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St. Marys River

Contact Information

U.S. EPA RAP Liaison:
Jamie Schardt
schardt.james@epa.gov
(312-353-5085)
USEPA-GLNPO
77 W. Jackson Blvd. (G-17J)
Chicago, IL 60604-3507

State RAP Contact
Michelle Selzer
(selzerm@michigan.gov)
517-241-3731
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality – Water Bureau

St. Marys River Binational Public Advisory Council
Mike Ripley
(mripley@sault.com)
906-632-0072
Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority

Canadian Contacts
Patrick Morash
(patrick.morash@ene.gov.on.ca)
807-475-1271
Great Lakes Advisor
Ontario Ministry of the Environment


John Marsden
(john.marsden@ec.gc.ca)
Lake Superior Coordinator
Restoration Programs Division
Environment Canada
416-739-4759

Frequent Acronyms

You will need the free Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA's PDF page to learn more.

St. Marys River AoC Boundary Map

St. Marys River AOC Boundary Map (PDF) (1pg, 885K)

St. Marys River shape file (ZIP) (47K)

Background

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.

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Beneficial Use Impairments

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.

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Delisting Targets

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.

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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.

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Significant RAP Milestones

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RAP Implementation

Recent progress and achievements

Current projects and outlook

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RAP-Related Publications

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Community Involvement

The St. Marys River Binational Public Advisory Council Exit disclaimer 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.

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Photos

landscaping fabric lines the creek bank

Water quality is greatly impaired in the East and West Davignon creeks that flow through the city of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and discharge into the St. Marys River. Storm sewers empty into these creeks as well as salt, nutrients and other pollutant run-off from streets and parking lots. The creeks are channeled through concrete pipes and diversion ditches, which further impairs the creeks ability to sustain fish and wildlife populations. (Photo Sault Ste. Marie Regional Conservation Authority)

person cleaning up Ashman Creek

Lake Superior State University and BPAC sponsored a series of volunteer clean-ups of the Ashman Creek watershed. In addition to non-point source pollution and erosion problems, illegal dumping in the urban creeks has created physical impairments. (Photo Lora Premo).

Native fishers in this photo of the St. Marys rapids around the turn of the century could easily fil their canoes with whitefish using only dip nets. Eighty percent of the water that used to flow over the rapids is now diverted through hydroelectric plant resulting in the destruction of all but remnant rapids. (Photo Library of Congress)

Native fishers in this photo of the St. Marys rapids around the turn of the century could easily fill their canoes with whitefish using only dip nets. Eighty percent of the water that used to flow over the rapids is now diverted through hydroelectric plant resulting in the destruction of all but remnant rapids. (Photo Library of Congress)

East Davigon Creek

East Davignon and West Davignon Creeks form beautiful waterfalls as they flow over the rocks of the Canadian Shield only minutes from downtown Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. (Photos Mike Ripley)

West Davigon Creek

West Davignon Creek waterfall (Photos Mike Ripley)

Ashman Creek - Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

Ashman Creek and Mission Creek in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan are also severely impaired due to storm sewer discharges and erosion. Watershed planning will be addressing these issues in the coming years. (Photos Mike Ripley)

Mission Creek - Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

Ashman Creek and Mission Creek in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan are also severely impaired due to storm sewer discharges and erosion. Watershed planning will be addressing these issues in the coming years. (Photos Mike Ripley)


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