionally, the MDEQ’s budget and resources have been dramatically reduced.  In the past 15 years, the general fund contributions to the MDEQ have been cut by 59% and the full-time equated positions have been cut by 25%. 

The impacts of these cuts and the general disdain for regulation is prevalent in MDEQ leadership and has led to a minimalist approach by most staff.  It is clear that the primary responsibility for what happened in Flint rests with the MDEQ, despite the Governor’s efforts to spread the blame. MDEQ failed in its responsibility to ensure safe drinking water in Michigan and, again, in its dismissive and scornful tone toward residents’, health care professionals’, and scientists’ discoveries and concerns. Worse yet, the blatant misrepresentation of facts and manipulation of data to cover for bad policy decisions at the cost of children’s health suggests an agency well off the rails of its stated mission.

I see these problems regularly in our mission to protect and restore the Huron.  Permits are quickly issued with little review. Corporate and municipal self-reporting with little, if any, review is common. The pursuit of scientific understanding and application is given low priority. The MDEQ staff that regulate inland lake and streams are overwhelmed with permit reviews and enforcement activities resulting in rubber stamped permits that rarely get more than a cursory review (see HRWC’s winter newsletter for an example).  HRWC receives dozens of calls annually from citizens impacted by poor permitting and design, natural resource destruction or pollution violations that, having called MDEQ staff, want some help. Without our staff reviewing the problems, making site visits, and/or making phone calls and using our connections and influence, nothing would happen. Even the most well-intentioned and competent MDEQ staff are only able to respond to the most pressing problems, and much pressure is put on them to get out of the way of economic development.

What can we do to avoid these same disasters from happening again?  We need to remind the Governor about MDEQ’s responsibility to ensure clean water and push him to restore budgets, add staff and training, and support staff who serve that mission.  Providing clean drinking water is a series of steps, a chain of events and actions starting with the source water. We need to empower citizens and agency staff to speak up and advocate effectively.  We need to use science and water quality monitoring to develop policy and action.  Finally, we must listen to the disempowered, to continue to take their concerns seriously, ask the questions and not take it for granted that expertise, good judgment and oversight are a matter of course.

 

 


Dave Wilson
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