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Posts Tagged ‘Water Quality’

What’s Going on in Norton Creek?

Volunteers Mary Bajcz and Larry Scheer monitoring at Norton Creek

Volunteers Mary Bajcz and Larry Scheer monitoring at Norton Creek

On June 3, 2015, the Huron River Watershed Council started sampling at 10 sites on Norton Creek, located in Oakland County.   In addition to water quality monitoring, volunteers and interns are also assessing the area by looking at the road/stream crossings, creek walking and paddling on the creek, and conducting neighborhood assessments.

Norton Creek, a tributary to the Huron River, drains 24.2 square miles and is located in portions of Commerce, Lyon and Milford Townships, and the cities of Novi, Walled Lake, Wixom and Wolverine Lake in Oakland County.

Norton Creekshed Map

Norton Creekshed Map

Bill Lee at Norton

HRWC Volunteer Bill Lee grabs samples at a Norton Creek site.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality designated Norton Creek as impaired due to excess sediments and low dissolved oxygen. Dissolved oxygen refers to the amount of oxygen that is available in water, and it is essential for aquatic life and good water quality. The cause for low dissolved oxygen in Norton Creek is attributed to high biological and sediment oxygen demand — meaning that algae and bacteria are consuming all available oxygen, leaving none for bugs and fish.

HRWC was awarded a SAW grant (Stormwater, Asset Management, and Wastewater Program) to fund the Norton Creek project.  Based upon the data collected from our monitoring efforts, a watershed management plan will be developed to address and fix the impairment.

HRWC intern Gianna Petito sampling at a Norton Creek site.

HRWC intern Gianna Petito sampling at a Norton Creek site.

 

 

The extent of impairments and the likely source contributions will be evaluated, along with the development of a realistic prescription of remediation, restoration, and protection actions.  HRWC has been and will continue to work with key stakeholders and concerned citizens in the Norton Creek communities in a collaborative effort to help restore this at-risk creek.

We want to thank the volunteers and interns who are helping HRWC with the data collection effort!  It is because of your help that we are able to quickly and efficiently gather the data we need to develop an effective watershed management plan to improve Norton Creek!

Sunshine, bugs, and volunteers

Now that is a lot of sunshine!

Now that is a lot of sunshine! credit: Kristen Baumia

People enjoying nature!

We could not have asked for better spring weather for our 120 volunteers on April 18!  They soaked in the sun and warmth while visiting 50 different creek and river locations across the Huron River Watershed. Held twice a year, HRWC’s River Roundup is one of the most effective ways that HRWC has to understand how the water quality of the river and creeks may be changing. From the macroinvertebrates collected during this event, we are able to keep abreast of the health of our waterways throughout the watershed. You can see all the results in April 18 River Roundup Report.

Highlight

Mill Creek is the largest tributary to the Huron River, draining  143 square miles of land, 68 of which are agriculture. Agricultural impacts have certainly taken their toll on Mill Creek, with some Mill Creek’s tributaries no more than straightened ditches, and the creek has phosphorus and E.Coli issues that come from fertilizers and animals. However, great things are happening in Mill Creek, including the removal of Mill Pond Dam in Dexter, stream stabilization projects, landowner education, and a renewed interest in bringing residents to the waterfront. 

Changes in the EPT families on Mill Creek, Shield Road. The red line shows the Mill Pond Dam removal.

Changes in the EPT families on Mill Creek, Shield Road. The red line shows the Mill Pond Dam removal.

As a part of the River Roundup, volunteers regularly visit 9 sites on Mill Creek (the main branch and several tributaries).  Four of these sample sites are showing significant improvements in the macroinvertebrate populations, indicating improving water quality and habitat.  These four sites are Shield Road (near the mouth), Manchester Road and Klinger Road (both in the headwaters), and Fletcher Road (on the north branch).

Shield Road in particular seems to be doing quite well with several highly diverse samples taken since the removal of the downstream dam.  The graph to the right shows the changes in the EPT (mayfly-stonefly-caddisfly) family diversity, with the red line in the middle of the graph indicating the dam removal. Samples in the early 2000′s were particularly poor with only 2 or 3 families found, and now we are regularly finding  6 or 7. Insect families that are now found which were not found previously include Baetid mayflies, Isonychia mayflies, Leptophlebia mayflies, and the Philopotamid caddisfly.

