Saturday, September 3, 2016

Dogs Sniff Out and Back Track Sewage

Lake and beach pollution from human waste in and around Lake St. Clair has led to a lot of finger pointing, but too few solid conclusions as to sources. Are the sources faulty septic tanks, leaky municipal sewage pipes or overflowing retention-treatment basins?

Environmental Canine Services LLC uses dogs to sniff out human waste. The service reports completing 50 projects in 12 states, including 23 in Michigan. The idea was first studied and verified in Santa Barbara, CA six years ago.

Back-tracking human waste in this manner is faster and less expensive than unassisted sampling  and lab testing. Moving upstream, the dogs choose which fork to follow at the confluence of sewers, streams and ditches, leading more quickly to the source of pollution. Simultaneously, samples can be taken at each turn for later confirmation in the lab.

The time is long past due to apply rational process on this subject in place of political wrangling around Lake St. Clair, especially in the Clinton River watershed.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Stormwater Runoff Fees Omitted on 20,000 Detroit Properties

Over 20,000 parcels that contribute stormwater runoff but aren’t being charged will be added to DWSD’s billing system this October.

***  SUMMARY  ***

Every year, billions of gallons of contaminated stormwater runoff and snowmelt pour off roofs, sidewalks, parking lots and other impervious surfaces into Detroit’s combined sewer system, then perhaps to a retention-treatment basin (RTB) and eventually to the wastewater treatment plant. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), Detroit’s retail water agency for the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), says this runoff costs more than $125 million annually.
Federal and state regulators required DWSD to spend more than $1 billion in combined sewer overflow storage facilities (RTBs) to reduce polluted overflows into natural waterways like the Detroit River. The drainage charge to property owners offsets this investment and the drainage treatment costs.
Most DWSD customers have been paying for drainage as part of their water and sewer bills. The City Assessor’s Office and DWSD are working to ensure that all parcels are billed for their share of drainage costs.
DWSD intends to begin a green infrastructure credit program in October. Customers who reduce runoff can earn credits to be applied to their bill. Fair, accurate billing and green infrastructure practices will benefit the city and its residents.
DWSD provides a  Parcel Viewer  on which to search for parcel information by address. Impervious surface area is used to calculate drainage charges. DWSD says it has data from the City Assessor's Office and flyover images to determine impervious surfaces. Property owners who disagree with the data can complete a drainage survey form.
Over 20,000 parcels that contribute stormwater runoff but aren’t being charged will be added to DWSD’s billing system this October. Customers who need to update parcel information or ask questions should contact DWSD.  A Customer Steering Committee meeting has been scheduled for July 14, 2016.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Spectrophotometrics, Water Pollution & Citizen-Scientists

Imagine that seven or eight times a day, different volunteer citizen-scientists around Rochester, MI sampled the waters of Paint Creek, a tributary of the Clinton River, for contaminants.

Or 15 times a day in the Minnow Pond Drain at Farmington Hills, leading to River Rouge.

Or twice a day at the Huron Swamp in White Lake Township, headwaters of the Huron River.

Suppose they used spectrophotometrics available through their smartphones to instantly transmit their findings to a repository set up to collect and collate such data throughout the region.  

Paint Creek

This may be feasible by means of citizen-scientists equipped with smartphones adapted as spectrophotometers, a process created by Dr. Andrew Torelli and his colleagues at Bowling Green State University. Torelli explains (excerpts):

We have been developing simple tools to facilitate education and participation in environmental stewardship initiatives by students and members of the broader public.

Throughout the world, there is growing interest for engaging students and members of the public to participate in environmental water quality testing, however there are challenges in providing non-experts with the means to collect, share and interpret reliable scientific data.

...[W]e have developed software and device technologies that allow users to perform spectrophotometric measurements with color-based water quality test kits using their smartphones 7.

Geo-tagged data collected in the field can be easily shared …

You can read more about this on the website for our project we call GeoGraph.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Water Pollution Reduction Credits

The type of non-point source water pollution reduction project described below may be useful in the Saginaw River watershed, the Black River watershed (upstream of Port Huron and the St. Clair River) and smaller tributaries to Lake St. Clair, such as the Clinton River, Thames River and Belle River.

The Great Lakes Commission* has announced plans to implement water quality trading as a means of reducing the phosphorus overload in western Lake Erie. The principals are the states of Ohio, Indiana and Michigan and the Province of Ontario. Agricultural, environmental and business interests are participating, as well.

The plan targets farms, these days the greatest source by far of waterborne phosphorus. The concept is to permit those most successful in reducing phosphorus running off their fields to sell credits to those less successful, creating competition to be sellers of credits, rather than buyers. Presumably, sanctions more costly than the credits will be imposed on the worst polluters.

Planners hope for field trials next year. (This observer’s view: Don’t hold your breath.)

