Matt Naud

Matt Naud
Environmental Coordinator, City of Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tottered on: 13 December 2007
Temperature: 30 F
Ceiling: overcast
Ground: snow-dusted
Wind: SSW at 7 mph

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TT with HD: Matt Naud

Matt Naud Argo Dam Teeter Totter
Totter 2.0 on location: Argo Dam

HD: My routine is kind of thrown off--I've never done this out in the wild before. And one, two, three. That should be plenty to choose from. Let's mic you up again and make sure that we're recording. Are we recording? Yes. Great. Welcome to Totter 2.0.

MN: Thanks for having me.

HD: Shall we actually totter? Oh! Wow!

MN: This works!

HD: Yeah, it does! This one, I think it's the way it's positioned with the terrain, it makes me feel like I'm much higher than I have ever been. Wow, you almost took a tumble there! Alright, even though we are tottering right in front of Argo Dam here, I guess that real reason this area has been in the news recently is not that dam per se, it's this earthen embankment over a ways down the river? That the DEQ is making trouble about?

MN: Well, yeah, I don't know about 'making trouble'! There's a side of the DEQ that does dam safety that wants to make sure that whatever it takes to keep that earth there is appropriate and built. And we're looking into what that's going to take to do it with minimal environmental disruption. But we've also tried to get them to put it on hold as we do a broader planning effort along the Huron [River]. Because there are a number of expenses that are associated with this dam, and we ought to at least have the conversation of why we are investing in it, as opposed to removing it. The Huron is one of the most dammed rivers in Michigan, I think there's 94 dams.

HD: Wow.

MN: They're not natural. This one doesn't do any flood control. It doesn't generate hydro power.

HD: It used to, though, right?

MN: A long time ago. I think in the 80's, we put in a bond to re-introduce hydro and at that point, Argo and Geddes Dam, it didn't make financial sense.

HD: So at that time, the study was done to determine whether it makes sense to actually restore electric generation power to the dam.

MN: Right.

HD: You know, reading the most recent article in the paper, that was one of the questions that came immediately to mind as an alternative regarding the dam. Perhaps, instead of taking it down, actually investing in it by restoring hydro power. There's a notion that I'm not sure I understand completely, but it's of 'embedded energy'--that we've made a considerable investment in energy in putting that dam there, that it makes sense to consider that embedded energy that's already there.

MN: Oh, sure! And we actually have a request for a proposal out right now that looks at asking the question in 2008, Can we put hydro back in that makes any economic sense? What is the return? And are there efficiencies that might be gained at either of the other hydro dams, Barton or Superior? One part that's not in your calculation, though, is: dams have costs. You know, there's sediment behind here that will need to be managed and it's not like there's a fund that's been accumulating over the last thirty years that I've got half a million bucks to dredge that to get it deeper, so that the light's not hitting it, and that the weeds aren't growing. The rowers are having a lot of trouble rowing on a regular basis, because of native and non-native weeds. There's a lot of invasives.

HD: So is the idea of that they catch their oar on a plant and then they're not able to maintain their synchronicity?

MN: And the small ruder on the back. So they actually pretty routinely have to weed whack, which is sort of a hedge trimmer underwater that they cut ...

HD: ... so they make weed whackers that will operate under water??

MN: Oh yeah, there's whole harvesting machines to go in. Dane County where Madison [Wisconsin] is, they have ten harvesters, but they have a lot more acreage that they manage. One of the things we are looking at is, we have a lot of recreational use of the river, but it's not like we routinely treat it as a park--because they're not our waters. They're waters of the State. But I don't see the State having staff or dollars to manage invasive aquatics. The Huron is one of the cleanest urban rivers per the Watershed Council ...

HD: ... but it's not all that clean.

MN: It's impaired. And right behind you is one of the biggest problems. All of downtown pretty much drains out right behind you, out of the Allen Creek drain. So it's not advisable to do a lot of body contact with the river after a rainstorm downstream of Argo Dam.

HD: Yeah, I remember when Liz did her swim down the Huron, that was an issue, that after major rain events she had to hop in the canoe, because it literally was not safe.

MN: We have an E. coli TMDL [/tim-dul/], Total Maximum Daily Load, that we are trying to meet. Turns out there's been a lot of study to the point of speciating E. coli.

HD: See, I don't even know what that means!

MN: Well, the assumption is, if you've got E. coli in a river it's because you've got houses or buildings where their toilets are incorrectly hooked up. They don't go to the sanitary system, they go to storm. Which means toilet paper runs directly into the river--it's a bad thing. Well, we've spent a lot of money, and the County Drain Commissioner has spent a lot of money, looking for these. They're very hard to find. We figure we've got 23,000 independent sewer connections here in the city.

