Posts Tagged ‘Stormwater’
News to Us covers a diversity of topics this month including articles that chronicle two significant threats to local water resources – stormwater runoff and coal tar pavement sealcoat, and three (yea!) bright spots highlighting solutions to – wastewater treatment, microbead contamination and global climate change.
Healing fractured water: How Michigan’s roadways impact our waterways. In Oakland County alone there is “nearly 2,700 miles of county roads that average 24 feet wide. With an estimated average annual rainfall of 30 inches, these roads generate over five billion gallons of stormwater runoff in just one year.” Learn more about roadway runoff, the issues and solutions (including mention of Ann Arbor’s Green Streets policy) in this article that is part of a series on the Great Lakes water cycle.
Coal tar sealants: Challenges ahead. This article provides a good overview of the issues associated with coal tar and other high PAH pavement sealcoats that residents commonly use to maintain and beautify asphalt surfaces. This is an issue HRWC has been educating our partners and supporters about because of the significant water quality and human health impacts. Read this article and visit our webpage www.hrwc.org/coaltar to learn what you can do.
Dexter Brewery Turning Wastewater To Energy. The City of Dexter and Northern United Brewing Company have come up with an innovative solution to a big water problem. Northern United has invested in a state of the art onsite wastewater treatment system that turns wastewater into energy and reusable water. This is allowing the company to expand its water use and treatment needs without overburdening Dexter’s municipal wastewater treatment plant.
Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris. Reason for celebration is the agreement reached at the Paris Climate negotiations last week. The last set of negotiations in Copenhagen 6 years ago ended in gridlock and a lot of disappointing finger pointing with nations shirking responsibility, including our own. While there are significant weaknesses to the Paris accord, nearly every country signed the commitment including the U.S. and China, the world’s leading emitters. Many are viewing the accord the beginning of a global shift away from a fossil fuel based economy. As global citizens we need to keep up the pressure on our countries to hold to their commitments.
U.S. House approves bill to ban plastic microbeads. News to Us has been tracking the issue of plastic microbead pollution in water for some time now. Good news on this front as well. A bill banning this ingredient used in personal care products like soaps and toothpastes has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill now awaits a Senate vote. A similar bill has be stalled in the Michigan legislature for some time now.
It is not enough to protect the Huron River watershed. There is a whole world of watersheds and citizens reliant on plentiful clean water. So sometimes we step outside of our watershed boundaries to share with others what we are doing and how it is going. In return we learn from others making a difference in their watershed. In the last month I have hit the road to talk with a few new audiences about some of the work of HRWC.
The Great Lakes Restoration Conference took place in the Windy City (it certainly lived up to this moniker while I was there) last month. Along with Alister Innes from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Cheryl Kallio from Freshwater Future, I spoke to an audience of Great Lakes restoration professionals about the impacts of coaltar sealcoat and the PAHs it contains, on lakes, rivers and human health. Minnesota is the only Great Lakes state that has achieved a ban of this product that is commonly used to maintain asphalt driveways and parking lots. We are hoping to grow the buzz on this topic within our region to help get PAH contamination (the compounds of concern in coaltar sealcoat) out of Great Lakes waters.
Next, I was off to Detroit to the Michigan Association of Planners Conference. Here I participated in a panel sharing stories of how communities throughout Michigan are incorporating climate change into municipal planning and trying to build resilience in natural, social and economic systems so that when more extreme events hit our cities and towns we can bounce back quickly and sustain less damage.
Finally, the 3rd annual Stormwater Summit was held at Lawrence Technological University. What a diverse group of professionals we have doing seriously good work right here in southeast Michigan! The audience received a brief on the Lake Erie algal bloom that contaminated Toledo’s drinking water in 2014 and what is happening in Michigan and Ohio to prevent a similar event in the future. I presented our work within the Huron to adopt better rainfall data to create stormwater systems that can accommodate the heavier rains climate change brings to our area. We also heard about some very cool green infrastructure and urban conservation projects. Summit presentations will be available soon on the Pure Oakland Water website.
