Clinton River watershed to benefit from $20 million EPA grant

By: Mary Beth Almond | C&G Newspapers | Published March 3, 2015

 The largest project covered under the $20 million Environmental Protection Agency grant includes a 9-mile stretch of the Clinton River through Dodge Park in Sterling Heights, into Utica and through Shelby Township that will fund habitat restoration.

The largest project covered under the $20 million Environmental Protection Agency grant includes a 9-mile stretch of the Clinton River through Dodge Park in Sterling Heights, into Utica and through Shelby Township that will fund habitat restoration.

Photo by Deb Jacques

METRO DETROIT — In an effort to help get the Clinton River watershed off the Great Lakes Area of Concern list, the Environmental Protection Agency has pledged $20 million to fund 11 projects throughout the watershed over the next three years.

“This is a big deal for the watershed,” said Jennifer Tewkesbury, of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes.

For nearly 30 years, the Clinton River watershed — which spans more than 750 square miles across Oakland, Macomb, Lapeer and St. Clair counties — has been listed as an area of concern under the U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The agreement designates areas of concern as sites with the worst legacies of toxic contamination and environmental degradation in the Great Lakes ecosystem.

In 2010, the Great Lakes Water Restoration Initiative was launched to accelerate efforts to protect and restore the largest system of fresh surface water in the world — the Great Lakes — which Tewkesbury said brought a lot of funding to the watershed for projects to improve water quality and habitat. But there is still much work to be done to get the Clinton River watershed off the list by its target 2018 removal date.

“With the Great Lakes Water Restoration Initiative, a lot of funding started coming our way, so as a watershed, we looked at all of our habitats within the watershed to see what areas still needed improvement. What we did was we came up with a list of 11 projects and submitted it to the EPA and, they have decided to go ahead and fund those projects for us,” Tewkesbury explained. “It’s very exciting. It’s a lot of investment into the watershed.”

Lynne Seymour, chair of the Clinton River Public Advisory Council, said delisting is a pretty big feat.

“It’s not something that is done easily, and to receive $20 million to assist with delisting is something that would not have even been in our realm of possibility in the next three years,” she added.

The $20 million EPA grant will fund a number of projects associated with fish and wildlife restoration along the Clinton River, its tributaries and the mouth of Lake St. Clair, to address issues such as the loss of fish and wildlife habitats, the degradation of fish and wildlife populations and the degradation of benthos — a community of organisms inhabiting the bottom of a lake, sea or ocean. The projects will involve 235 acres of aquatic and terrestrial habitat restoration; 92,000 feet of lineal channel restoration; 130 acres of floodplain or wetland restoration; 92,000 feet of in-stream habitat; and 365 tons of sediment-loading reduction.

“We’re actually going to see work done that will not only benefit the habitat in the Clinton River watershed, but that will hopefully stimulate the local economy by getting some local contractors in here to do some work and have the legacy of these projects last for generations,” Seymour said.

One of the largest projects covered under the grant, according to Tewkesbury, is $4.5 million in habitat restoration along a 9-mile stretch of the watershed through Sterling Heights, Utica and Shelby Township. 

Other communities that will reap the rewards of the grant include Auburn Hills, Clinton Township, Harrison Township, Macomb Township, Ray Township and Warren.

The overall goal, Tewkesbury said, is to have all the projects completed in the next two and a half years.

“I’m working with the EPA right now to start deciding which project should go first and how we want to time it. The EPA only just told us about the grant in January, so we are still trying to figure out how we are going to pull it all off,” she said. “It’s going to be a busy couple of years.”

Seymour said none of this would be possible without the dedication of the municipalities and a lot of citizens at large who pitched in when there was no funding and no possibility of getting any projects done.

“It’s been a long process. … Without their dedication and efforts, we would never have gotten this done,” she said.