Posts Tagged ‘rainwater’

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.


Working for the Huron at Home

In addition to being the director at HRWC, I own a home. As a homeowner we’ve been trying to reduce our carbon footprint and save water and energy.IMG_0104

My work in the environmental field makes me familiar with the many things we can do at home to protect the environment. But it takes money and time to act on these tips. This past year we were finally able to work on a few “greening” home improvements, shared here for inspiration . . .

Rain Gardens

Last year we reached out to the Washtenaw County Water Resource Commissioner’s Office to help develop a plan to capture and infiltrate more of the runoff from our roof.  Years ago we installed a rain barrel but it is limited to 50 gallons per rain, with use in between rains.  I live in Ann Arbor on a pretty small parcel and there is not much room for rain storage and infiltration…or a garden.  But we were able to identify 2 different rain garden locations—one a swale along one side of the house and another in the front of the house.

After choosing plants and a design we installed the rain garden last spring—digging, mulching, and placing rocks and native plants strategically for rain water capture and aesthetics.

At first it didn’t look like much but as the summer and fall wore on the plants blossomed and grew.  We enjoyed running outside when it was raining to see the water gushing out of the gutter/downspout and in to the rain garden where it soaked in to the ground.  We found out that we have pretty sandy soils, unusual for this area, so the water soaked in quickly.  If anything, we can divert more runoff to this garden it was so “thirsty”.  I also learned, through trial and error, what was a weed and what wasn’t.  Staying on top of the weeding is the biggest challenge now that the rain garden is in.

Solar Panels

Last summer we also decided to install solar panels.  Since we had last looked in to solar panels the cost has come down substantially.  There are also substantial tax incentives in place this year that help with the price of the panels. We got quotes, talked with colleagues and friends who had installed panels and chose an installer, Homeland.  It took over 4 months until the system was up and running but in early November we were generating electricity!  We’re still getting familiar with how it all works but we have a nice looking box in the basement that hums when we are generating energy and a website to track our power generation.  We’re looking forward to the summer when the sun really shines to see how much energy we can generate and reduce our carbon.

For You!

If you are considering home improvements, or even smaller actions that help protect the environment, HRWC promotes many of them at our Take Action pages. Our booth at the Home, Garden & Lifestyle Show, March 18-20, will feature two sustainable landscaping experts providing free information on rain gardens and native plants: Susan Bryan leader of Washtenaw County’s Rain Garden Program (Saturday) and Drew Laithin of Creating Sustainable Landscapes (Friday/Sunday).

Susan also wrote the cover story for the Spring 2016 Huron River Report, sharing success installing private rain gardens in our Swift Run Project and offering some great tips for those considering DIY rain gardens. Take a look, its a good read and will inspire you to start a rain garden movement in your neighborhood.

News to Us


Volunteers collecting water quality data in Swift Run

Read articles on issues with water infrastructure in our watershed and Michigan-wide. Earlier this month the US Federal Court of Appeals made a ruling on a pesticide known to kill pollinators. Our water trail continues to make headlines. And the Swift Run creekshed is getting some special attention these days.

Ten surprising facts in Michigan’s new water strategy
In July, Michigan released a draft 30-year water strategy.  Much public discussion on the strategy has occurred since then. This is a blog written by Brad Garmon at the Michigan Environmental Commission that takes a little different look at the strategy.  Brad captures some startling statistics on the water assets Michigan owns and must steward.

Supervisor: Overuse causing discolored water in system
Lyon Township residents have been experiencing trouble with their drinking water. While the water remains safe to drink, some people are finding their water discolored. The township Supervisor attributes the color to iron in the water that occurs when backup wells are used to meet increased demand. The article highlights the issue of aging infrastructure with population growth and increasing water demand common throughout our watershed.

Michigan’s top 11 water trails named
The Huron River Water Trail was named one of the top water trails in Michigan by a public vote conducted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. But we knew that already didn’t we? Click through to see other awesome river destinations throughout the state.

Court: EPA Should Not Have Approved Bee-Killing Pesticide
A step in the right direction for the honeybee crisis. Bees and other pollinators have be in rapid decline. An agricultural chemical, sulfoxaflor, has been found to be one contributor to these declines. The lawsuit shines a spotlight on the role of federal regulators in this complex problem and will hopefully encourage more extensive testing of new chemicals before receiving EPA approval.

Swift Creek Improvements
HRWC’s Ric Lawson talks about a project we have underway to improve stormwater management and water quality in the Swift Run tributary of the Huron River.   Learn about the problems in Swift Run and the solutions HRWC, Washtenaw County and the City of Ann Arbor are supporting to improve the river.

Conservation Stewards Leadership Training

indian springsLooking 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.


Click here for details and to register.



