A Service biologist collects water and sediment samples near the mouth of Swan Creek. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
From Pollution to Partnerships: Cleaning Up
Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes
By Annette Trowbridge
Midwest Region Ecological Services
Great Lakes Areas of Concern are locations along the Great Lakes suffering from degraded environmental conditions caused by historic and ongoing pollution. These areas were designated under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the U.S. and Canada based on the presence of one or more beneficial use impairments. A beneficial use impairment is when a body of water is so polluted it is no longer suitable for specific uses, such as loss of fish and wildlife habitat or restrictions on fish consumption. Of the 43 AOCs identified in the U.S. and Canada, to date, only two Canadian and one U.S. AOC have been delisted.
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is making funds available to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to clean up and restore these highly degraded areas. The Service is contributing its expertise to the Great Lakes-wide effort through its project, Accelerating Remediation and Restoration of Contaminated Sediment at AOCs.
The goal of the project is to remove beneficial use impairments and ultimately delist AOCs. Service projects are planned and conducted in close coordination with federal, state and local conservation partners. Work will help eliminate several impairments, including fish consumption advisories, degradation of fish and wildlife populations, and loss of fish and wildlife habitat, bird or animal deformities or reproduction problems.
Service contaminants specialists first evaluate impairments to help identify the best opportunities for delisting. Specialists provide guidance in the removal of contaminants and design sediment removal projects to achieve the best, most efficient cleanups while preserving and restoring high quality habitat in Great Lakes AOCs. Currently, the Service has funded 25 projects that contribute to delisting impairments in a variety of ways.
Several projects in the St. Louis River in Minnesota, as well as the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, guide implementation of future remediation and restoration actions to address identified fish and wildlife population and habitat related beneficial use impairments. The results of planning projects are informed design alternatives and ultimately the implementation of targeted on-the-ground and in-the-water projects.
This nesting common tern is an example of a species potentially impacted by high pollution levels. A wide variety of fish and wildlife can be impacted in Areas of Concern. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
Other projects gather data necessary to evaluate the status of "Fish Tumors and Deformities" and "Bird or Animal Deformities or Reproduction Problems" impairments. The incidence rate of tumors and deformities across AOCs is often unknown; however such information is critical to determine whether or not these impairments can be removed. Such evaluations are being conducted in AOCs throughout the Midwest, including the St. Louis River in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Niagara River in New York, Grand Calumet River in Indiana, and Saginaw Bay, River Raisin, Detroit River, and St. Mary’s River in Michigan.
The Service is also implementing several remediation and restoration projects, such as the one on the Maumee River AOC in Ohio. This on-the-ground project is restoring, enhancing, and creating 1,900 feet of contiguous habitat along the Ottawa River located on the main campus of the University of Toledo. Another restoration project within the Maumee AOC on the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge restores and enhances 512 acres of wetland and upland habitats, and reconnects 127 of those acres to Lake Erie. The project includes pre- and post-monitoring, reconnection of additional wetlands, and restoration of riparian habitats.
AOCs, though only dots on a map of the Great Lakes Basin, represent important areas that serve as models for how highly contaminated and degraded areas can be restored. Only by working with others who share a common goal of restoring these areas can AOCs be delisted. The Service is proud to contribute its expertise and experience to help remove beneficial use impairments and ultimately return areas known as AOCs to a more natural, healthy and productive state.