Archive for the ‘Stormwater’ Category

Shred, Gather, or Clear: How to Get Rid of Autumn Leaves

leaf-on-grassWe’re just past Autumn’s peak color burst and it’s time to properly deal with all the leaves left on the ground. There are a few ways to dispose of your leaves:

  1. Mow right over them and leave the bits to feed your lawn (easiest method).
  2. If you have a lot of leaves, you can gather the shredded leaves and compost them and/or use them as mulch for your garden beds, shrubs, and trees.
  3. Rake whole leaves up and make “leaf mold.” You’ll have some free compost in the future but keep in mind that whole leaves take longer to breakdown so plan for your pile “to stew” for a couple of years.
  4. Find out how your city/township collects leaves and gather your leaves for pick up. Some areas vacuum leaves from piles but most only gather from composting bins and leaf bags.
keep stormdrains clear flyer

Stormdrain awareness flyer for our Honey Creek outreach program

When leaves and debris end up in the street, they can clog stormdrains and cause flooding. When large amounts of leaves wash down stormdrains and into creeks and the river, they reduce oxygen and degrade fish habitat.

As part of our outreach project in the Honey Creek area, a team of seven HRWC interns took to the streets this past August to get the word out about the importance of keeping stormdrains clear of trash and other kinds of pollution. Together they labeled 498 stormdrains in residential areas while distributing 1,258 door hangers at homes along the streets they labeled. To learn more about Honey Creek, go here.

In addition to clearing your yards of leaves or for those who don’t have yards and still want to help, check out our Adopt-a-Stormdrain program. Through this unique give-back program, you can set your own volunteer hours and meet neighbors.

2017 Water Quality Monitoring Season Marks Halfway Point

Volunteers Jacinda Bowman, Daniel Tanner, Ron Fadoir, and Charlotte Weinstein at Silver Creek having fun and taking flow measurements.

Volunteers Jacinda Bowman, Daniel Tanner, Ron Fadoir, and Charlotte Weinstein at Silver Creek in Wayne County having fun and taking flow measurements.

In March, HRWC’s Water Quality Monitoring Program began the season with a volunteer orientation where we introduced what we do and gave an overview of the goals we hope to achieve. 50 enthusiastic individuals had field training just a few weeks later, and have been going out every two weeks to our 39 monitoring sites throughout Livingston, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties. At these site visits, volunteers grab water samples for chemistry analysis by a laboratory, gather field data such as dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and temperature, and also take flow measurements.

Another 18 volunteers attended our mid-season orientation in June. These new volunteers are joining the current team to help finish out the remainder of the monitoring season, which ends on September 28.

Pat Rodgers and Peg White gather field data at Woodruff Creek in Livingston County.

Volunteers Pat Rodgers and Peg White gather field data at Woodruff Creek in Livingston County.

Thanks to all of our Water Quality Monitoring Program volunteers for their help in gathering important watershed data, and to the leaders in the program who assist in training and overseeing the data collection in the field. We could not do it without you! We are at the halfway point!

For more information about the Water Quality Monitoring Program, click here.

Why I’m Marching

I will be joining the local March for Science this Saturday in my hometown of Ann Arbor. I am doing this because I have come to realize that those of us who are active scientists or who regularly use data or information produced by scientists need to do a better job communicating scientific discovery to the rest of the world. At its core, science is a systematic method of differentiating fact from opinion. Science is not a philosophy or religion. It is not a political platform. It is simply the best method we have to discover what is true about our world.

Here at HRWC, we engage in scientific discovery on a daily basis to learn about what is happening in the river, its tributaries and the land that drains to it. By utilizing the scientific approach to understanding, we can be confident that the actions we are taking, and the resources we ask our members and partners to invest have a strong likelihood of making a positive difference — to produce the high quality water resources that we want.

HRWC volunteer Larry and University of Michigan researcher Brandon installing stream sensor equipment.

HRWC volunteer Larry Scheer and University of Michigan researcher Brandon Wong installing stream sensor equipment.

The last few weeks I worked with our partners at the University of Michigan and our volunteers (our citizen scientists!) to install cutting-edge sensors and technology to make real-time observations of stream flows and water chemistry to help us better understand what happens during storms. This will lead us to recommend the best practices to capture and treat stormwater runoff in the future and improve water quality and river habitat. Without this evidence-based knowledge, we would just be guessing at what works.

What concerns me (and ultimately why I am marching) is that our current national leadership is proposing significant cuts to funding for all types of science. Further, policies are being proposed or established that run counter to well-established scientific understanding, like climate change, and the effects of environmental regulation. Science matters. Truth matters.

I encourage you all to get out and march with me or get out and contribute to our understanding by volunteering at events like Saturday’s River Round-up.