Make A Stormdrain Mural at the Mayor’s Green Fair

Inspire River Protection With Art! Stormdrain Art at 2013 Green Fair

Come decorate the curbside connections to the Huron River! Ann Arbor artist David Zinn and Karim Motawi will lead the crowd in chalking four of our downtown stormdrain inlets into works of art. We provide the chalk, you bring the creativity!

When: Friday, June 13, 2014, 6-8pm

Where: The Ann Arbor Mayor’s Green Fair, at the Liberty and Main intersection and the Huron River Watershed Council booth in front of the Melting Pot.

Presented by HRWC in partnership with the 14th Annual Mayor’s Green Fair and the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission.

Stormdrain Art at 2013 Green FairWe depend on stormdrains to keep our streets from flooding during storms. Yet, these devices also direct litter and polluted rainwater straight into the Huron River. We’ll show and tell the stormdrain connection and recruit families to adopt their neighborhood stormdrains, keeping them for rain only by removing litter, leaves and other debris in the spring, summer, and fall months.

Can’t make it to the Green Fair? Do your part by Adopting A Stormdrain in your neighborhood . . . learn more about it HERE.


Real-Time Stream Flow and Weather Weirdness

These severe flow fluctuations kill a river ecosystem

With the huge rain last week and the flood warnings, I visited the U.S. Geologic Survey’s (USGS) real-time stream flow gages on the river to see how the river reacted .  In the Huron, we have 4 permanent USGS gages in the river that measure stream flow constantly. The sites are the Huron River near New Hudson, the Huron River near Hamburg, Mill Creek in Dexter, and Wall Street in Ann Arbor.  These gages allow us to see how the river responds to rain and snowmelt.  A slow, gradual rate of stream flow increase (and corresponding decrease) is indicative of a more natural and higher quality river with natural areas for infiltration.  An erratic rate of increase (and decrease) is indicative of a more impacted and degraded river where pavement and pipes prevail.

The USGS also has a map of real-time streamflow compared to historical streamflow for the day of the year for Michigan.  Only one of the sites on the Huron, that farthest up on the system, is “normal”, two other sites being “above normal” and the stream flow at Wall St. in Ann Arbor is “much above normal”.  Normal flow patterns change due to increased impervious surfaces such as roads and rooftops, a loss of natural areas such as wetlands, floodplains, and forests, and dams that alter the natural flow of the river. There may also be a regional variation in annual rain amounts.  

In this and coming decades, meteorologists project more intense storms for Michigan, warming and cooling periods in close succession, and an overall warming trend.  HRWC is working hard to restore the river and creeks to a more natural and healthy system so they can respond to the “weird” weather–taking up and storing more rain water in storms, slowly releasing the water in to the groundwater, creeks, and rivers over time to keep steady flows in drier weather–overall, allowing for a more dynamic system to respond to the extreme weather.  Examples of this kind of work include the recent protection of 40 acres of wetland in the watershed and in cumulative over 6,000 acres in Washtenaw County, the removal of Mill Pond Dam in Dexter, buffer ordinances passed in 4 watershed communities in the last 4 years, the installation of over 1300 rainbarrels and 2 dozen rain gardens,  and much more.

Without funding from the USGS and local government partners to maintain these gages, it would be far more difficult to “read” the river through stream flows. Unfortunately, the gage in Milford was discontinued in the past year due to tight budgets. More, not fewer, gages are what we need on the river.

Please join us in building resilient communities and watershed.  Visit our website at

Get with the Flow

I just recently finished the final editing on 6 plans to address impairments to the watershed in Washtenaw and Livingston counties. The problems we addressed in those plans were the things we spend most of our time here at the Council trying to address, namely excessive nutrients, degraded aquatic habitat and periodic bacterial contamination. Each plan is written to address the problem locally and remedial activities are recommended that addressed specific potential problem sources based on extensive monitoring and modeling. One theme cut across all the plans, however: FLOW.

Over the many years we have inhabited this watershed, we have altered the natural stream flows a little bit at a time. We’ve directly changed hydrology by building dams and straightening out channels. We’ve also affected the streams indirectly by hardening the ground surfaces and forcing storm runoff to head quickly to the stream channels rather than working through the soil (groundwater). We now know that this led to channel and streambank erosion, added nutrients, diminished in-stream habitat and washed wastes and pollutants directly into our waterways.

August 9 storm flows for Fleming and Swift Run Creeks

August 9 storm flows for Fleming and Swift Run Creeks. Precipitation rate is shown in purple as measured down the right axis.

