Posts Tagged ‘Stormwater’
This edition of News to Us starts with a success story and we all like success stories. Learn also about the islands of plastic polluting our Great Lakes. We share a few opportunities to attend public events on flooding and fracking. Read also a refreshing perspective on approaching river conservation by finding common ground among individual objectives.
A Tern for the Better: The Detroit River Comeback The common tern has returned to Belle Isle after a 50 year absence. The refuge on Belle Isle is a bright spot showing what can be when we invest in wildlife habitat even in the most urban of places. Read about the successes of our neighbors to the north.
Polluting Plastic Waste Invades Great Lakes: Pacific Garbage Patch May Have a Rival This article brings to light a less often cited, yet major source of pollution in the Great Lakes. Plastics in our waters have implications for birds, fish and other organisms in the food chain. Consider finding ways to keep plastics out of our waterways like switching to reusable bags and cleaning debris and trash away from stormdrains that carry plastics directly to our waterways during rain events.
Ann Arbor kicks off $1.2M study of sewer system, footing drain program and basement sewage backups It is the wet season again. Spring rains rejuvenate our rivers, groundwater, forests and landscaping. But for some households the rains can mean problems when water ends up in basements or sits on roads. Ann Arbor is holding a public meeting to provide updates on ongoing efforts to reduce damaging flooding including an assessment of the sanitary sewer system and footing drain disconnection program.
Sunday Brunch: A tiny trickle turns into a torrent of conservation issues for Michigan This blog from Helen Taylor, State Director of the Nature Conservancy in Michigan, shares a nice perspective on river protection. She encourages individuals and groups to consider the “whole-system” rather than a more personal view of the river with an eye on shared goals rather than win-lose propositions—a healthy lens through which to envision the path to a healthy river serving many purposes for many interests.
University of Michigan to hold town hall on future of fracking in the state For those interested in learning more about the practice of fracking to extract natural gas, University of Michigan is hosting a forum on the topic this evening. As far as we are aware, there are no plans for fracking in the watershed at this time but there is very active debate on this topic at the national and state level.
Interested in chasing storms?
The City of Ann Arbor is offering a unique opportunity for residents to participate in collecting needed data as part of the recently-launched Stormwater Model Calibration and Analysis project, which is the first step in evaluating and recommending improvements to the City’s stormwater system. (Read more about the project here.)
As part of the City of Ann Arbor’s “Citizen Storm Corps,” you would be the eyes on the ground, recording and submitting visual observations from one or more of the Large Event Data Gathering (LEDG) locations where the City is monitoring surface flooding. (See a map of LEDG locations here.) “Large Events” is the technical term for a big rain storm!
Volunteering is easy, fun, and will not require much time. If you can take a photo and use a map, you’re qualified! The City anticipates that over the next few years, Storm Corps volunteers will be asked to submit observations 1-3 times after significant rain events – although more frequent participation would be most welcome, if you choose.
The City of Ann Arbor is hosting several orientation sessions for people who may be interested in serving as part of the Citizen Storm Corps:
- Tuesday, March 19: 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. at the Downtown Library multipurpose room
- Tuesday, March 19: 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. at the Traverwood Library
- Thursday, March 21: 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. at the Downtown Library multipurpose room
No need to RSVP – please feel free to join at your convenience during any of the above blocks of time (the actual orientation will only take about a half hour). Also, please note that attending an orientation does not obligate you to participate – come by, check it out, and see what you think!
Finally, if you are not able to attend one of the sessions, but think you might be interested in volunteering in the Citizen Storm Corps, simply contact Jen Lawson at the City of Ann Arbor (734.794.6430 x43735, firstname.lastname@example.org). She will help you identify a convenient location, and orient you to the materials via phone or email.
- A beautiful Huron River, where it crosses Zeeb Road. credit: John Lloyd
- Dave Wilson samples Woods Creek! credit: Nate Antieau
- Digging through the muck of Port Creek. credit: Mark Schaller
- A quick break for the camera! credit: John Lloyd
- "Do you see anything?" credit: John Lloyd
Bring on the “brrr!”
