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.
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.
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!
In honor of World Wetlands Day today, we at HRWC thought we’d share a little bit of info about our wetlands here in the Huron watershed.
Wetlands – Nature’s Kidneys
Wetlands, along with floodplains and shorelines, are critical environmental areas. Wetlands are saturated lowland areas (e.g. marshes and swamps) that have distinctive soils and ecology. Wetland areas filter flowing water, hold flood water, and release water slowly into surrounding drier land. These functions are critical to keeping the Huron River clean and safe for wildlife, drinking, paddling, fishing, and swimming. See our Wetland Page for more details.
The Huron Watershed’s Wetlands
The Huron watershed is home to many kinds of wetlands (the Michigan Natural Features Inventory lists 26 different kinds of wetlands that exist in our watershed!); including wet prairies, hardwood swamps, and bogs. Unfortunately, due to agricultural drainage and development, only about half of our wetlands remain.
With all the ecological services that wetlands provide to the River, it is important to keep our wetlands healthy and restore wetlands when we can. HRWC highly recommends local communities enact wetland ordinances, along with building setback requirements from wetlands, to protect our remaining wetlands.
HRWC’s Bioreserve Project is mapping and assessing wetlands and other natural areas to help target conservation efforts (come to our Field Assessment Training to learn how you can assess wetlands and other natural areas), and our Green Infrastructure programs are working with communities to protect existing and create new wetland areas, to restore the landscape’s ability to filter and control stormwater runoff.
What You Can Do
Volunteer with HRWC, learning to evaluate wetlands (their special features and plants) on May 14 at our Field Assessment Training and then join us this summer for some field assessments!
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.
This post was written by guest blogger McKenzie Powers who is working with HRWC this year through the University of Michigan’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. McKenzie is researching indicators of climate change in rivers.
It is mid-January and we southeastern Michiganders have been quite spoiled thus far with fairly mild winter conditions. While we are feeling more familiar conditions currently, temperatures in the mid 40’s over the holidays with little snow to date kept it feeling more like autumn than winter. Although, us folks at the Huron River Watershed Council are feeling curious and slightly concerned about what these warmer temperatures mean in relation to one of our most climate sensitive aquatic buddies, the stoneflies.
With our annual Stonefly Search quickly approaching, we have been busy with our noses deep in piles of research trying to gain a better understanding of how stoneflies are affected by a changing climate. Macroinvertebrates, including stoneflies, are important in freshwater ecosystems because of the many different jobs they perform, which include processing of organic matter, nutrient cycling, and decomposition. Stoneflies are known to be one of the most vulnerable groups of aquatic insects because of their specific needs related to temperature and dissolved oxygen. Several traits common in stoneflies make them particularly susceptible to impacts from climate change. They have limited dispersal potential and therefore have difficulty migrating to areas with more suitable conditions. They are large bodied with less efficient respiration than some other types of aquatic insects so dissolved oxygen needs are high. The highest dissolved oxygen levels occur in cold and flowing waters. They also have lower reproductive capacity making populations more susceptible to impacts from drought in warmer months when eggs can be damaged from warmer, drier conditions.
A study conducted in 2014 by scientists from the University of Duisburg-Essen, used a multi-trait approach to assess the climate change vulnerability of stoneflies and other macroinvertebrates. Researchers created a vulnerability scoring system with those least vulnerable scoring a 0 and those highly vulnerable scoring a 6. Species vulnerability was measured by analyzing temperature preference, altitude preference, stream zonation preference, life history, and a few other factors. The results showed that 60 species of stoneflies were recorded with a vulnerability score of 4 or more.
HRWC has collected stonefly data for 21 years. We can look at this data not only for signals of pollution but also of climate change. We are currently grazing the literature for our ‘canaries in the coalmine’. Are there ways we can look at our stonefly data to see where and how climate change is impacting our macroinvertebrate community? Are the strategies we are employing to help the Huron River system adapt to climate change actually working? With projected climate change and temperatures on the rise, these data collections give us insight on our current water quality and help us determine strategies for a cleaner and more favorable future.
Join us this weekend in our efforts to collect stoneflies from throughout the watershed. Registration closes today. Visit http://www.hrwc.org/volunteer/stonefly/ to register!