You can learn more about Mill Creek from our creekshed report.

Lowlight

South Ore Creek has fewer insects than we would expect despite areas of great habitat. When this happens, the likely culprit is some type of chemical pollutant.

South Ore Creek has fewer insects than we would expect despite areas of great habitat. When this happens, the likely culprit is some type of chemical pollutant.

If you have read these updates before, you will recall that we have learned that several streams in Livingston County have had significant reductions in their insect populations over time.  In fact, of the 62 sites that we monitor across the Huron River Watershed, 20 are in Livingston County, and 9 of those have statistically significant reductions. In contrast, HRWC monitors 30 sites in Washtenaw County and the insects at 12 sites are statistically improving while zero are declining.  Now, this may simply be a coincidence, as it is difficult to explain why a political boundary can make such a difference in insect populations.  But the data speaks pretty clearly; among others, Davis Creek (South Lyon area) has been declining, and South Ore Creek (Brighton area) is also getting worse.  Thankfully, both of these creeks could still be considered relatively healthy (when compared to more heavily urbanized creeks like Malletts), but we have to make some extra efforts to get these creeks to reverse their negative trends.

 

What’s next?

You should be a creekwalker! In this unique program, you will walk up and down a stream, exploring it and looking for possible pollution sources.  Join by yourself, with friends, or with your family.  Learn more about it at http://www.hrwc.org/volunteer/creekwalker/.

World Water Day

Reflections on World Water Day 2015

Reflections on World Water Day 2015

Sunday marked the 21st annual World Water Day – a day to reflect on the value of a resource often easy for those of us fortunate enough to be in a water rich environment to take for granted.  News media and social networks were abuzz with coverage of this event and the importance of water.  Take a moment to browse some of the great coverage out there by searching on #WaterIs in Twitter.

I ran across a simple blog sharing some compelling statistics about freshwater: 36 eye-opening facts about water.  The piece is a good reminder of how good we have it, how important water is to protect, and how we all might be better stewards.

Some of the 36 that jumped out at me?

10. More than one-quarter of all bottled water comes from a municipal water supply – the same place that tap water comes from.Break the bottled water habit.  In our area tap water is clean and safe.  Even tasty. In fact, for Ann Arbor water customers, A2 water frequently wins the regional Michigan Water Tasting Competition (yes, this is a thing).

And then there are these; “24. On average, an American resident uses about 100 gallons of water per day. 25. On average, a European resident uses about 50 gallons of water per day. 26. On average, a resident of sub-Saharan Africa uses 2 to 5 gallons of water per day.” Each of us can do better.  Small actions can help us achieve more efficient use of water.

For example, “33. It takes 3,962 gallons of water to produce 2.2 pounds of beef.”  Eating less meat can dramatically reduce your water footprint.  Also, “14. A running toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water each day.” Simply maintaining our plumbing is another habit we can get into to reduce water use that doesn’t even touch the water you actually use in a day.  It just cuts back on the waste.

And finally, “11. Approximately 400 billion gallons of water are used in the United States per day; nearly half of that is used for thermoelectric power generation.” By reducing your energy use, you are conserving water as well (and reducing your carbon footprint too!).

You don’t have to look far to find stories about the devastation caused by water scarcity or the consequences of spreading a finite resource too thin. The extreme drought in the Western United States shows we are not immune to the impacts of a lack of water. So, take a moment to reflect on everything water provides and how you can do your part to tread lightly on this vital resource.  And next time you set eyes upon the Huron River let her know how much you appreciate what she does for you.

How is Your Local Government Doing?

Ever wonder how best to protect the river and its watershed?

We think about this everyday here at HRWC.

There are 63 different local governments in the Huron watershed

There are 63 different local governments in the Huron watershed. Click map to enlarge.

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.

Stoneflies! Cute AND educational!

Stonefly Search 2015 Wrap Up

A Surprisingly Pleasant January Day
So cute! Who wouldn't want to spend a cold Saturday in January looking for one of these?

So cute! Who wouldn’t want to spend a cold Saturday in January looking for one of these?