On January 26, 110 intrepid volunteers faced the harsh winter elements and spread across the Huron River watershed in search of stoneflies, which are only found in clean and healthy streams. Everyone made it back safe, which is the number one priority, and it seemed that a good time was had by all.
In 2012 the Stonefly Search volunteers had to deal with melting snow and flood conditions, but this year we had a deep freeze in the week preceeding the Search, and most of the teams had to break their way through the ice in order to sample the stream macroinvertebrates. Despite this challenging problem, stoneflies were found in great abundance at many locations. The results are in, and are given in this pdf report.
1. The status quo is being maintained for most of the sampling sites. Sites that have had stoneflies in the past are still able to support them, and sites that were not healthy enough to hold stoneflies still do not have them. That being said, we did see a few changes this year which are detailed below.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Traver Creek is a stream in north Ann Arbor that has typical urban stream problems- in particular, flashy flows and runoff, oil, and sediment from roads. In the past couple of years, part of the train track berm washed out and released a large plume of sediment to Traver Creek. However, we were pleased that both of the sites sampled on Traver Creek this year turned up stoneflies. The sites were both upstream and downstream of the wash-out.
Next on the horizon!
Interested in doing more with our macroinvertebrate searches? Think about becoming a trained leader or collector by coming to the next training on March 24. This is an extremely important job because every team needs both a trained leader and collector, and we often do not have enough to meet the demand. Sign up for the training!
2012 was a dry year for the watershed. No significant storms occurred after mid-April, and very little precipitation fell at all through the entire month of July. Flows in the river and tributary streams hit record lows in late July and early August. What effect did this dry spring and summer have on the water quality in the watershed? Results from HRWC’s Water Quality Monitoring Program help answer this question.
The program had a banner year in 2012 with the greatest number of volunteers (49) trained and deployed to the most sites (36) across three counties. HRWC added 14 new sites in 2012 alone as the program expanded into Wayne County. This diligent corps of dedicated volunteers collected nearly 500 sets of water quality samples for analysis at municipal labs administered by the cities of Ann Arbor and Brighton and the Ypsilanti Communities Utility Authority (YCUA).
The state of Michigan does not have a numerical standard for phosphorus levels, but 50 µg/l is used for area lakes as a level to stay below in order to avoid serious algae blooms and fish kills. Concentrations of total phosphorus (TP) in monitored streams were roughly the same, on average, as the past two years. Wayne County streams (which include some that drain directly to the Detroit River) had the highest mean concentration at 100 µg/l, while Washtenaw County streams averaged 80 µg/l, and Livingston County streams were much lower at 30 µg/l. The portion of the watershed in Livingston County retains more wetland area (wetlands filter phosphorus), and a smaller developed or urbanized area than in Washtenaw or Wayne County. Mean stream flow, or discharge, was much less in 2012 than in previous years resulting in an overall “load” of phosphorus (i.e., the total mass of phosphorus moving downstream over a given period of time) from these streams that was lower than in previous years. Also, sediments (measured as Total Suspended Sediments or TSS) were slightly lower on average this year. Fewer storms means less erosion, or soil runoff, which may have also helped to keep phosphorus levels down, since phosphorus readily attaches to soil particles.
Bacteria Still a Health Concern
Bacteria levels, as measured by Eschericia coli, continue to be high in several areas of the watershed during 2012. Levels regularly exceeded state standards for human health in most monitored tributary streams in Washtenaw and Wayne counties. Notable exceptions were Woods Creek, Fleming Creek, and the Huron River upstream of Ann Arbor. Efforts to identify specific sources of bacteria in Honey Creek in Scio Township were not particularly fruitful. Bacteria counts were high throughout the streams of Honey Creek, and genetic tracking showed that a wide variety of animals contributes to the problem (including humans).
