Posts Tagged ‘Clean Water Act’

News to Us

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The Red Swamp Crayfish is invading Michigan water bodies. Credit: flickr.com/usfwspacific

This edition of News to Us highlights both good and bad news on local algal blooms as well as two stories on non-native species making headlines – one of concern, the other of little concern. News at the federal level is also mixed. Read about the implications of the proposed Clean Water Rule repeal and some hopeful news on the federal allocation of funding supporting Great Lakes restoration.

Improving Water Quality In Ypsilanti Township’s Ford Lake
After decades of trouble with algal blooms in Ford Lake, an impoundment on the Huron River in Ypsilanti Township, researchers and township staff found a solution. Changing operations of the Ford Lake Dam has kept algal blooms at bay in most years and the water quality of the lake is improving.

Potentially toxic algae found in two Oakland County lakes
Two lakes, including Pontiac Lake in the Huron River watershed, are experiencing significant algal blooms this month. It is suspected that the blooms may contain toxic algae. Oakland County health officials recommend avoiding contact with the water at this time and keeping pets out as well. The article has a list of recommended precautions.

Tiny jellyfish reported in Lake Erie
Jellyfish in Michigan? Headlines have been circulating on the invasion of this non-native species recently because of new sightings in Lake Erie and St. Clair. And while it is true that this is a non-native species, it has been in Great Lakes waterways for some time now and has not reached nuisance levels. Also worthy of note is that the tentacles of this jellyfish are too small to sting humans, so swim away. For more on freshwater jellyfish see Huron River Report, Spring 2008.

Tiny lobsters of doom: Why this invasive crayfish is bad news
In other non-native species news, the red swamp crayfish has been confirmed in Michigan. This species has a lot of potential to become invasive and cause disruption to the native ecosystem. Their deep burrowing capacity is known to cause erosion, they out-compete native crayfish for food, and prey on small fish and fish eggs. The DNR is asking people to report potential sightings of this invader.

Trump plans to roll back environmental rule everyone agrees on
This opinion piece is written by former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Ken Kopocis, formerly of EPA’s Office of Water. The article describes what is at stake with the Trump Administrations proposed roll back of the Clean Water Rule. There has bipartisan demand for clarity on the 1972 Clean Water Act which the rule provides. Much work has been done to establish the rule which provides clear criteria for what waters are protected under the Clean Water Act. To provide your remarks on the proposed repeal, see our earlier blog On the chopping block: clean water.  Comment period closes September 27th.

House appropriators approve $300 Million for Great Lakes; reject amendment on Clean Water Rule
Some good news coming out of the federal government on the environment front. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, originally scheduled to be zeroed out in the 2018 budget, has been approved at $300 million by U.S. House appropriators. The funding still has to make it through the Senate and White House before final approval.

On the chopping block: clean water

***  UPDATE: On August 16, 2017, the EPA and the Army extended the comment period by 30 days for the proposed first step of the review of the definition of ‘Waters of the U.S.’ to provide additional time for stakeholders to weigh in. *** The comment period, as now extended, will close on September 27, 2017. ***

While we are working to clean up the Huron River system for a good quality of life, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is working to roll back the Clean Water Act. The current administration is rushing through a repeal of the Clean Water Rule and we have only until September 27th during public comment to try and stop it. It’s critical for your voice to be heard in D.C.

The proposal has been published in the federal register.

You can help by submitting a request to stop the repeal of this important rule on or before Wednesday, Sept. 27, 11:59pm EST.hrwc-clean-water-rule-wetlands

Get sample comment letter language, links into the Federal eRulemaking Portal, Michigan impacts, and news articles HERE.

Background:

What is the Clean Water Rule? In 2015, the previous administration clarified and finalized protections for streams and wetlands across the country. These safeguards protected the small streams that feed the drinking water sources for nearly 1 in 3 Americans. They protected wetlands throughout the nation that filter pollutants from water, absorb floodwaters, and provide habitat for countless wildlife. In fact, industry and other permittees asked for this clarification as an end to regulatory confusion about which of the country’s waterways the Clean Water Act protects. The rule was supported by millions of Americans.

