U.S. EPA RAP Liaison:
Southeaste Michigan Field Office
9311 Groh Road
Grosse Ile, MI 48138-1697
State RAP Contact:
Laura A. Esman
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
525 W. Allegan Street
P.O. Box 30273
Lansing, MI 48909
Detroit River RAP Committee Chair
Michigan Statewide Public Advisory Council Representative
Friends of the Detroit River
3020 Oakwood Boulevard
Melvindale, MI 48122-1120
- Detroit Riverfront Conservancy
- Detroit Water and Sewerage Department
- Environment Canada
- Essex Region Conservation Authority
- Friends of the Detroit River
- Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (University of Windsor)
- Metropolitan Affairs Coalition – Greater Detroit American Heritage River Initiative
- Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
- Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
- Ontario Ministry of Environment
- Trust for Public Land
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region (3)
- Beneficial Use Impairments
- Delisting Targets
- RAP Development and Status
- Significant RAP Milestones
- RAP Implementation
- RAP-Related Publications
- Community Involvement
The Detroit River is a 32-mile international connecting channel linking Lake St. Clair and the upper Great Lakes to Lake Erie. The Detroit River Area of Concern (AOC) is a binational AOC which drains approximately 700 square miles of land in Michigan and Ontario, as well as the 107 square mile City of Detroit "sewershed." Approximately 75 percent of the total land area of the watershed is in Michigan (607.7 square miles).
Eleven beneficial use impairments have been identified in the Detroit River. The known causes of impairments include urban and industrial development in the watershed, bacteria, PCBs, PAHs, metals, and oils and greases. Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and municipal and industrial discharges are major sources of contaminants within the AOC. Stormwater runoff and tributaries in Michigan are also major sources of contaminants. Additional environmental concerns include invasive species, changes in the fish community structure, and reductions in fish and wildlife habitat.
Detroit River priorities include control of combined sewer overflows, control of sanitary sewer overflows, point/nonpoint source pollution controls, remediation of contaminated sediments, habitat restoration, and pollution prevention.
On April 17, 1998 in Windsor, the governments of Canada, the United States, Ontario and Michigan signed a Letter of Commitment regarding the restoration and cleanup of the Detroit, St. Clair and St. Mary's Rivers. The Letter of Commitment specifies the roles and responsibilities of the four agencies in implementing and restoring the Areas of Concern shared between Canada, the United States, Ontario and Michigan. These roles and responsibilities include administrative commitments, development of a binational delisting process, public involvement and outreach and reporting progress to the International Joint Commission and the public.
Beneficial Use Impairments
- Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
- Tainting of fish and wildlife flavor
- Restrictions on drinking water consumption, or taste and odor
- Degradation of fish and wildlife populations
- Beach closings
- Fish tumors or other deformities
- Degradation of aesthetics
- Bird or animal deformities or reproduction problems
- Degradation of benthos
- Restriction on dredging activities
- Loss of fish and wildlife habitat
According to the Detroit River Remedial Action Plan (RAP) – Stage 1, the impaired beneficial uses of the Detroit River were originally listed primarily due to contaminants caused by CSOs, industrial and municipal discharges, and nonpoint sources such as stormwater runoff from urban and industrial areas. Michigan CSOs are a major source of contaminants that cause fish consumption advisories, total body contact advisories, exceedances of ambient water quality criteria and degradation of aesthetics. Michigan point sources were also a large source of many of the contaminants that cause use impairments. Several Michigan and Ontario wastewater treatment plants were identified as contributors of bacteria to the Detroit River, although their contributions were insignificant compared to CSOs.
RAP Development and Status
The Detroit River Remedial Action Plan Stage I document was originally completed in 1992 to address the water quality issues associated with the Detroit River. The RAP identified eight beneficial use impairments (BUI). In 1996, a RAP update was completed by professionals and community representatives in the AOC. It was developed as a binational effort led by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to address the BUIs or water use goals. Approximately 104 recommendations were developed with the goal of restoring and maintaining the integrity of the Detroit River ecosystem to a standard that will provide a safe, clean, and self-sustaining natural environment, such that (1) self-reproducing, diverse biological communities are restored and maintained, and (2) the presence of contaminants does not limit the use or appreciation of fish, wildlife or waters of the river.
In 1999, the Detroit River Canadian Cleanup Committee completed an updated report on the Detroit River AOC. The report discussed current status of the BUIs, and added two BUIs to the list of impaired uses. The 1999 report was not ever formally adopted by the parties to the Four Agency Agreement. The RAP was updated again in 2002 to report on restoration activities, new data, and the status of BUIs.