Called the “Erie P Market,” the project depends on being able to measure reductions in nutrient pollution. Trading would be limited to a portion of such reductions. Funding for the project is being provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“The two-year project also aims to develop a common approach for who can trade with whom, and how, where and when trading can occur, as well as examine ways to verify that conservation practices are working to improve water quality.”


* “The Great Lakes Commission is a United States interstate agency established in 1955 through the Great Lakes Compact, in order to ‘promote the orderly, integrated and comprehensive development, use and conservation of the water resources of the Great Lakes Basin,’ which includes the Saint Lawrence River. The commission provides policy development, coordination, and advocacy on issues of regional concern, as well as communication and research services.”

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Artificial Fish Habitat in Industrialized River Segment

Where natural fish habitat has been lost in an industrialized portion of a river, like River Rouge in Detroit or the Maumee in Toledo, some remarkable innovations now enable fish to shelter and feed while moving between natural habitat upriver and downstream.

One of new designs - artificial fish habitat

Four prototypes that attract fish in various stages of development are being tested. The devices are durable, cost efficient and function within changing water levels. One person can manage them. Nearly 500 devices have been installed thus far. Initial trials have been positive.

Two organizations, Cuyahoga River Restoration and Environmental Design Group, are behind the project.

Jane Goodman, Executive Director of Cuyahoga River Restoration said, "The designs are meant to collect floating organic debris to provide shade, food, and refuge from predators for small fish, but can also mimic natural habitat features like root filaments and aquatic plants to provide safe haven in a challenging environment.”

" ‘Adding to the normal designer angst of correct calculations, appropriate safety factors and the expectation this unusual concept would work, we were asked to design something totally unique that had no close model for success or failure,’ mentioned Matt Montecalvo, Principal of Environmental Services at Environmental Design Group.”

(The “watch the video” link shows 21 seconds of little fish within one of the devices.)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Worms to Help with Detroit’s Remaining CSOs

Who knew? Now Detroit can handle 95% of its combined sewer overflows! Worms will help with the remaining 5%.

On June 24, 2016, The Atlantic City Lab published an article by Jessica Leigh Hester titled “Detroit Is Turning Vacant Lots Into Sponges for Stormwater.” Hester reports (excerpts):

Detroit’s aged sewer system carries both sanitary sewage and stormwater. It overflows into creeks and rivers after heavy rains.

“Over the last two decades, the city has poured $1 billion into upgrading the system; now, its six retention basins and three treatment facilities can accommodate approximately 95 percent of the untreated overflow—an improvement, but an imperfect solution. ‘How do you get to the last 5 percent of the problem?’ asks Palencia Mobley, the deputy director of Detroit Water and Sewerage. ‘Spending another $1 billion or $2 billion doesn’t make a lot of economical sense.’ To bridge the gap, the city has pivoted to focus on green infrastructure …”

Image Courtesy of Joan Nassauer
Rendering, bio-retention garden, Warrendale neighborhood. (Courtesy of Joan Nassauer)

Small scale stormwater interventions may suffice in other, more crowded cities, but Detroit has plenty of room for larger projects.

“It’s a sprawling city, with vacant or buckling properties scattered across its 139 square miles. As of April 2016, 66,125 vacant parcels were held by the Detroit Land Bank Authority, which has received more than $100 million in federal funds to demolish blighted structures.”

“This spring and summer, researchers across the city are investigating the immediate and long-term ecological and sociological benefits of turning vacant land into stormwater basins topped with colorful plants.”

“Wade Rose, the vacant land restoration manager at the reforestation and farming organization the Greening of Detroit, described the process of remediating parcels that have been untended for decades. The houses that used to sit on top of them, Rose says, were demolished before the current protocols were put in place; they might have been bulldozed into the basement and sealed off.”

“The project deploys various techniques for soil remediation and water retention: a wildflower meadow; a tree stand, in which oak trees’ roots fracture compacted soils; rain gardens with deep depressions; and a treatment that deposits 100,000 worms at depths ranging from 2-6 feet, creating a network of tunnels that make space for storm water.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Big Ag vs. Water Quality

“There’s a growing public fight brewing over industrial agriculture’s water pollution,” says Donald Carr in the Huffington Post, June 19, 2016, under the caption, “Ag Lobby Paints Itself Into a Conservation Corner.” 

More clips:

“In all of these instances the Grand Ole Farm Lobby ™ has reacted with the well-worn message of voluntary conservation as the only solution.”

“The sad reality of voluntary conservation is that it is demonstrably not working.”

“It’s not working in Toledo, Des Moines, Minnesota, the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not working despite U.S. taxpayers subsidizing agriculture conservation measures nationally $39 billion

“... [I]f the ultimate goal is clean water and agriculture productivity, then the ag lobby is going to have to fight hard and loud for conservation funding … Otherwise, regulation is inevitable.”