You never know what a Michigan January will bring; last year HRWC was forced to cancel the Stonefly Search because of sub-zero temperatures and blizzard conditions.  But this year, on January 17, 125 intrepid volunteers enjoyed bright sunshine and 30 degree weather as they spread across the Huron River watershed. They were in search of stoneflies, which are only found in clean and healthy streams.  Everyone made it back safe, and not a single leaky wader was reported! Overall, it was a great success!

The results are in, and are given in this pdf report.

What We Found

1. Usually when we look at the data after an aquatic bug search, we see that some sites do better than normal, some sites do worse, but most sites stay the same. This was a strange year because while most sites stayed the same, several did worse than normal, and none did better.  Overall, the count of stonefly families was down about 10% from our last sampling event (2013). There is no clear explanation for this; weather conditions were great and the ice wasn’t any thicker than other year.  We will start to be concerned if we continue to see this happen year after year. However, there is always natural variation in the data and collecting and this year will likely not be the start of a downward trend in terms of the overall sampling.

 

Caroline, HRWC Intern and volunteer, scours Malletts Creek in hopes of scoring a Capnid.

Caroline, HRWC Intern and volunteer, scours Malletts Creek in hopes of scoring a Capnid.

2. That being said, there are specific locations that have shown long-term degradation. For example, Honey Creek in Ann Arbor. The team searching for stoneflies in Honey Creek at Wagner were unable to find stoneflies. This site has been sampled 14 times since 1995, and this is the first time that stoneflies could not be found. This is a site with lots of turbulent highly oxygenated water and should be a great place for stoneflies. Taken in isolation, the absence of the stoneflies at Wagner Road would not be concerning given that this is a single sample.  However, two upstream Honey Creek Adopt-a-Stream sites used to have stoneflies but haven’t in years.  Stoneflies haven’t been seen in Honey Creek at Jackson Road since 2008; they haven’t been at Honey Creek at Pratt Road since 2003. All of the pieces combined indicates that the overall quality of Honey Creek is degrading over the last decade.

3. Davis Creek at Pontiac Trail is another location where the stonefly population has dropped over time. This change is concerning because it happened slowly over the last ten years and our spring and fall samples show a very similar pattern.  In the early 2000s we regularly found one or two stonefly families at the creek, but they started to drop off and now have not been found since 2009.

4. All this doom and gloom needs to be put in perspective, though. Remember, most of the sites we visited were as healthy as ever.  Of the 61 Adopt-a-Stream sites that HRWC uses to assess the overall water quality of the watershed, stoneflies are regularly found at 38 of them. In other words, 62% of our watershed has very high water quality and habitat. This agrees with recent analyses of other HRWC data, showing that 66% of the watershed was good to very high quality, 28% was fair to good, and 7% was highly impacted (2014 State of the Huron)

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 29.  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!

 

The team gathers around the white trays to sort debris and hunt for stoneflies!

The team gathers around the white trays to sort debris and hunt for stoneflies!

 

 

2014 Leaves the Huron Nutrient Story Complicated

An excessive amount of nutrients is the top water quality concern in the Huron River watershed and the Great Lakes region, if not the entire county. This summer’s drinking water crisis in Toledo is a prime example of the potential impact. Waters in the Huron River watershed have suffered similar impacts, though somewhat less dramatic. Still, multiple millions of dollars have been invested within the watershed to reduce the sources of phosphorus (the growth-limiting nutrient in the region). So, where are we today, as we close out 2014? Have the programs, projects and other investments made any impact? HRWC’s Water Quality Monitoring Program results should shed some light on this question. 

The first look at the phosphorus trends suggests that we have made little recent progress. As shown in the first chart, raw phosphorus concentrations in the middle Huron River watershed steadily declined from the beginning of the monitoring program (2003) through 2009, when the average phosphorus concentration rose above target levels (red line). From 2010 through this year, concentrations were much more variable, but averages were distinctly above the target. Phosphorus concentrations were also well above the target in the Lower Huron watershed over the last three years (not shown).