The Clean Water Rule followed a robust public process. Before finalizing the Clean Water Rule in 2015, EPA held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country and published a synthesis of more than 1,200 peer-reviewed scientific publications, which showed that the small streams and wetlands the Rule safeguards are vital to larger downstream waters.

What is this administration proposing? Administrator Pruitt does not want to implement the Clean Water Rule. Instead, he plans to rush through the repeal of the Clean Water Rule this year, then propose and finalize a less protective rule in less than a year. President Trump signed an Executive Order instructing the EPA to propose a new rule based on former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s opinion of which waterways the Clean Water Act protects. A rule following Scalia’s interpretation would result in drastic exclusions of wetlands and streams from protection; fewer than half of wetlands and fewer than 40 percent of streams would receive federal protection. If that scenario comes to pass, then the nation’s waters will be less protected than they were in 1975!

Who is opposing the Clean Water Rule? Lobbyists for oil and gas producers, homebuilders, and farm bureaus.

What’s at stake? Our right to clean drinking water is in jeopardy. Rolling back hrwc-clean-water-rule-at-riskthe rule will result in the same regulatory confusion that resulted in broad-based calls for clarity about which of our nation’s waterways the Clean Water Act protects. Rolling back the rule is bad governance, bad for businesses who rely on regulatory certainty, and bad for our communities that deserve clean water.

Michigan’s rivers play a key role in economic and community building. Here in the Huron River watershed, we know the value of a healthy river system that includes healthy wetlands and smaller feeder streams. The river and water trail are conservatively estimated to have the following economic impact:

  • $53.5 million in annual economic output (direct, indirect, and induced spending)
  • $628 million in added property value
  • $150 million in annual environmental value (such as clean drinking water, wetlands and floodplains that prevent flooding, and forested riverbanks that foster rich fisheries and healthy streams)

Please speak up – send a message to the EPA today. Tell Administrator Pruitt: Hands off our water. We’ve provided a sample public comment letter. We encourage you to add your own description of the value of clean water.

Postscript: Republicans, meanwhile, are targeting the rule on a second front. A section of the Defense Department spending bill (page 277, line 12) allows the administration to revoke the rule with no strings attached — strings being requirements for public consultation.

Get sample comment letter language, links into the Federal eRulemaking Portal, Michigan impacts, and news articles HERE.

 

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.

News to Us

It has bAnn Arbor floodingeen a busy news month. Many exciting things happening at the global, national and state level that affects us right here in the Huron.  The environment took front seat in international news this month with Pope Francis’ encyclical. Our federal government finally provided clarity on the Clean Water Act by better defining “waters of the US”.  The State of Michigan has released a draft vision for water that includes a dramatic reduction in phosphorus to our waterways.  And not to leave out local action, the Ann Arbor Observer provides a look at how the University of Michigan handles stormwater.

Pope Francis, in Sweeping Encyclical, Calls for Swift Action on Climate Change. The recent papal encyclical has been making waves among Catholics and far beyond. The document is a call to action bringing a moral argument to environmental protection and climate change.  A fascinating and welcome contribution to the environmental movement, if you haven’t read much about this, the article is a nice summary of the report and the implications.

Issues of The Environment: The Clean Water Rule. HRWC’s Elizabeth Riggs is interviewed about EPA’s ruling on Waters of the US, or the waters protected under the Clean Water Act.  She discusses how this ruling will impact our state and watershed and why this ruling is so important.

DEQ announces 30-year vision for water. The State’s draft water strategy addresses nutrient pollution, invasive species, boating and harbors and water trails.  The strategy also calls for investment in technologies that support clean water and the establishment of a fund to finance implementation of water strategy.  The vision is out in draft and the DEQ is accepting comments until August 28th.

