Posts Tagged ‘Climate change’

News to Us

Sandhill Crane. John Lloyd.

Sandhill Crane. John Lloyd.

In this edition of News to Us, learn some of the implications of the proposed federal budget for the Great Lakes, how HRWC is helping prepare the Huron River for climate change, the magnitude of the challenge of aging water infrastructure, and see a short film on the inner workings of a river.

 

Trump Proposal To Gut Great Lakes Funding Could Allow Pollution To Flourish
The fund which allocates almost $300 million each year to the protection and restoration of our nation’s Great Lakes is proposed to be completely defunded. The new administration’s proposed budget cuts the bipartisan Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) entirely as they seek to reduce EPAs budget by 31%. (This article was written before the official budget was released. Cut went from 97% to 100% at the official budget release this week.) GLRI has been in place since 2010 and has funded critical work from studying Harmful Algal Blooms to supporting cleanup efforts in our most polluted waters and so much more. The implications of this are wide reaching from serious declines in water quality and losing ground on invasive species to significant impacts to the economy of our coastal towns and job losses in tourism and research. HRWC is meeting with and talking to our Senators and Representatives and please do too–call your Senators and Representatives and ask they fight to protect the GLRI.

Issues Of The Environment: Building Resilience Along The Huron River Amidst Changes In Climate HRWC’s Rebecca Esselman is interviewed on the impacts of climate change to the Huron River and the strategies being implemented to help the river adapt to a new climate future. Protecting forests along the river and stream, restoring habitat and improving the management of flow by dams can create conditions that will help the Huron be more resilient to more extreme rainfall events, drought and higher air temperatures. Watch a short film on this topic here.

We have a lot of old water infrastructure, so what do we do about it? Our water infrastructure – the pipes, pumps and plants that deal with stormwater, drinking water and wastewater are old and failing. The price tag associated with necessary upgrades is huge and the source of that money is unknown.

The Secret Life of Rivers
And for a little fun, check out this really cool glimpse at a rarely considered, hyper-important part of a river system- the hyporheic zone. It will only add to your awe and respect for these complex ecosystems. And as an added bonus, a tardigrade makes a guest appearance and if you don’t know about tardigrades, google it. They are astounding.

Engage, Engage, Engage

In the last 2 months I’ve been asked a lot about my thoughts on sustainability and climate going forward. At a recent climate rally I shared what we do best at HRWC—the climate science and trends, and what people can do.

Here is a synopsis of my comments:

For 50 years our job has been to study and protect the Huron River, which runs right through many communities, including Ann Arbor. We have 25 years of data about this ecosystem. And the data confirms what we’ve seen this February. We have a migrating climate. Days like this are what we would have expected to see in Kentucky 20 years ago. Within 50 years our seasons will feel more like Oklahoma. This has massive implications for our natural ecosystems and our economy, and our quality of life!

Ann Arbor floodingSo let me tell you about what our science shows us about Michigan today:

  • It’s warmer. Annually by 2 degrees F; by 2070 an increase of 3.5 to 6 degrees.
  • Today, the growing season, or the frost-free season, has gotten longer by 9 days. In the future, it could increase by 1-2 months.
  • Today, Michigan gets more rain and snow—an 11% increase. In Ann Arbor 24% more.
  • The strongest storms have become more intense and more frequent. These rain storms are so heavy they overwhelm our storm sewers, our dams, and our wastewater treatment plants.

But, that’s facts and figures, let me tell you a couple of stories about how that affects us all.

  • People might remember that three years ago, a rain caused flooding in our watershed and in particular, on the UM campus. It was so intense and with so much water, students kayaked down the East University Street.
  • HRWC researches the river. Every January, we send about 100 volunteers out, up and down the river, to collect Stoneflies. Stoneflies are little bugs that are sensitive to changes and pollution, so they tell us how healthy the river is. Two years ago we had to cancel because of the extreme cold. The volunteers couldn’t break the thick ice to get in to the river. This year, we had the opposite problem: our volunteers could not get in the river in certain places due to high flows from a 50 degree thaw. We heard from volunteers that they were already seeing stoneflies that had hatched rather than in their larval stage. This means that when the fish start spawning in April, they won’t have as many stoneflies to eat….that damages the entire aquatic ecosystem.

