St. Marys River
U.S. EPA RAP Liaison:
77 W. Jackson Blvd. (G-17J)
Chicago, IL 60604-3507
State RAP Contact
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality – Water Bureau
St. Marys River Binational Public Advisory
Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority
Great Lakes Advisor
Ontario Ministry of the Environment
Lake Superior Coordinator
Restoration Programs Division
- Ducks Unlimited USA
- Ducks Unlimited Canada
- Sault Naturalists
- Sault Ste. Marie Region Conservation Authority
- St. Marys River Binational Public Advisory
- Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Lake Huron Committee
- Lake Superior State University
- Upper Lakes Environmental Research Network
- Environment Canada
- Ontario Ministry of the Environment
- Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
- Beneficial Use Impairments
- Delisting Targets
- RAP Development and Status
- Significant RAP Milestones
- RAP Implementation
- RAP-Related Publications
- Community Involvement
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The St. Marys River is a 112 km connecting channel between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. The (AOC) extends from the head of the river at Whitefish Bay (Point Iroquois - Gros Cap), downstream through the St. Joseph Channel to Humburg Point on the Ontario side, and to the straits of Detour on the Michigan side. Impairment of water quality, sediment, and biota remain due to historical point source discharges. Contaminants of concern include oils and greases, suspended solids, metals, phenols, ammonia, bacteria, and PAHs. Sources contributing to the beneficial use impairments (BUIs) include Algoma Steel, two Ontario water pollution control plants, combined sewer overflows, St. Marys Paper, and various nonpoint sources. As a result of industry and municipal discharges, sediments have become contaminated with toxics such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, cyanide and lead.
Priorities for the St. Marys River AOC include restoration of urban tributaries on both sides of the border, cleanup of the Cannelton Tannery Superfund site, sea lamprey control, elimination of combined sewer overflows, and a strategy for contaminated sediments. Once the Cannelton site is remediated, the site may support light industry, residential homes, and park areas. The sea lamprey control efforts will help restore impaired fisheries in the St. Marys River as well as northern Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Combined sewer separation in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Ontario has already reduced overflows of sewage to the St. Marys River. Industrial treatment facilities on the Ontario side have also made great progress to improve wastewater discharges. Finalization and implementation of a sediment management plan will help to identify and prioritize sediment cleanup sites within the St. Marys AOC.
Beneficial Use Impairments
- Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
- Eutrophication or undesirable algae
- 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
Impaired beneficial uses are identified in the table to the right. Restrictions on fish consumption are due to mercury and PCBs. Fish populations have been impacted heavily by the parasitic sea lamprey, an introduced species. Brown bullhead have been identified with liver tumors and white suckers have exhibited elevated liver enzymes, another sign of exposure to contaminated sediments. The benthic communities on the Michigan side appear to be healthy, while localized communities on the Ontario side still exhibit significant degradation. These benthic communities have shown signs of PAH and PCB contamination, most likely from sediments. Contaminated dredged spoils from the Algoma Steel Boat Slip must be disposed of in an approved waste disposal site, and several other sites on both sides of the river have exceeded sediment contaminant level standards. Eutrophication and algae continue to be an issue in the vicinity of the East End Water Pollution Control Plant on the Ontario side. Beaches on both the Ontario and Michigan sides are periodically closed due to elevated bacteria levels. Aesthetic degradation has also occurred due to oil slicks and floating algae scum. Historically, the St. Marys rapids provided spawning habitat for a variety of species. Currently, the rapids spawning habitat is reduced but still productive. Significant loss of fish and wildlife habitat has occurred along both sides of the river as a result of shoreline alteration, industrialization, urbanization, agricultural impacts, and shipping activities.
For further information on St. Marys River BUIs, see the RAP documents listed in the Significant RAP Milestones section below.
The 2002 Stage 2 RAP document identified water use goals and delisting criteria for each of the BUIs in the St. Marys River AOC. However, not all of the delisting targets for the St. Marys BUIs were specific enough to determine restoration success. In 2006, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) will work with the Binational Public Advisory Council (BPAC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (OMOE), and Environment Canada (EC) to refine the delisting criteria based on current U.S. and Canadian agency guidance and standards.
RAP Development and Status
The U.S. and Canada have pledged their cooperation to restore the shared upper connecting channel AOCs (i.e., St. Marys, St. Clair, and Detroit Rivers) under the terms of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The St. Marys River AOC is managed under a binational governance structure created under the Four Agency Letter of Commitment that was signed on April 17, 1998 by EC, MDEQ, OMOE, and the U.S. EPA.
A Stage 1 RAP report, which described the water quality issues in the St. Marys AOC, was submitted to the International Joint Commission in 1992. A Stage 2 Report was completed in 2002. The parties to the Four Agency Letter of Commitment plan to begin work on an Implementation Annex for the Stage 2 report in 2006.
Significant RAP Milestones
- 2007: Biennial Remedial Action Plan Update for Michigan's Portion of the St. Marys River AOC (PDF 197Kb 18 pages)
- 2003: St. Marys River - Moving Forward: Summary of the St. Marys River RAP Stage 2 Report (PDF 2.190Mb 8 pages) completed.
- 2002: St. Marys River RAP - Stage 2: Remedial Strategies for Ecosystem Restoration (PDF 7.40Mb 141 pages) completed.
- 1998: Four Agency Letter of Commitment signed.
- 1992: The St. Marys River AOC - Environmental Conditions and Problem Definitions: Stage 1 (PDF 21.24Mb 444 pages) completed.
- 1988: St. Marys River Binational Public Advisory Council formed.
Recent progress and achievements
- Contaminated sediments at the Algoma Boat Slip were monitored in 2001 and 2005 as part of Algoma’s Environmental Management Agreement and conditions are improving. Appropriate remedial actions to address all contaminated sediment sites on the Canadian side will be identified using the Canada-Ontario supported protocol. The protocol is currently being implemented.
