Archive for the ‘Land Use Planning’ Category

Community Techniques for Protecting Water Quality

Kris Olsson presents at the December 10 workshop

Kris Olsson presents at the December 10 workshop

Lively Discussions Lead to Learning

Over 60 people from the Huron River watershed and beyond gathered at the Freedom Township Hall to learn about Community Techniques for Protecting Water Quality. Elected and appointed officials from six townships attended the December forum on the vital role local governments play in protecting our region’s lakes, rivers, and streams and the natural areas that contribute to their quality. Attendees also included members of a variety of water protection groups and interested citizens, some driving as far as 200 miles from northern Michigan and Ohio.

Planning for community growth that protects natural areas is the key to ensuring clean water and vibrant communities for residents, businesses and farms. The goal of the forum was to share concepts, ideas and programs and to provide participants with an opportunity to learn from each other what works.

Harry Sheehan, the Deputy Water Resource Commissioner from Washtenaw County led the morning with an important overview on protecting water quality. Then Sally Rutzky and Erica Perry, Planning Commissioners from Lyndon and Webster Townships, communities HRWC has worked with to develop Green Infrastructure maps and plans, shared challenges and unique solutions to water and land protection issues. Monica Day, Michigan State University Extension educator, connected local water quality protection to statewide issues on the news like the Flint water crisis and algae problems in Toledo.

The forum was organized by HRWC, Mchigan State University Extension, Freedom Township, Pleasant Lake Property Owners Association, Michigan Lake and Stream Associations, the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner, Citizens Respecting Our Waters, and Washtenaw County Emergency Management.

Read about the event in The Sun Times News and the Manchester Mirror.

Forum presentations are available at HRWC’s Green Infrastructure page.

HRWC has received funding from the Knight Foundation to provide Green Infrastructure Planning Services to local governments.  This includes a workshop where residents and officials map out their community’s natural areas and greenways, an audit of their zoning ordinance, master plan and other policies, and technical support in enhancing policies to protect water quality and natural areas. If your local government would like Green Infrastructure Planning Services, email Kris Olsson or call her at (734) 769-5123 x 607.

News to Us

DSC01396

Mulching fall leaves is a river friendly practice. Photo credit: Dean Hochman via Flickr Creative Commons license.

HRWC’s commitment to compiling and sharing noteworthy water-related news continues. This month’s News to Us covers the recent listing of Lake Erie as impaired waters, problems associated with low density development, a great river recovery story and some tips on good river “housekeeping” for autumn leaves.

 

Conservation Groups Applaud Michigan’s Inclusion of Lake Erie in Impaired Waters Report
Last week the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality listed western Lake Erie as impaired waters under the Clean Water Act. Environmental groups have been advocating for this for some time now as it will allow for further research, funding and action to address the nutrient pollution that leads to toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie. This is very good news for this Great Lake. Many are pushing for Ohio to follow suit.

Is the Infrastructure ‘Time Bomb’ Beginning to Blow?
It may not be immediately obvious, but low density development—what we see in suburban and rural areas where homes are built on large lots far from city centers—is not good for waters and watersheds. Here at HRWC we prefer high density development in a few areas as opposed to low density development everywhere. This article highlights one of the problems associated with sprawling development. “Low density housing cannot pay the bills.”  The tax revenue is too low to cover the cost of infrastructure maintenance like roads, sewer and water necessary to serve these developments. When this infrastructure fails, the environment suffers. Check out our Smart Growth publications to learn more.

Taking Down Dams and Letting the Fish Flow
Last issue we shared an article about the human safety benefits of dam removal. This heartening story shows how quickly an ecosystem can rebound after dam removals. Three dams were removed on the Penobscot River in Maine in 2012 and 2013. Just three years later, huge numbers of native migratory fish have resumed their migration up the river—a trip they have not been able to make for nearly 200 years!

Leave The Leaves–Putting Organic Waste To Work
Leaves and grass that make their way into waterways add excess nutrients and use up valuable oxygen as they decompose. Local Master Composter Nancy Stone gives advice on how to utilize fall yard waste to maximize the benefits of fallen leaves. Leaves can be used in your yard to improve your soil and reduce weed growth. Nancy recommends mowing the leaves into your lawn. Mulching leaves can also reduce the greenhouse gas methane. Give this interview a listen as you are getting ready to clean up fall leaves. For more tips on river friendly home care visit our pollution prevention page.

News to Us

Microplastics issue far from solved. Image: Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr Creative Commons

Microplastics issue far from solved. Image: Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr Creative Commons

Stormwater management in a changing climate, buffering our rivers and lakes, emerging pollutants such as pharmaceuticals and microplastics, and drunk tubing (because, why not?) all in this edition of News to Us, HRWC’s monthly round up of noteworthy water news.

How Grand Rapids is prepping for the next big storm
Bridge Magazine takes an in-depth look at how two cities in Michigan are changing the way they build and rebuild to deal with heavier rainfall. Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor use innovative stormwater management practices to protect people and infrastructure from damage that can be caused by flooding.

