Posts Tagged ‘Lakes’
We glimpse the future under a changed climate
Weeks of air temperatures above 90 degrees F have lots of people talking about extreme weather and the role of climate change. Such extreme heat yields myriad human and environmental effects. A previously unexplored effect is the stress that court-established water levels on lakes will have on the Huron River system under drought conditions that are projected by climate scientists to occur with greater frequency over the next 30-50 years.
State laws at odds
Michigan law prohibits reduced river flows under Section 324.301 of the 1994 Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act. The section states that diminishing an inland lake or stream is prohibited without a permit. ”Diminish” means to reduce flows to a creek, as happens when gates of a lake level control structure are closed.
However, read a bit further and you’ll see that Michigan law allows for reduced river flow under Section 324.307. Under this law, lake residents are allowed to obtain a regulated lake level by building a lake-level control structure that maintains a lake’s water level while reducing flow to downstream lakes and rivers. Lake residents are motivated to pursue lake levels to make it easier to boat, recreate in the lake, and build docks that they can reliably use despite changes in weather conditions. Many lakes in the watershed, including in-line lakes that are impoundments of the Huron River, have court-ordered lake levels.
Lake residents are able to obtain these designations through a process with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Once a lake level is set by a judge, then the county government (often the Drain or Water Resources Commissioner) is responsible for altering the outflow of the water from these lakes via structures so that the the lake is able to maintain a constant depth. Dams are one type of structure used to control flows. Other structures like the one pictured above also are present in the watershed.
Typically, though not always, the DEQ gives section 307 precedence over section 301, meaning that permitted lake-control structures are allowed to diminish the downstream lake or stream in order to maintain their lake levels.
Keeping a lake level in drought conditions
Maintaining a court-ordered lake level may go unnoticed during periods of normal or wet weather. But this manipulation of a natural system has the potential to stress the ecology of the lake during drought periods. Since the county is obligated to maintain a certain water level it is possible that they would need to “hoard” incoming water and only allow reduced flow — or even no flow — downstream. The graphics below show a simple input and output system to illustrate the issue.
Under typical flow conditions, the amount of water entering a lake will equal the amount of water leaving the lake, plus any additions from rain, and minus any water lost through evaporation. Under drought conditions, the amount of water entering the lake is already reduced from low stream flows, no additional input is provided from rain, and the amount of evaporation can be significantly high. As a result, it is possible that the county would have to close the gates altogether to maintain the lake’s court-ordered water level, and no water or very reduced flows will reach downstream to keep the fish alive or provide water to the next lake or river section downstream.
How can the situation be improved?
For the waterfront resident
Given the current hot and dry conditions in southeastern Michigan, waterfront residents likely are seeing reduced water flow especially if living downstream of a lake with a court-mandated lake level. Understandably, this imbalance of “water power” may feel unfair and residents could be looking for a fast and easy solution to secure more water for their section of the river or lake. Such a solution doesn’t exist. Aggrieved residents have sought justice through our legal system. Typically, these cases are eventually dropped since droughts end and rain, and consequently higher water flow, mute the problem.
Yet, droughts are predicted to become more common and more severe over the next several decades, and we may see a resurgence of court cases.
A measure of relief may be found in the operation of the structures. Some lakes have an ungated pipe or dam bypass that drains downstream, so that some amount of water is always flowing downstream, even when the dam’s gates are completely closed. However, such a bypass is not a requirement in obtaining the establishing a legal lake level. Building this in a requirement would be an important and wonderful safeguard to ensure that some level of water is always going downstream.
And for the river
The DEQ has the responsibility to examine the problem with stream flow as it relates to drought and mandated lake levels. In particular, giving the priority of maintaining lake levels over allowing for run-of-the-river flows is dangerous for the survival of downstream ecosystems when facing drought situations.
After speaking with DEQ staff, I am happy to report that the issue is on their radar and under consideration. HRWC will keep an eye on this complex issue at the state level, and work with local partners to find workable solutions to this increasingly urgent problem.
Michigan’s Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program enters its 39th field season!
One of my jobs at the Huron River Watershed Council is to serve as a manager for the state of Michigan’s volunteer lake monitoring program, the Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program (CLMP). The CLMP has been around since 1974… that is an impressive length of time!
