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Posts Tagged ‘Water Quality’

Toxic Algae Bloom in Lake Erie

Algae bloom on Lake Erie, in 2011. Source: New York Times

Algae bloom on Lake Erie, in 2011. Source: New York Times

Last week,  nearly 500,000  people lost access to clean water for drinking and bathing due to a toxic algae bloom that occurred around the City of Toledo’s drinking water intake. The bloom was likely caused by excessive amounts of phosphorus (and perhaps other nutrients) in the Western Lake Erie Basin.

Although the immediate crisis in the city of Toledo has passed, the threat to drinking water supplies in Toledo and other Lake Erie communities has not.  Lake Erie supplies water for 11 million people who live near the lake.

Watershed councils and environmental groups, including HRWC, have been working for years to reduce nutrients, like phosphorus, in our watersheds.  It is these nutrients – from agricultural practices, lawn fertilizers, wastewater treatment plants, and polluted runoff from pavement  – that are a chief cause of the algae blooms. The changing climate and alterations in invasive mussel populations also contribute to the algae blooms. On top of it all, our lakes also suffer from the cycling of nutrients deposited in the lake from years past.

Here in the Huron River watershed, HRWC and municipalities along the river have made major investments to reduce our nutrient inputs such as stronger soil erosion controls, phosphorus and buffer ordinances, streambank restoration, and wetlands and natural area protection and construction to hold and infiltrate water. As a result phosphorus levels in the middle section of the watershed entering Ford Lake have been reduced substantially. While the lakes still have occasional algae blooms, the length and size has been reduced.

Overall, the phosphorus load contributed by the Huron River watershed to Lake Erie pales in comparison to the massive load from the heavily agricultural Maumee River watershed. In response to this heavy agricultural input, the International Joint Commission has called for better nutrient management  and soil erosion controls by agriculture including a ban on winter manure application. They also recommend continued reduction of urban sources and wetland restoration. Last week, a New York Times editorial called for similar action.

Nutrient pollution is a clear danger not only to  drinking water, but to efforts to develop a “blue economy” for the Great Lakes, including HRWC’s RiverUp program to promote the river as a recreational, economic, and cultural resource.  This new economic future cannot stand with national headlines declaring Great Lakes water unsafe to drink.

Until we stop polluting our lakes and rivers, our economy, drinking water and way of life are in jeopardy. To learn more about what you can do to reduce your impact on the Huron River Watershed and Lake Erie downstream, take a look at our tips on how to become an H2O Hero and how to be a responsible shoreline property owner.

 

 

 

Fresh wisdom available for your waterfront home!

Searching for ways to care for your waterfront?

Waterfront Wisdom, 7 tips for creating and maintaining a beautiful and healthy waterfrontMany of us put a lot of work into our homes and gardens. This summer, HRWC offers some water-friendly tips specifically for river and lake shoreline property owners!

“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.

You can download our 12 page pdf booklet here, or visit HRWC’s own Be Waterfront Wise webpage.

If you have any questions or would like a printed copy mailed to you, please contact Pam Labadie at plabadie@hrwc.org.

For Further Information:

Michigan Clean Water Corps: The Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program

Michigan’s Natural Shoreline Partnership

HRWC’s Take Action Page for all Homeowners

Being a Creekwalker (Part 3)

The adventure comes to a close!

You can read Mark Schaller’s first post and second post about his experiences with HRWC’s Creekwalking Program.

Are you interested in being a creekwalker? You can recruit your family and friends to join you on your team or ask HRWC to assign you to a team. The training is on June 10, 6:30- 8 pm. Check out this webpage and email Jason at jfrenzel@hrwc.org to volunteer.

____________________________________________________

Guest Author: Mark Schaller

It all comes down to this, the final visit.  This time, I arrived early so I could set some crayfish and minnow traps.  I had seen fish on earlier visits but could never get a good look at any of them.  The deepest part of the stream was where I placed the thermometer so I figured that would be a good site for a trap.  I also placed a crayfish trap further upstream in a rocky area hoping to catch some more crayfish and get a good positive ID.  Everything was set!