Hershkovitz, Y. et al, 2015. A multi-trait approach for the identification and protection of European freshwater species that are potentially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Ecological Indicators. 50; 150-160.
News highlights from the last month include several articles on the amazing recreational destination the Huron River has become, an update on Ann Arbor’s progress on climate change and some wonderful successes on the path toward eliminating a harmful pollutant from the waterways and neighborhoods of the Huron.
Huron River a hidden gem for steelhead. This article gives a nod to the Huron as a solid enclave for fishing steelhead. Steelhead trout are stocked in the Huron River by the Department of Natural Resources below Flat Rock Dam. Learn a few secrets from a frequent angler of steelhead in the Huron.
(Next) Best Paddling Towns: Ann Arbor, Mich. Inside the paddling hub of the 104-mile-long Huron River Water Trail. Canoe and Kayak magazine recently highlighted the Huron River as a paddler’s destination. The article talks about the Huron’s five trail towns and how paddlers can find short or long trips in both rural and urban settings.
Ann Arbor falling short of goals to reduce carbon emissions. Members of the Ann Arbor Climate Partnership, including HRWC’s Executive Director Laura Rubin, presented to Ann Arbor City Council this month on the status of the City’s Climate Action Plan. In short, while progress on some of the recommendations in the plan has been made, Ann Arbor has not achieved reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. More support from City Council and the residents of Ann Arbor are necessary.
VBT approves ordinance banning coal tar driveway sealant. On December 17th, 2015, the Van Buren Township Board of Trustee unanimously approved the adoption of an ordinance banning the sale and use of coal tar and other high PAH sealcoat products. It is the first ban in Michigan that restricts application of these common driveway sealants anywhere in the municipality and the first ban nationwide that prohibits not only coal tar based sealants but also any sealant product with high levels of PAHs, a class of compounds linked to cancer and other health impacts in people and aquatic organisms.
Rep. Pagan introduces bill to ban coal tar sealants That same week, Representative Kristy Pagan (D-Canton) introduced a bill to ban coal tar sealants to the State Legislature. The bill had its first reading in December and was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources. Track the progress of this bill at http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?2015-HB-5174.
Both these articles share great news for Michigan’s rivers, lakes and wetlands, and the citizens of the Huron River watershed.
It is January, which means that one of HRWC’s favorite events, the Stonefly Search, is right around the corner.
Stoneflies are interesting because they are the most pollution intolerant group of aquatic insects that we have in Michigan. They can only thrive in the cleanest water with high levels of dissolved oxygen. When they are found at a location it is a confirmation of high water quality, and when they disappear from a stream it is a warning sign that water quality has degraded.
It might seem strange to many that we hunt for stoneflies in the winter. This is because two of the stonefly families, the Capniidae and the Taeniopterygidae, change from aquatic nymphs to terrestrial adults in the late winter and early spring. This means that we can’t find them during the normal April River Roundup, and so we have to look for them earlier in the year!
The Stonefly Search always produces interesting results. Let’s take a look at some of the findings in recent years.
Reported in 2013: 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.
Reported in 2011: Since 2007 and up through last year, our volunteers have found 4 families of stoneflies in Mann Creek. This includes 2 stonefly families that can be found in creeks year round (Perlidae & Perlodidae), and the 2 stonefly families that are only found in the winter (Capniidae & Taeniopterygidae). Even in the Huron’s healthiest streams, it is unusual to find more than 2 families of stoneflies during the Stonefly Search. So, Mann Creek is special indeed. Mann Creek flows through a residential neighborhood- but one really interesting thing about Mann Creek is that there is a very wide natural riparian zone surrounding the creek. This riparian area provides habitat and food for stoneflies as branches and leaves fall into the creek. To see Mann Creek and its impressive riparian zone, click here.
Reported in 2015: Davis Creek at Pontiac Trail (near South Lyon) is a location where the stonefly population has dropped over time. This change is concerning because it happened slowly over the last ten years and our spring and fall samples show a very similar pattern. In the early 2000s we regularly found one or two stonefly families at the creek, but they started to drop off and now have not been found since 2009.