Since that first year, the thousands of volunteers across Michigan have:
- Taken 92,185 secchi disk measurements
- Grabbed 4,274 water samples for phosphorus analysis
- Filtered 5,956 water samples for chlorophyll
- Made 2,023 observations of the dates that ice melted off their lakes
- Measured dissolved oxygen and temperature 52,290 times and created 3,486 dissolved oxygen and temperature lake profiles
- Searched 17 lakes for exotic plants and mapped out full plant communities on 12 lakes.
All of this delicious data is entered by our volunteers and staff into a publicly accessible and searchable database!
In total, 827 inland lake basins have been monitored through one test or another through the CLMP. Michigan lake volunteers have contributed about 57,400 hours of work, not counting the time spent driving samples to State offices and going to trainings. Assuming field technicians across this time period would make an average of $9/hour, that means these volunteers have donated well over a half a million dollars in labor.
If you live on a lake, HRWC wants you to care for it and do what you can to keep it healthy. The first step is to figure out what is going on beneath the surface, and the CLMP can help you do this. It is not too late to sign up for the entry parameters: secchi disk and summer phosphorus. Register now for the 2012 field season!
Recently, I went to Washtenaw County Circuit Court about a lake level for Portage and Base (aka Baseline) Lakes in Washtenaw and Livingston County. Under Michigan’s Lake Level Control Act, residents who live on the lake can petition a judge to set a legal lake level. Yes, Legal! The County Drain Commissioner (or now know as the Water Resources Commissioner) has to keep the lake at the court ordered level. These lake levels are controlled by dams and their operators.
Most lakes that are formed by a dam for recreational purposes have a winter and summer level set by a judge. Higher in the summer for docks and boat traffic and lower in the winter to protect docks and shorelines from ice and damage.
The Court case I attended was to establish a winter lake level for Portage and Base Lakes. Standard practice was to lower the lake level in the winter, but there wasn’t a court set winter level. The Livingston and Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioners petitioned the court to set a winter level 15-18 inches below the summer level. Some residents wanted the lake to be lowered 30 inches and the MDNR was opposed to a winter lake lowering.
In terms of this petition, HRWC understands the balance of interests in setting lakes levels—fisheries, homeowners, recreational enthusiasts, ecologists, and more. We also know the impacts of changing lake levels on the Huron River and its lakes. While a river and its watershed is a changing and dynamic system, there are boundaries to how far those variations should go. Three feet is too much. While scientists argue for no lowering of the lake level in winter, this is not publically acceptable at this time. Given past practices and expectations, a 15 inch winter draw down is the best strategy.
Why is three feet too much? Although drawdowns can produce relatively weed free conditions for short periods of time, over the long-term, frequent drawdowns may result in less diverse plants and native species and more monocultures or invasive nuisance species. Drawdowns resulting in bare sediment favor those species that colonize the fastest. Not surprisingly, these tend to be non-native nuisance species such as Eurasion watermilfoiil and Curlyleaf Pondweed. Over time, the drawdown can promote the replacement of a diverse native plant assemblage by monocultures of invasive exotic species….nuisance species that then result in lakewide herbicide and pesticide applications.
I agree with the direction of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to limit the range of seasonal lake level controls as we’ve seen the detrimental effects of dry spring rivers. A gradual draw down and increase should be best practice for dam operators with the goal of minimizing extreme flows and providing a base flow. In terms of future policy and changes to the lake level control act, we strongly support a better quantification of minimum river flows for aquatic habitat and fisheries.
We did it!
We are celebrating yesterday’s passage of Michigan phosphorus fertilizer legislation that will go a long way toward protecting the Huron River and its lakes and streams from nuisance algae blooms that can result from excess phosphorus entering our freshwaters. The Huron River Watershed Council began advocating for this legislation eight years ago with Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner Janis Bobrin and the City of Ann Arbor. THANK YOU to the bill’s primary sponsor Rep. Terry Brown, and Rep. Rebekah Warren, Chair of the House Great Lakes and Environment Committee, and the state legislators who voted in favor of the legislation 2:1.
The bill will amend Part 85 (Fertilizers) of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act to do the following (partial list):
– Prohibit the use of fertilizer containing available phosphate, beginning January 1, 2012, except to correct a phosphorus deficiency or establish new turf grass, or by trained staff at a golf course, and require the Director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) to approve a training program.