These types of exchanges ensure HRWC staff are aware of innovations occurring elsewhere that inspire our future work and give back to the community by sharing innovations of our own.
So far we have had a pretty wet summer. I am sure that is not news to you. The river levels are well above average all along the Huron. Generally this is a good thing, as it keeps the tributaries flowing, provides new habitat for critters to populate or feed at, and allows more of the river to be floated by us all.
Sometimes these higher flows can be bad. The current is more rapid making it difficult for fish and other wildlife to move against it to find food or shelter. Strong currents can also be dangerous for paddlers.
In some places, our actions as humans, interacting with and changing the structure of our environment, exacerbates the consequences of heavy rains, which are occurring more frequently due to climate change. In natural environments, heavy rains slowly collect (after saturating the soil) and flood lowlands and eventually the river after a long period (days, even). In built up environments with lots of hard, impervious surfaces, and straightened channels or underground pipes, the rain does not even have a chance to soak into the ground, let alone move out into a flood plain. The result can be a rapid rise in water level and velocity that can be destructive or even deadly to wildlife and humans alike. A good example of a built-up area like this is Allens Creek in Ann Arbor. Over 90% of the stream in this tributary watershed is piped underground, and over 40% of the land cover in the watershed is impervious.
During a 3-inch rain storm on June 14, the top video here was recorded at the outfall of Allens Creek to the Huron River, just downstream of Argo Dam. The flow out of Allens Creek exceeded 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) on two separate occasions during the storm, and hit a peak flow of 1,350 cfs. The flow returned to its usual trickle within a matter of hours. The second/bottom video shows what it looked like the next day.
Nothing could survive, human or otherwise, in a concentrated flow with such a velocity. The flow is strong enough to send logs and boulders downstream and scour the river bed of any finer materials or living plants. Note how the downstream river condition following the blast looks more like a Rocky Mountain gorge river than the Midwestern meander the Huron usually is. Such “flashy” flows are not natural, and HRWC is working with partner municipalities to change the way stormwater is managed. New approaches utilize green infrastructure to capture and infiltrate rains into the groundwater before they hit the pipes or streams. Other, larger storage projects, like the one under Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor or in Mary Beth Doyle Park are being installed to hold storm flows back. It all makes a difference, but more is needed to overcome past actions and return our streams and the river to a more natural state.
It has been a busy news month. Many exciting things happening at the global, national and state level that affects us right here in the Huron. The environment took front seat in international news this month with Pope Francis’ encyclical. Our federal government finally provided clarity on the Clean Water Act by better defining “waters of the US”. The State of Michigan has released a draft vision for water that includes a dramatic reduction in phosphorus to our waterways. And not to leave out local action, the Ann Arbor Observer provides a look at how the University of Michigan handles stormwater.
Pope Francis, in Sweeping Encyclical, Calls for Swift Action on Climate Change. The recent papal encyclical has been making waves among Catholics and far beyond. The document is a call to action bringing a moral argument to environmental protection and climate change. A fascinating and welcome contribution to the environmental movement, if you haven’t read much about this, the article is a nice summary of the report and the implications.
Issues of The Environment: The Clean Water Rule. HRWC’s Elizabeth Riggs is interviewed about EPA’s ruling on Waters of the US, or the waters protected under the Clean Water Act. She discusses how this ruling will impact our state and watershed and why this ruling is so important.
DEQ announces 30-year vision for water. The State’s draft water strategy addresses nutrient pollution, invasive species, boating and harbors and water trails. The strategy also calls for investment in technologies that support clean water and the establishment of a fund to finance implementation of water strategy. The vision is out in draft and the DEQ is accepting comments until August 28th.
More information on Michigan’s Water Strategy and how to comment can be viewed here
Calming the waters. This editorial provides a deeper dive into the issue of phosphorus pollution, reduction goals, and how Michigan needs to do more to make meaningful progress toward those goals and make appropriate contributions to a region-wide effort to reduce problems in the Great Lakes resulting from excess phosphorus in our lakes and waterways.