Huron Natural River District One Step Closer In Webster
HRWC has been working with municipalities along the stretch of the Huron River designated a Natural River District.  Webster is strengthening protections for the river by adopting a local ordinance that requires buildings be set back a distance from lakes and rivers to minimize impacts of development to the ecological health and beauty of the Township’s water ways.

Emerging pollutants are those that are relatively new to our collective awareness of what negatively impacts our environment. Two recent articles illustrate the myriad ways that these pollutants show up and wreak havoc and how little we know about sources, impact and solutions. There is more work to be done.

And just for a little fun…

Fifteen hundred possibly drunk Americans successfully invade Canada via the St. Clair River
No this is not satire.  It is a real headline. A chuckle worthy headline.  None-the-less, a reminder to mind your manners and your neighbors when recreating in our state’s beautiful lakes and rivers. Read our Share the River Code here.

Getting the Word Out

HuronAutumnIt is not enough to protect the Huron River watershed. There is a whole world of watersheds and citizens reliant on plentiful clean water. So sometimes we step outside of our watershed boundaries to share with others what we are doing and how it is going. In return we learn from others making a difference in their watershed.  In the last month I have hit the road to talk with a few new audiences about some of the work of HRWC.

The Great Lakes Restoration Conference took place in the Windy City (it certainly lived up to this moniker while I was there) last month. Along with Alister Innes from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Cheryl Kallio from Freshwater Future, I spoke to an audience of Great Lakes restoration professionals about the impacts of coaltar sealcoat and the PAHs it contains, on lakes, rivers and human health. Minnesota is the only Great Lakes state that has achieved a ban of this product that is commonly used to maintain asphalt driveways and parking lots. We are hoping to grow the buzz on this topic within our region to help get PAH contamination (the compounds of concern in coaltar sealcoat) out of Great Lakes waters.

Next, I was off to Detroit to the Michigan Association of Planners Conference.  Here I participated in a panel sharing stories of how communities throughout Michigan are incorporating climate change into municipal planning and trying to build resilience in natural, social and economic systems so that when more extreme events hit our cities and towns we can bounce back quickly and sustain less damage.

Finally, the 3rd annual Stormwater Summit was held at Lawrence Technological University. What a diverse group of professionals we have doing seriously good work right here in southeast Michigan!  The audience received a brief on the Lake Erie algal bloom that contaminated Toledo’s drinking water in 2014 and what is happening in Michigan and Ohio to prevent a similar event in the future.  I presented our work within the Huron to adopt better rainfall data to create stormwater systems that can accommodate the heavier rains climate change brings to our area. We also heard about some very cool green infrastructure and urban conservation projects. Summit presentations will be available soon on the Pure Oakland Water website.

These types of exchanges ensure HRWC staff are aware of innovations occurring elsewhere that inspire our future work and give back to the community by sharing innovations of our own.

 

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.

NOW AVAILABLE: SOHC 2014 Presentations

The State of the Huron Conference 2014 is now history, but you can re-live the excitement by checking out the presentations from the day’s speakers.

Look for a summary of the Conference in the Summer 2014 Huron River Report available June 1st.

Widget SOHC 2014

Unadilla Township creates Green Infrastructure Plan

Joining Dexter and Lyndon townships in Washtenaw County and all communities in Oakland County, Unadilla Township has created a Green Infrastructure Plan that provides a map of its natural areas — woodlands, wetlands, grasslands, and waterways — and connections and pathways connecting them.  At a workshop facilitated by the Huron River Watershed Council as part of our Portage Creek Project, residents and officials from Unadilla Township studied maps of the township’s natural areas, topography, master plan designations, land use, and other natural assets, and drew over them onto transparent mylar natural area hubs, links connecting them, and special natural features such has Heron rookeries or rare plant communities. HRWC used the sketching to create the map and plan.

The township will use the plan to inform their land use planning and policy development, directing future development in a way that is in concert with their natural infrastructure.

HRWC will will hold a similar workshop for Stockbridge in January.  The Dexter and Lyndon township green infrastructure planning processes were also part of our Portage Creek Project.  Oakland County Planning and Development completed its Green Infrastructure planning program in 2009 — all of their communities now have plans and maps that inform their planning and policies.

News to Us

 

Swimming in Base Line Lake

Swimming in Base Line Lake

There is a lot of local action this edition of News to Us.  Read about a potential new wastewater treatment facility in Superior Township and lakeside residential development on Woodland Lake in Brighton.  Hamburg Township has come to resolution on conflict around boater behavior on Base Line Lake.  Learn more about the work of HRWC and many partners to enhance the role the river plays in many of our communities.  And finally, a recent article provides a good summary of the current status of fracking in the State of Michigan.

SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP: Board updated on developers’ DEQ permit application  Negotiations continue around a proposed 1,200 unit mobile home development and new wastewater treatment plant that would discharge into the Huron River in Superior Township.  Rock Riverine has submitted an application to DEQ for a wastewater discharge permit which would add phosphorus to the Huron in stretch of river that already exceeds the TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) for phosphorus.  TMDL’s are part of the Clean Water Act and set the maximum amount of a pollutant that a body of water can receive while still meeting water quality standards.