Reported in 2015: The team searching for stoneflies in Honey Creek at Wagner Road (Ann Arbor) were unable to find stoneflies. This site has been sampled 14 times since 1995, and this is the first time that stoneflies could not be found. This is a site with lots of turbulent highly oxygenated water and should be a great place for stoneflies. Taken in isolation, the absence of the stoneflies at Wagner Road would not be concerning given that this is a single sample. However, two upstream Honey Creek Adopt-a-Stream sites used to have stoneflies but haven’t in years. Stoneflies haven’t been seen in Honey Creek at Jackson Road since 2008; they haven’t been at Honey Creek at Pratt Road since 2003. All of the pieces combined indicates that the overall quality of Honey Creek is degrading over the last decade.
Reported in 2013: 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.
What will we find in 2016?
Will Mann Creek continue to reign as the king of Huron River stoneflies? Will we find stoneflies where they have never been before?
Will we find stoneflies this year at Davis, Honey, and Woods Creek, or has the water quality there continued to decline?
We will see you on January 23 and we will answer these questions together!
A Celebration of a Very Cold Event
by Dr.David Wilson
We don our coats and boots, go forth to break the ice
In frigid, frosty weather that no one could say is nice
We flounder through the streams in search of a great prize
Taeniopterids and Capniids, precious winter stoneflies
Winter stones are quite the thing
Though one surely might be wondering
How these tiny creatures could ever be so bold
As to live and thrive in this bitter winter cold
Paul tells us that in winter these critters really thrive
Cold water holds the oxygen to keep them all alive
And winter is helpful in another major way
The cold keeps fierce predators so very far away
Quite sensitive to any water pollution,
Winter stones provide a quick solution
If we find ‘em we can be sure
That the stream is sweet and pure
The critters are small and rather dark
In this frigid weather they have a lark
Scamper about in the ice and snow
There’s no other place for them to go
To ID them here’s what you do
Look for wingpads four and cerci two
Along the flanks no gills are found
And on each leg two claws astound
The ice is thick, the water chills,
With cold I’m fed up to the gills
But none could say that we are quitters
We’ll search ‘til we find those little critters
Believe me, I know whereof I speak
You’ll find out fast if your waders leak
One hears screams of pain from the bravest jocks
When that icy water hits their socks
Collectors and runners can stay in motion
Stay warmer thus, I have a notion
But picking requires that one stand still
Can be quite bleak, cause many a chill
Don’t go on ice unless waders you wear
If you’re not wearing waders your weight it won’t bear
If you should venture this dumb thing to do
I guarantee you’ll surely break through
Let me warn you right now; listen up and take heed
Bring twice the wraps you think that you’ll need
That usually turns out to be about right
So that you are not left in a piteous plight
A jug of warm water is always quite pleasing
Helps to keep that D-net from freezing
And stout rubber gloves keep collectors’ hands dry
Help a great deal when frostbite is nigh
On these trips a truly most gracious amenity
May help the participants keep some of their sanity
A big jug of cocoa sure hits the spot
Beloved by all if it’s nice and hot.
Stonefly Search is coming January 23! Registration and info here.
About the author:
Dave Wilson is a HRWC volunteer and trained collector who has attended 9 Stonefly Searches and countless other HRWC events.
For the past 50 years, we’ve been working hard to improve our watershed and we are seeing great results. More people are enjoying the recreational opportunities that our river provides. Their experiences are possible because of the improvements we’ve made in clean water, access, fish and bird diversity, local, state, and regional protections and laws, strong master plans, enforcement, restoration, and parks in river towns! Some of the signs of a vibrant and healthy ‘shed are the busiest canoe livery in the state, thousands of acres of protected high quality natural areas, a reputation as the cleanest urban river, active trails and trail towns, a national Water Trail designation, phosphorus reductions and a statewide phosphorus ban on residential lawn fertilizers, and some forward-thinking stormwater protection ordinances and rules.
That’s not to say our work is done. We have a lot more to do and the HRWC board and staff have developed some guiding principles to get us there. As our accomplishments have shown, HRWC protects and restores the river for healthy and vibrant communities. Our vision is a future of clean and plentiful water for people and nature where citizens and government are effective and courageous champions for the Huron River and its watershed. To achieve that, we:
- work with a collaborative and inclusive spirit to give all partners the opportunity to become stewards;
- generate science-based, trustworthy information for decision makers to ensure reliable supplies of clean water and resilient natural systems; and
- passionately advocate for the health of the river and the lands around it.
