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Posts Tagged ‘Huron River Watershed Council’

Flint Water Crisis: an HRWC perspective

Capitol Building

Michigan State Capitol, Lansing

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.

 

 

Answering Questions with Bugs: The Stonefly Search

The slender winter stonefly, Capniidae.  Credit: www.troutnut.com

The slender winter stonefly, Family Capniidae. Credit: www.troutnut.com

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.

Stonefly Successes!

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.

Stonefly Failures!

Stonefly Search: Kid friendly since 1995. credit: Peter Jung

Stonefly Search: Kid friendly since 1995. credit: Peter Jung

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!

Click here for registration and more information.

What will this Search find this year? credit: Dan Myer

What will HRWC volunteers find this year? credit: Dan Myer

Winter Stoneflies in Arctic Michigan

A Celebration of a Very Cold Event

by Dr.David Wilson

Family Taeniopeterygidae, a "winter stonefly". credit: John Lloyd

Family Taeniopeterygidae, a “winter stonefly”. credit: John Lloyd

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.

A Watershed Moment

HRWC 50th Logo SlugThis year HRWC celebrated our 50th anniversary with music, recreation, food and drink, and poetry. Thank you for marking this milestone with us.

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:

  1. As more people engage with the river, we need to instill a river stewardship ethic and provide clear options for action;
  2. 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
  3. 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_hi-res06

Geomorphologists Assemble!

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.

Studying the Pine River

Participants visited the Pine River to study a recent restoration effort.

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.

Local TV news coverage of the MARC

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.

Getting the Word Out

HuronAutumnIt 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.

 

Conservation Stewards Leadership Training

indian springsLooking for a way to expand your knowledge about ecosystems, 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, 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, introduces participants to a wide-array of topic experts, and is a great networking opportunity.

 

Click here for details and to register.

 

 

Here are our favorite places on the Huron River. Where’s yours?

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.

My Huron River (Arms Creek)

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, I decided to focus on a small creek in Webster township– Arms Creek.

An HRWC volunteer explores Arms Creek.

An HRWC volunteer explores 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.

 

independence150

The shores of Independence Lake

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.

independence151

“More rocks, Daddy. More rocks!”

My Huron River (Hudson Mills to Barton Pond)

Dad and daughter enjoying a paddle.

Dad and daughter enjoying a paddle.

I fell in love with the Huron on this beautiful stretch of river. River mile 67 to mile 56 is one of the longest undammed strands of rolling water in SE Michigan. The banks along the river are thick with large, old willows, maples and a good diversity of hardwoods and a smattering of cedars, thanks to a wide riparian corridor protected by the Natural River Zone. My family and I like to take a nice, slow paddle along this piece of river to forget our worries and reconnect with the living planet as we flow through it. I find my mind wandering as I scout for trophy bass in deep pools, and sometimes forget I am only a few miles from home.

This Father’s Day my wife Kathy, son Foster and daughter Ally took me out for a beautiful trip. The water was high and fast from recent rains and a bit tawny, but clear at the start of the trip. Song birds called out across the river to potential mates or rivals on the other bank. We crossed a sad run where a tornado ripped across the river three years ago and tree damage is still evident. When we reached the confluence with Mill Creek the mixing zone is stark. The clear waters of the upper Huron get colored by the roiling, sediment-filled outwash from Mill Creek. The water volume almost doubles here and the river picks up pace, quickly taking the boat along its course to the rapids at Delhi, where we took the canoes out. Along the way, the kids jumped out and enjoyed a free-form float to cool off in the river’s embrace.

Fly fish the Huron River.

Fly fishing downstream of Delhi Rapids.

I also like to spend a few hours fly fishing on the upper parts of this river stretch. The river varies nicely from wide, shallow riffles, through quick narrow runs, to long stretches of slow, deeper water and pools — great for hiding big fish (though I never seem to be able to find them). I cherish the moments of quiet reflection as a gentle breeze rustles the leaves and I attempt to flick my fly into that hole where I just know a big one is waiting for a meal to swim by. To be honest, though, I find that any time spent on or in the Huron is time well spent.

HRWC is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year!

Tell us your favorite watershed spot HERE.

Connect and share river ruminations or captured moments with us on FacebookTwitter and InstagramUse #huronriver50 to mark your posts!

Appreciate the River, Sunday July 12, by joining HRWC for some fun or heading to YOUR favorite spot with friends.


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