Total phosphorus concentrations in the middle Huron River Watershed

Total phosphorus concentrations in the middle Huron River Watershed

These raw results do not provide a complete picture, however. Concentrations can vary tremendously (just look at the error bars) depending on a number of variables, most importantly stream flow. 2008 was a particularly dry year, for example, while stream flows were well above average in 2011. HRWC storm sampling shows that, as stream flows increase during a rain storm, phosphorus concentrations increase, often dramatically.

When we account for the stream flow at the time of sampling, we get a somewhat different picture. The second chart shows phosphorus concentrations at Ford Lake, when adjusted for river flow (also shown as the blue line). The chart shows four periods — 1995 when the state DEQ sampled to set a phosphorus control policy, and three periods after the monitoring program began.

Phosphorus concentrations and river flow at Ford Lake

Phosphorus concentrations and river flow at Ford Lake

From this view, it is obvious that concentrations have come way down from original ’95 levels. Also, phosphorus concentrations have come back up since 2009, but by less than it seems from raw concentrations.

It is unclear why we have seen the recent increase in phosphorus concentrations. It does not appear to be linked to sediment concentration (i.e. erosion) as those data are not well correlated. Some national studies suggest that historical fertilizer application may be dissolved and slowly moving through the groundwater. If that is the case, while direct application of phosphorus in fertilizer has been addressed (through fertilizer policy in the City of Ann Arbor and later statewide law), we are still seeing the legacy effects of over-fertilization in our urban/suburban areas. There also has been an increase in phosphorus loading from the more heavily agricultural Mill Creek watershed, which could partially explain the increase.

HRWC provides a more detailed tributary evaluation in its annual monitoring report. For reports, presentations and 2014 raw data, see the Water Quality Monitoring page.

Protecting Water Under the Clean Water Act

We needy our help to bring protections back to our wetlands and small streams.

We need your help to bring protections back to our wetlands and small streams.

Wait, what?  The Clean Water Act doesn’t protect clean water?  How can that be?

Well in 2001 and 2006 there were 2 Supreme Court Decisions that confused the implementation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and placed many wetlands and streams out of protection and at risk.

Earlier this year, the U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers released a very important draft rulemaking. This draft rule clarifies which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act.  This rulemaking will fundamentally influence our work to protect or restore our watershed.

Please comment on the draft US EPA rule on Clean Water Protection (aka Waters of the US) Rulemaking

Comments on this important rulemaking are due October 20, 2014. We encourage river lovers (YOU) to speak up! If you haven’t been following this issue or need a refresher, please check out this link.

Your comments can be as simple as, “Clean water is important to me. I want EPA to protect it for my health, my family, and my community” or as specific as, “I support the agencies proposal to define “waters of the United States” in section (a) of the proposed rule for all sections of the CWA to mean: Traditional navigable waters; interstate waters, including interstate wetlands; the territorial seas; impoundments of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, including interstate wetlands, the territorial seas, and tributaries, as defined, of such waters; tributaries, as defined, of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, or the territorial seas; and adjacent waters, including adjacent wetlands. Waters in these categories would be jurisdictional “waters of the United States” by rule—no additional analysis would be required.”

Thank you!

Underwater Mussel Shenanigans

While doing a habitat assessment on the Huron River, I was lucky enough to see a pocketbook mussel in the process of attracting a fish host and managed to get some pictures and a video of it.

Please excuse the poor video quality- it looks like a bubble got trapped on our underwater camera lens! But you can make it out. The mussel is buried in the sediment, positioned so that its opening is facing up. The mussel is extending a part of its mantle into the current to use it in its reproduction process.

Mussels reproduce by releasing their glochidia (microscopic larvae) in the presence of fish.  The glochidia latch onto the fish’s gills and fins where they dwell for days or weeks, depending on the species and water conditions.  During this time the glochidia develop into microscopic juveniles and eventually drop off the fish.  If they land in a suitable place, they can create a new mussel bed.

mussel reproduction

Therefore, since fish are integral to a mussel’s life cycle, the mussels have developed ways to get a fish’s attention. By extending the colorful mantel into the current, the mussel acts like an angler’s fish lure! When a fish gets closer- the mussel shoots out the glochidia!

Special acknowledgments go to Ryan and Marty of ECT, for experiencing this really cool find with me.

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


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