So we’ve had an extremely warm February, but these unexpected extremes should now be expected.

So what can we do about this? Engage, engage, engage. I hear from people day in and out that they are frustrated and yearning to take action. We need big change; to change the way we operate major infrastructure systems of this country—transportation, energy, stormwater, housing, waste, and food.

As somebody who has spent my career working on environmental issues, here’s what I find effective: 1. Take individual steps on your own and with your family; 2. Build connections with people (your colleagues, elected officials, friends, neighbors) to work on issues at a larger scale.

Stand up against the things you don’t want (a weaker EPA, the Dakota pipeline, Line 5), but at the same time take actions to create the things you do.

There’s lots of things we can do as individuals. We also have elected officials, business, and government employees, and it’s important to do things collectively and scale them up.

  • To change our transportation systems, Take the bus—and advocate for robust public transit;
  • To change our stormwater systems, Put in a rain garden or rain barrel—and work with neighbors to push your university or town to install better rain capture systems on roads, parks, and rooftops;
  • To change our energy system, Put in solar—and help your elected officials pass tax incentives and ease of permitting for alternative energy; and
  • To improve our housing system, Live near your work or school—and encourage affordable housing so others can too.

Finally, it’s important to volunteer—engage in your community, sit on a board or commission. This is tough but necessary work. This is where change is made.

In my work as Director of HRWC, I bring very different people together to protect something we all love, the Huron River. I do that by talking to everyone who plays a part—farmers, drain commissioners, hunters, anglers, politicians, scientists, and homeowners. We’re all really different people with different political perspectives. We don’t always agree, but we find ways to make real change. Because all these people work together, the river is cleaner than it’s been in 50 years. It’s that steady engaged work that makes a difference and gives me hope.

Go get involved, take up the challenge, and let’s get to work!

Here are some of our projects that exemplify how our partnerships address climate change.

 

Preparing the Huron for Climate Change

Given the noticeably mild weather this fall and winter, it may come as no surprise that 2016 was just declared the hottest year on record. 2015 held the same title as did 2014.  In other words, we have broken the record for “hottest year on record” for three consecutive years. Climate Change is a threat that affects everyone and everything in some way. We must aggressively continue global efforts to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted. At the same time, communities everywhere are preparing for new weather extremes.  We are one of them. Here’s a new film about our work to help prepare the Huron River for climate change. Please share this with friends to get the word out on how we are protecting the future of our local water.

HRWC would like to thank the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Climate Adaptation Fund made possible by funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for the support of this project and the creation of the film. To learn more about climate change in southeast Michigan and what HRWC is doing to address this threat visit http://www.hrwc.org/the-watershed/threats/climate-change/

Beautiful Fall Colors This Year

The Huron in Autumn

The Huron in Autumn

Every year I think is the best “color year” for our beautiful Southeast Michigan trees.  This year was not only colorful, but the colors just kept coming — just when I thought, “well, there go the golden hickories, it won’t be long and all the leaves will fall and we’ll be into November and bare branches,”  well here we are in November and now the oaks are finally turning — a deep dark crimson.

Then I came upon this New York Times article – yes, the late colors have climate change to blame.  And, while this may be a pleasant outcome for now, it bodes ill for the future, as warmer temperatures will push our more colorful trees like red and sugar maples further north, leaving us with less colorful oaks and hickories (though they happen to be my favorites).

Faye Stoner, Washtenaw County Natural Areas Stewardship Coordinator, agrees. “Colors are definitely lasting longer this fall – I can remember doing school programs and losing all colored leaves (that came in handy on those walks with kids)  sometimes before the school programs were finished up for October/before Halloween!

