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A inspiring excursion to the river in the cold

credit: John Lloyd

credit: John Lloyd

This letter came from my father-in-law yesterday.  I hope it inspires you to get out and enjoy the river and it’s natural beauty even when the weather is bitter.  Bundle up!

Dear Laura,

This morning Bella (a golden retriever) and I walked down to Gallup and the river.  The weather was bitter cold, especially when we faced the wind.  The sun was shining at an angle onto the snow.  The ducks, geese and swan were sitting comfortably on the river where the stream has not yet iced over. All around, the trees, benches, trash barrels and even the grills silently stood out in the snow, wanting to be noticed.  Bella and I saw only one other walker-and she or him only from a distance. Otherwise the entire scene was our own. Time was standing still, it seemed.  As I continued to gaze at this winterscape two words kept rising to the surface of my mind: how magnificent.  As Bella and I approached the end of our walk together, I felt that she and I had been lifted up in a moment of ecstasy and awe. The bracing cold, even the wind chill, had become our friends, inviting us to return soon.

Were I a Robert Frost or Mary Oliver, I would be at this moment writing a poem. Instead, I wrote to this note to thank you and your staff for all you do to make such moments possible.

Love,

Chuck

 



STONEFLIES!

2009-Stonefly-TrainingWednesday is your last chance to sign up for the January 17 Stonefly Search !

Join a small team led by a Stonefly Hunter who goes in the river so you don’t have to. You will be amazed at the lively creatures living under the ice.

Help HRWC collect data for a long-term study of our watershed. Aquatic insects are sensitive to their surroundings and can tell us about problems in the river and its streams.

Reserve your place at www.hrwc.org/volunteer/stonefly/ No prior experience needed.

This event lasts roughly 5 hours, is FREE and the activities are suitable for all ages, from responsible children to seniors.



Help us start the year off strong!

85% of our water quality work is funded locally.

During this season of giving, we invite you to make a gift to our Annual Fund for Clean Water to support our water quality monitoring programs. Gifts made by midnight on December 31, 2014 will be matched dollar for dollar by the Upton Foundation. A long-time funder of HRWC’s water quality programs, the Upton Foundation awarded HRWC a matching grant to double the impact of your annual gift.

From the staff at HRWC to your family, thank you for your continued support and Happy New Year!

From the staff at HRWC to your family, thank you for your continued support and Happy New Year!

Please donate to the Annual Fund for Clean Water

The Huron river is the cleanest urban river because of the work we do with your help. Help us protect the river and the clean water that sustains us all.

With gratitude,
Laura Rubin
Executive Director

p.s. If you have already responded with a donation, thank you.

 



2014 Leaves the Huron Nutrient Story Complicated

An excessive amount of nutrients is the top water quality concern in the Huron River watershed and the Great Lakes region, if not the entire county. This summer’s drinking water crisis in Toledo is a prime example of the potential impact. Waters in the Huron River watershed have suffered similar impacts, though somewhat less dramatic. Still, multiple millions of dollars have been invested within the watershed to reduce the sources of phosphorus (the growth-limiting nutrient in the region). So, where are we today, as we close out 2014? Have the programs, projects and other investments made any impact? HRWC’s Water Quality Monitoring Program results should shed some light on this question. 

The first look at the phosphorus trends suggests that we have made little recent progress. As shown in the first chart, raw phosphorus concentrations in the middle Huron River watershed steadily declined from the beginning of the monitoring program (2003) through 2009, when the average phosphorus concentration rose above target levels (red line). From 2010 through this year, concentrations were much more variable, but averages were distinctly above the target. Phosphorus concentrations were also well above the target in the Lower Huron watershed over the last three years (not shown).

Total phosphorus concentrations in the middle Huron River Watershed

Total phosphorus concentrations in the middle Huron River Watershed

These raw results do not provide a complete picture, however. Concentrations can vary tremendously (just look at the error bars) depending on a number of variables, most importantly stream flow. 2008 was a particularly dry year, for example, while stream flows were well above average in 2011. HRWC storm sampling shows that, as stream flows increase during a rain storm, phosphorus concentrations increase, often dramatically.