So, what is next? We will be out in the watershed monitoring our river and streams and natural areas. We will use that information to engage stakeholders and partners in taking actions to protect and restore the watershed. We will use that information to prioritize our outreach and education and other programs. Finally, we will inspire others to get to the river, enjoy the river, have a new experience, love it as much as we do, and care about its future.
We also have a few key opportunities we need to seize upon:
- As more people engage with the river, we need to instill a river stewardship ethic and provide clear options for action;
- In order to develop a collaborative environment that encourages different ideas, perspectives, and experiences, we need to attract and retain volunteers, members, and stewards that represent the diversity of socioeconomic, gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation that are representative of the watershed; and
- We need to celebrate innovative and effective solutions that are coming from the bottom up and work to build strong local leadership in support of them.
We have far-reaching goals and we need you to get them done. Please reflect on what inspires you to be a part of HRWC and where you can have an impact. And then join us as we all jump in to make the next 50 years as successful as the past 50.
You can help keep the Huron clean from your own backyard!
Don’t miss this great opportunity offered by the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner! Sign up for the February/March Master Rain Gardener Training to become an expert on these beautiful landscape features that filter and cool storm water before it enters our streams and rivers.
Attend all five classes and plant your own garden to become a certified Master Rain Gardener.
Thursday mornings 9:30am-12:30, February 25 – March 24, 2016.
Location: 705 N. Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor. MSU Extension Classroom.
Cost: $90 (Scholarships available)
Can’t attend in February? Stay tuned for the free webinar classes, August 11-September 8, 2016, Thursdays Noon-1:30pm. Login via your work or home computer, or smartphone for this live, online class.
If you would like to be sent a registration link when it becomes available for the next class, e-mail email@example.com to be put on the list.
LEARN MORE ways to Capture Rainwater at Home with native plants and rain barrels!
News to Us covers a diversity of topics this month including articles that chronicle two significant threats to local water resources – stormwater runoff and coal tar pavement sealcoat, and three (yea!) bright spots highlighting solutions to – wastewater treatment, microbead contamination and global climate change.
Healing fractured water: How Michigan’s roadways impact our waterways. In Oakland County alone there is “nearly 2,700 miles of county roads that average 24 feet wide. With an estimated average annual rainfall of 30 inches, these roads generate over five billion gallons of stormwater runoff in just one year.” Learn more about roadway runoff, the issues and solutions (including mention of Ann Arbor’s Green Streets policy) in this article that is part of a series on the Great Lakes water cycle.
Coal tar sealants: Challenges ahead. This article provides a good overview of the issues associated with coal tar and other high PAH pavement sealcoats that residents commonly use to maintain and beautify asphalt surfaces. This is an issue HRWC has been educating our partners and supporters about because of the significant water quality and human health impacts. Read this article and visit our webpage www.hrwc.org/coaltar to learn what you can do.
Dexter Brewery Turning Wastewater To Energy. The City of Dexter and Northern United Brewing Company have come up with an innovative solution to a big water problem. Northern United has invested in a state of the art onsite wastewater treatment system that turns wastewater into energy and reusable water. This is allowing the company to expand its water use and treatment needs without overburdening Dexter’s municipal wastewater treatment plant.
Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris. Reason for celebration is the agreement reached at the Paris Climate negotiations last week. The last set of negotiations in Copenhagen 6 years ago ended in gridlock and a lot of disappointing finger pointing with nations shirking responsibility, including our own. While there are significant weaknesses to the Paris accord, nearly every country signed the commitment including the U.S. and China, the world’s leading emitters. Many are viewing the accord the beginning of a global shift away from a fossil fuel based economy. As global citizens we need to keep up the pressure on our countries to hold to their commitments.
U.S. House approves bill to ban plastic microbeads. News to Us has been tracking the issue of plastic microbead pollution in water for some time now. Good news on this front as well. A bill banning this ingredient used in personal care products like soaps and toothpastes has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill now awaits a Senate vote. A similar bill has be stalled in the Michigan legislature for some time now.