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.
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.
A special Earth Day tribute from an HRWC volunteer
If you have ever volunteered with HRWC, explored one of its many creeks on your own, or even wondered “where are these creeks HRWC keeps talking about?” you will want to read this thoughtful essay of observations from author Pat Chargot. Pat volunteered for HRWC’s Water Quality Monitoring Program in 2016. She shares what she learned about her home waters and more in “Exploring the Home Waters.”
Thank you Pat for protecting the Huron River.
Enjoy and happy Earth Day!
Read a sample of local to national news pieces that caught the eyes of HRWC staff over the past month. Water quality, local flooding, recycling water and summer recreation are topics covered in this edition of News to Us.
Caution urged along swollen rivers, streams Water levels are still high throughout the watershed. Please use extra caution if on or near the rivers until water levels have subsided after recent record rainfalls.
The Huron River Water Trail As we gear up for another warm weather recreation season here Michigan, HRWC’s Elizabeth Riggs blogs on how to optimize your experience on the Huron River.
In US, Water Pollution Worries Highest Since 2001 Results from a recent Gallup poll show that water is on the minds of the American Public. Take a look at this year’s numbers and how it compares to other years.
Beer Brewers Test A Taboo, Recycling Water After It Was Used In Homes Companies are innovating water use and conservation, especially in areas where water scarcity concerns are growing. Water can be safely reclaimed, for example, and a group of brewers in the West are helping to debunk taboos associated with this practice.
What’s at Stake in Trump’s Proposed E.P.A. Cuts The Environmental Protection Agency has been the subject of much attention since the proposed White House budget was released last month. This article does a good job of digging into the weeds of what is likely to be affected by the proposed cuts. You may be surprised with breadth of responsibilities the EPA has and what we stand to lose should the cuts make it through budget negotiations. The loss of nonpoint source grant funding will directly impact the work of HRWC as will a number of other cuts. Nonpoint source grants provide funding for a significant number of our projects.
We often write about our projects and give updates on how we are achieving our goals. Today, we are sharing a quick, at-a-glance summary of what we accomplished from 2015-2016.
You can also learn about our 2016 accomplishments at our upcoming Annual Meeting on April 27, 5:30-7:30 pm at the Ann Arbor District Library, Traverwood Branch, 3333 Traverwood Drive (at Huron Parkway). Program staff will present results and answer questions. And we will celebrate some very special HRWC contributors with Stewardship Awards. This event is open and free to all, refreshments included. Please join us!
Want more details now? Check out our 2015-2016 Annual Report.
The Huron River Watershed Council joined a delegation of river protection leaders from around the country to Washington, D.C. last week. The goal of the Fly In was to make it clear that clean water matters to all Americans across the country and along the political spectrum. Our group included representatives from 16 organizations hailing from Alaska to Oklahoma, Wisconsin to Florida, and Maine to California. Clean Water Network convened the event.
For two days, we shared first-hand stories – with each other and with federal agency representatives — about how water pollution affects our families, neighbors, and communities. We spoke in favor of holding a strong line of defense on everything from ensuring that infrastructure investments provide safe drinking water to preserving TMDLs that keep pollution in check in order to keep our rivers, lakes, and streams protected. The Trump Administration’s February Executive Order concerning the Clean Water Rule was foremost on everyone’s mind for its potential to jeopardize implementation of the Clean Water Act.
On the first day, our Clean Water Network hosts provided information on the politics of conservation with the new Congress and the Trump Administration, the proposed rollbacks of the Clean Water Act, and drastic budget cuts to the US EPA and Army Corps of Engineers – the cops on the beat of enforcing our country’s environmental laws. We met with top decision makers in the Office of Water at agency headquarters. Having an audience with senior staff gave our group first-hand knowledge on topics ranging from stormwater and agricultural runoff, to the future of the Clean Water Rule and regional programs for the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.
Day two featured a meeting with senior staff of the Army Corps of Engineers Regulatory Program to present our concerns and pose questions on a variety of topics. (Michigan is less affected by Army Corps activities than most other states since the state is authorized to implement wetlands program permitting; in 48 states, the Army Corps implements the program.) A guided boat tour of the Anacostia River from the Anacostia Riverkeeper and Anacostia Watershed Society was a highlight. We ended the Fly In with trainings to sharpen advocacy and persuasion skills, and strategizing with other Clean Water Network members to take coordinated action to protect our local waterways.