Development worries residents  A proposed project would bring nearly 50 new homes to Woodland Lake in Brighton Township on what may be the last undeveloped parcel on the lake.  The 43 acre parcel is currently forested with wetlands and is hilly.  Local residents are voicing their concerns over the development of this parcel and the impacts it would have on the lake. There is a public hearing tentatively scheduled for Feb. 10, 2014.

Hamburg won’t seek watercraft ordinance from state  Last month we highlighted an article citing growing concerns about noise and the inappropriate behavior of boaters on Base Line Lake.  In lieu of a watercraft ordinance, the Township has decided to provide additional patrolling as a first step to manage the issue.

Guest Blogger: Tom Woiwode  Friend of HRWC and champion for greenways in Southeast Michigan, Tom Woiwode blogs about RiverUp!, the water trail and other efforts to invest in the river for community vitality, economic development, and recreational and cultural activity.

Tighter regulations coming for hydraulic fracking in Michigan  For those following the fracking issue in Michigan, this article provides a nice summary of recent changes to regulations.  Read more about the natural gas extraction process, the rules regulating it and the public’s concern about the growing number of wells drilled using high volume hydraulic fracturing in the State.

 

Development Heating Up in Southeast Michigan

We need less of this....

We need less of this….

....and more of this.

….and more of this.

As this article in Crain’s Detroit Business describes, as Michigan rises from the Great Recession, housing and commercial development is coming back to Southeast Michigan and our watershed.

What does this mean for our watershed?  Should we “rouse the troops” and rejoin the fight against the development that raged throughout the 90’s and 00’s?

Here at HRWC, we’ve been thinking a lot about how to address the issue of development as it returns.  The greatest threat to our watershed is the altering of the watershed’s ecology and hydrology due to runoff pollution caused not by any particular sources, but by buildings, pavement, lawns, and farm fields.  And so, this is a very important issue for the watershed.

The typical development patterns of the recent past consumed large areas of farmland and natural areas and created large amounts of impervious surfaces such as roads, parking lots and rooftops.

To maintain the Huron Watershed’s health into the future, we need to encourage a different land development pattern; one that consumes less land per person and creates as little impervious surface as possible.  This means higher density where built infrastructure already exists, and the preservation of natural areas where “Green Infrastructure” (i.e. wetlands, forests, creeks, lakes, etc.) exists so those lands can continue to provide ecological services necessary to maintain quality of water, air, land, and life.

Here are some resources to check out to learn more about how Smart Growth can help preserve water quality:

HRWC publications related to Smart Growth

 

Protecting Water Resources with Higher Density Development

Protecting Water Resources with Smart Growth

Smart Growth Online

 

 

 

 

Looking for signs of RiverUp! around the Great Lakes

chicago lakefront

Strolling along Lake Michigan, Chicago

I grew up in Milwaukee, which means that during my childhood I assumed every city smelled of malted barley, yeast, and hops, ended the work week with Friday night fish fries, and designed their waterfronts for walking, biking, kite flying, sunbathing, swimming, dining, boating, and music and ethnic festivals.

Not until I was a bit older and had done some traveling did I notice that some cities embraced their position on the water and some (unfathomably!) had turned their backs to it. While traveling to several waterfront cities this fall, I have been reminded of what a special place my hometown is for the foresight of the city’s planners to provide beautiful spaces for people to experience Lake Michigan. I have also been reminded of the power of HRWC’s work with river towns and partners on RiverUp! to create a renaissance for the Huron River and turn our villages and cities to face – and embrace — the water.

So what of my observations of these waterfront cities? Grand Rapids, Chicago, and Cleveland, like Milwaukee, necessarily utilize at least portions of their waterfront for trade and commerce. Industrial uses aside, I was on the lookout for how these places physically connect people to the water and the waterfront to downtown.

Chicago does an admirable job of connecting people and downtown to Lake Michigan even amid the skyscrapers. The city’s investment in landscaping and trail maintenance along the waterfront is rewarded by the throngs of people enjoying this space between downtown and the water. A morning run along the lake was a treat for me since I miss living next to a Great Lake.

Grand Rapids is on a quest similar to RiverUp! through its revitalization of downtown that includes returning the rapids to the Grand River. The city, with its limited water frontage, will be challenged to incorporate more green space between the river and downtown that can provide a respite for city dwellers and ecological benefits at the river’s edges. But the motivation and the private and public investment focused on the city should take this city’s re-birth far.

Cleveland still mostly has its back on Lake Erie. In Cleveland, unlike Milwaukee and Chicago, downtown beaches, recreational paths, and open public green spaces are lacking. Rather, the space between the water and downtown is mostly paved and occupied by a stadium and industrial uses. I try to go for a run in most places that I visit for my own fitness and as a great way to experience a place. I had hoped for a waterfront route but had to bail on that idea when the hotel desk clerk (a runner herself) indicated that such a route was neither safe nor accessible on foot nor very scenic. I’d love to see Cleveland take a page from Milwaukee and celebrate its location on the Great Lake Erie. This city has its gems, to be sure, and the waterfront could be the most dazzling jewel in the crown.

Which cities do you think celebrate their waterfronts?


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