Ecological Services: Environmental Contaminants
Midwest Region


Region 3 map


Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Logo


Natural Resource Damage Assessment

Saginaw Bay and River


Shoreline photo

The NRDAR settlement and pending restorations will restore cleaner, healthier fish and water in Saginaw Bay through the removal of PCBs from the Saginaw River.

Photo by USFWS


Beginning in the 1940s, industrial facilities and wastewater treatment plants on the Saginaw River, Michigan, released PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and related compounds into the Saginaw River. Because of on-site contamination, releases from the facilities continued after PCBs were banned in the 1970s. These releases also damaged the Saginaw Bay ecosystem.


Saginaw Bay is one of the prime walleye fishing and waterfowl hunting areas in the Great Lakes and also drains into Lake Huron. Contamination has impacted fish and wildlife in the Saginaw River and Bay, resulting in advisories against human consumption of fish for all species of fish in the River and many species of fish in the Bay. Also, bald eagle reproduction is significantly lower in these areas than is found in less contaminated areas.


The Solution

A co-trustee group consisting of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Michigan, and the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, performed a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). The co-trustee group reached a negotiated settlement for natural resource damages in 1998 with General Motors Corporation and the cities of Bay City and Saginaw. The settlement is providing for substantial cleanup of river contamination and for protection and restoration of fish and wildlife habitats in the Saginaw River and Bay.


The Consent Judgment details the projects and elements of the settlement which are summarized in the table below.



Projects and Elements of the Settlement and Restoration



Dredging of 342,433 cubic yards of the most contaminated areas of the river

• silt curtains, water quality monitoring, and gasketted clamshell dredge used

• dredging completed July 22, 2001

Habitat protection and restoration

over 1,670 acres acquired and in public ownership

• includes most of Big and Little Charity Islands

200-400 acres of coastal wetlands and lakeplain prairie restored in 2001-2002

Green Point Environmental Learning Center

• two rent-free 99-year leases provided to USFWS

• includes interpretive center building and 80 acres of riparian and upland habitat

• $520,000 for additional restoration to be provided in 2003

• managed by Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge

Tobico Marsh restoration

• restoration of water flow between Saginaw Bay and the marsh in 2004

• emphasis on restoration of water fluctuations beneficial to northern pike and yellow perch spawning

• located in Bay City State Recreation Area

Recreational/educational areas

• three areas with boat launches, nature-viewing opportunities, interpretive signs


• Edward M. Golson Jr. Boat Launch and Nature Park opened on July 30, 2002.

• Bay City will operate and maintain two of the areas and MDNR will own and operate the third

Restoration Account

• $3,000,000 to be provided to Trustee Council starting in July of 2004

• emphasis on monitoring recovery and implementing additional restoration projects

Cost recovery

• Trustees were reimbursed for $2,000,000 of their assessment costs


The Benefits

The settlement and pending restorations are expected to result in a cleaner and healthier ecosystem for natural resources and people through the removal of PCBs from the Saginaw River. This means fewer PCBs in fish, wildlife and people who eat fish. Meanwhile, fish and wildlife benefit from additional habitat which is being restored and protected. Another benefit of the settlement will be the enhanced recreational opportunities and improved economic possibilities for the area as the stigma of contamination is replaced with the knowledge that the watershed is a cleaner and safer place with rich natural resources for use by the American people.



The links below will allow you to view the Trustees' reports concerning the Saginaw River and Bay Natural Resource Damage Assessment.


Most reports are PDF files.


Final Restoration and Environmental Assessment for the Green Point Area Restoration Project Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge Adobe PDF Icon


Draft Restoration and Environmental Assessment for the Green Point Area Restoration Project Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge Adobe PDF Icon


Final Environmental Assessment and 90% Plan for Tobico Marsh, released November 5, 2004.


A Post-Sediment Removal Caged Fish Study of the Saginaw River Watershed, June 18 - July 16, 2002, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Report MI/DEQ/WB-04-077


A Sediment Sampling Survey of the Saginaw River, Bay County, Michigan, September 2-3, 2003 , Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Report MI/DEQ/WD-04-001


Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Edward M. Golson Boat Launch and Nature Park. Comments on a draft EA were accepted through November 30, 2001. The Service reviewed the comments, made a Finding of No Significant Impact, and completed the final EA on December 20, 2001.


Fact Sheet for the Saginaw River and Bay NRDA, March 1999 (193k pdf format)


Federal Register Notice of Consent Judgment (21k pdf format)


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Links

Saginaw NRDA and sturgeon


Related bald eagle research


Region 3 NRDA Homepage


Region 3 Contaminants Program Homepage


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's NRDA Restoration Program


Other Links

For more information on NRDA in general, visit: Department of Interior's NRDA Homepage


The Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network


Measures of Success in the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay, a report from "The Partnership for the Saginaw Bay" on the environmental progress and actions still needed for the watershed.



If you have any questions or comments related to the Saginaw River and Bay NRDA, contact us via email or telephone:


Lisa Williams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, East Lansing Field Office, 517-351-8324


Annette Trowbridge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 3 NRDA Coordinator, 612-713-5104



Back to Midwest NRDA Home

Midwest Environmental Contaminants Home


Last updated: April 2, 2018