- Consumers Energy is conducting remediation work at a decommissioned manufactured gas plant downstream of Sault Edison power plant. Permits for land-based soil removal and deep water dredging were issued by MDEQ in the summer of 2005. Land-based investigations and remedial actions are ongoing, with approximately 5,000 cubic yards removed from the shoreline areas of the site in 2005. River-based sediment investigations are done, and in-water dredging started in the fall of 2005. Consumers completed the first phase of that work with an estimated 2,500 cubic yards of contaminated sediment and tar dredged from the river.
- The general public participated in three workshops on contaminated sediment issues organized by the BPAC, from November 2004 to April 2005. The workshops provided information on the progress and current status of the cleanup of contaminated sediments within the St. Marys River AOC and offered citizens and other stakeholders on both sides of the border a means of expressing their concerns about specific remediation plans.
- Significant monitoring and assessment work by Lake Superior State University (LSSU) is ongoing on in the St. Marys River and tributaries. For example, a sediment quality survey of the St. Marys River was conducted during the summer of 2003 and a final report was submitted to the U.S. EPA in 2005.
- Water quality monitoring of dissolved metals by LSSU in the St. Marys River began in April 2003 and is ongoing.
- In 2001, Algoma Steel voluntarily signed an Environmental Management Agreement with OMOE and EC. Since 1990, Algoma Steel has spent over $55 million (CDN) on environmental improvements (e.g., upgrades to coke oven) and monitoring projects. The Agreement and semi-annual reports are available at: http://www.ec.gc.ca/epe-epa/default.asp?lang=En&n=F2E8DE70-1 .
- MDEQ conducts annual monitoring of the St. Marys River as part of its ongoing spatial and temporal monitoring of the Great Lakes connecting channels.
- Recent sediment and benthic surveys have also been conducted by EC and OMOE throughout the river. Other monitoring efforts include information on water chemistry, sediments, and biota in the nearshore areas of Lake George and Little Lake George.
- The status of sport fish and other fish species in the St. Marys River is being monitored by the binational St. Marys River Fisheries Task Group via fish harvest surveys and other ongoing assessment activities.
Current projects and outlook
- A Great Lakes Legacy Act proposal is under consideration by the U.S. EPA for further remediation of the Tannery Bay site located along the south shore of the St. Marys River upstream of the City of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. The site was also part of the U.S. EPA Cannelton Superfund site. The proposed removal and off-site disposal of the impacted sediments within Tannery Bay and two mercury-impacted "hotspot" sediment areas located within the Tannery Point wetlands would be completed as a voluntary action by Phelps Dodge Corporation and could potentially accelerate improvements to the St. Marys River.
- Chippewa/East Mackinaw Conservation District has started work on a MDEQ nonpoint source Watershed Planning Grant for the 15,000-acre St. Marys River watershed. This project will assess urban pollution impacts to water quality and the nonpoint source TMDL pollutants for the St. Marys River originating from the Sault Ste. Marie watershed.
- The OMOE and the Sault Ste Marie Region Conservation Authority are currently working on a sediment management strategy for the area near Bellevue Marine Park
- The construction of a new full treatment sewage plant for Sault Ste. Marie’s east end is on schedule, and the facilities are expected to be commissioned in the summer of 2006. Plans for the analysis and disposal of dredged materials from the construction of the sewage outfall and plant are in place.
- The Upper Lakes Environmental Research Network (ULERN), with funding provided by the OMOE, is undertaking a project to assess the status of the St. Marys River AOC BUIs and further refine delisting criteria.
- Lake Superior State University conducted a study in the summer of 2005 to assess the biological, chemical and physical integrity of nine coastal marshes along the St. Mary’s River. The results of the project will identify potential human induced impacts on the St. Marys River nearshore habitat and the wildlife that use these areas.
- The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans are in charge of sea lamprey control in the St. Marys River. In 2006, the USFWS is planning to treat approximately 374 acres (151 hectares) of the river with a toxicant to kill larval sea lamprey that are burrowed in the river sediment. These treatments are done annually at various locations in the river (e.g., the St. Marys rapids) and are based on prior assessment work.
- 2007: The Michigan
Department of Environmental Quality Biennial Remedial Action
Plan Update for Michigan’s Portion of the St. Marys River Area
(PDF 197Kb, 18 pages)
- 2005: Scope of
Contaminated Sediments in the St. Marys River Area of Concern -
(PDF 178Kb 18 pages).
- 2004: St. Marys Remedial Action Plan Implementation: Review Project
(PDF 3.40Mb 207 pages).
- 2004: Synthesis of Sediment and Biological Investigations in the St.
Marys River Area of Concern
(PDF 15.62Mb 92 pages).
- 2003: International Joint Commission St. Marys River Stage 2 Remedial Action Plan Review.
- 2000: Lake Superior Lakewide Management Plan (LaMP).
- 2002: St. Marys
River Fisheries Assessment Plan
(PDF 419Kb 46 pages).
- 2002: Population Dynamics of the St. Marys River Fish Community
(PDF 305Kb 40 pages).
- 2002: Harvest of Fishes in the St. Marys River, May, 1999 through
(PDF 298Kb 55 pages).
- 2002: The St.
Marys River Area of Concern: Stage 2: Remedial Strategies for
(PDF 1.95Mb 140 pages).
- A couple reports from the Canadian side – I’ve asked them for references.
The St. Marys River Binational Public Advisory Council provides state, provincial, and federal governments in the U.S. and Canada with information and recommendations on actions for restoring and protecting water use goals in the AOC. Lake Superior State University serves as the BPAC facilitator and host of the BPAC office.