Creekwalkers look pick up trash, take water measurements, and record and photograph erosion and infrastructure problems.

Creekwalkers pick up trash, take water measurements, and record and photograph erosion and infrastructure problems.

As I walked back to my Jeep, Erin was heading down the trail.  After our “Hello’s” we headed back to the parking lot to get the rest of the gear.  We picked up the paperwork, meter, measuring stick and my camera and headed back to the stream.  Our starting point was where I placed my crayfish trap and we had 6 crayfish already in the trap.  As I started to pull them out for pictures I found that 3 of them were the invasive Rusty.  The other 3 were northern crayfish.  They were a lot bigger than the Rusty’s so I’m hoping they are holding their own against them.  Too bad; after our last trip I thought that there weren’t any Rusty’s in here.

In midsummer, Woods Creek is a great place to sit down and soak in the cool water... if the mosquitos aren't too bad.

In midsummer, Woods Creek is a great place to sit down and soak in the cool water… if the mosquitoes aren’t too bad.

We then started by taking the water temperature and conductivity readings. When we reached the halfway point I handed the GPS and water conductivity meter over to Erin.  She wanted to see how the meter worked and I needed to get some pictures of her as well.  She took about 4 more readings and then next thing we knew we were at the end of our sample area.  All that was left now was for Erin to compile all the data and for me to turn it in with all the equipment. Mission Accomplished!

I have to say the creekwalking experience was a lot of fun.  Walking up and down Wood Creek brought back a lot of fond memories of myself as a kid exploring all the creeks and streams of my youth.

Good times.

________________________________

Our big thanks go to Mark and Erin, and all our other creekwalking volunteers, from this past summer!

Rounding Up the River

River and creek sampling

Thanks to 108 volunteers who contributed a total of 643 volunteer hours, the 2014 River Roundup was a great success!  The weather was perfect for our volunteers as they split into 21 teams and traveled to 42 different creek and river locations across the Huron River Watershed to assess the aquatic benthic macroinvertebrate community.  This study is one of the most effective ways that HRWC has to keep its finger on the pulse of the stream. From the data collected at this semi-annual event, we get a better understanding of which creeks and rivers are getting better, which are getting worse, and how we can direct our management activities.

You can see all the results in April 2014 River Roundup Report.

  • Emily checks out a crayfish! credit: Max Bromley Emily checks out a crayfish! credit: Max Bromley
  • Bruce collects insects in South Ore Creek. credit: Dick Chase Bruce collects insects in South Ore Creek. credit: Dick Chase
  • Picnic tables! Volunteers love these. (Mill Creek at Warrior Park in Dexter) credit: Eric Bassey Picnic tables! Volunteers love these. (Mill Creek at Warrior Park in Dexter) credit: Eric Bassey
  • Sampling the Huron River by Riverside Park in Ypsilanti. credit: Kristen Baumia Sampling the Huron River by Riverside Park in Ypsilanti. credit: Kristen Baumia
  • Hay Creek winds through wetlands and forests. credit: David Amamoto Hay Creek winds through wetlands and forests. credit: David Amamoto
  • Sorting the bugs on ID Day! credit: David Amamoto Sorting the bugs on ID Day! credit: David Amamoto
  • "What the heck is it?"--Paul Steen.  credit: David Amamoto "What the heck is it?"--Paul Steen. credit: David Amamoto
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Current Watershed Healthconditions April 2014

In a nutshell, the health of the watershed as judged by our macroinvertebrate sampling is holding steady. Of the 62 sites that we monitor to judge this, 28 sites have had no statistically significant changes over time, and 6 sites are too new to make this judgment.

Fourteen sites are declining, and these include locations on Chilson Creek, Davis Creek, east branch of Fleming Creek, Norton Creek, and South Ore Creek.  The majority of the declining sites are in Livingston County.  Eight of the declining sites are in Livingston, two are in Washtenaw, and three are in Oakland.

Fourteen sites are significantly improving.  Twelve of the improving sites are in Washtenaw County, including Boyden Creek, Horseshoe Creek, the main and west branches of Fleming Creek, Huron Creek, the Huron River in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Malletts Creek, and several places on Mill Creek. One site is improving in Livingston County (Mann Creek at Van Amberg Road), and 1 site is improving in Wayne County (Woods Creek at the Lower Huron Metropark).