“To have several trees, including maples out “in the wild” still almost glowing with color on Nov. 3, to me, is ‘out of ordinary’.”

Other naturalists have noticed the fall tick season has lengthened.

Read more about climate changes impacts on our watershed and HRWC’s efforts in climate adaptations.

Check out HRWC’s fact sheet about climate change impacts on the watershed’s natural resources.

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News to Us

pointe-moullieIn news of interest to us here at HRWC, we’ve seen more coastal wetlands now under protection near the mouth of the Huron River and a new business is in town in the lower reaches of the river as well. American Rivers lays out a path for removal of dams to reduce loss of life from dam failures. And two articles take a look at the two sides of climate change, how it is impacting us now (or in this case, how it is impacting birds) and what we, as a global community, are doing to solve the problem.

Two donate property to Detroit River wildlife refuge
A 43 acre complex of wetland, woodland and some agricultural land has been added to a complex of sites that creates the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. This parcel sits at the outlet of the Huron River near the Point Mouillee State Game Area where the Huron empties into Lake Erie. This refuge is home to many resident and migratory birds and helps clean inland waters heading into our Great Lakes.

How our unseasonably warm fall is affecting migratory birds
Weather pattern affect species differently, some more than others. Experts from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology discuss how our warm fall temperatures impact bird migration. Those most likely to be impacted are species that rely more heavily on temperature cues.  Others rely more on waning daylight to cue migration.

Removing Dams Can Save Lives
Many dams in the US were built decades ago and are now persisting beyond their lifespan. This article highlights the importance of removing or repairing aging dams to reduce risks to people.  Several major storms this year resulted in multiple dam failures in areas affected. American Rivers goes on to articulate a solution to the problem including modifying dam safety program requirements and making more federal funding available.

The past two weeks are a perfect illustration of what “solving” climate change will look like
This article shares some hopeful news that indicates on a growing number of fronts, countries are acting on climate change. Within the last few weeks, you may have run across these headlines. Canada established a nationwide carbon tax. While the Paris Climate Agreement was forged in 2015, it was not ratified until this month and thankfully, it included the US and China who were late to sign the deal. And finally, a global deal was established to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, a really potent greenhouse gas used for cooling. Keep up the good work people of the world!

New coffee, tea, specialty gift shop opens in Flat Rock
One of the Huron River Trail Towns has a new business ready to serve you.  If you are paddling, fishing, picnicking or otherwise enjoying the river near Flat Rock, stop by the Blue Heron Trading Company and say hello. Its businesses like this that keep our trail towns vibrant, welcoming places to take a break from the river and refuel.

News to Us

Microplastics issue far from solved. Image: Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr Creative Commons

Microplastics issue far from solved. Image: Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr Creative Commons

Stormwater management in a changing climate, buffering our rivers and lakes, emerging pollutants such as pharmaceuticals and microplastics, and drunk tubing (because, why not?) all in this edition of News to Us, HRWC’s monthly round up of noteworthy water news.

How Grand Rapids is prepping for the next big storm
Bridge Magazine takes an in-depth look at how two cities in Michigan are changing the way they build and rebuild to deal with heavier rainfall. Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor use innovative stormwater management practices to protect people and infrastructure from damage that can be caused by flooding.

Huron Natural River District One Step Closer In Webster
HRWC has been working with municipalities along the stretch of the Huron River designated a Natural River District.  Webster is strengthening protections for the river by adopting a local ordinance that requires buildings be set back a distance from lakes and rivers to minimize impacts of development to the ecological health and beauty of the Township’s water ways.

Emerging pollutants are those that are relatively new to our collective awareness of what negatively impacts our environment. Two recent articles illustrate the myriad ways that these pollutants show up and wreak havoc and how little we know about sources, impact and solutions. There is more work to be done.