HD: So what are some of that techniques you use to find that?

MN: Video cameras. We camera the whole system, looking for faults, but we also look for pipes coming in that we don't expect.

HD: So, okay. When you say you 'camera the whole system', where are all these cameras going exactly? Like along the river?

MN: Well, the major trunk lines of the sanitary system and the storm water system.

HD: Oh, okay.

MN: You'll see trucks out that say 'camera equipment', or they've got a video camera basically on wheels that runs down the storm system and looks for discoloration. You can also do sampling ...

HD: ... so that video that gets shot, then, does somebody have the job of watching that, just by minute by minute as it goes past? Or is that in any way like artificial intelligence image-mapping that ...

MN: ... I think at this point it's pretty human-labor intensive.

HD: Oh, man! Do you do any of that?

MN: I don't.

HD: Good for you, man, because that just sounds excruciating. [laugh]

MN: From what I've seen--and this gets to what the problem is--is the camera goes down and you see a set of beady eyes!

HD: [laugh] [Ed. note: HD believes MN is just goofing.]

MN: And it's a raccoon! There's lots of animals ...

HD: ... oh, you're not even kidding?! ...

MN: ... that live in the storm system. And what I meant by speciation is if you sample, and you get the E. coli, and you do DNA genetic tests on it, you will find that most of it is not human. It's raccoons, and...

HD: ... but I guess that's good news, right?

MN: It is, unless you're under a federal mandate to stop it! And you're trying to think of what is the strategy to get raccoons to stop pooping in your storm water system.

HD: Yeah, okay. Alright. I remember, back when I used to work at the Humane Society, raccoons in storm sewers were a standard issue. People would call and say, I've got raccoons! And typically, you know, you go out to investigate, and the report is, Oh, they went down the storm drain. It's like they have a little tunnel network. You're not going to defeat the raccoons by just whenever anybody sees one, you go and try to catch it, because they will escape down the storm drains.

MN: Right. So it just means that there are going to be different strategies that we look at. You know, part of it is cats and dogs, people not picking up, ...

HD: ... not scooping ...

MN: ... and that runs into the river. And geese. 92 times a day, they poop.

HD: Really?! Wow! 92.

MN: Little known fact.

HD: Somebody is counting that, too. That's another not-fun job.

MN: It came up during our Huron River planning meeting. Geese can generate--the other number I heard--was three pounds a day.

HD: Oh, jeez. I guess you could calculate the weight per incident on that, I can't do that kind of math in my head. I wanted to ask you for sure, before I forget, about these toe drains. Because I took a little field trip over there along the embankment--it's a route, actually, that I've run on a somewhat regular basis with a group called the Nasty Boys Glee Club. And I've always noticed that along the path there is sort of almost totally submerged--well, not submerged, that's the wrong word--embedded in the path, you can see just the top of a pipe.

MN: Hmm.

HD: And I was wondering is that a toe drain? Based on the article in the paper it sounded like they were much lower down.

MN: They're at the bottom. If you imagine they sort of run from the bottom ...

HD: ... of the water on one side to the bottom of the water on the other side?

MN: It's just in the middle of the hill. It's a way to say, if water gets there, let's give it an easy way to get out, rather than building up and potentially ...

HD: ... overflowing the embankment.

MN: The worst-case scenario is, it liquefies.

HD: Oh, the hill liquefies.

MN: And then leaves its base and enters the river, and the river starts working its way back to the dam.

HD: Oh, okay. This is then more directly connected to the dam's safety that I thought.

MN: Oh, it's 100 percent associated with dam safety.

HD: And for this dam.

MN: For this dam.

HD: So, we're not just worried about the embankment failing for its own sake--it's that if it fails, it will have implications for the dam.

MN: It could potentially, yeah. So there's a bad scenario where there's a bunch of soil entering the river. It limits the integrity of that part of the dam. If you go to Barton, there is a big earthen embankment there, and on the other side of the pond, you will see tubes sticking out of the bottom. And those are toe drains that we have repaired on that embankment. What you notice there is that there is not a single tree on it. You know, DEQ would prefer that in the best of all scenarios--you can see whether there are gophers borrowing in. If trees tip over, their root systems pull out big chunks of soil ...

HD: ... but it sounded like from what I read that DEQ would settle for kind of like a wide swath along the openings of these toe drains--if that were cleared, then that that would satisfy their concerns?