More information on Michigan’s Water Strategy and how to comment can be viewed here

Calming the waters.  This editorial provides a deeper dive into the issue of phosphorus pollution, reduction goals, and how Michigan needs to do more to make meaningful progress toward those goals and make appropriate contributions to a region-wide effort to reduce problems in the Great Lakes resulting from excess phosphorus in our lakes and waterways.

Storm Over the U-M: The city and county have strict new stormwater requirements. But the university isn’t on board.  Water knows no political boundaries which can create tension over responsibility for and management of this resource. When it rains on our cities and towns, it needs to be managed to avoid flooding, erosion and other stormwater related issues. This article chronicles ongoing tension around stormwater management by the University of Michigan.

Protecting Water Under the Clean Water Act

We needy our help to bring protections back to our wetlands and small streams.

We need your help to bring protections back to our wetlands and small streams.

Wait, what?  The Clean Water Act doesn’t protect clean water?  How can that be?

Well in 2001 and 2006 there were 2 Supreme Court Decisions that confused the implementation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and placed many wetlands and streams out of protection and at risk.

Earlier this year, the U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers released a very important draft rulemaking. This draft rule clarifies which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act.  This rulemaking will fundamentally influence our work to protect or restore our watershed.

Please comment on the draft US EPA rule on Clean Water Protection (aka Waters of the US) Rulemaking

Comments on this important rulemaking are due October 20, 2014. We encourage river lovers (YOU) to speak up! If you haven’t been following this issue or need a refresher, please check out this link.

Your comments can be as simple as, “Clean water is important to me. I want EPA to protect it for my health, my family, and my community” or as specific as, “I support the agencies proposal to define “waters of the United States” in section (a) of the proposed rule for all sections of the CWA to mean: Traditional navigable waters; interstate waters, including interstate wetlands; the territorial seas; impoundments of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, including interstate wetlands, the territorial seas, and tributaries, as defined, of such waters; tributaries, as defined, of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, or the territorial seas; and adjacent waters, including adjacent wetlands. Waters in these categories would be jurisdictional “waters of the United States” by rule—no additional analysis would be required.”

Thank you!

Michigan Wetlands at Risk

A tantalizing copse of tamarack grow out beyond the lily pads - good indicators of a fen or bog ecosystem.

Wetlands serve critical functions in a watershed and our watershed is no exception.

  1. Biodiversity: wetlands provide a unique habitat for animals—from fish, hospital amphibians, and macroinvertebrates to birds and mammals.
  2. Water quality: wetlands are like the watershed’s kidneys, filtering sediment and pollution and keeping the water in the lakes and streams cleaner.
  3. Water quantity: wetlands act like sponges as they take up excess water in heavy rains and provide a steady and slow replenishment to creeks and rivers in drier periods.

Unfortunately, try we have lost approximately two-thirds of our wetlands. We’ve drained and filled most of these wetlands to plow farm fields and create drier and more buildable land. This last May, Michigan passed a new wetland law. Is this a positive development? We need a little history to get an answer.

In October 1984, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authorized the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to administer Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), which regulates wetlands. Since then, Michigan has been one of two states that administers its own wetland  permitting program (New Jersey being the other state). Yet, over the years, environmentalists began to question the state’s lax commitment to wetland protection. As a result EPA initiated an informal review of the Michigan program and reported its findings in November 2002. After a lengthy review and comment period, a final review appeared in May 2008. The review outlines EPA’s concerns with Michigan’s implementation of the Section 404 permitting program.

These concerns sparked a debate in 2008 to consider handing the program back to the EPA. Michigan decided to keep the program and convened a task force to help it address EPA concerns and make the program viable. This past spring the state legislature passed a bill that purportedly addressed the concerns and improved Michigan’s permitting program. Governor Snyder signed the bill into law in early July 2013.