Highlights

The finger-net caddisfly (Philopotamidae) had never been seen in Malletts Creek before the spring of 2014. credit: Jude Walton

The finger-net caddisfly (Philopotamidae) had never been seen in Malletts Creek before the spring of 2014. credit: Jude Walton

1. Malletts Creek is an urban creek in Ann Arbor that has been the focus of restoration efforts for well over a decade. Last fall, we noticed a more diverse insect community in Malletts Creek than had ever been seen before.  We are happy to report that this spring we once again saw a healthier insect community than ever before.  From 1993-2013, volunteers have found an average of 5 insect families in spring samples, but in 2014 volunteers found 9 insect families. One of these insect families is a finger-net caddisfly, which is common in healthy streams but has never been found in Malletts Creek until now. The increase in insect families over time is statistically significant.

Our congratulations go out to all of the partners involved in fixing Malletts Creek! An increase in the diversity of aquatic insects reflects an increase in the overall water quality, water stability, and habitat quality. This is a major accomplishment!

2. The volunteers who sampled in Boyden Creek along Delhi Road pulled in a bonanza of caddisflies! They found 5 different types of caddisflies: the common net-spinner (Hydropsychidae), the square barked case- maker (Lepidostomatidae), the northern caddisfly (Limnephilidae), the finger-net caddisfly (Philopotamidae), and the rock case-maker (Uenoidae).  They also found two families of stoneflies and two families of mayflies.  We have been seeing good changes in Boyden Creek for several years now, and this sample was one of the best taken this spring.

Lowlights

The volunteers who sampled at Greenock Creek near South Lyon were not impressed with the size and abundance of the leeches they pulled out of their trays, nor were they impressed with the total abundance and diversity of the overall insect community.  Greenock Creek was never a very healthy creek, but conditions have significantly worsened here since monitoring began in 1993.  The creek is located downstream of Nichwagh Lake, which is impounded by a dam.  Water exiting the lake and entering the creek is quite warm, regularly reaching 85 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, which is too warm for many types of aquatic life. It is quite possible that dissolved oxygen levels are very low in the creek also (even in the non-summer months when the water is not as warm).  This is something that HRWC will look into.

Looking upstream in Greenock Creek, October 2012.  It looks picturesque, but looks can be deceiving when it comes to water quality! credit: Max Bromley

Looking upstream in Greenock Creek, October 2012. It looks picturesque, but looks can be deceiving when it comes to water quality! credit: Max Bromley

 What’s next?

Consider being a creekwalker this summer!  You can learn more about this experience through our recent blog series. Check it out here: Part 1 and Part 2.  You can register to be a creekwalker here.

Being a Creekwalker (Part 2)

The adventure continues!

You can read Mark Schaller’s first post here about his experiences with HRWC’s Creekwalking Program.

Are you interested in being a creekwalker? You can recruit your own family and friends to join you on your team or ask HRWC to assign you to a team. This year’s training is on June 10, 6:30- 8 pm. Check out this webpage and email Jason at jfrenzel@hrwc.org to volunteer.

____________________________________________________

Guest Author: Mark Schaller

Now that the initial visit and thermometer placement was out of the way it was time to schedule the second visit. Like our previous trip, real life issues came up for most of the team, and Erin and myself continued our team of two.

Mosquitos can be bad during a creekwalk, depending on the location and weather. Long pants and long sleeves may be a good idea! Right, Erin?

Mosquitos can be bad during a creekwalk, depending on the location and weather. Long pants and long sleeves may be a good idea! Right, Erin?

We decided that Erin would handle the writing duties while I took the reading and pictures. This time around we were supposed to check for signs of wildlife and pick up any garbage. After her last losing battle with mosquitoes Erin came prepared this time. Long sleeve shirts and real insect repellent were in order. She even sprayed me down to try to keep the bugs at bay. It didn’t work.