MN: Yeah, it sounds like that now. We are still waiting for that dam safety report on Argo. I get the sense that it has been there long enough that repairing those toe drains in whatever way we needed to do it is probably sufficient for them. But I don't work with the dam safety people, so I can't speak for them. But that's my sense so far.

HD: So, this 600,000 dollar price tag then, would be not just for weed whacking some vegetation--it would be for doing the clearing plus repairing the actual physical toe trains, the whole nine yards?

MN: Yeah, and again, there's engineers up at the water plant, because they are the ones that manage the dam, and they did that very back-of-the-envelope estimate so far. It may be that we can do more limited work, those costs will go down.

HD: I wanted to ask you about those flowers that are endangered. The purple ...

MN: ... purple turtleheads.

HD: Yeah, I looked them up and they are actually featured on some endangered species website. Washtenaw County is one of--in fact it might even be the only place in Michigan where they are still found.

MN: But it's interesting, because that's a very non-natural space, you know, it's totally man-made.

HD: When I was setting up the teeter totter, I had this panicked thought, Oh my god, am I perhaps setting up the teeter totter right on top of some purple turtleheads?! Would you know one if you saw one?

MN: I wouldn't. Dave Borneman, with our Natural Area Preservation and his folks, they do.

HD: Yeah, my understanding is that we are not in the turtlehead area.

MN: No. When we were in for the [newspaper] article, right now all that you with see is a brown stalk. So there's nothing--I mean it's hard to even find. We kind of guessed roughly where they were. But Dave doesn't also like giving away exactly where endangered species are!

HD: [laugh] Yeah, it hardly makes sense to say, Here's a photograph and here's a map, go see them and trample on them!

MN: There are those, that even though you are not supposed to pull trillium, pull trillium.

HD: So, are you one to celebrate Christmas at all?

MN: I am.

HD: Do you have anything particular on your wish list? Something that you wish somebody would give you this year?

MN: Oh, a week away with my family. It's just not going to happen anytime soon. My wife is finishing a PhD, and my son is a swimmer. So he literally has two days off over Christmas vacation where he's not swimming twice a day.

HD: Wow, so it's two-a-days through the Christmas break?

MN: Yep.

HD: What's his event?

MN: He is a butterflier and a distance freestyler. But he can do backstroke. Breast stroke is not his strong one. He is okay in the IM's [individual medley], but he has to make up for the breast stroke.

HD: So, did you swim when you were in school at all?

MN: Not really. My wife is a swimmer.

HD: Okay, so that's where he gets the interest in swimming?

MN: I guess. Part of it is just genetic. He got into it has a kid learning how to swim, and then I think it was one of those things where early on, he learned the lesson that hard work and practice pays off. The harder he worked, the better he got. And he likes going fast.

HD: So, if somebody were to give you this Christmas gift of a week away with your family, where would 'away' be?

MN: Where would 'away' be. It would depend on the time of year. One of my favorite places--I haven't been back in a long time--is the Bruce Peninsula, up in Ontario. You go up to Port Huron, and cross over and drive up the east side of Lake Huron, it's the Niagara Escarpment. It's several-million-year-old rock, that the glacier didn't take away. But there's a Canadian National Park there which is just gorgeous. There is also an underwater park because the water is so cold and clear, there's no real sand, so you can see 30 feet down.

HD: Wow! And there's aquatic life to look at?

MN: No, but there's a lot of sunken ships along this big spit of rock that's out there. They have 100-year-old wood ships. I'd recommend even in August you put on at least a scuba top. You can snorkel over the top of them and swim around it. We went there two years ago. I used to go there hiking when I was a kid in high school. But I hadn't been back and someone we know has house up there and we were able to get it for a week. You just see stars you haven't seen in a long, long time--it's so dark.

HD: Well, you know, before we hop off the teeter totter, I wanted to ask you, because I think you might already be dealing with this issue, or you're going to have to deal with this issue, as a part of the Environmental Commission--you're on the Commission, right?

MN: I am the staff person.

HD: Right. So, my understanding is that you are going to be in the near future or maybe you've already started looking at a proposal to put foreword an ordinance that would allow the keeping of back-yard chickens?

MN: You know, I've heard talk about chickens. And whether that would come through us or Planning [Commission], I'm not sure, whether that's a zoning issue, or. Because the City really doesn't have public health ordinances per se. I mean, we can use the various nuisance [laws]. There used to be air quality ordinances and other public health, and that's all at the County.