In fact, this new law only heightens HRWC’s concerns about the program. The law makes substantial changes that affect the area of jurisdiction, scope of regulated activities, and criteria for review of permits. It provides more exemptions, less protection of wetlands, and weakens criteria for permitting. In addition to the weakened regulations, HRWC is concerned about the lack of federal review and potential Clean Water Act violations.  Since the bill takes effect upon the governor’s signature, no time is allotted for required federal review which results in a violation of the Clean Water Act.

The EPA should inform the State of Michigan that implementation of any changes to the state program must be delayed until the federal review process is complete. Not only are the provisions under the new law ineffective until EPA review, but upon preliminary review of the draft legislation, EPA noted that “the draft legislation also introduces new inconsistencies with Federal law, guidance, or case law.” After receiving letters from HRWC and other environmental groups, EPA is currently reviewing the new act.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is holding an informational meeting and public hearing on Wednesday, December 11, 2013, at 6p.m. (informational meeting) and 7 p.m. (formal public hearing) at the Crowne Plaza Lansing West Hotel in Lansing, Michigan. In addition, EPA is accepting written comments on the proposed revisions through December 18, 2013. To make a comment and to learn more about the CWA Section 404 program in Michigan go to: www.regulations.gov. We encourage you to attend the informational meeting and hearing, and to provide your comments.

News to Us

Lake invasive European Frogbit.  Photo credit: flickr.com/petroglyph

Lake invasive European Frogbit. Photo credit: Michael Butler

 

Lots of activity in the policy sphere in this edition of News to Us.  EPA threatens to reclaim control over wetland regulations in Michigan, decease Hamburg Township considers a watercraft-control ordinance and a lovely little butterfly seeks endangered status to protect remaining populations. Also read about a new aquatic plant invading lakes and how several Great Lakes cities are adapting to climate change.

EPA hearing will give public a voice in whether Michigan should retain regulation of wetlands  On December 11th, medical Michigan residents will be able to provide comment during a public hearing on whether or not the EPA should revoke Michigan’s authority to administer wetland regulations under the Clean Water Act.  Michigan’s administration of the regulations have been under scrutiny as inconsistent with Section 404 of the Act and less protective of wetlands.

Officials take aim at lake revelry  Conflict over public uses of Baseline Lake have Hamburg Township officials considering options.  Residents around the lake are complaining of loud and inappropriate behavior on the public lake. On November 19th there will be a public hearing on the issue and the potential for a local watercraft-control ordinance.

Cities adapting to changing climate, seek but more changes coming  The work of HRWC partner, the Graham Sustainability Institute, was highlighted in a story on how cities are adapting to a changing climate.  Ann Arbor is one of several cities in the Great Lakes that are part of the Great Lakes Adaptation Assessment for Cities program helping support cities considering how to adapt to changes in temperature and rainfall patterns.

Michigan cracks down on frogbit crowding out state lakes  A new non-native aquatic plant is invading lakes and other slow moving waters in southeast Michigan. Several confirmed reports have the species taking hold in areas of the lower Huron River watershed near the outlet to Lake Erie. The Michigan DNR is looking for citizen help to identify new locations of this nuisance weed.  The Midwest Invasive Species Information Network has information on the species and how to report sightings.

STATE: U.S. considers endangered classification for butterfly found prominently in Michigan  One of our watershed residents the Poweshiek skipperling, has seen dramatic population declines in recent years. This little butterfly lives in the remaining prairie fens in the watershed with known occurrences in Livingston, Oakland and Washtenaw counties. If classified as endangered a recovery plan for the species will be developed.

News to Us

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 .

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Congress “Celebrates” Clean Water Act 40th

The Clean Water Act ensures waterways (like the Huron) are clean enough for fishing, swimming, and drinking.

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:

Urge your senators to oppose this dirty water bill and defend our clean water legacy.

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:

  1. It limits the federal government’s ability to enforce clean water standards.
  2. 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.

Don’t let Congress undo decades of clean water progress: Tell your senators to oppose this dirty water bill.

Happy 40th, Clean Water Act!

Clean Water Act Huron River

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.


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