I can share a few key conclusions from the Fly In:
- Be ready for a shorter-than-usual public input phase on the Clean Water Rule rulemaking. We need to give specific, detailed comments during the public input period as well as inundate the agency with sheer volume of comments in order to show level of public interest.
- EPA Administrator Pruitt is interested in nutrient pollution and understands that it is a significant problem but wants to see a state-driven nutrient framework, which is consistent with this administration’s federalism bent.
- Advocating for regional programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is important, yet we also need to support EPA core programs like permitting and enforcement.
- We need to seek support from our congressional delegation in Michigan to let them know that clean water is a priority.
I am grateful to Clean Water Network for inviting HRWC on this recent trip to DC. It is important that local watershed and river groups show up and speak to lawmakers and agency staff about issues that impact us. Americans didn’t vote for more pollution in their water, no matter how they voted in the election. If you are interested in Standing Strong for Clean Water with HRWC, join us as we come together to fight rollbacks to our bedrock clean water laws.
In this edition of News to Us, learn some of the implications of the proposed federal budget for the Great Lakes, how HRWC is helping prepare the Huron River for climate change, the magnitude of the challenge of aging water infrastructure, and see a short film on the inner workings of a river.
Trump Proposal To Gut Great Lakes Funding Could Allow Pollution To Flourish
The fund which allocates almost $300 million each year to the protection and restoration of our nation’s Great Lakes is proposed to be completely defunded. The new administration’s proposed budget cuts the bipartisan Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) entirely as they seek to reduce EPAs budget by 31%. (This article was written before the official budget was released. Cut went from 97% to 100% at the official budget release this week.) GLRI has been in place since 2010 and has funded critical work from studying Harmful Algal Blooms to supporting cleanup efforts in our most polluted waters and so much more. The implications of this are wide reaching from serious declines in water quality and losing ground on invasive species to significant impacts to the economy of our coastal towns and job losses in tourism and research. HRWC is meeting with and talking to our Senators and Representatives and please do too–call your Senators and Representatives and ask they fight to protect the GLRI.
Issues Of The Environment: Building Resilience Along The Huron River Amidst Changes In Climate HRWC’s Rebecca Esselman is interviewed on the impacts of climate change to the Huron River and the strategies being implemented to help the river adapt to a new climate future. Protecting forests along the river and stream, restoring habitat and improving the management of flow by dams can create conditions that will help the Huron be more resilient to more extreme rainfall events, drought and higher air temperatures. Watch a short film on this topic here.
We have a lot of old water infrastructure, so what do we do about it? Our water infrastructure – the pipes, pumps and plants that deal with stormwater, drinking water and wastewater are old and failing. The price tag associated with necessary upgrades is huge and the source of that money is unknown.
The Secret Life of Rivers
And for a little fun, check out this really cool glimpse at a rarely considered, hyper-important part of a river system- the hyporheic zone. It will only add to your awe and respect for these complex ecosystems. And as an added bonus, a tardigrade makes a guest appearance and if you don’t know about tardigrades, google it. They are astounding.
New resources and training for waterfront (river and lake) property owners.
Michigan Shoreland Stewards provides recognition for lakefront property owners who are protecting the waterquality and ecosystems of inland lakes through best practices. These include reducing fertilizer use, maintaining septic systems, creating fish habitat with woody debris and native aquatic plants, and using native trees, shrubs and wildflowers to capture runoff and prevent erosion. The free web-based questionnaire is designed to guide you through the practices and help you determine how to achieve Gold, Silver or Bronze status. Qualifying properties get a certificate and a sign. Many of the practices can be adapted for riverfront properties.
Wisconsin’s Healthy Lakes website includes five simple and inexpensive best practices that improve habitat and water quality on your lakeshore property. Factsheets, technical guidance and detailed how-to information for creating fish habitat at the water’s edge and on using native plant buffers, diversion, rock infiltration and rain gardens to capture and clean runoff. Most practices apply to riverfront properties.