HD: But I think the City does have an ordinance that explicitly proscribes the keeping of chickens.

MN: You are not allowed to, you are saying?

HD: Right, you are not allowed to currently. There are, actually, quite a few people who keep chickens within the city limits of Ann Arbor.

MN: Oh, that doesn't surprise me.

HD: So, really, I think the impact of such an ordinance would probably be really simply to legalize the existing chickens, as opposed to causing great numbers of Ann Arborites to start keeping back-yard flocks. I mean, I would like to give it shot, personally, but you know.

MN: You know, I would have to look at it. It's like every other thing. You go see what other people have done. We usually go look at the usual suspects, you know, What's Madison, Berkeley, Austin, doing? I have heard, roosters are a problem for the noise. And that falls under nuisance. We don't let people build at certain times of the day. So I assume you need roosters to make eggs?

HD: Well, you don't need the roosters to make the eggs. And, in fact, I think the ordinance that Steve Kunselman is talking about putting foreword would likely limit the kind of birds to just hens. Roosters would not be allowed. And it would limit the number to, I think, three. Which seems like a really reasonable number to me. I mean, you need a certain number, as I understand it, because chickens are sort of a social animal. You can't keep a solitary chicken and have that chicken be happy and content as a chicken. So, I mean three chickens, I can't imagine that would have a detrimental effect on the quality of life for neighbors, even if they hated chickens.

MN: Yeah, again, I think, it's the beauty of democracy. You put it foreword, you give people an opportunity to comment, and it's kind of like the talk about removing the dam. It doesn't matter to me so much as I feel like we need to quit talking about it for twenty years. So let's decide whether were going to keep it ...

HD: ... and what a long-term strategy is going to be over the next say 30 to 40 years.

MN: If we are going to keep it, how are we managing sediment? How are we managing weeds? Are the rowers ...

HD: ... getting the maximum experience of rowing out of the pond?

MN: Right. They're already, I think, going to need other spaces--they've got a hundred kids from each high school. So, it's a big sport. We ought to figure out a way to support it. We are talking with them about, What are your options at Barton? Or Geddes? But again, it's trying to get at least good science, and then good public input.

HD: [Ed. note: Cathy appears on the path leading over Argo Dam and waves. Update 6 hours after original posting--actually, her name was Cindy ... but HD called her Cathy on this occasion.] Hi, Cathy! I met her earlier--she was walking over to the NEW Center and she said she would try to drop by on her way back, and see if we were still teeter tottering. And in fact we are! Now, you've mentioned sediment a couple of times. Let me see if my understanding of this is right. It's kind of like no matter what, something has to be done as far as the sediment is concerned? Even if the dam were taken down, the sediment that is already there would need to be dredged out? Is that right?

MN: It depends on what you're leaving there. Mill Creek Dam, up in Dexter, is going to be removed when the road is re-built and the bridge. So that's the closest dam to us that is slated for removal. And for the most part, DNR wants dams removed. You know, there's a real environmental benefit: [with a dam] water slows down, it gets warmer, it hurts cold water or cooler water fishing. Dexter is going to be putting in a series--my understanding of the latest--is going to be kind of a series of chevrons that as water flows, sediment gets pushed up and so they're not going to have to remove as much. They really don't want to, because there is a bunch of cadmium.

HD: So, they've done the testing?

MN: They had some real sediment issues. And that's where with dam removal, you can get deal-breakers

HD: So, could that be a deal-breaker for removing Argo Dam, if they did the testing out there in Argo pond and found whatever?

MN: If you needed to spend money--like it was a hazardous substance to dispose of--yeah. That gets to be potentially a deal-breaker. The good news is, the limited sampling--not enough sampling that the DEQ would say, you've done everything you need to do--but the Huron River Watershed Council did some limited sampling, and for the most part there's not anything where people are going, Okay, that's a deal-breaker. We still need to do more.

HD: When you say 'more', do you mean deeper sampling--of the sort that I saw on, I think it was Liberty Street sometime over the summer? They were drilling down, it seems to me, quite deep taking these core samples, seemed like it was 30 to 40 feet.

MN: They were probably putting end monitoring wells. For the ...

HD: ... the Pall ...

MN: ... no, actually not on Liberty. That would be Liberty lofts, the company that was there, there was some off-site contamination. It's a good story. The company came in and removed the source of contamination, but they are required to go out and define how big the plume was that got off-site, so they have to put wells in. And typically we ask that they use City right-of-way, because we just have more control rather than having it put on some private property. Because if there's something else going on, then we can use that well possibly to sample other stuff underground.

