The St. Clair River has taken another big step toward getting a clean bill of health.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on Wednesday announced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved removing the loss of fish and wildlife habitat beneficial use impairment from the St. Clair River Area of Concern.
“On the U.S. side, we have two more BUIs left to go,” said Patty Troy, U.S. co-chairman of the St. Clair River Bi-National Public Advisory Council.
“That would be the fish and wildlife consumption BUI, and that’s going to be a longer- term one, and how drinking water could potentially be impacted by spills.”
A beneficial use impairment is something that keeps the river from being enjoyed the way it historically was used. Ten beneficial use impairments were identified in the St. Clair River when it was declared an area of concern in 1978.
Troy said a planned cleanup in the river on the Canadian side of the river could help with removal of the fish and wildlife consumption beneficial use impairment.
“One thing that will go a long way towards being able to remove that one is when Canada can finally remediate the contaminated sediment in the St. Clair River,” she said.
There are three areas in the river where Canada plans to remediate contaminated sediments, she said.
Kirsten Lyons, stewardship director for the Friends of the St. Clair River, called Wednesday’s news exciting.
She said completion of the 10 habitat restoration projects funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was instrumental in removing the fish and wildlife habitat beneficial use impairment.
“It took all of that to get this restored,” she said. “It is the artificial spawning reef and it is the near-shore habitat
“There’s habitat that people can’t see out in the middle of the river, and there’s more habitat that people can’t see that’s right along the shoreline, and then there are the restoration projects you can see that are right along the shoreline and that you can walk through.”
The Friends group and St. Clair County Parks and Recreation recently celebrated the opening of an interpretive boardwalk in the County Wetlands Park along the St. Clair River in Port Huron. The park, Lyons said, is one the projects partially funded by the GLRI.
She said native wetlands plants have taken root as planned in the park.
“This is not even as good as it is going to get yet because it’s not fully mature,” she said. “So next year and the year after and the year after it’s just going to keep getting prettier.”
In August, officials and volunteers celebrated the removal of the bird or animal deformities and reproductive problems beneficial use impairment.
Removal of beneficial use impairments started in 2009 with removal of restriction of dredging activities, followed by: added costs to agriculture or industry, 2011; tainting of fish or wildlife flavor, 2012; degradation of aesthetics, 2012; degradation of benthos (river bottom), 2014; and beach closings, which BPAC celebrated in 2016.
The U.S. has spent about $21 million through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative on 10 projects in St. Clair County since 2011 to improve and restore fish and wildlife habitat in and along the St. Clair River.
The projects are scattered along the 44 miles of the river.