In 2005, the Friends of the Detroit River agreed to become the lead local organization for the Detroit River AOC, and coordinate a Public Advisory Council for the AOC.
Significant RAP Milestones
- 2008: Detroit River AOC RAP Update (PDF) (January 2008) (18pp, 366K)
- 2005: Friends of the Detroit River takes on lead role as coordinator of Detroit River Public Advisory Council. Reconvenes Detroit River Public Advisory Council to engage the community in the restoration of the AOC.
- 2002: Detroit River RAP Update draft (PDF) (157pp, 45.7MB)
- 1996: Detroit River RAP Report (PDF) (423pp, 19.4MB) completed.
- 1991: Detroit River RAP Stage 1 (PDF)(523pp, 19.4MB)
Recent progress and achievements
- 2004-05: the Detroit River AOC was chosen as the first Great Lakes
Legacy Act site for the dredging of Black Lagoon
contaminated sediments. Removal of Black Lagoon contaminated
sediments was a key remedial action identified in the 1996 RAP.
The project dredged 115,600 cubic yards of contaminated
sediments, and was completed in September 2005.
- 2003: Trust for Public Land acquired Humbug Marsh. It
includes 410 acres of unique fish and wildlife habitat along the
Detroit River, representing the last mile of natural shoreline
on the U.S. mainland side of the Detroit River.
- 2003: Detroit Water and
Sewerage Department completed a $187 million Combined Sewer
Overflow (CSO) disinfection basin at the head of Connors Creek –
Michigan’s largest CSO outfall. The project included dredging of
the creek, and rehabilitating a portion of the Detroit River
- 2003: Friends of
the Detroit River received a grant from U.S. EPA for a
citizens’ reconnaissance of the Detroit River project. The goal
of the project is to locate and characterize discharges from
unknown point sources along the river, and train a "citizen
volunteer group" to monitor and look for potential sources of
pollutants to the river.
- 2002: the Detroit River
International Wildlife Refuge (IWR) was designated –
including the lower Detroit River and western shoreline of Lake
Erie. The Detroit River is the first international wildlife
refuge in North America. The Refuge was officially expanded by
Congress in 2003, and again in 2005 via a 70-acre parcel
acquisition in Monroe County through the North American Wetlands
Conservation Act, matched with donations from a number of
federal, state, and nonprofit organizations. This acquisition
will also help restore natural habitat near the Fermi II nuclear
power plant. Since the creation of the IWR, numerous land
acquisitions and donations by organizations such as the Trust
for Public Lands, The Nature Conservancy, and the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers have also expanded the land included in the
- 2002: the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy secured over $10 million in grants from the Kresge Foundation to create a 62-foot-wide, three-mile long riverfront park and walkway along the Detroit River in downtown Detroit. It is part of a larger plan by the City of Detroit to develop and rehabilitate the waterfront.
Current projects and outlook
- 2006-2007: Identification of restoration targets for
each of the AOC’s beneficial use impairments.
- 2006 [planned]: U.S. EPA GLNPO grant to MDEQ for a project to identify nonpoint and non-traditional pollutants in the Detroit River AOC. Work will be completed in 2006-2007.
- 2002: Reconnecting to the Detroit River: Accomplishments of the Greater Detroit American Heritage River Initiative (PDF) (12pp, 2.0MB) – Metropolitan Affairs Coalition
- 2000: Roles and Responsibilities for Implementation of Shared RAPs. Copies available from MDEQ agency contact.
- 1999: Detroit River Update Report (PDF)- Detroit River Canadian Cleanup Committee
- 1998: Four Party Letter of Commitment. U.S. EPA, MDEQ, OME, EC. Copies available from MDEQ agency contact.
The Detroit River Area of Concern has a number of local and regional initiatives being carried out at the community, county, or regional level that implement the objectives of the Detroit River Remedial Action Plan. These initiatives, often partnerships or collaborations with local residents, businesses, institutions, local, county, and state government, deliver educational programming, habitat restoration projects, mobilize financial support, and monitor initiatives that impact water quality within the Detroit River watershed.
In 2005, the Friends of the Detroit River (FDR) agreed to take on the role as coordinator of the local Public Advisory Council for the Detroit River AOC. FDR has been a long-time active organization in the restoration and protection of the Detroit River.