News to US

30158738441_16b87bda57_oNews to Us this month provides an update on the dioxane contamination case. Also, two new projects bring money to improve water quality in the Huron. Finally, read articles on two widespread water quality issues – PAH contamination due to coaltar pavement sealers and bacterial pollution from failing septic systems.

Judge grants local intervention in Ann Arbor dioxane pollution case In a precedent setting decision, Judge Connors granted intervention on legal negotiations associated with the Gelman dioxane plume to HRWC. Washtenaw County and the City of Ann Arbor were also granted intervention. As the Attorney General’s counsel stated, “…. in our experience we’ve never seen a circumstance where an environmental policy group or a public interest group basically has intervened and been a participant in the negotiation of a consent judgment, whether it’s the very first negotiation of a consent judgment, or in this case the fourth amendment to a consent judgment.” HRWC will represent the needs of the river ecosystem and recreational users.

$1.8M in federal funds to help protect Huron River watershed A significant award through a federal Farm Bill program is coming to the Huron. These funds will be used to protect natural and farmed lands and support farming practices that protect water quality. Efforts led by the Legacy Land Conservancy will be focused on the headwaters of the Huron in Oakland, Livingston and western Washtenaw counties. HRWC is one of many local groups involved in this unique partnership.

$675K design contract for new tunnel to Ann Arbor riverfront approved A major stormwater management and river access project in Ann Arbor now has the funding it needs to move forward. A tunnel will be built underneath the railroad tracks connecting pedestrians from Depot Street to the Border-to-Border trail and Argo park. This tunnel will also act as a release valve for stormwater which tends to back up and flood land and property in this low lying area where Allen Creek meets the Huron River.

Coal tar main source of toxicity in streams A recent study found that up to 94% of PAHs found in sediments in Milwaukee-area creeks and streams came from coaltar pavement sealants and that 78% of all samples had enough PAH content to be considered toxic. PAHs are a toxic class of chemicals that impact aquatic life and human health. HRWC has been working, in the face of mounting evidence, to ban the use of coaltar and other high PAH sealcoats to reduce the impacts of this unnecessary contaminant. Learn more about area bans at hrwc.org/coaltar

Aging septic systems fouling Michigan waters Did you know that Michigan is the only state that does not regulate septic systems? As many as 1.4 million of these systems exist within our state, very few are under any inspection and maintenance requirements. Sixty four rivers sampled in Michigan had bacterial contamination that was traced back to human sources. This is one of the biggest threats to Michigan waterways. HRWC has more information on this issue and how you can maintain your septic system here and will be investing in septic system education in Honey Creek, a tributary of the Huron considering impaired by the State for bacterial contamination.

Water Quality Monitoring Program Allows Active Involvement

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The 2016 Water Quality Monitoring Program season wrapped up at the end of September, and now I spend time compiling the data for analysis.  With the help of 60 volunteers between April and September, we gathered water samples for chemistry analysis at 37 sites throughout Washtenaw, Wayne, and Livingston Counties.  Flow measurements were also taken at several of those sites.  Monitoring sites are visited up to 12 times during the season, and it would be impossible to gather this much information, or visit as many sites, without the help of volunteers.  We are able to gather critical watershed data, as well as keep eyes on the Huron River and its tributaries for potential problems and risks such as erosion and pollution.  I am proud of this program, it allows citizens to become actively involved in protecting the Huron River watershed and the water we rely on for so much.  Thank you, volunteers, for helping us.

Mark your calendar for January 19, 2017 at 6:00pm and come to our Volunteer Appreciation and 2016 Field Season Results Presentation.

Find out more about the Water Quality Monitoring Program and sign up to volunteer in 2017.

Trees, plant one!

Is fall the best time to plant trees? Good question. Seems that the answer is debatable. With the onset of fall, there are a couple of compelling reasons to plant — availability and affordability! We know of at least two upcoming tree sales here in the shed:Tree at Island Lake by Anita Daley

Washtenaw County Conservation District fall tree sale (Order by September 30)

Matthaei Botanical Gardens fall native plant and tree sale (October 1/October 2, 10am-4:30pm)

What is not up for debate is that trees are good for protecting local waterways. “Polluted stormwater runoff is the number one threat to the Huron’s health. Trees soak up stormwater with their roots and intercept rainwater in their canopies. They filter pollution such as pesticides, fertilizers, and animal wastes out of runoff; and they shade the river and its streams, keeping them cool. One tree can intercept 1,763 gallons of runoff water each year.” Huron River Report, Fall 2014, Hardworking Trees, Low-cost watershed workers.

Need more proof? Check out Trees Tame Stormwater, an interactive poster from the Arbor Day Foundation. Drag the slider from few trees to abundant trees. Notice how clean and sparkly the urban river becomes — no doubt due to less polluted stormwater coming through that stormdrain (middle right).

