Posts Tagged ‘Water Quality’
- 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.
Saturday turned out to be a lovely day for HRWC’s Stonefly Search. 110 volunteers returned safely from the field after successfully accomplishing their mission. These hardy souls endured the snow, enjoyed the sun (briefly), had fun breaking through the ice, and learned about the Huron and the critters who live here. Interesting finds included a slumbering frog, mute swans, and Canada geese (not to mention lots and lots of insects). Look for a detailed report from Paul Steen regarding the Stonefly results. Until then, here is a bit of verse to paint a picture of how the day went for many…
Winter Stoneflies in Arctic Michigan
By Dave Wilson
We don our coats and boots, go forth to break the ice
In frigid, frosty weather that no one could say is nice
We flounder through the streams in search of a great prize
Taeniopterids and Capniids, precious winter stone flies
Winter stones are quite the thing
Though one surely might be wondering
How these tiny creatures could ever be so bold
As to live and thrive in this bitter winter cold
Paul tells us that in winter these critters really thrive
Cold water holds the oxygen to keep them all alive
And winter is helpful in another major way
The cold keeps fierce predators so very far away
Quite sensitive to any water pollution,
Winter stones provide a quick solution
If we find ‘em we can be sure
That the stream is sweet and pure
The critters are small and rather dark
In this frigid weather they have a lark
Scamper about in the ice and snow
There’s no other place for them to go
To ID them here’s what you do
Look for wingpads four and cerci two
Along the flanks no gills are found
And on each leg two claws astound
The ice is thick, the water chills,
With cold I’m fed up to the gills
But none could say that we are quitters
We’ll search ‘til we find those little critters
Believe me, I know whereof I speak
You’ll find out fast if your waders leak
One hears screams of pain from the bravest jocks
When that icy water hits their socks
Collectors and runners can stay in motion
Stay warmer thus, I have a notion
But picking requires that one stand still
Can be quite bleak, cause many a chill
Don’t go on ice unless waders you wear
If you’re not wearing waders your weight it won’t bear
If you should venture this dumb thing to do
I guarantee you’ll surely break through
Let me warn you right now; listen up and take heed
Bring twice the wraps you think that you’ll need
That usually turns out to be about right
So that you are not left in a piteous plight
A jug of warm water is always quite pleasing
Helps to keep that D-net from freezing
And stout rubber gloves keep collectors’ hands dry
Help a great deal when frostbite is nigh
On these trips a truly most gracious amenity
May help the participants keep some of their sanity
A big jug of cocoa sure hits the spot
Beloved by all if it’s nice and hot.
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.
There was a time in America’s history when rivers were so polluted that they caught fire.
A time when Lake Erie was pronounced “dead.”
Even our own Huron River ran different colors, depending on which industry was dumping its waste that day (see HRWC blog post for October 17, below).
We’ve come a long way since then thanks to the Clean Water Act, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. But now the U.S. Senate is considering a bill, S. 3558, that could undo decades of progress and attack the heart of the Clean Water Act.
Our friends at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have made it easy to speak up for clean water through the link below:
The Clean Water Act is an American success story: Our nation’s waters are far cleaner today than they were 40 years ago. More waters are available for fishing, swimming and as drinking water sources. The act also protects wetlands, which help filter pollutants and limit flooding.
But S. 3558 would undermine that progress and jeopardize the health of our waters. This bill weakens the Clear Water Act in two critical ways:
- It limits the federal government’s ability to enforce clean water standards.
- It restricts the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to protect our waters from the most destructive waste dumping proposals.
We simply cannot afford to roll back 40 years of progress by allowing our waters to become increasingly polluted and dangerous.
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.
If you see a cell phone tower, look up!
You may notice in the upcoming months, HRWC is featuring the Osprey as a Huron River success story. As part of our slight obsession with this amazing bird of prey, HRWC staff recently traveled to Kensington Metropark for a staff outing. We take a half-day occasionally to venture out of our office as a group to learn about the unique attributes of our watershed. This time, led by Barb Jensen, a volunteer of Osprey Watch of Southeast Michigan, we visited with a mated pair of Osprey and their young family of three fledglings on Wildwing Lake.
Osprey, a fish-eating bird of prey, once lived throughout Michigan. Known as the “fish hawk,” these birds live near water and use their keen eyesight, superb flying skills and sharp talons to catch fish. Loss of habitat and the use of DDT and other pesticides led to their decline in the southern region of the Lower Peninsula to the end that there were no nesting osprey in SE Michigan. Barb reported to us that thanks to a 1998 reintroduction project and cleaner water here in our watershed, the Osprey are rebounding. In 2011, 37 nested pairs were sited with close to 50 counted this year.