When we account for the stream flow at the time of sampling, we get a somewhat different picture. The second chart shows phosphorus concentrations at Ford Lake, when adjusted for river flow (also shown as the blue line). The chart shows four periods — 1995 when the state DEQ sampled to set a phosphorus control policy, and three periods after the monitoring program began.

Phosphorus concentrations and river flow at Ford Lake

Phosphorus concentrations and river flow at Ford Lake

From this view, it is obvious that concentrations have come way down from original ’95 levels. Also, phosphorus concentrations have come back up since 2009, but by less than it seems from raw concentrations.

It is unclear why we have seen the recent increase in phosphorus concentrations. It does not appear to be linked to sediment concentration (i.e. erosion) as those data are not well correlated. Some national studies suggest that historical fertilizer application may be dissolved and slowly moving through the groundwater. If that is the case, while direct application of phosphorus in fertilizer has been addressed (through fertilizer policy in the City of Ann Arbor and later statewide law), we are still seeing the legacy effects of over-fertilization in our urban/suburban areas. There also has been an increase in phosphorus loading from the more heavily agricultural Mill Creek watershed, which could partially explain the increase.

HRWC provides a more detailed tributary evaluation in its annual monitoring report. For reports, presentations and 2014 raw data, see the Water Quality Monitoring page.



News to Us

This edition features an update on recent legislation battling the Asian Carp, while Grand Rapids takes the lead in measuring the impact of its climate change efforts.  How did our water system become so disconnected, and how can we fix it? The Great Lakes Commission is working to answer this question by looking at the water system more holistically. Read about a true Huron River adventure from paddlers who kayaked over a gusty and rainy Halloween weekend.

Legislation Seeks Interim Steps to Stop Asian Carp Representative Dave Camp and Senator Debbie Stabenow join forces to fight the Asian Carp.

What Can Cities Really Do About Climate Change? Over a thousand US cities have agreed to abide by the Kyoto Protocol. The Mayor’s Climate Protection Center has been documenting these efforts, but measuring the impact has been difficult.  Since 2009, Grand Rapids’ sustainability plan has been tracking progress to measure its success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Fractured Water: Can metro Detroit reconnect its watersheds? Our water system has evolved into a system that is fractured and disconnected.  How did rivers become this way and what can be done to return the river to its natural state?

Halloween Storm 2014 on the Huron River Water Trail The Huron River Water Trail “Paddler’s Companion” came in handy for these paddlers who traversed the length of the Huron this fall.  Their trip is inspiring to those who wish to make the 125 mile trek. These guides can be purchased at the HRWC office or online here.



Huron River Watershed 2015 Mini Calendar

You asked for it!

Back by popular demand, the communities of the Huron River watershed have come together to produce a special annual version of the Watershed Community Calendar. The 2015 Mini Calendar features favorite Huron River photography curated from the calendar program’s archives. A playful take on the H2O Hero theme and monthly stormwater pollution prevention tips help you Huron River Watershed 2015 Mini Calendarprotect water quality in your everyday actions! Share it with family, friends, colleagues, anyone you think might “get their hero on.”

How to get your calendar.

By mail.  City of Ann Arbor and Barton Hills Village are direct-mailing/delivering to most households in their communities the week of December 15th. 

In person.  Calendars will be at these customer service counters:

-Livingston County Drain Commission and Road Commission
-Washtenaw County Water Resources Commission and Road Commission
-City of Dexter
-City of Ypsilanti
-Village of Pinckney
-Green Oak Charter Township
-Pittsfield Charter Township
-Charter Township of Ypsilanti

From HRWC. You can pick one up for FREE at the NEW Center, 1100 North Main Street, Ann Arbor, Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm (check the literature rack in the lobby). Or contact Pam Labadie at plabadie@hrwc.org or (734)769-5123 x 602 to have one mailed to you for $5.

About the Calendar.