Storm Over the U-M: The city and county have strict new stormwater requirements. But the university isn’t on board. Water knows no political boundaries which can create tension over responsibility for and management of this resource. When it rains on our cities and towns, it needs to be managed to avoid flooding, erosion and other stormwater related issues. This article chronicles ongoing tension around stormwater management by the University of Michigan.
Numerous studies on coal-tar based asphalt sealcoats have linked this product to human health problems and ecological damage (learn more about the issue in this recent blog and this newsletter article, page 7). HRWC would like municipalities and homeowners to refuse to use coal-tar based sealcoats because of their environmental effects, and a recent study released by the U.S. Geological Survey gives us all another reason to do so.
In this study, researchers applied coal-tar sealcoat to a section of a parking lot, and simulated rain-falls and collected the water runoff both 3 days and 36 days after sealcoat application. Two common aquatic species (fathead minnows and cladocerans) were exposed to the run-off. A 1:10 dilution of the run-off (which would be an approximation of conditions in moderately urban streams and ponds) caused a 10% mortality of the fathead minnow and a 60-100% mortality of the cladocerans, with the length of time after sealcoat application not making a difference.
There is much more to this study including looking at the effects of ultraviolet light, alternative sealcoat products, control treatments, and differing treatment lengths. However, based on the one part of the study given above, it is clear that coal-tar sealcoat is producing toxic rain run-off. Secondly, the sealcoat continues to cause the death of aquatic life 36 days after application (and perhaps further, but this was not included in the study). Application guidelines of coal-tar sealcoat state that the sealcoat should not be applied if rain is forecast within 24 hours to allow the product time to cure, but after this period the “risk level of runoff drops close to inconsequential.” This study reveals these application guidelines are incorrect.
Readers are welcome to check out the study for themselves; it is technical but not impossible to read. It is also copyright free, so HRWC is able to give the journal article here.
Ever wonder how best to protect the river and its watershed?
We think about this everyday here at HRWC.
One of the best ways to is to encourage location and design of neighborhoods and businesses to keep excess runoff and pollution out of the river. Each local government (cities, villages, and townships) in the watershed is responsible for reviewing land use development and designs within their own boundaries. That means one of the best ways to help the Huron is to ensure each local government has policies in place that allow residential and commercial development in a way that allows the river and its ecosystems to continue to function.
HRWC has two tools that can help citizens in any of the 63 different local governments in the watershed get involved in their city, village or township planning commission, board, or council.
- The Citizen’s Guide to Land Use Planning (click on link. the Citizens Guide is halfway down the page), takes readers step-by-step through the land use planning process and its importance to water quality.
- As part of a new project, Green Infrastructure Services for Local Governments, funded by the Americana Foundation, HRWC has created two checklists; one for elements recommended in a local government’s Zoning Ordinance, and another for elements recommended for their Master Plan. See how many recommended elements are in your local government’s ordinance and master plan.
HRWC is currently using the checklist in partnership with Webster Township as part of their master plan revision process. HRWC plans to be working with at least two more local governments in the next year as part of this project.
On a dreary Halloween morning a group of 20 intrepid University of Michigan students, boarded a trolly for a whirlwind tour of locations in Ann Arbor that show how one city is preparing for a changing climate. Guided by myself and two colleagues from the City of Ann Arbor, Jen Lawson and Jamie Kidwell, the group heard stories and learned of strategies for protecting homes from flooding, trees from dying, and residents from suffering from heat and cold related health issues and high energy costs.
As a society we still need to do everything in our power to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling global climate change. At the same time, we are already experiencing the impacts of a changing climate which are certain to continue into the future even if greenhouse gas emissions stopped tomorrow.
