Huron River Watershed on Protecting Our Drinking and Recreational Water

What we can do and fun programs to get your kids involved!

The Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC) has been serving the community since 1965 and today remains steadfast in its mission to preserve the Huron River

We interviewed the Council’s Marketing Director, Pam Labadie, who has been with the organization for 15 years. 

“We protect and restore the Huron River for healthy and vibrant communities,” Labadie detailed the mission of HRWC.

In its essence, the organization also helps children, families, and the community by also protecting the surrounding areas that the Huron River watershed connects.

According to Labadie, the Huron River watershed is made up of all the land, creeks, and streams that drain into the Huron River.

That (the watershed) includes lakes, wetlands, groundwater—and thanks to stormwater systems—neighborhoods,” Labadie described.

HRWC volunteers collect rocks and leaves from a local stream for Spring River Roundup. Other volunteers on the team will look through this “natural habitat” for river bugs. Photo courtesy of HRWC.

Labadie explained that the Huron watershed is part of the much larger Lake Erie watershed. She additionally outlined that the watershed covers about 900 square miles. More than 650,000 residents live within its boundaries.

“We have several long-running citizen science monitoring programs and a deep and extensive understanding of the river system,” described Labadie.  “Combine that with our dedicated partners, our scientists and watershed planners, our stewardship and outreach staff, and our volunteers, that makes HRWC the go-to resource for anyone who wants a better understanding of their home waters.”

Additionally, HRWC offers certain educational programs that are also geared towards kids and families. Specifically, HRWC offers “Stonefly Search” in January and “River Roundups” in April and October. Labadie stated that children are welcome to attend these events accompanied by an adult, where they search for bugs.

“Knowing the types of bugs that live in our streams helps us understand how healthy the river system is, which areas are healthiest, and where we need to focus our restoration efforts to improve water quality,” Labadie explained.

She added that through such events volunteers have helped collect bugs from streams across the watershed for almost 30 years.

“At each event, a small team of friends, family, and other volunteers meet at a sampling location in the watershed where they are led by an experienced volunteer who does all the in-stream work,”  Labadie described. “The team stays onshore and sorts through rocks and leaves that are collected from the stream to find river bugs. These bugs, called macroinvertebrates, are sensitive to changes in water quality and habitat. The number and kinds of bugs found tell us a lot about the location.”

Labadie stated that HRWC has also created rain gardens in partnership with agencies like the City of Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor Public Schools, the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commission, and others.

“Children are naturally curious gardeners,” Labadie stated. “Volunteering to help plant or maintain a rain garden is a great way to learn about how stormwater impacts water quality and what we can do to catch it and soak it in. Rain gardens also provide habitat for birds and other pollinators.” 

Volunteers with the Huron River Watershed Council search through rocks, leaves and sediment sampled from the river to find bugs at a Spring River Roundup. Knowing the numbers and types of bugs that live in the streams helps HRWC understand how healthy the river system is and where to focus restoration efforts to improve water quality. Photo courtesy of HRWC.

Signing up to volunteer (here) with HRWC will get announcements about these opportunities into your inbox.

Otherwise, noted Labadie, HRWC has an extensive streamside education program working with teachers and their students to get outdoors and learn experientially. Fourth through 12th-grade students learn about the health of the Huron River and their local creek, studying problems like erosion and pollution or learning about water quality benchmarks like macroinvertebrates, dissolved oxygen, and phosphorus. 

There are many current environmental challenges facing the Huron River watershed that HRWC helps citizens keep abreast of as well.

“Each day, our home waters face challenges from many sources: PFAS, 1,4-dioxane, stormwater runoff, bacterial contamination, microplastics pollutants, coal tar seal coats, climate change, and more,” Labadie explained. “How we go about addressing these threats depends a lot on the type of threat.”

PFAS is considered one of the most serious drinking water contaminants. PFAS stands for per-and- poly-fluoroalkyl substances. They are a family of thousands of toxic, synthetic chemicals associated with many health problems. 1,4dioxane is a synthetic industrial chemical and likely carcinogen. To date, all drinking water falls below the EPA’s guidelines for safety.

Labadie described that for PFAS, for example, HRWC continues to reach out to community members about the status of the contamination, the fish, and foam advisories. They also provided information and opportunities to support state-level action to prevent further contamination here and elsewhere. 

Many creatures find their livelihood in our local waters that connect the Huron River Watershed. Photo credit: Donna Marie Iadipaolo

“Last summer we worked with the Department of Health and Human Services to deploy ‘Riverwalkers’—people who patrol parks and favorite fishing spots to remind anglers of the fish advisory,” she explained. “We publish blogs and social media posts to keep folks safe.”

They also participate in the State’s Citizen’s Advisory Workgroup creating the two-way conversation necessary to develop a solid monitoring program and ensure the timely exchange of new information. 

HRWC’s website has information on their programming and current threats of concern and what to do about them. 

Upcoming opportunities for families to get outside and experience the Huron River:

  • River Roundup, Saturday, April 23, throughout the Huron River watershed, event information here.
  • Huron River Day, Sunday, May 15, Gallup Park in Ann Arbor, event information here.  

Super Creatures of the Huron River by Sara Adlerstein-Gonzalez, Jennifer Fuller, and Carolyn Berge is a great storybook to teach children about stream ecology, with a focus on the fascinating “bugs” that can be found in the Huron River. It is available from Michigan Publishing Services. 

And HRWC will publish in time for Earth Day a “print-and-go walking tour” for all ages. The tour will guide families with children in using our GIS Huron River watershed maps coupled with some walks at local parks to learn about the shed. Check out the blog here. and the GIS map here

Labadie reminded us that canoeing, kayaking, biking, walking, swimming, and fishing are great ways to enjoy the Huron River. HRWC manages the Huron River Water Trail which was designated as the 18th National Water Trail in 2015. 

Canoeing and other recreational activities are important to families and the Ann Arbor community in general. Photo credit: David M. Chambers

HRWC projects improve, create, and promote recreational access to the river from Milford through Ypsilanti and down to Flat Rock and Lake Erie. 

“We lead and coordinate with partners on river access projects like improving dam portages, building the accessible canoe and kayak launches, and installing informational kiosks and wayfinding signage along the trail,” she described. “HRWC and partners also organize events like Huron River Day and Ypsi Fall River Day, host cleanups, and promote safety and stewardship.“

Refreshing, drinkable, and life-affirming water is among our most valuable of natural resources in Ann Arbor and in Michigan. Photo credit: Yogesh Gosavi

Information about how to get out and enjoy the river can be found at Welcome to the Huron River Water Trail! – Huron River National Water Trail

Huron River Watershed Council 1100 N. Main, Suite 210  (734) 769-5123 www.hrwc.org