Our first News to Us of 2024 looks back on the financial impacts of natural disasters in 2023 and even further back on an old ghost town under the surface of the Huron River. We also include articles on the latest national river and stream health assessment, outdoor recreation accessibility in Michigan, and a new Oakland County green stormwater infrastructure rebate program.

EPA publishes third national assessment of river and stream health
The Environmental Protection Agency released its third assessment of river and stream health for the United States. The report indicates that while some streams improve, others still face challenges. River miles with healthy fish populations increased by 10 percent and fewer stream miles exceeded standards for enterococci bacteria. However, only 35 percent of US river miles are rated in good condition for fish. Nitrogen and phosphorus continue to be the most widespread water contaminants across the country. The majority of US river miles are rated in poor condition for these nutrients. Nonetheless, the survey indicated a 17 percent reduction in phosphorus-impaired rivers.

Old pink map/atlas of Rawsonville in Wayne County, Michigan
A Belden atlas of Rawsonville in Wayne County from 1876, before the creation of French Landing Dam and Belleville Lake. Photo credit: H. Belden & Co.

Discover Michigan’s underwater ghost town of Rawsonville
This article from Awesome Mitten describes the history of Rawsonville, a Civil War-era village in Michigan along the Huron River. Rawsonville was a thriving community until the 1880s when residents began moving away due to a lack of railroad service through the town. In 1925, the construction of the French Landing Dam and Powerhouse flooded Rawsonville and created Belleville Lake, an impoundment of the Huron River. Today, a historical marker celebrates the legacy of Rawsonville, which now exists as an underwater ghost town.

Michigan state parks system leads the nation in accessible recreation
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has made Michigan a national leader in accessible outdoor recreation by expanding off-road mobility chairs in its state parks and recreation areas. Michigan now has 25 off-road mobility devices, more than any other state. Instead of wheels the chairs have tracks like a snowmobile to enable navigating snow, sand, trails, and even a few inches of water. Learn more about accessible outdoor recreation amenities available at Michigan’s state parks.

2023’s billion-dollar disasters list shattered the US record
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States experienced an unprecedented number of billion-dollar disasters in 2023. The costliest events were the Southern/Midwestern drought and heat wave event at $14.5 billion in damages and the Southern/Eastern severe weather event in early March with $6 billion. In addition, 2023 was the nation’s fifth-warmest year on record, with five US states and the globe experiencing the warmest year on record.

Oakland County offers residents up to $2,000 in RainSmart Rebates for going green
The Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner has launched a new program called RainSmart Rebates. The program is aimed at homeowners in the Clinton River watershed’s George W. Kuhn Drain Drainage District and offers rebates for the installation of residential green stormwater infrastructure. The program provides up to $2,000 for implementing sustainable stormwater practices such as planting trees, installing rain barrels, or constructing residential rain gardens. RainSmart Rebates aims to foster awareness about stormwater management and promote environmental stewardship among homeowners. Check your eligibility at OakGov.com/RainSmart.