Stormwater Runoff Problem Persists
While the lack of major storms this season may have reduced the overall amount of erosion and other runoff pollution, tributary streams continue to exhibit unnatural flows. Streams throughout Wayne County (with the exception of Woods Creek) and the urbanized areas of Washtenaw County exhibited much higher peak flows following storms than would be expected from the size of their watersheds, and the flows returned to low flow much more quickly. Notably, at the driest points in July and August, some smaller creeks stopped flowing altogether. Typically, unaltered perennial streams should continue to receive sufficient groundwater in-flow even through the drought experienced in 2012.
Some of these flow characteristics also led to dissolved oxygen levels that were below state standards set to protect aquatic life. The streams in question are ones that were severely channelized (straightened and deepened), and the low water levels isolated sections from in-flow of oxygen-rich water, causing them to stagnate for long periods. Bugs, fish and other aquatic life will return to these creeks as flow returns, but they will have a difficult time sustaining a healthy, diverse population over the long term with such periodic oxygen starvation. While a number of programs and projects to reduce stormwater runoff are encouraging, these results suggest there is still a long way to go.
The Water Quality Monitoring Program is funded by local government agencies through HRWC partnerships for stormwater and watershed management.
The Washtenaw County Rain Garden program has been building and planting rain gardens for 7 years, and in that time, they have learned a thing or two about what makes them successful. They are offering Master Rain Gardener training beginning this month. While I have not taken the class myself, I have seen the work of some of the graduates, and their gardens inspired my own efforts at home.
Rain Gardens provide working Green Infrastructure for home owners to clean and cool stormwater so that our streams and rivers run clean. Stormwater runoff is a major source of pollution, and rain gardens can help address the problem. Anyone can plant one in their own back (or front) yard. Visit the Master Rain Gardener Hall of Fame (photos).
Help spread the word in the tradition of the MSU Extension’s Master Gardener program by becoming a Master Rain Gardener Volunteer.
Master Rain Gardener Training Class
Wednesday mornings 9:30am-12:30, January 16 – February 13, 2013.
Attendees must attend all five classes, and plant a rain garden to receive their Master Rain Gardener “Blue Thumb” certificate.
Location: 705 N. Zeeb, MSU Extension Classroom
Cost: $80 (Scholarships available)
Instructors: Harry Sheehan, Shannan Gibb-Randall, RLA, Susan Bryan, MLA
To register, visit the Master Rain Gardener information page.
Climate adaptation is any action taken that reduces the vulnerability of natural communities and the built environment to the impacts of climate change. For example, if we are going to get larger storms, what do we need to do to our stormwater practices and infrastructure to reduce the chances of flooding or pipe or dam failure? If warmer air temperatures mean we are more susceptible to a new forest pest or pathogen, what do we do to reduce tree loss? These are some of the questions we are considering, along with water resource professionals from throughout the watershed, in our Making Climate Resilient Communities project.
We are not alone in our efforts to adapt to changes in climate. There are communities, agencies and organizations throughout the Great Lakes Region that are engaged in efforts to determine courses of action in response to climate change. Those of us who are working in this arena are pioneering a new field and can serve as a resource to others.
Recently, EcoAdapt, an organization focused on facilitating climate adaptation, released a report: The State of Climate Change Adaptation in the Great Lakes Region. The report provides an overview of climate change in the region, shares the results of a survey to water resource professionals capturing adaptation activities and reflects on common challenges and opportunities to push the needle forward on climate adaptation.
HRWC’s Climate Resilient Communities and Saving Water Saves Energy projects stand proudly among the 57 case studies highlighted in the report (pg 94). You will also find other examples from our watershed including the efforts of the City of Ann Arbor (pg 103) and the Great Lakes Adaptation Assessment for Cities project that has selected Ann Arbor as one of it’s assessment cities (pg 142). This report, along with many other adaptation resources can be found on CAKE (Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange) website.
A new build out report commissioned by Webster Township will help the township guide future development in a way that preserves its rural character and natural beauty.
