Archive for the ‘At Home’ Category

2018 Watershed Community Calendar

You can be an H2O Hero!

The communities of the Huron River watershed have come together to produce another spectacular calendar. Chock full of stunning Huron River photography, stormwater pollution prevention tips and local resources to inspire you to enjoy and protect our beloved river.2018-watershed-community-calendar-cover-lo-res

Our hope is that, just like the H2O Heroes featured in the calendar, you turn inspiration into action. That you do something every day to protect clean water or work with HRWC in 2018 as a volunteer. Your calendar is conveniently marked with the dates of our Winter Stonefly Search, Spring and Fall River Roundups and the kick off training for our summer Water Quality Monitoring program!

How to get your calendar.

By mail.  Ann Arbor and Dexter have already direct-mailed it to most households in their communities.

In person.  Calendars are at these customer service counters:
-Livingston County Drain Commission and Road Commission
-Washtenaw County Water Resources Commission and Road Commission
-City of Ann Arbor
-City of Brighton
-City of Dexter
-City of Wixom2018-watershed-community-calendar-p2-lo-res
-City of Ypsilanti
-Village of Pinckney
-Green Oak Charter Township
-Hamburg Township
-Marion Township
-Pittsfield Charter Township
-Putnam Township
-Charter Township of Ypsilanti

*Barton Hills Village, Ann Arbor Public Schools, Eastern Michigan University and University of Michigan Environment, Health & Safety are also distributing calendars.

From HRWC. Contact Pam Labadie at plabadie@hrwc.org or (734)769-5123 x 602. We can mail a calendar to you for $5 or you can pick one up for free at HRWC in the NEW Center 1100 North Main Street, Ann Arbor, M-F, 8am-5pm.

About the Calendar.

The 2018 Watershed Community Calendar is a collaborative effort to educate residents about the importance of water stewardship and nonpoint source pollution prevention. The communities listed above believe there are substantial benefits that can be derived by joining together and cooperatively managing the rivers, lakes, and streams within the watershed and in providing mutual assistance in meeting state water discharge permit requirements. HRWC would like to thank them for their continued support of the calendar program.

Working for the Huron at Home

In addition to being the director at HRWC, I own a home. As a homeowner we’ve been trying to reduce our carbon footprint and save water and energy.IMG_0104

My work in the environmental field makes me familiar with the many things we can do at home to protect the environment. But it takes money and time to act on these tips. This past year we were finally able to work on a few “greening” home improvements, shared here for inspiration . . .

Rain Gardens

Last year we reached out to the Washtenaw County Water Resource Commissioner’s Office to help develop a plan to capture and infiltrate more of the runoff from our roof.  Years ago we installed a rain barrel but it is limited to 50 gallons per rain, with use in between rains.  I live in Ann Arbor on a pretty small parcel and there is not much room for rain storage and infiltration…or a garden.  But we were able to identify 2 different rain garden locations—one a swale along one side of the house and another in the front of the house.

After choosing plants and a design we installed the rain garden last spring—digging, mulching, and placing rocks and native plants strategically for rain water capture and aesthetics.

At first it didn’t look like much but as the summer and fall wore on the plants blossomed and grew.  We enjoyed running outside when it was raining to see the water gushing out of the gutter/downspout and in to the rain garden where it soaked in to the ground.  We found out that we have pretty sandy soils, unusual for this area, so the water soaked in quickly.  If anything, we can divert more runoff to this garden it was so “thirsty”.  I also learned, through trial and error, what was a weed and what wasn’t.  Staying on top of the weeding is the biggest challenge now that the rain garden is in.

Solar Panels

Last summer we also decided to install solar panels.  Since we had last looked in to solar panels the cost has come down substantially.  There are also substantial tax incentives in place this year that help with the price of the panels. We got quotes, talked with colleagues and friends who had installed panels and chose an installer, Homeland.  It took over 4 months until the system was up and running but in early November we were generating electricity!  We’re still getting familiar with how it all works but we have a nice looking box in the basement that hums when we are generating energy and a website to track our power generation.  We’re looking forward to the summer when the sun really shines to see how much energy we can generate and reduce our carbon.