Sat, March 25, 2017. Protecting Your Shoreline: A Workshop for Inland Lakefront Property Owners, Michigan State University Extension, Oakland County Executive Office Building Conference Center, Waterford, Michigan. For property owners interested in creating, restoring and managing natural shorelines. This workshop is designed to educate on natural erosion control methods and will discuss techniques for using natural landscaping along the shoreline for erosion control and habitat while maintaining the aesthetic value of the lakefront. Register by March 22.
Fri-Sat, April 21-22, 2017. 56th Michigan Lake and Stream Associations Annual Conference, “Bridging the Resource Gaps: Enhancing the Ability of Lakefront Communities to Prevent and Manage Aquatic Invasive Species,” Crystal Mountain Resort, Thompsonville, Michigan. The conference will provide participants with the knowledge, information, and ideas to improve their lakefront community’s ability to prevent and/or manage aquatic invasive species. Learn more about the latest efforts to control invasive mussel populations, the status of starry stonewort in Michigan waters, purple loosestrife management initiatives, and the efforts of the Michigan Swimmers Itch Partnership. MiCorps Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program will also hold its annual volunteer training at the MLSA Conference, on Friday.
At HRWC’s annual data collection presentation in January, I shared the results from the 2016 field season of our Bioreserve Project, which assesses and protects the remaining natural areas in the watershed.
We use data from HRWC’s Bioreserve Map and field assessments to help our partners direct limited funds to strategically protect the most ecologically important lands. Our field assessments measure indicators of ecological quality in order to find the sites that are providing the most ecological services to the watershed. In 2016, 24 volunteers helped us do 36 assessments. HRWC has done assessments on 320 properties throughout the watershed.
This year, in Washtenaw County nearly 300 acres (six properties) were permanently protected with conservation easements. This includes an addition to Legacy Land Conservancy‘s Reichert Preserve, on Portage Creek. Nearby conservation easements closed in tandem to help protect nearly a mile of the creek.
In Oakland County, Six Rivers Land Conservancy is currently juggling nearly 200 acres of projects they hope will lead to permanent protection, and they just recently closed on a 34-acre property that straddles the Huron and Rouge river watersheds.
At both Legacy Land Conservancy and Six Rivers Land Conservancy, the hard work that HRWC staff and volunteers spend scoring and ground-truthing Bioreserve sites is invaluable.
HRWC’s 2016 field assessments helped our conservancy friends protect natural areas in three ways. In one case, Legacy did a site visit with an interested landowner. The landowner wanted to know more about her property, so she scheduled a field assessment. From the results, the landowner learned just how ecologically important her land was for the watershed, Legacy was able to present her with the conservation value of the property and she felt compelled to move ahead with arranging protection.
In another case, an HRWC field assessment led to a Legacy site visit. The landowners were excited about the various plants they saw in the field assessment that they hadn’t previously noticed. With the field assessment report in hand, both the landowner and Legacy staff did a joint site visit. Both were informed about what natural features, flora, and fauna to expect. The assessement helped inform the conversation while discussing the terms of a conservation easement.
In a third case, a field assessment helped reignite that landowners’ interest in preserving their land – that land will now become a County preserve!
Earth Day falls on April 22 this year, and not accidentally, so does HRWC’s spring River Roundup. Perhaps the idea of Earth Day may strike you as a little disheartening this year, in our current political climate of science and environmental budget cuts, and widespread doubt in scientific data. Are we making a difference at all? Or is our country reverting back to an era of rivers catching on fire? What is so disheartening to me personally is not a looming Federal budget that will remove funding for the Great Lakes and environmental regulation (though that is terrible, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not surprised by this), but to see so many people who agree with this course of action. Still, there is room for hope in our future, and that hopes lies in you—the many people who want clean water and clean land and who stand strong with HRWC to work for it.
Consider volunteering with us. Every participant makes an immediate difference at our local level. HRWC volunteers collect scientific data in southeast Michigan, primarily in Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties. For the upcoming River Roundup on Earth Day, volunteers will be looking for aquatic insects that tell us about the health of the Huron River and its tributaries, and ultimately about the health of all the land that drains into the Huron. This information gives HRWC the knowledge to conduct effective river management projects and the authority to speak intelligently on water quality issues with local, state, and federal government, landowners, and other decision-makers.