In order to protect themselves from predators like Bald Eagles and Great Horned Owls, Osprey like to build their nests away from dense cover and high up enough to maintain a 360 degree view of the space around them. Cell phone towers fit the bill nicely!
HRWC staff would like to extend a special thank you to Barb, for her excellent talk on all things Osprey and for her passionate stewardship of these amazing birds. Stay tuned for more Osprey info in our Fall 2012 Huron River Report.
Lakes and rivers within the Huron River Watershed are great areas to find a great diversity of bird life and observe mating and feeding behaviors. On the Osprey outing, staff also observed Great Blue Herons, Sandhill Cranes, Baltimore Orioles and lots of water birds. On a separate walk last weekend with the City of Ann Arbor’s ornithologist, Dea Armstrong, about 20 novice birders (most of whom were new to birding) learned how easy and fun it is to observe birds, even in an urban park like that of Gallup Park in Ann Arbor. The group even spotted an active oriole nest by the river being tended by active (and beautiful) parents.
There are lots of opportunities to see birds on water walks all across the watershed. Look for opportunities in your neck of the shed and tell us about your experiences on this blog!
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.
Huron River at White Lake Road!!!
For the 18th year in a row, the Huron River at White Lake Road had far-and-away the healthiest “bug” population as determined by HRWC’s semi-annual macroinvertebrate collection event. This location is in Indian Springs Metropark in Oakland County and is very near to the uppermost headwaters of the river. HRWC has highlighted this section of the river many times, but the site does deserve the attention. HRWC volunteers have found rare insects here numerous times and consistently find many insect families that only live in the most pristine of waters.
Let’s take a step back…
On April 21, one-hundred forty adventurous volunteers spread across the Huron River watershed to collect benthic macroinvertebrates: the crustaceans, insects, and mollusks that live in our creeks and rivers. Typically, only the healthiest streams will have abundant and diverse populations. Polluted streams and other streams that are heavily impacted by human activities will hold fewer of these creatures, and may only contain the most pollution tolerant types. By watching the long-term trends of these populations, HRWC can tell where pollution may be becoming a problem and that helps direct HRWC’s time and effort.
Overall watershed assessment
In order to get an overall sense of the health of the Huron River Watershed, HRWC samples macroinvertebrates from sixty-four 300 foot sections of the creeks and rivers. The sampling sites have been selected to provide equal geographic representation from the various areas throughout the watershed.
In regards to how the macroinvertebrate populations are changing at these sites:
- 34 sites have remained largely unchanged since monitoring began on them
- 9 sites have improved
- 11 sites have declined
- 10 sites are new to the program and cannot be judged until more data is collected.
In regards to their overall quality:
- 3 sites are excellent (The best, most pristine areas)
- 15 sites are good (Their macroinvertebrate populations are higher than we would expect based on the stream size, water temperature, and stream substrate).
- 24 sites are fair (Their macroinvertebrate populations are slightly lower than we would expect based on the stream size, water temperature, and stream substrate)
- 10 sites are poor (Pollution and other human impacts have severely damaged the macroinvertebrate populations at these sites)
- 10 sites are new to the program and cannot be judged until more data is collected.
Other noteworthy results:
1) South Ore Creek (Livingston County, flowing through and near Brighton) has never had great macroinvertebrate populations since HRWC began sampling here. This is a populated area of the Huron River watershed and is negatively affected by a variety of human impacts, including dams and subdivisions. Our April results show that things may be getting worse: the insect counts in 2 of the 3 sample sites on South Ore Creek are declining significantly, and the third site was already one of the worst places we monitor in Livingston County.
2) Boyden Creek (Washtenaw County, flowing through and around the Loch Alpine neighborhood) is showing the opposite trend. This is also a populated area of the Huron River watershed, and is also impacted by dams and subdivisions, but the data show that the macroinvertebrate populations have been getting significantly better over time. The similarities between Boyden Creek and South Ore Creek are interesting given that their macroinvertebrate populations are changing in opposite directions. This contrast is a bit confounding and is something to study further.
3) Congratulations to all of our Wood Creek Friends! Woods Creek at the Lower Huron River Metropark (Wayne County, near Belleville) had its best fall sample ever in 2011, and in this 2012 sample season it had its best spring sample ever. This sample was composed of fifteen insect families, including two families of stoneflies. The data now show significant improvement to the insect populations at this site.
Are you interested in getting into the water this summer?We want you to join a team that will measure and map a stream site this summer! Learn to “read a river” by characterizing the bed, the banks and other indicators of stream health. Training for this program will be on August 5! See our volunteer page for more information!