Want to dig deeper?  Take a look at a Review of climate impacts to tree species of the Huron River watershed, from HRWC’s Climate Resilient Communities project. As climate zones shift across the Great Lakes region, some populations of native tree species will be stressed, and habitats may become more suitable for species from outside the region. Geared toward natural resource managers in the region, the guide includes tree species change summaries. You can see general trend predictions for trees like Red Maple and White Pine.

For more how-to info see Home Trees & Shrubs from Michigan State University Extension.

 

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.

Changing Rainfall Has Implication for How We Manage Stormwater

A new resource provides technical guidance to municipalities on how stormwater management is impacted by climate change.7663569208_a9187a9799_z

HRWC brought together stormwater managers from throughout the watershed and climate scientists to create a resource that provides a very usable quantification of how patterns in precipitation are changing in the Huron and what the implications of these changes are for managing the rain that falls on our communities.

This series of seven fact sheets takes the reader through the full story from the problem to the solutions.

Did you know that:

  • Total annual precipitation has increased by 15% across Southeast Michigan and 44% in Ann Arbor.
  • Heavy storms have become stronger and more frequent throughout the region.
  • A new analysis of historical rainfall data has been updated and we are seeing increases in the amount of rain falling in nearly every design storm.* For example, the 1% storm (aka, 100-year storm) is 17% larger than what we have planned for.

This means current stormwater infrastructure like pipes, pumps, detention ponds and other storage systems may reach capacity more frequently than expected which can result in more flooding, more pollution in runoff and potentially costly damage.

But there are solutions. Recommendations to municipalities outlined in the fact sheets include:

  • Use the new NOAA Atlas 14 rainfall frequency data for sizing new stormwater infrastructure which has more accurate design storms than other commonly used sources.
  • Revisit floodplain management, detention and conveyance systems and look for weaknesses in light of changing rainfall patterns.
  • Plan for a future with more rainfall and more severe storm events.
  • Utilize multiple strategies to protect people and infrastructure from harm including revised standards, improved design, green infrastructure, and appropriately sized grey infrastructure.

View, download and share Stormwater Management and Climate Change.
Implications of precipitation changes in Southeast Michigan and options for response: A guide for municipalities at hrwc.org/stormwater-and-climate.

*A design storm is a rainfall event of specified size and probability of occurrence. Design storms are used regularly by stormwater managers to design stormwater systems.

News to Us

France Climate Countdown

Eiffel Tower during Paris Climate Convention. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

News to Us covers a diversity of topics this month including articles that chronicle two significant threats to local water resources – stormwater runoff and coal tar pavement sealcoat, and three (yea!) bright spots highlighting solutions to – wastewater treatment, microbead contamination and global climate change.

Healing fractured water: How Michigan’s roadways impact our waterways. In Oakland County alone there is “nearly 2,700 miles of county roads that average 24 feet wide. With an estimated average annual rainfall of 30 inches, these roads generate over five billion gallons of stormwater runoff in just one year.” Learn more about roadway runoff, the issues and solutions (including mention of Ann Arbor’s Green Streets policy) in this article that is part of a series on the Great Lakes water cycle.

Coal tar sealants: Challenges ahead. This article provides a good overview of the issues associated with coal tar and other high PAH pavement sealcoats that residents commonly use to maintain and beautify asphalt surfaces.  This is an issue HRWC has been educating our partners and supporters about because of the significant water quality and human health impacts.  Read this article and visit our webpage www.hrwc.org/coaltar to learn what you can do.

Dexter Brewery Turning Wastewater To Energy. The City of Dexter and Northern United Brewing Company have come up with an innovative solution to a big water problem. Northern United has invested in a state of the art onsite wastewater treatment system that turns wastewater into energy and reusable water. This is allowing the company to expand its water use and treatment needs without overburdening Dexter’s municipal wastewater treatment plant.

Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris. Reason for celebration is the agreement reached at the Paris Climate negotiations last week.  The last set of negotiations in Copenhagen 6 years ago ended in gridlock and a lot of disappointing finger pointing with nations shirking responsibility, including our own. While there are significant weaknesses to the Paris accord, nearly every country signed the commitment including the U.S. and China, the world’s leading emitters. Many are viewing the accord the beginning of a global shift away from a fossil fuel based economy.  As global citizens we need to keep up the pressure on our countries to hold to their commitments.

U.S. House approves bill to ban plastic microbeads. News to Us has been tracking the issue of plastic microbead pollution in water for some time now.  Good news on this front as well. A bill banning this ingredient used in personal care products like soaps and toothpastes has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill now awaits a Senate vote.  A similar bill has be stalled in the Michigan legislature for some time now.

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.


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