The township commissioned Sarah Mills, a University of Michigan doctoral student at the School of Urban and Regional Planning, to perform the study, which shows the expected future level of residential and commercial development given existing allowable land uses in the township’s master plan and zoning ordinance. The study then describes several alternative “build out” scenarios given different changes to the township’s policies.
Under current policies, the township can expect to see a tripling of households, from 2,306 to 6,830. A build out study conducted by HRWC in 1992 showed similar results. Both studies measured resulting impervious surfaces, which is a leading indicator of water quality. Arms Creek, whose watershed is entirely within Webster Township, is currently a healthy creek with very little impervious surfaces covering the lands draining into it. Only about 5% of the creek’s watershed is covered by hard surfaces like roads, driveways, rooftops, or parking lots. The pattern of future development as predicted by current policies would cover up to 15% of the creek’s watershed with impervious surfaces.
However, under various alternative scenarios, using certain zoning tools designed to allow future development to occur, but in a more compact way, impervious surfaces can remain at a healthy level. The most effective of these tools included the use of transfer of development rights (TDR), where development at higher densities is transferred to areas where the community can accommodate increased development, and away from farming and natural areas where the community wishes to preserve rural character. HRWC conducted a study of TDR which also reached similar conclusions about its effectiveness at keeping impervious surface low and preserving water quality.
The township will examine all the alternatives described in the study, and they plan to use the study as a guide in developing policies that will maintain their community’s rural character as well as the health of Arms Creek.
The future of fish
This past week I had the opportunity to attend a two-day workshop exploring the connections between streams, climate change, and fish populations. The centerpiece of this workshop was a climate change-fish vulnerability model developed by a partnership between the US Geological Survey (USGS), Michigan State University, and state agencies in Michigan, New York, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. This model makes predictions of how likely stream fish populations are to change under a range of climate change scenarios. The information can be used by water resource managers trying to understanding which fish and which streams are most at risk from climate change.
Nuts and bolts of the fish vulnerability model
Global circulation models (GCMs) are used by climate scientists to make predictions about how the Earth’s climate is going to change in the future. There are a wide variety of GCMs, all based on differing assumptions, and as a result they produce different results in terms of the predicted rates of climate change. Interestingly, all of the models do share some commonalities:
- The Earth is warming
- Winter is going to warm more than the summer
- Winters will be wetter
- The northern US will warm more than the south
- Inland areas will warm more than along coastlines
- Extreme events will be more common
The fish vulnerability model produced by the USGS and its partners uses ten of these differing GCMs and combines their climate predictions with predictions of fish presence and absence. An example is the best way to show how this works. Let’s say a particular stream holds brook trout currently. Due to temperature increases and changes in water flow by 2050, this stream is predicted to have lost the fish under GCMs #1-7. However, under GCMs #8-10, the fish is still expected to remain in the creek. Therefore, 7 out of the 10 climate change scenarios predict that the fish will be eliminated from this creek by the year 2050. The fish’s vulnerability to climate-change is said to be 70% for this particular stream.
The USGS and its partners ran this model across the Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota for 14 species of fish (i.e. brook trout, brown trout, mottled sculpin, northern pike, smallmouth bass, common carp, etc). For each fish and on every stream in these states, they have produced a predicted vulnerability for that species- the percentage chance that the fish will disappear in the future.
If the model predicts a fish to be missing from a stream under all 10 of the GCMs, this means that even under lenient climate change scenarios, this fish will disappear and managing this stream for the preservation of the fish is most likely to be a lost cause. The predicted vulnerability of this fish in this stream is 100%.
If the model predicts a fish to be present in a stream under all 10 GCMs, this indicates that this fish is very resilient against climate change, or that the stream is not expected to change much, even under the most severe climate change scenarios. Managers can leave these streams alone; the predicted vulnerability of this fish in this stream is 0%.