And in the process of collecting scientific data, HRWC volunteers are learning and teaching others. It is always so exciting to see the adult HRWC volunteers interacting and teaching children, teens, and college students about river systems, insects, and the environment. And in as many cases, to see the kids teaching the adults! This is the type of education that will create the long term cultural change needed in our country.
Make a difference locally by acting now to help HRWC collect scientific information that informs our management decisions and local policies; change the future by teaching the younger generation in the process. The River Roundup is on Earth Day, April 22. Learn more about the River Roundup and register at http://www.hrwc.org/volunteer/roundup/
In the last 2 months I’ve been asked a lot about my thoughts on sustainability and climate going forward. At a recent climate rally I shared what we do best at HRWC—the climate science and trends, and what people can do.
Here is a synopsis of my comments:
For 50 years our job has been to study and protect the Huron River, which runs right through many communities, including Ann Arbor. We have 25 years of data about this ecosystem. And the data confirms what we’ve seen this February. We have a migrating climate. Days like this are what we would have expected to see in Kentucky 20 years ago. Within 50 years our seasons will feel more like Oklahoma. This has massive implications for our natural ecosystems and our economy, and our quality of life!
So let me tell you about what our science shows us about Michigan today:
- It’s warmer. Annually by 2 degrees F; by 2070 an increase of 3.5 to 6 degrees.
- Today, the growing season, or the frost-free season, has gotten longer by 9 days. In the future, it could increase by 1-2 months.
- Today, Michigan gets more rain and snow—an 11% increase. In Ann Arbor 24% more.
- The strongest storms have become more intense and more frequent. These rain storms are so heavy they overwhelm our storm sewers, our dams, and our wastewater treatment plants.
But, that’s facts and figures, let me tell you a couple of stories about how that affects us all.
- People might remember that three years ago, a rain caused flooding in our watershed and in particular, on the UM campus. It was so intense and with so much water, students kayaked down the East University Street.
- HRWC researches the river. Every January, we send about 100 volunteers out, up and down the river, to collect Stoneflies. Stoneflies are little bugs that are sensitive to changes and pollution, so they tell us how healthy the river is. Two years ago we had to cancel because of the extreme cold. The volunteers couldn’t break the thick ice to get in to the river. This year, we had the opposite problem: our volunteers could not get in the river in certain places due to high flows from a 50 degree thaw. We heard from volunteers that they were already seeing stoneflies that had hatched rather than in their larval stage. This means that when the fish start spawning in April, they won’t have as many stoneflies to eat….that damages the entire aquatic ecosystem.
So we’ve had an extremely warm February, but these unexpected extremes should now be expected.
So what can we do about this? Engage, engage, engage. I hear from people day in and out that they are frustrated and yearning to take action. We need big change; to change the way we operate major infrastructure systems of this country—transportation, energy, stormwater, housing, waste, and food.
As somebody who has spent my career working on environmental issues, here’s what I find effective: 1. Take individual steps on your own and with your family; 2. Build connections with people (your colleagues, elected officials, friends, neighbors) to work on issues at a larger scale.
Stand up against the things you don’t want (a weaker EPA, the Dakota pipeline, Line 5), but at the same time take actions to create the things you do.
There’s lots of things we can do as individuals. We also have elected officials, business, and government employees, and it’s important to do things collectively and scale them up.
- To change our transportation systems, Take the bus—and advocate for robust public transit;
- To change our stormwater systems, Put in a rain garden or rain barrel—and work with neighbors to push your university or town to install better rain capture systems on roads, parks, and rooftops;
- To change our energy system, Put in solar—and help your elected officials pass tax incentives and ease of permitting for alternative energy; and
- To improve our housing system, Live near your work or school—and encourage affordable housing so others can too.
Finally, it’s important to volunteer—engage in your community, sit on a board or commission. This is tough but necessary work. This is where change is made.
In my work as Director of HRWC, I bring very different people together to protect something we all love, the Huron River. I do that by talking to everyone who plays a part—farmers, drain commissioners, hunters, anglers, politicians, scientists, and homeowners. We’re all really different people with different political perspectives. We don’t always agree, but we find ways to make real change. Because all these people work together, the river is cleaner than it’s been in 50 years. It’s that steady engaged work that makes a difference and gives me hope.
Go get involved, take up the challenge, and let’s get to work!
Here are some of our projects that exemplify how our partnerships address climate change.