Woods Creek was pretty much in the same state as the last time we were here. We entered at the first bridge and got to work. We took a few temperature and water conductivity readings and not much had changed. Since I didn’t have to concentrate on the readings, I spent more time checking out what signs of life there were. Erin is more of an herbologist than I am so she kept track of the plant life. She was rattling off plant names and I just took her word for it. I’m not a vegetarian.

Like last time I spotted some smaller bait fish but couldn’t get a good enough look at them to see what they were. When we got to the water thermometers I saw some larger fish hiding underneath the stump but again I couldn’t get a good look to see what they were. What I did see were a lot of crayfish. These guys I was very interested in. I wanted to know if they were native crayfish or the non-native rusty variety.  For the rest of the walk I tried to catch one and for most of the walk my efforts were pretty futile. Just as I was about to grab one it would take off and disappear in the silt. Even with my advance warning system screaming every time one ran across her foot, I still couldn’t corner one long enough to grab it.

Mark had a good time catching and identifying crayfish on his creekwalk.

Mark had a good time catching and identifying crayfish on his creekwalk.

Eventually I caught one and it wasn’t a Rusty. So far so good. I was able to catch a couple more and they were all native crayfish as well. I don’t know what kind exactly, but they weren’t Rusty crayfish. I’m sure the Rusty’s will eventually work their way into this creek but for now no sign of them.

One of the other things we had to do during this trip was pick up garbage. I’m glad to say that there wasn’t much. I expected to find plastic worm containers, fish line, and empty cans. All I really found was some pieces of broken glass and an old shirt.  Nice to see that there wasn’t much trash!

________________________________________________________

Stayed tuned for the third and final part of Mark’s creekwalking experience.

News to Us

High school students learn by doing water quality monitoring.

High school students learn by doing water quality monitoring.

Water quality is a major focus of our work at HRWC.  Three articles in this edition of News to Us address water quality from very different angles – youth education, lawn and garden care, and beer.  Yes, beer.  Plein air art is a way of enjoying nature that may be new to some of you.  And, finally, on the heels of the release of the National Climate Assessment last week, a piece on why global warming leads to more severe rainfall – an outcome particularly significant to the Midwest.

White Lake Middle School students study human impact on Huron River   Students are taking to the river to learn about how human actions can impact local rivers. Students measure water quality and sample invertebrates at various spots in the headwaters of the Huron River watershed. This program is based on the GREEN program developed at the UM by Bill Stapp with guidance from HRWC.

The Toxic Brew in Our Yards  This opinion piece does a great job highlighting the health risks of outdoor chemical use on our lawns and gardens. The author makes very clear the connection between chemical use and water quality as well.  There are alternatives to pesticide and synthetic fertilizer use that protect your family’s health and the health of our waterways and drinking water. To get started see HRWC’s webpages on going phosphorus free and growing a healthy lawn.

Short’s Brewing ties seasonal beers to Clean Water Campaign  We get a lot of support from local brewers for our water quality improvement efforts.  It is not lost on them that beer is mostly water. Local water.  One of Michigan’s most successful microbreweries is using its popularity to educate residents on the threat of an Enbridge pipeline that runs through the Straights of Mackinac.  There has been growing concern about the condition of the pipeline, the accountability of Enbridge to maintain the line and the consequences of an oil spill to our Great Lakes.

Looks Like Rain Again. And Again.  As mentioned in a recent HRWC blog, the 3rd National Climate Assessment report was released last week. Spurred by the report, climate change has been all over the news lately.  This piece is both interesting and useful to those of us in Michigan.  The aspect of climate change that is likely impact our region the most is rainfall.  More of it and in larger storms.  This piece explains why global warming leads to more rain.  Learn more about what HRWC and municipalities within the Huron River watershed are doing to prepare for more rain.

Artists venture outdoors, brush up on nature scenes  Yet another way to enjoy the river!  Plein air artists are artists who paint in the open air, capturing scenes of nature or community life over the span of a few hours.  Several plein air events happen in our area over the course of the summer including one in Brighton, June 28th- 29th and in Dexter, August 12th – 16th.