In the Huron River Watershed, arguably the most potentially damaging trends we are seeing in our weather patterns are larger rainfall events and more frequent and longer high heat events. Larger storm events cause flooding and overburden or damage important infrastructure (stormwater systems, dams, water utilities, roads, homes and businesses). Consecutive high heat days are a significant threat to human health and can cause droughts and brownouts. Actions that reduce the impact of these changes can be considered climate adaptation actions, or actions that build resilience to climate change.
Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County have started making investments now that help prepare for these changes. A few examples:
- The City has conducted a detailed analysis predicting where flooding is likely to occur which is helping prioritize stormwater management decisions like where pipes need replacing and where green infrastructure (like rain gardens) can help
- Washtenaw County has recently adopted new rules requiring additional infiltration and detention of rain water for new and re-developments protecting our river from erosion, pollution and risk of damaging floods
- Ann Arbor’s Green Rental program is helping improve energy efficiency in low income areas making staying cool or warm during extremes more affordable
- The Urban Forestry and Community Forest Management Plan identifies areas that are in need of shade trees to provide cooling and recommends species likely to survive more climate extremes
The City of Ann Arbor has recently released a series of climate videos that share more about why this work is a priority and what is being done. Here is the one on extreme storms:
Check out all four videos at a2energy.org/climate.
The students learned a lot about what is going on in their own backyard. I hope these links help you do the same. All aboard!
Searching for ways to care for your waterfront?
“Waterfront Wisdom” provides helpful information regarding how to best maintain shoreline property and protect water quality at the same time. Every waterfront homeowner has a unique opportunity to help improve the health of the Huron River watershed while maintaining a beautiful shoreline and keeping waterways clean for swimming, fishing and boating.
Some of the many tips that can be found inside:
- Minimize runoff by installing a rain garden
- Use native plants to keep geese away
- Prevent soil erosion by growing a natural shoreline along the water
- Choose phosphorus-free fertilizer or avoid fertilizer altogether to help reduce algal blooms
- Prevent excess nutrients and harmful pathogens with proper septic system maintenance
You will not only provide healthy habitat for wildlife and support recreation, but also protect drinking water.
If you have any questions or would like a printed copy mailed to you, please contact Pam Labadie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Further Information:
Inspire River Protection With Art!
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.
We 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.
HRWC recently completed work with local government partners in Washtenaw County to better understand how to use and plan for Green Infrastructure to capture and treat stormwater. Green Infrastructure (GI) is the collective natural areas (like woods, wetlands, and even gardens) in our watershed that provide ecological benefits to the river. This is in contrast to the gray infrastructure (like roads and pipes) that is traditionally used in municipal development. Funded by a grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the project focused on the ability of GI to capture and treat stormwater runoff.
At the beginning of the project, HRWC staff conducted interviews and workshops to gather information about how local communities were using GI. Over the course of two years HRWC produced the products below to help municipalities utilize GI practices to reduce stormwater costs and improve the quality and volume of stormwater discharge to our natural water resources:
- “Barriers to Green Infrastructure” report – details key barriers that are limiting the use of Green Infrastructure and ways to overcome them;
- Growing Green Infrastructure Forums – summary and presentations from three educational and planning forums;
- Green Infrastructure Project Inventory – a map of projects by type across the county;
- Green Infrastructure Opportunities Map – assesses available geographic information to highlight the most effective locations to use Green Infrastructure for stormwater treatment;
- Comparative Project Design – illustrates the use of conventional and Green Infrastructure designs for a road project along with projected costs and benefits;
- Green Infrastructure Communications Strategy – establishes a plan for educating and communicating the use and value of the GI approach to relevant stakeholders; and
- Web Resources – organized by topics such as economics and funding, and operations and maintenance.
A fact sheet was also produced that summarizes the efforts and outcomes. HRWC also participated in the Southeast Michigan Council of Government’s (SEMCOG) regional Green Infrastructure Vision development. Finally, HRWC will be presenting at the DEQ’s Green Infrastructure Conference on May 8 and 9 (www.michigan.gov/deq. Search “green infrastructure”). Join us!