The Huron River Watershed 2015 Mini Calendar is a collaborative effort to educate residents about the importance of water stewardship and nonpoint source pollution prevention. The communities listed above believe there are substantial benefits that can be derived by joining together and cooperatively managing the rivers, lakes, and streams within the watershed and in providing mutual assistance in meeting state water discharge permit requirements. HRWC would like to thank them for their continued support of the calendar program which has distributed over 240,000 calendars to watershed residents biannually since 2003. The 2015 Mini Calendar is the first “annual” edition. Calendar photographers are Marc Akemann, Ted Nelson, Keith Matz and graphic design/illustration is by Christianson Design.



Elegant and innovative solution at a tricky portage

There’s more good news for kayakers and canoeists on the Huron! In late November, we installed a one-of-a-kind canoe and kayak slide on the steep portage route at Barton Dam in Ann Arbor. The unique design allows a paddler to guide a boat up or down depending on the direction of the trip and eliminates the need for trudging on the hill with a boat overhead. This project is just the latest to come out of the public/private placemaking initiative led by HRWC called RiverUp!.  RiverUp! Construction Manager, Andrea Kline, guest blogs on the most recent Huron River Water Trail project:

I confess, at first I was skeptical. I’ve slogged hundreds of pounds of gear across dozens of portages from Ontario to Maine but I have never seen, much less used, a canoe slide. But here I was at the Barton Dam, canoe slide plans in hand, ready to start a new adventure on the Huron River Water Trail.

The design of the slide was somewhat challenging since the rails would have to bend both horizontally and vertically to match the curves of the dam face and the trail next to the slide. All of the steel pieces had to be manufactured off-site. Hopefully, it would all fit together once the pieces arrived on-site.

Step 1: Install the bases. Since we were not allowed to dig deep foundations into the embankment and the bases had to line up exactly to accommodate the curves of the slide, our crew laid stone pads, about three feet square, at the locations that the surveyors had staked the week before. Once the stone pads were in place, the 13 concrete bases, each weighing over 300 pounds, were set carefully in place.

Our contractor getting it right on-site.

Our contractor getting it right on-site.

Step 2: Secure the steel slide rails to each of the bases. The moment of truth had arrived. Would the rails fit together like we had envisioned when putting the design on paper? The rails were fabricated in 14 pieces, each labeled to be installed in a particular location. Piece by piece, the railing was installed. The slide was taking shape, and I was getting excited about how it was looking. The dog walkers and joggers who looked at us skeptically at the beginning of the project now nodded in recognition when we explained what we were building and how it would work.

Jeffrey takes it out for a spin.

Jeffrey Post takes it out for a spin.

Step 3: Test the slide. We carried the canoe up the hill and placed it on the slide. It slid easily down the rails with a little prompting. Cameras and phones at the ready, we all took turns sliding the canoe down and back up the slide. High fives all around – it works!

The slide is now ready for paddlers to use in navigating around Barton Dam. Give it a try and let us know what you think! We are eager to share the design with other water trail organizations and are hopeful that this might be a prototype for other portages in our watershed and around the country.

Thank you to the Jeffrey and Joanna Post Family for their financial support and to our talented and dedicated project team: SmithGroupJJR for the design and Future Fence Company of Warren for the fabrication and installation.

The finished boat slide awaits Huron River paddlers.

The finished boat slide awaits Huron River paddlers.



The Carbon Footprint of Water

Water utilities and residents within the Huron River watershed contribute approximately 178 million lbs of CO2 annually through the production, use and treatment of drinking water.  This is equivalent to the annual emissions from nearly 17,000 passenger vehicles. It takes more than double the combined areas of the Pinckney and Waterloo Recreation Areas to sequester this much carbon each year.

figure-2_72

My guess is most of you have not thought about water use as a contributor to climate change.  Before undertaking this analysis, I had not.  But over the course of the past two years, through a project supported by the Masco Corporation Foundation, HRWC has been able to research and calculate the carbon footprint of our water use here in the watershed.

A new report shares our findings. The Carbon Footprint of Domestic Water Use in the Huron River Watershed follows water from its source through water treatment, residential water use and wastewater treatment to discharge back into the environment.  At each point in the cycle, energy is used. Energy is needed to pump, treat and heat water and energy use results in the release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

What did we learn?