And just for a little fun…

Fifteen hundred possibly drunk Americans successfully invade Canada via the St. Clair River
No this is not satire.  It is a real headline. A chuckle worthy headline.  None-the-less, a reminder to mind your manners and your neighbors when recreating in our state’s beautiful lakes and rivers. Read our Share the River Code here.

News to Us

Tubing at Argo Cascades. Photo credit: Andy Piper via Flickr Creative Commons License.

Tubing at Argo Cascades. Photo credit: Andy Piper via Flickr Creative Commons License.

Climate change, river recreation and regulating toxics are all in this edition of News to Us – the HRWC monthly brief on water and watershed related news that catches our attention.

In hot water: Climate change is affecting North American fish
This blog summarizes the conclusions from several recent research articles on the impacts of climate change to fish. Coldwater species and those in arid environments are most vulnerable.  Fisheries are already experiencing measurable change from climate change that impacts ecosystems, recreation and the economy.  HRWC is wrapping up a two year project to help the Huron adapt to climate change.  You can read more about this project here.

U.S. Needs Smarter Disaster Planning
Disaster planning is one way to protect human communities from the impacts of climate change.  Extreme weather events are becoming more common. Municipalities each develop plans to protect their communities from, respond to and recover from natural disasters.  This article discusses the importance of incorporating climate change into these plans.

Ann Arbor trying to curb alcohol, parking problems at popular tubing spot
A growing number of complaints pertaining to visitors of Argo Cascades in Ann Arbor is leading the city to consider how to address the issues. While we love to see people enjoying the river, we encourage everyone to consider appropriate safety and etiquette.  Visit the Huron River Water Trail website for ways to have fun on the river without impacting other users, river neighbors and the river itself.

Editorial: Ann Arbor joins VBT, Scio in banning coal tar sealants
The Belleville Independent published an editorial highlighting progress locally to ban coal tar pavement sealers. Van Buren Township led the way on this issue in Michigan banning the toxic substance in December 2015.  Recently, Scio Township and Ann Arbor have joined Van Buren on the front lines to reduce health risks to humans and aquatic communities due to PAH compounds which occur in very high amounts in a commonly used pavement sealer. You can help HRWC continue to tackle this issue in our watershed by donating to our Coal Tar Free Huron campaign.

Strange brew: How chemical reform legislation falls short
Last month, the federal government signed into law a reform of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  The new law has met with very mixed reviews from companies and groups working to reduce the number of toxic chemicals in consumer products. The chemicals ultimately end up in our bodies and environment and little is known about the thousands of chemical brought to market each year. Read this bloggers take on the good and the bad of the new law.  It may have implications for our ability to regulate chemicals at the local level including coal tar pavement sealers.

News to Us

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DIA InsideOut exhibit in Flat Rock – Huroc Park

Our monthly news roundup provides some watershed stories covering a fun event in Flat Rock and emerging research on the dioxane groundwater contamination in the Ann Arbor area.  Bridge Magazine published an in depth article on the rising profile of County Drain Commissioners.  And two new reports provide a look at how climate change is being addressed in planning efforts nationwide and is likely to impact public health in Michigan.

InsideOut exhibit brings museum-quality artwork to Flat Rock
Check out a unique art exhibit in one of the Huron River Watershed’s Trail Towns. For the second year in a row Flat Rock is displaying replica’s of fine artworks this summer through the DIA’s InsideOut program.  This year you can see 8 paintings at locations throughout the town.

Professor says dioxane probably has reached Huron River already
Dr. Lemke of Wayne State University has been studying the Pall Gelman dioxane plume since 1998. He recently presented results of some modelling efforts that show a more nuanced range of possibilities for the movement of the contamination in Ann Arbor’s groundwater. The article illustrates further the need for better monitoring and solid planning for many potential scenarios about the path and time it will take for the dioxane to reach the river. (Note: While we think this is important news to cover, the headline here is misleading. There has been no evidence to suggest the plume has reached the Huron yet and the city of Ann Arbor regularly tests Barton Pond for dioxane.)