Being a Creekwalker (Part 1)

 Scout and Walk a River

This past summer, several teams of volunteers participated in a new program: Creekwalking!

Mark Schaller was one of those volunteers, and he wrote about being a Creekwalker for the Downriver Walleye Federation newsletter, the fishing organization that he belongs to.  Mark has given HRWC his permission for us to reproduce his adventures here on our blog.

Are you interested in being a creekwalker? You can recruit your own family and friends to join you on your team or ask HRWC to assign you to a team. This year’s training is on June 10, 6:30- 8 pm. Check out this webpage and email Jason at jfrenzel@hrwc.org to volunteer.

___________________________________________________

Mark Schaller tests the water in Woods Creek.

Mark tests the water in Woods Creek.

Guest Author: Mark Schaller

Several months back I received an email from the Huron River Watershed Council. They were looking for volunteers for a new program they were starting up, Creek Walking. The council members are trying to collect data on the hundreds of miles of creeks and tributaries that feed into the Huron River. Since funds are tights for this kinds of field work they need volunteers. I volunteered!

I had to attend a training meeting to find out what this was about. I was going to be part of a 5 person team that was assigned to Woods Creek. This little stream is located in Lower Huron Metro Park. My team and I would be making visits throughout the summer to take readings, pictures, clean up garbage and record any observations concerning wildlife or any aquatic critters. Seems simple, right? Oh, was I in for a surprise.

I was worried about the water levels at this time as the prior weekend the levels were about 4 feet above normal and made wading the stream hazardrous.  I stopped by two days prior to our field day and the water had dropped some. My fingers were crossed that a few more days and no rain would finally allow the team to do the initial testing.

On our field day, myself and another teammate, Erin, were the only ones who were able to make it.  The two of us packed up the gear and headed to the stream. The water level was back down to normal so we waded in. After one step I remembered that I never fixed the leak in my hip boots. Erin just waded in with what she was wearing. She soon found out that the all natural insect repellant that she was wearing didn’t do a thing for her. They attacked her in swarms. For some strange reason they left me alone, not that I was complaining.

Woods Creek in July! Looks nice, doesn't it?

Woods Creek in July! Looks nice, doesn’t it?

Part of our work was to take temperature and water conductivity readings. The meter that HRWC gave us takes both temperature and measures the ions in the stream.  Anything under a reading of 800 microsiemens meant that the water was clean and healthy. We had to take a reading every 30 feet and make it with GPS coordinates as well.All of our readings were around 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) and a conductivity of around 800. All seemed good. The stream itself had a gravel bottom the whole length we checked. A good sign for all those Steelheaders out there. A staff member of HRWC told me that they have had reports of steelhead fingerlings this far up the Huron so this may be a viable spawning area for them.

Another part of our job was to take pictures of the surrounding vegetation and make notes of any aquatic or land based wildlife. We didn’t see any critters but did see lots of baitfish in the stream. As far as insects go, there were a lot of damselflies and of course about a gazillion mosquitoes. Because of this and the total failure of Erin’s repellant we hurried through our sampling and got off the stream in a hurry. She was was a little annoyed that I never got bit. Sometimes it’s good to be me.  She was a good sport about it though and offered to enter all our data into the spreadsheet we were given. I volunteered to go through the pictures and the file names and GPS coordinates to the datasheet.

Mission Accomplished! Our task for another day was to walk upstream in Woods Creek and continue the process.

_______________________________________________________________

Stayed tuned for part 2 of Mark’s creekwalking experience.

 

 

 

 

 

Where are the Mudpuppies?

mudpuppy2The University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, and the Herpetological Resource and Management are asking for help in collecting dead specimens of Mudpuppies. Due to the extreme weather conditions this year, herpetologists are anticipating a large winterkill, which provides a unique opportunity to assess population health.

What is a Mudpuppy?

• Michigan’s largest, fully aquatic salamander

Why Are They Important?

• “Bioindicator” species: Due to their sensitivity to pollutants and poor water quality, these salamanders act as an early warning system for environmental problems

• Are the only intermediate host to the Endangered Salamander Mussel

• Great Lakes populations are declining, and the true abundance is currently unknown

How Can I Help?