For You!

If you are considering home improvements, or even smaller actions that help protect the environment, HRWC promotes many of them at our Take Action pages. Our booth at the Home, Garden & Lifestyle Show, March 18-20, will feature two sustainable landscaping experts providing free information on rain gardens and native plants: Susan Bryan leader of Washtenaw County’s Rain Garden Program (Saturday) and Drew Laithin of Creating Sustainable Landscapes (Friday/Sunday).

Susan also wrote the cover story for the Spring 2016 Huron River Report, sharing success installing private rain gardens in our Swift Run Project and offering some great tips for those considering DIY rain gardens. Take a look, its a good read and will inspire you to start a rain garden movement in your neighborhood.

Toxic Contaminants Found in Ann Arbor Detention Basins

Stevi with the boat, ponar and "muck bucket" for mixing sediment samples

Stevi with the boat, ponar and “muck bucket” for mixing sediment samples

Recently, a team of us HRWC staff went out to see if we could detect the kind of effects scientists from elsewhere are seeing from the application of coal tar sealants. In short, coal tar sealants and their recent cousins release a class of chemicals called polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which are toxic and known to cause cancer. For more detail on that work see a previous blog entry and our web page summarizing the threats.

To find out if this is indeed a concern in our area, we identified a few detention ponds to sample within the Huron’s biggest urban area of Ann Arbor. The City of Ann Arbor staff helped us find publicly accessible ponds that would capture runoff predominantly from urban areas with lots of hardened surfaces like parking lots and driveways. The city does not use coal tar sealants on its roads, but many businesses use it on parking lots and residents use it on driveways. We selected three ponds from different parts of the city to sample in a pilot effort to determine the level of PAH contamination of pond sediments. Ponds were selected from  within the Malletts, Traver and Fleming Creek watersheds.

Ric and Paul sampling sediments for PAHs

Ric and Paul sampling sediments for PAHs

Sampling these ponds is more difficult than it sounds. It required borrowing a row boat from our friends in the Eastern Michigan University Biology Department, hauling the boat through heavy brush and up steep hills, and rowing out through shallow, mucky waters where we dropped a ponar (i.e. sediment scooper) to grab 5 samples of the bottom sediment. These samples were combined into a single sample for each pond that was then sent to a private lab (with the help of Ann Arbor’s Water Treatment Laboratory staff) for PAH identification and quantification.

The results were shocking. Of the ten PAH samples with identified toxic effects levels, sediments from the Malletts Creek pond exceeded the “probable effects concentration” (PEC) for eight of them! This is the concentration of PAHs in the water that will have adverse affects to aquatic organisms. Sediments in the Traver and Fleming ponds exceeded the PEC for 6 and 4 of the PAH species, respectively. For many of the PAH samples, the PEC was exceeded by 10- or even 100-fold, indicating that the sediments are highly toxic!

Since other studies have indicated that between 50 and 70% of PAHs in detention pond sediments originate from coal tar sealants, it appears that Ann Arbor (and most probably other urban areas in the watershed) has a problem with coal tar leaching. While we only sampled three ponds thus far (we plan to sample others this spring), the results are consistent with findings from research scientists elsewhere.

So, what do we do now? HRWC is currently working with local municipal leaders in Van Buren and Scio Townships, the City of Ann Arbor and elsewhere to pass ordinances to ban the application of coal tar sealants. A state ban would be even more effective but we need to build the political will. Contact HRWC staff to find out how to get involved in your community, and check out the links above to learn what to do on your own driveway.

2016 Watershed Community Calendar

Find your clean water inspiration!

The communities of the Huron River watershed have come together to produce another spectacular calendar. Chock full of stunning Huron River photography, click stormwater pollution prevention tips and local resources to inspire you to enjoy and protect our beloved river.2016-Huron-River-Watershed-Community-Calendar-SM

Our best hope is that you find yourself inspired to work with HRWC in 2016 as a volunteer. Your first opportunity to experience the Huron first hand and help us look for the insects that are the most sensitive to pollution and habitat changes is at our Winter Stonefly Search on Saturday January 23. Your calendar is conveniently marked!