  • Energy used to produce drinking water in the watershed is about 10% higher than national averages.
  • Energy used to treat wastewater in the watershed is 57-76% higher than national averages depending on treatment type.
  • Energy used in homes for water use was lower than national averages but by far the most energy intense phase of the cycle in the watershed.

What this tells us is that there is room for improvement both among water utilities and residents of the Huron River watershed. There was a lot of variation in the efficiency of local water utilities. Future efforts can target utilities that use the most energy per unit of water produced or treated.  Improving efficiencies at these utilities can lead to significant reductions in our collective carbon footprint.

That said, the greatest gains that can be made are within your power. Reducing the amount of hot water used in the home is the single greatest strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with water use. And, by doing so, households will also see reductions in both water and energy bills.  It is a win-win-win situation.  Save water. Save energy. Save money.

What can we do?

There are many sources of information and tips on how to reduce water use in homes.  Pick a few tricks that work for you and get started. It is another way that you can take personal actions that contribute to the well being of the planet and all its inhabitants.

  • Take a look at HRWC’s H20 Heroes webpage for water saving tips
  • When purchasing new appliances, look for the WaterSense label
  • Calculate your current water use and see how changes you make lower your impact using a water calculator.

Often overlooked when identifying ways to reduce carbon emissions, water conservation holds the potential for significant gains in reducing a community’s contribution to global climate change and something individuals and families can take on to reduce their carbon footprint.  So get started today.  And share with us in the comments how you are becoming an H20 Hero!

 

 

 



River Roundup Results Reviewed

Macroinvertebrate sampling on the Huron River and its creeks

Thanks to 128 volunteers who contributed approximately 650 volunteer hours, the October 2014 River Roundup was a great success!  The weather was a little dreary and chilly for our volunteers as they split into 24 teams and traveled to 48 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 all the results in October 14 River Roundup Report.

Also, in case you missed it, on November 13 the HRWC staff presented our data summaries of 2014 to a packed in crowd.  Jason discussed the broadening of HRWC’s volunteers and volunteer programming. I walked through a case study showing how our data and volunteer programming can be used to investigate pollution problems, and Ric explained how box and whisker graphs can show us water quality data. For those who couldn’t make it, here’s a PDF of the presentation. Let us know if you have any questions!

 

Current Watershed Health

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.  Eight of the declining sites are in Livingston County, 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).

Highlight

I’ve become a big fan of Arms Creek over the couple of years as I have learned more and more about it.  While possessing a rather mucky stream bed, the water is cold and heavily influenced by groundwater, the riparian zone is thick and undisturbed in many parts, and there is plenty of woody debris in the water. In fact, part of Arms Creek is actually in a Natural River Zone.  Also, many many years ago, the DNR stocked trout in Arms Creek because of the cold water temperature, which is a very rare thing for southeast Michigan. However, despite all of these great properties, the insect community has only ever been mediocre (probably due to the fine sand and muck dominating the streambed).

Kyle Fetters explored Arms Creek last summer with a group of U-M grad students through HRWC's Creekwalking program. credit: Nate Gainer

Kyle Fetters explored Arms Creek last summer with a group of U-M grad students through HRWC’s Creekwalking program. credit: Nate Gainer

Therefore I was very excited to see this fall’s sample was the best ever collected there since sampling started in 1994. Sixteen total insect families were found, with five of those members of the mayfly and caddisfly families, and 3 of the families classified as “sensitive”. Sensitive families are those that are first to disappear in disturbed or polluted conditions.  Finding three sensitive families is very good and usually only our best River Roundup sites have that many.

 

Lowlight

I have lowlighted Davis Creek before in this results blog, but the really poor results from this Roundup have prompted me to look into the issue again.  Both the Doane Road and Pontiac Trail sites had very poor macroinvertebrate samples; the worst seen in many years at both of these sites.  Both of these sites are on the main branch of Davis Creek, upstream from Sandy Bottom and Ten Mile Lake, on the outskirts of South Lyon.

To investigate the issue, I looked at the habitat data collected by our volunteers in the summer.  Both locations have good to excellent habitat, with good diversity of substrate, good riparian zones, and plenty of instream woody debris.  Furthermore, summer creekwalkers also explored two sections of this creek and also reported finding good habitat throughout.