Place the whole Mudpuppy(s) in ziploc bag, seal, and freeze the bag. Tissue samples may be placed in storage tubes containing ethanol.

Include the following information on a 3×5 card placed within the bag (using pencil) and on the outside of the bag (using permanent marker). In the case of tissue samples, label outside of tube with permanent marker.

1.) Observer

2.) Date

3.) Precise Collection Location

Contact one of the following people:

1.) David Mifsud 517-522-3525 DMifsud@HerpRMan.com

2.) Maegan Stapleton 517-522-3525 Stapleton@HerpRMan.com

3.) Amber Stedman 815-761-8941  AStedman@EMich.edu

4.) Greg Schneider 734-647-1927, 734-763-0740 ES@UMich.edu

mudpuppy1

Frackers in the Watershed?

What do you do if someone wants to lease your oil/gas development rights?

Natural gas fracking drill

Do you really want this to be part of your view? Credit: Daniel Foster

That is a question we have been hearing recently. There may be new interest in potential natural gas reserves beneath the watershed that could be accessed via traditional drilling, directional drilling or hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. “fracking”), which we have been hearing so much about nationally. The companies interested in leasing drilling rights and their representatives (colloquially referred to as “landmen”) often are quite aggressive in their pursuit of lease signatures. Oil or gas exploration and extraction can have a significant impact on the land and our water resources, so careful consideration should be given before signing away your rights.

 

Folks in the northern half of the lower peninsula have been dealing with this issue for a number of years now, so I called one of our sister organizations, the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, for some advice. Here is what they recommend if the landmen come knocking on your door with promises of riches:

1. Get a lawyer experienced in oil and gas leases to review any contract prior to signing. It’s just too easy to sign away your rights and once you do, it is hard to stop the drillers if they start mucking things up. Your county bar association can refer you to qualified attorneys or HRWC can suggest one (call or e-mail Ric).

2. Check out Michigan State University’s information for land owners. Consider going to a landowner meeting. http://msue.anr.msu.edu/program/info/oil_and_gas

3. If your neighbors do start signing leases and drillers start planning for exploration, get your surface and groundwater tested. You want this done professionally in case you need to prove damage later down the road. The Michigan DEQ maintains a list of certified labs at https://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3307_4131_4156-36940–,00.html. Tip of the Mitt has some great advice on deciding what to test and when at http://www.watershedcouncil.org/learn/hydraulic-fracturing/baseline-testing/.

 

Thanks to the staff at Tip of the Mitt for the helpful advice.

 

If you have been contacted about selling your oil/gas rights, let us know in the comments. We are interested in tracking this issue and it’s spread across the watershed.

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Senate approves bill to battle algal blooms

The Senate last night approved legislation from a bipartisan group of lawmakers to boost federal efforts against the harmful algae blooms that haunt many of the nation’s waters.

S. 1254, the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2013, is sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and 18 colleagues, would authorize interagency work on algae blooms and the dead zones, suffering from a lack of oxygen, or hypoxia, that they frequently spawn. The legislation would also create a national program with a research plan and action strategy. The legislation also requires the interagency Task Force to: (1) submit within 18 months to Congress and the President an integrated assessment that examines the causes, consequences, and approaches to reduce hypoxia and harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes; and (2) develop and submit to Congress a plan, based on such assessment, for reducing, mitigating, and controlling such hypoxia and blooms.

The upper chamber approved the legislation by unanimous consent.

Algae blooms, a result of nutrient pollution that washes off farm fields and suburban streets and comes from wastewater treatment plants, are an entrenched problem across the United States. Sprawling algae blooms on Florida’s east and west coasts this summer kept people from the water and contributed to the deaths of sea animals, including the highest recorded annual death count for manatees (Greenwire, Dec. 20, 2013). Closer to home, nuisance algal blooms impact Ford Lake and Belleville Lake, impoundments of the Huron River, reducing access to the waters for fishing, swimming, and other outdoor pursuits.

“We can’t sit back and let endangered creatures disappear along with jobs in the fishing industry,” Nelson said when he introduced the legislation in June.

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