How to get your calendar.

By mail.  Ann Arbor and Dexter are direct-mailing to most households in their communities the weeks of October 26 and November 2.

In person.  Calendars will be at these customer service counters:
-Livingston County Drain Commission and Road Commission
-Washtenaw County Water Resources Commission and Road Commission
-City of Brighton
-City of Ypsilanti
-Village of Pinckney
-Green Oak Charter Township
-Marion Township
-Pittsfield Charter Township
-Charter Township of Ypsilanti

Barton Hills Village, Ann Arbor Public Schools, Eastern Michigan University and University of Michigan Occupational Safety & Environmental Health Department are also distributing calendars.

From HRWC. Contact Pam Labadie at plabadie@hrwc.org or (734)769-5123 x 602. We can mail a calendar to you for $5 or you can pick one up for free at HRWC in the NEW Center 1100 North Main Street, Ann Arbor, M-F, 8am-5pm.

2016-Calendar-June-SM

About the Calendar.

The 2016 Watershed Community Calendar is a collaborative effort to educate residents about the importance of water stewardship and nonpoint source pollution prevention. The communities listed above believe there 2016-Calendar-June-Month-SM are substantial benefits that can be derived by joining together and cooperatively managing the rivers, lakes, and streams within the watershed and in providing mutual assistance in meeting state water discharge permit requirements. HRWC would like to thank them for their continued support of the calendar program.

 

Want to seal your driveway? Don’t use coal-tar based sealant!

Capture

Beautiful but deadly? Credit: USGS

Many people like to use driveway sealants to prolong the life of their asphalt driveways and to give them an attractive, shiny glow.  However, in recent years there have been a number of scientific studies that indicate using coal tar sealants have significant environmental and health effects.  Coal tar sealants contain very high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), many of which are suspected or known carcinogens.

  • Coal tar pitch from sealcoat reaches streams and lakes via runoff as the sealcoat erodes. Coal tar sealcoat was determined in a study to be the largest source of PAH contamination to urban lakes.
  • PAHs are toxic to mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, invertebrates and plants. Invertebrates that live in the bottom sediment where PAHs accumulate are particularly susceptible to PAH contamination. Possible effects include reduced reproduction, forcing creatures from their habitat, and death.
  • The routine wear and tear of coal tar sealcoated pavements produces dust and particles contaminated with PAHs that can be breathed and accidentally ingested by people living by the pavements.  For someone who spends their entire lifetime living adjacent to coal tar sealcoated pavement, the average excess lifetime cancer risk is estimated to be 38 times higher than the urban background exposure. More than one-half of the risk occurs during the first 18 years of life.
  • Much of the scientific argument against coal tar comes from the USGS, and you can learn more here: Studies and information from the United States Geological Survey.

There is a safer alternative if sealants are needed.  Asphalt based sealcoats are safer, readily available, and very affordable according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website.  (The state of Minnesota has banned coal tar sealcoats and provides information on alternatives.)  The most common and least expensive alternative to coal tar sealcoat now on the market is petroleum asphalt based sealcoat.  Asphalt sealcoats contain PAHs, but at far lower levels than coal tar sealcoats—about 1/1000th the PAH level of coal tar sealcoats.

HRWC is currently investigating how wide-spread the use of coal tar sealants is in our communities.  We are not sure if this is a minor problem here, or a serious issue. We will release more information as more is learned over the coming month. However, one thing seems undeniable- you do not want this material used at your house, at your neighbors’ houses, or on parking lots that you and your children walk on.

This June 20, 2013 USA Today article gives some pertinent advice. “Before sealing your driveway, hire only a contractor who provides a MSDS (material data safety sheet) for the intended product. Check to see if it contains this CAS number for coal tar: 65996-93-2. If doing the work yourself, buy only products with a “coal tar free” logo.”


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