Therefore, it is probable that there is something dissolved in the water, rather than poor habitat, that is reducing the macroinvertebrate diversity and abundance.  Our volunteers regularly take water samples during the River Roundup that we analyze for conductivity (a proxy for total dissolved solids, which includes inorganic or organic substances, naturally found and pollutants).  I plotted out conductivity over time and did indeed notice an increase of conductivity since 1994.  Conductivity is going up; bugs are going down.  A correlation like this does not prove anything especially given  the variability in the data, but it is an interesting clue.

Conductivity measurements in microsiemens/cm for the Davis Creek: Doane Road site.

Conductivity measurements in microsiemens/cm for the Davis Creek: Doane Road site.

As a followup, it could be useful to get a water analysis to determine the exact chemical constituents of Davis Creek. We may be dealing with herbicides or pesticides, or perhaps excessive chloride (from water softeners). There is also more of the creek to explore on foot, as there are some light industrial and residential areas that we have not visited yet.

What’s next?

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 17.  It is like the River Roundup, only much snowier.  You can register for the event here.



News to Us

A "view" of Allens Creek. Allens Creek, a tributary of the Huron River, is almost entirely buried under the city of Ann Arbor.

A “view” of Allens Creek from West Park in Ann Arbor.  Allens Creek, a tributary of the Huron River, is almost entirely buried under the city of Ann Arbor.

A couple of recent interviews cover HRWC’s RiverUp! project and watershed management planning efforts for Honey Creek. A very cool project in San Francisco is “daylighting” buried rivers through artist’s renderings. This edition of News to Us also highlights news from Dexter, the river that runs through it – Mill Creek, and a man influential in both his town and his watershed – Paul Cousins. Finally, more oil activity in the watershed as injection well is proposed in White Lake.

Bringing life, recreation and business back to the Huron River An Ypsilanti blogger interviews HRWC Deputy Director Elizabeth Riggs about RiverUp!. The result is a great conversation that paints a lovely picture of what the Huron River is and can be. Learn how this project is improving river health, encouraging river recreation and building trail towns along the Huron that bring focus to this incredible resource in our backyard.

Honey Creek Watershed Management Plan Released Listen to a brief radio interview with Ric Lawson on the recent release of the Honey Creek Watershed Management Plan.  Honey Creek is a tributary of the Huron River that runs through Scio Township.  Learn what threatens this creek and plans to improve its condition. Several other resources, including HRWC’s creekshed reports, can be found on our website to learn more about Honey Creek.

San Francisco Is Painting the Streets with Historical Creeks All too often, as cities were built rivers were contained in pipes and buried underground. A new initiative in San Francisco will have artists rendering rivers along their path through the city. Should we try this with Allens Creek? If we did you would “see” the river running throughout downtown Ann Arbor and west side neighborhoods from the UM stadium down to its outlet below Argo Dam.  A reminder of what was.

Trout Unlimited group conducts survey at Mill Creek in Dexter The Huron River’s Mill Creek runs through Chelsea and Dexter before joining the mainstem of the river in Dexter. It is one of the cooler stretches of river and once the Mill Creek dam was removed, it became a desirable location to establish a trout fishery.  While not a native fish to the Huron, the success of brown trout in Mill Creek indicates the tributary is in good condition and it brings anglers and families to the river to enjoy. This article shares the status of stocking efforts that began in 2010.

Dexter Council recognizes Paul Cousins for years of service Dexter Village Council takes time to honor Paul Cousins for his years of service to the community of Dexter. Paul has been an intrepid board member and board chair at HRWC for many years. His tireless effort and enthusiasm was instrumental in the Mill Creek dam removal project and creation of Dexter’s Mill Creek Park.  We would like to take this opportunity to thank Paul as well, for everything he has done and will yet do for Dexter, the watershed and all of us who live here.

Oil exploration company suspends request for White Lake park injection well Over the past two weeks, citizens of White Lake township and nearby areas, have been reacting to a proposed injection well, cited for Island Lake Park, for the disposal of oil extraction waste. For now, the applicants have withdrawn their application from the EPA for the permit claiming there is not enough need for the local well at this point.




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