I recently looked at one large storm in August to see what the response was in two neighboring tributaries (see figure). Thanks to conservation of natural cover, Fleming Creek has much less hardened (impervious) surface than does highly paved Swift Run. Their different responses to a large storm (2.5 inches) is stark. Swift Run rises to peaks almost immediately following downpours, that initially, despite its watershed being 6 times smaller than Fleming’s, reach nearly the same height. Within hours, the flow in Swift returns to where it was before the storm, while 3 days later Fleming has yet to do the same. It’s easy to understand, then, why Fleming has much lower pollutant levels and much better populations of stream life.

This is why we encourage, within the recent plans and elsewhere, greater investment in “Green Infrastructure” across the watershed. Look for more to come on this in the near future and ask what your community is doing to improve its green assets, save money in infrastructure cost, and help us restore our streams.

Save Water, Energy and Money with HRWC and CEC


The Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC) and Clean Energy Coalition (CEC) are teaming up to teach easy techniques and show affordable tools that can help a typical family of four save up to $300 annually on utility bills at a FREE Save Water, Save Energy “before work breakfast,” Tuesday, August 2, 8-9am.

The event is free and open to the public and will be held at the NEW Center, 1100 North Main Street, Ann Arbor. Participants will get a coupon for $5 off a Water EcoKit. Coffee and bagels will be provided.

REGISTER HERE or contact Pam Labadie at, (734)769-5123 x 602.

The typical American uses 99 gallons of water a day for activities such as washing clothes, bathing, toilet-flushing and cooking. Water heating alone is easily the second or third largest energy expenditure in American homes. Efficient fixtures like low flow showerheads and water-saving habits like turning of the tap while brushing teeth are cost-effective ways to reduce water use and save money on utility bills. These and more tools featured at the breakfast can help everyone save the energy that goes to pump, treat and heat water, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and keep more water in our rivers, lakes, wetlands and underground aquifers.

HRWC’s new Saving Water Saves Energy Project is funded by the  Masco Corporation Foundation.

Also check out HRWC’s  Tips and Tools on how to save water.

Native Plant Gardening in the Summertime

Here it is! Your opportunity to learn about using native plants in your landscape at the height of the season.

Utilizing native plants in your yard can add a great deal of beauty as well as help the environment. Blue Flag Iris

Our friends at the Huron Arbor Cluster of the Stewardship Network are hosting a series of classes on Wednesday evenings (7-9pm) in August (Aug 3-31) at the Leslie Science & Nature Center in Ann Arbor, taught by five local experts.

It’s a native plant extravaganza with each class covering such topics as the benefits of native plants; how to plan well for the easiest installation; about all the wonderful choices you have with native plants; how rainwater gardening can be beautiful, ecological, and economical; and what maintenance you will need to plan for and keep your new gardens beautiful!

You can REGISTER for individual classes $10/15 each  or the whole series $40/60 (discount if you are a member of the Stewardship Network).

I took this series of classes when they were offered a few years ago in March and they were AMAZING! The experts were incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic and shared some terrific resources. If you have any inkling of trying native plants in your garden, or creating a rain garden, you really don’t want to miss this.

Learn more about NATIVE PLANTS or RAIN GARDENS from HRWC.

Stormwater Improvements at Ann Arbor’s West Park

Learn more at the grand opening, this Sunday, June 19.

For years, maybe even decades, HRWC has been working to improve the water quality from Allen’s Creek, draining much of the West side of Ann Arbor, AND to reduce the volume of water reaching the creek.  We are limited in our options due to the almost complete build-out of the land.  Some of the best opportunities lie on or under public land–parks, schools, government buildings, etc.

An example of a stormwater improvement project on a city park is wrapping up and holding a grand opening.  This Sunday, June 19th, the City of Ann Arbor invites you to the opening of West Park from noon to 4 p.m. Activities will include a ribbon cutting ceremony, guided tours, sculpture unveiling, a visit by the Ann Arbor Police Department, Ann Arbor Civic Band performance, tree plantings, musical entertainment, raffle drawing and more.

The focus of the project is stormwater management and improving water quality.  The site now features a series of wetlands and bioswales as well as the installation of underground structures to capture and filter stormwater from Allen Creek. Walks and talks highlighting the new stormwater features in the park are scheduled for 12:20, 1:40 and 2:20 p.m. on Sunday.

New park amenities include a boardwalk over a wetland water feature, improved access from Huron Street, a new basketball court relocated out of the floodway, parking lot renovations, reconstruction of the open play field, a plaza and low retaining walls to provide seating in front of the band shell, and new pathways through the park. Two sculptures, designed by local artist Traven Pelletier, in cooperation with the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission, sit on the ends of the retaining wall, adding a whimsical flair to the seating area.

This event is free and open to the public. West Park is located close to downtown Ann Arbor between Miller and Huron Streets and Chapin and Seventh Streets.

The project was funded through the Michigan State Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the Park Maintenance and Capital Improvements Millage, in cooperation with the Office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner.

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