However, if the model predicts that under some GCMs the fish will leave, and under other GCMs that the fish will stay, then water resource managers have something to work with. This model result means that the stream may be borderline for the fish in the future, and managers have a chance to keep the fish there if they can work towards making the stream more “climate change resilient”. Management activities should center on promoting rainfall infiltration and groundwater recharge. Activities like building rain gardens, maintaining and expanding our natural areas, and reducing the amount of impervious surface will provide greater opportunity for rain to percolate into the ground rather than running overland to the stream.
Groundwater is the key to climate change resiliency because in the summer when fish populations are most stressed due to high water temperatures and low rainfall, groundwater inputs maintain flow and cooler temperatures. Groundwater temperature is usually the same as the average annual air temperature because of the length of time the water spends underground. Therefore in the summer, groundwater is relatively cold as compared to surface water. Also, groundwater is released consistently to the stream, unlike sporadic rainfall, thus giving constant flow even under drought conditions.
The USGS is in the process of developing a web-based map to display their model results so that the information can be readily used by water resource managers. This web-based map and the model results are not ready for public consumption, but I will post a link from this blog when it is.
Several new redevelopment projects are moving forward in the City of Ann Arbor that should make river lovers happy.
The City has formed a new task force to develop a vision for connecting North Main Street and the Huron River. It’s first project is to create a plan for turning the old fleet services garage at 721 N. Main into a greenway park.
The task force will also address opportunities to enhance pedestrian and bicycle connections between downtown, Bandemer Park, and Huron River Drive, as well new uses for the riverside MichCon property off Broadway Street, where DTE Energy is undertaking a major cleanup project.
Other potential projects include creating a greenway over and around the currently underground Allen Creek along its historical creekbed through the west side of Ann Arbor.
Across town, the DEQ recently announced a $1 million brownfield redevelopment grant to help return the former Georgetown Mall in Ann Arbor to commercial use. The long-vacant mall will become a bicycle and pedestrian friendly center, with both shops and apartments, as well as a small park. The redevelopment will also feature new stormwater management controls and underground parking.
How do these activities help the Huron?
Here are the reasons why redevelopment, or infill, projects, and projects that create people-friendly amenities are good for the river:
1. Developments occurring on existing urban properties do not add impervious surfaces to our watershed. The river will not know the difference between the old Georgetown Mall site and the new mixed use development. In fact, it will enjoy improvements due to the new stormwater controls to accompany the new development.
2. These projects create opportunities for people to live and work within the city, a welcome improvement over the land-consuming low density pattern of development that has characterized residential and commercial growth in Michigan over the past decade. The best way to keep the river healthy is to create livable, compact communities that result in the least amount of impervious surface in the watershed, and to keep natural lands natural.
3. Creating greenways and connecting people to the great recreation and scenic resource the river provides brings people not only to the river (thus increasing their appreciation for and the importance of protecting the river), but also to the city, where they will be attracted to it as a place to live and work.
A section of Traver Creek that runs through Leslie Park Golf Course in Ann Arbor will be reconstructed later this year to improve and restore many of its natural features. The City of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner are funding the project to address a section of the creek that has eroded over time.
The project partners are holding a public event to discuss the draft design tonight, April 30 at 7:30 pm at the Leslie Science Center. The meeting is open to all.
The project will also reconstruct portions of ponds at either end of the creek section. Those ponds will be deepened to provide more rainwater storage capacity and be redesigned to provide sediment settling areas.
Eroded stream banks will be reshaped and repaired, and a new floodplain area will be created along a portion of the creek. This “two-stage” design provides streamside wetlands that slow flood waters down and filter out nutrients and pollutants. Additional wetland areas will also be recreated where there is evidence of their previous existence. The wetlands provide further stormwater filtration capacity as well as wildlife habitat. A secondary stream channel will also be re-established where it used to run prior to construction of the golf course. The whole project will be vegetated with native plant materials.
The project will begin following the end of the golf season and should be mostly completed by the spring start of the 2013 golf season. HRWC are monitoring the site before and after construction to measure its impact. Benefits should include runoff volume, phosphorus and sediment reductions to address problems identified in watershed management plans.