HD: So the additional sampling that would have to be done [in Argo Pond] would be more like additional points to be sampled, as opposed to we gotta go deeper?

MN: Yeah, and I think there was some mixing of point samples--from multiple places mixed in together. Because, again, all this stuff costs money ...

HD: ... yeah, so you want to be as cost-efficient as possible.

MN: You get a first cut at it. If cadmium were high, you would go back and maybe just sample for cadmium at more points. But that's not what we saw, at least in this initial study. And some of the sampling wasn't as close to the dam as I think we would like, so we would do more down there. But we're waiting to hear back on the hydro bit first, because there has been no decision to take out the dam.

HD: But assuming that it comes to the point where there is a decision made to take out the dam, it's not going to be like a bunch of guys with sledge hammers, right?

MN: No.

HD: So can you kind of paint a picture, though, of what that might be like? Is it going to be in any way dramatic, like worth showing up for as a community event? To watch the dam get blown up?

MN: I don't think it's going to be an implosion! Because there is so much you do downstream to protect sediment from going down. One, you are letting out water really slowly at first. Because that's the other thing that we look at is, it's like a bathtub, and it's going to become a river again. The City owns the shoreline from dam to dam and it's potentially 30 or 40 acres of park land. The question then is, we don't know whether it is wetland, parkland, could you program it for uses? So we are actually having a 3-D model made of the bottom of the river, and then you use a hydrologic model on top of that to figure out where the water is likely to be.

HD: Now, when you say a '3-D model', you mean like a physical 3-D model, or like a computer simulation?

MN: GIS, spatial, computer-based. I've got a bunch of grad students who--it's one of the great things about working here is ...

HD: ... oh, you just go to the University of Michigan and say, Alright this is a grad school project? [laugh]

MN: Yeah, well, sometimes. I mean, I pitch them projects, but they also come up with their own, and see if we are interested in being their 'client', so to speak, and do the data research. So, it's a win-win: they get some real-world practical experience--this is a real-world problem, not hypothetical. And there is politics and policy and science. There's a whole group that is going to be presenting on some alternative scenarios around Argo.

HD: Is that coming up anytime soon? End of this semester?

MN: Probably next semester. I think they're well on their way to kind of thinking about their scenarios. But they don't have the same constraints that I do, so they can think as big as they want! But I think it will be interesting. You know, there were Allen's Greenway masters projects for probably the last twenty-five years. We've recently found studies going back to the 60's of people surveying and sampling the water in the Huron, doing actual underwater surveys. Word is, there is a railroad car under the trestle.

HD: Really!?

MN: There's pictures of two or three cars coming off and men standing on the ice in the early 1900's.

HD: Wow. So there should be some railroad cars then?

MN: That's the word. But we are actually talking with some folks that have side-looking radar, who might be able to get a better handle on that.

HD: Who are these folks that have such a gadget?

MN: Oh, there's folks at the U of M, there's Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab. There is National Oceanic and Atmospheric--there is a lot of Great Lakes research and water research. Most of it is done in deeper water, but the equipment will work here, and most of them live here. The thought is, can we get you out on a Friday afternoon to help out? It is one of the things that makes it easier to get some of this stuff done in Ann Arbor.

HD: Well, I mean it's one of those things that you hear people make general vague reference to--the benefit of the University and partnership and collaboration with the City, and it's nice to hear that reflected in actual concrete terms. Because I think it's really easy to say, Well, yeah, the University, it's great because there can be these collaborations. And all too rarely do people speak in concrete terms about those collaborations, so it's nice to hear something specific.

MN: We do a lot of it. I have two grad students right now. They're work-study students. The nice thing is, I get reimbursed 65 percent of their salary from the feds--part of their grant funding. They get practical experience. We get pretty smart--we go out of our way to try and hire the smartest ones, of course!

HD: [laugh] That's always a good plan.

MN: The University can be great. You know, I went there twice. I was on the Alumni Board. But it's all about personal relationships. I try and go and be a guest speaker at some classes, and I know some of the faculty from way back, and try and and stay in touch so that when they have a masters project, they think about us. So, you know, it works out.

HD: Well, listen, you have no head covering, and my toes, I can tell you, are beginning to feel the chill. So I'd like to thank you so much for coming out here on not such a pleasant day to teeter totter in front of Argo Dam!

MN: I'm glad to be here, and I'm glad you rode the totter out here! [Ed. note: MN is referring to the hauling of the teeter totter via bicycle trailer.]