Former EPA Black Eye May Become Example for Water Quality Restoration

In the 1980’s, the U.S. EPA named the Grand Calumet River, located at the southern tip of Lake Michigan, as one of the nation’s most polluted waterways. At the time, all 14 beneficial uses of the river were deemed to be impaired. Now, great efforts are being put into not only getting rid of contaminated sediments in the river, but preventing pollution from entering the water again.

“Frankly, I’d never guess in a million years that we could bring that polluted river (Grand Calumet) back to life, but it’s coming back thanks to folks pushing inside bureaucracies at the state and federal level, and thanks to many nonprofits and other organizations coming together to make it happen,” said Nicole Barker, executive director of Save the Dunes.

More than seven million pounds of sediment has been removed from the Roxanna Marsh area of the river alone, helping birds and turtles that hadn’t been seen there for years work their way back into the environment. Partnerships between the U.S. EPA, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and U.S. Steel have led to dredging procedures used to remove the sediment. In the future, however, it will be important for authorities to protect the area and make sure pollution doesn’t take hold again.

“The days of minimizing harm are over,” said senior advisor to the administrator on the Great Lakes for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 5 Great Lakes National Program office in Chicago, Scott Ireland. “We need to be proactive in preventing it and we are.”

One of the ways that is being accomplished is punishing parties who pollute water sources in the area. Just last week, Ronald Holmes, who owns a business in East Chicago, was fined $200,000 and sentenced to four years of probation for dumping grease from local restaurants into the sewers. That grease could have worked its way into Lake Michigan and the river without being treated if not reported beforehand.

“The EPA can’t do this alone and as citizens, we need to do our part as well by reducing the stress on our water systems,” says Shar Ceasar, Marketing Manager at Brondell. “Encouraging more environmentally-friendly lifestyles, such as reducing plastic bottled water usage, can go very a long way.”

Though organizations have been lauded for the work they have done on the river so far, the project is not over. In the future, administrators and businesses alike will need to be diligent to make sure that avoidable pollution does not make its way into the river.

“On the whole, we’ve come a heck of a long way, but we now need to use smart, sustainable practices to make our water as clean as possible,” said Barker.

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