– Establish regulations for the application of any fertilizer near water (a 10 ft buffer will be in effect where no fertilizer can be applied) , as well as the cleaning of a fertilizer spreader.
– Require a person who released fertilizer on an impervious surface to take certain actions, and prohibit the application of fertilizer on frozen or saturated soil.
– Provide that the preemption of local fertilizer ordinances under Part 85 would not apply to an ordinance in effect on the bill’s effective date that regulated or prohibited the application to turf of fertilizer containing available phosphate.
Do you live on a lake, the river or a stream? Have erosion problems? There’s now a list of professionals who are certified in natural shoreline solutions through the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership. These professionals have attained proficiency in natural shoreline stabilization techniques through training and certification. A number of them work right here in the Huron River watershed. We hope that this list will continue to grow.
All swimmers must register in advance – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sign in is at 8:30 a.m Swim of Baseline Lake starts at 9 a.m.
Continental Breakfast served after the swim with plenty of hot coffee/tea/hot chocolate/fruit/bagels/muffins.
The club is located at 8010 Strawberry Lake Road in Dexter, Michigan, on Baseline Lake; 25 minutes northwest of Ann Arbor. Here is a link to a map to help you find the UM Sailing Club.
The parking at the Sailing club is somewhat limited, so we are strongly encouraging car pooling for our Ann Arbor folks. We can meet here in the NEW Parking Lot at 8 a.m., jump into cars, and safely leave cars here in NEW parking lot. (NEW is 1100 N Main St, Ann Arbor).
Our thanks to Liz Elling, Baseline Lake residents Melinda Colquitt and Suzanne Van Appledorn and UM Sailing Club member Donna Snyder for their help making this event happen every year. Thanks to our paddlers Bob Robertson, Deborah Wolter, Anita Lamour, Lee Green, Johnathan Lutz, John Stewart, Ric Lawson and Pater Margules.
The Michigan Clean Water Corps (MiCorps) is a state program that trains and uses volunteers to collect ecological information from streams and lakes. In 2004, at the onset of the program, the State of Michigan picked HRWC to lead MiCorps, acknowledging our reputation of excellence in the field of volunteer monitoring. HRWC partners with the Great Lakes Commission to train groups and individuals, develop resources on volunteer monitoring, distribute state grants, and host the collected data on a publically available website (www.micorps.net).
In 2009, HRWC and the Great Lakes Commission distributed $50,000 in state grants to stream groups and trained them in same techniques that are used by our Adopt-a-Stream program. These groups are scattered across the state, and include the Clinton River Watershed Council, Superior Watershed Partnership, and Trout Unlimited. Since the beginning of the program we have trained and assisted 22 stream groups.
Through MiCorps, HRWC also works with the Michigan Lakes and Stream Associations to lead a program that uses volunteers to monitor lakes across the state. The volunteers are usually people that live on the lake and have a vested interest in its health. MiCorps volunteers annually monitor more than 200 lakes across the state in parameters like phosphorus, transparency, and chlorophyll.
In the sunshine on May 3, a group of contractors and landscape professionals topped off their Michigan Certified Natural Shoreline Professional Training Course by restoring 100 feet of Ford Lake’s shoreline. Coir logs made of biodegradable coconut fibers were staked in place to reduce wave action and protect the seedlings of native plants. Switchgrass , Bulrush, Blue Flag Iris, Black-Eyed Susans and other deep-rooted native plants will replace the lawn, and shield the land from continued erosion. JFNew Ecological Consultants worked to design the project along with the collaborating partners Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti Township, the Middle Huron Stormwater Advisory Group and HWRC.
The Michigan Certified Natural Shoreline Professional (MCNSP) program is a function of the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership, which aims to promote natural shoreline landscaping to protect inland lakes throughout the state. This initiative helps landscaping professionals and marine contractors develop skills in bioengineering a shoreline control, which can be used on both private and public lands in place of the traditional steel or stone break-walls. Natural shoreline restoration can help prevent shoreline erosion, reduce runoff pollution, promote ecological functioning, and provide a more beautiful landscape for people and wildlife to enjoy.
These newly certified professionals will be adding new knowledge and skills acquired through the course to provide natural shoreline restoration services through their businesses. Over 90% of the course participants expect the new certification to open up new business opportunities for them.
Riparian property owners interested in natural shoreline restoration can contact HRWC for more information.