Posts Tagged ‘Huron River Watershed Council’
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!
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.
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.
HRWC recently hosted the first Michigan Aquatic Restoration Conference (MARC) with partners at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, Michigan Departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources, as well as business sponsors Stantec, North State Environmental, Inter-Fluve, and Spicer Group. Located at the retreat setting of the Kettunen Center, the MARC brought together over 120 agency and academic scientists and engineers and industry professionals from all over Michigan as well as several other Great Lakes states. Much of the conference focused on geomorphology, or the study of the processes that shape a river channel and produce the habitat that exists in its present state.
The MARC was led off with a workshop on “Woody Debris Management” by one of the founding fathers of geomorphology, Dr. David Rosgen from Wildland Hydrology. He also provided a keynote presentation on lessons he has learned from more than two decades of stream restoration work. National restoration expert Will Harman from Stream Mechanics discussed a popular conceptual framework he developed — the “Functional Pyramid” — and discussed how restoration practitioners should seek to provide rivers and streams with “functional lift.”
Other presentations and discussions focused on the various and sundry nuances of stream restoration in practice throughout Michigan, the Great Lakes region, and parts south and west. There was a genuine excitement in the air throughout the conference as participants engaged in vibrant discussion about how to apply principles (some theoretical at this point) to stream restoration, in what is a relatively new applied science.
If you missed the conference this year, check out the MARC website for a sampling of the presentations and discussions, and keep your eye out for an announcement of the next iteration.
It is not enough to protect the Huron River watershed. There is a whole world of watersheds and citizens reliant on plentiful clean water. So sometimes we step outside of our watershed boundaries to share with others what we are doing and how it is going. In return we learn from others making a difference in their watershed. In the last month I have hit the road to talk with a few new audiences about some of the work of HRWC.
The Great Lakes Restoration Conference took place in the Windy City (it certainly lived up to this moniker while I was there) last month. Along with Alister Innes from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Cheryl Kallio from Freshwater Future, I spoke to an audience of Great Lakes restoration professionals about the impacts of coaltar sealcoat and the PAHs it contains, on lakes, rivers and human health. Minnesota is the only Great Lakes state that has achieved a ban of this product that is commonly used to maintain asphalt driveways and parking lots. We are hoping to grow the buzz on this topic within our region to help get PAH contamination (the compounds of concern in coaltar sealcoat) out of Great Lakes waters.
Next, I was off to Detroit to the Michigan Association of Planners Conference. Here I participated in a panel sharing stories of how communities throughout Michigan are incorporating climate change into municipal planning and trying to build resilience in natural, social and economic systems so that when more extreme events hit our cities and towns we can bounce back quickly and sustain less damage.
Finally, the 3rd annual Stormwater Summit was held at Lawrence Technological University. What a diverse group of professionals we have doing seriously good work right here in southeast Michigan! The audience received a brief on the Lake Erie algal bloom that contaminated Toledo’s drinking water in 2014 and what is happening in Michigan and Ohio to prevent a similar event in the future. I presented our work within the Huron to adopt better rainfall data to create stormwater systems that can accommodate the heavier rains climate change brings to our area. We also heard about some very cool green infrastructure and urban conservation projects. Summit presentations will be available soon on the Pure Oakland Water website.
These types of exchanges ensure HRWC staff are aware of innovations occurring elsewhere that inspire our future work and give back to the community by sharing innovations of our own.
Looking for a way to expand your knowledge about ecosystems, rx invasives, and the history of conservation in Michigan?
The Michigan Conservation Stewards program has been brought back to Washtenaw County by a collaboration of HRWC and peer organizations. We hope you, capsule as a supporter of the Huron, will take the opportunity to strengthen your knowledge and thus ability to advocate for our natural resources. This 6-week course covers all the basics of conservation, tadalafil introduces participants to a wide-array of topic experts, and is a great networking opportunity.
When you spend 50 years researching, protecting, enjoying, and telling the community about the Huron River, you’re bound to have a favorite spot that you hold close to your heart.
Whether it’s the site of a grand adventure or simply a quiet moment with nature, there’s a lot to appreciate about the Huron River watershed.
We’ve collected some of our favorite spots to share with you — most from HRWC Staff. It’s tempting to keep them a secret, but what’s the point in working so hard to keep the river safe if everyone doesn’t get to enjoy it?
So come on.
Tell us. Where’s your favorite spot in your community on the Huron River? Leave it in the comments or give us more details using this form.
One of the perks of my job as a co-director of the Adopt-a-Stream program at HRWC is that I get to see places that many others miss out on. And so while I love the main branch of the Huron River and spend many hours at our metroparks, pharm I decided to focus on a small creek in Webster township– Arms Creek.
Arms Creek at the intersection of Walsh Road is known internally here at HRWC as “Adopt-a-Stream Site Number 1”, meaning that it was the first site to be picked as a part of the program way back in 1992. The watershed council and our many volunteers have been visiting this location and collecting information on this creek for 23 years! The creek contains many insect families that are sensitive to pollution and their presence tells us that the creek has good water quality. In fact, the insect population has been getting better over time, so conditions here have improved over the past 20 years. A thick riparian zone of trees and shrubs provides ample shade for the creek and plentiful groundwater inputs keep the water quite cold. Many decades ago, the DNR actually stocked Arms Creek with trout, which is very rare for the Huron Watershed, but not enough fisherman utilized the creek to make this worth the cost. Last year HRWC staff wrote a creekshed report for Arms Creek, which can be found here along with a clickable and zoomable map.
The Arms creekshed also contains Independence Lake, a beautiful county park located only a few miles from my
house and a spot that my family visits many times during the year. In the summer it is our go-to spot for swimming and waterslides, and in the other seasons we play on the playground and take walks through wetlands and fields. Winter is a great time to visit as the park is all but deserted. Last winter we spent a long time throwing rocks onto the lake and listening to the musical “plunk-plink-plunk-pppppppp” of the rocks echoing and reverberating against the ice.