Why on earth is Candice Miller running for county drain commissioner?
This article discusses the role of county drain commissioners (sometimes known as water resource commissioners as they are in Washtenaw and Oakland Counties) and how this elected position is becoming higher profile in light of growing issues with water quality and water infrastructure. The Flint water crisis, combined sewer overflows, beach closings, and Great Lakes water quality are bringing much needed attention to our states aging water and sewer infrastructure.

Cities trying to plan for warmer, wetter climate
A researcher at the University of Michigan conducted a review of climate adaptation plans around the nation.  These plans are intended to determine what is necessary to create a town or city that is prepared for the impacts of climate change and able to bounce back quickly from these impacts.  While more communities are completing plans, they are falling short on implementation. How these strategies will be funded and who is responsible for carrying them out remains an area of adaptation that needs attention.

Changing climate conditions in Michigan pose an emerging public health threat
Additional new climate change research coming out of Michigan focuses on the human health impacts. “Michigan Climate and Health Profile Report 2015: Building resilience against climate effects on Michigan’s health” chronicles the many ways that more heat and more heavy rain events can affect our health.  Respiratory diseases, heat related illnesses and water and vector borne diseases are areas of concern.

News to Us

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Smart planning helps protect beautiful places in the watershed.

This edition of News to Us shares updates on Ann Arbor’s Dioxane contamination, climate change and coal tar sealcoat advocacy in the watershed. Also see the Huron making headlines as a retreat from the city and how one township is taking stock of its natural resources.

DEQ proposes tougher cleanup standard to protect residents from dioxane A large plume of groundwater under Ann Arbor and Scio Township is contaminated with 1,4-dioxane originating from the Pall Corporation. After years of pressure and mounting attention over the past few months, DEQ announced a proposed change to the dioxane drinking water standard in Michigan from 85 parts per billion to 7.2 ppb. There is still a 6 to 9 month process ahead of the proposed standard where it could change or be vetoed.  Read more about the decades-long story in this piece from The Ann; Bearing Witness: Decades of dioxane. Or hear more from the acting director of the MDEQ at a Town Hall Meeting, April 18, 6-8:30pm at Eberwhite Elementary, Ann Arbor.

City and country: How metro Detroiters enjoy the best of both worlds We are blessed in southeast Michigan to have incredible natural resources nearby. The Huron River is cited as a destination for Detroit area residents to get away from it all.  Four interviews show the diverse ways metro Detroiters access nature to relax and recreate.

Freedom Township Takes First Steps Toward Shaping Future Development to Protect Watershed Freedom Township is the most recent of several communities in the watershed to participate in HRWC’s Green Infrastructure project to map and prioritize natural areas. The Township intends to use the map to help inform future growth and development.

Record-breaking heat shows world ‘losing battle’ against climate change, Alan Finkel tells Q&A No one in southeast Michigan would argue we have had a typical winter. Warmer temperatures and limited snow events made it a little easier on all of us.  It seems we were not alone. The climate has been making headlines again as February registered as the hottest February on record (global average) and by a huge margin. It is expected that temperatures will remain well above average for at least the next couple of months. Particularly worrisome about data from recent months is it shows the planet moving much more rapidly toward the maximum of 2.0°C warming agreed to by nations under the Paris Climate Agreement.

Watershed group wants ban on coal tar sealants HRWC Board Member Mary Bajcz has been championing efforts in Milford Township to increase awareness about the hazards of coal tar sealcoat products commonly used to maintain asphalt surfaces like driveways and parking lots. These sealcoats contain high levels of PAHs that can be harmful to people and river ecosystems. HRWC presented to Milford Township’s Board of Trustees who are now considering next steps.

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.

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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!

 


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