International Joint Commission Makes Recommendations on Government Cleanup Efforts on the Detroit River


Contact: Jennifer Day Windsor, ON (519) 257-6733   Bruce Kirschner Windsor, ON (519) 257-6710


International Joint Commission Makes Recommendations on Government Cleanup Efforts on the Detroit River

In order to facilitate cleanup of the Detroit River, the International Joint Commission (IJC) today announces the findings and recommendations from its assessment of the U.S. and Canadian federal, state and provincial governments' progress to clean up the Detroit River. The report details both constructive criticism of identified organizational problems and some notable successes that have occurred over more than 10 years of development and implementation of related cleanup activities.

The status assessment is not an environmental audit of the conditions in the Detroit River, but an assessment of ongoing remediation efforts by the responsible governments, with Michigan Department of Environmental Quality responsible as lead agency, and related activities valuable to the restoration process. Commissioners met with local citizens, representatives of government agencies, industries, local municipalities, non-governmental organizations and the media to collect information during the assessment.

"Based on our experience with the successes and problems encountered by other Areas of Concern around the Great Lakes, IJC hopes the greatest utility of our findings and recommendations will be to facilitate constructive interaction among the various government agencies and local organizations to the benefit of this important local and binational resource," says IJC Great Lakes Regional Office Director Douglas McTavish.

IJC's findings regarding successes and obstacles to the Detroit River cleanup effort include:

    • Lack of Leadership:

      Lack of leadership by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has hindered implementation efforts in the Detroit River AOC. While the State of Michigan, under of memorandum of understanding with the Province of Ontario, accepted the lead for achieving restoration of the AOC, its Department of Environmental Quality now considers itself only a participant in the cleanup.


    • The Detroit River AOC Requires a Higher Profile with Elected Officials:

      Restoration of the Detroit River AOC requires that river cleanup become a high priority and be maintained as a high priority with elected officials at all levels of government. This has occurred in the Rouge River AOC. Elected officials involvement in the Rouge River AOC has contributed directly to securing over $600 million in infrastructure improvements to address combined sewer overflows and urban stormwater runoff.


    • Lack of Financial Commitment from Federal, State and Provincial Governments:

      Local partnerships and financing provided by various sectors of the community should only be supplementary sources of funding and not substitutes for a strong financial commitment by the U.S. and Canadian federal, state and provincial governments.


    • Insufficient Examination and Evaluation of Restoration Options and Priorities:

      The 1996 Detroit River RAP Report identified 104 recommendations. No mechanism is currently in place to evaluate these options relative to achieving the desired future state of the Detroit River. Contaminated sediment remediation receives no higher priority for funding than restoration of fish and wildlife habitat. The limited available funds should be invested in remedial actions that will provide optimal environmental net benefit.


    • Limited Business and Industrial Involvement in AOC Restoration:

      Barriers and incentives to business and industrial involvement must be identified to ensure meaningful involvement. As restoration progresses, there could be considerable benefits from establishing a community partnership organization for cleanup of the Detroit River and contaminated sediments.


    • Limited Commitment to Monitoring:

      Historically, there was an extensive monitoring program for the Detroit River to assess water quality, estimate loadings of pollutants, identify pollution "hot spots" and evaluate program effectiveness. Due to budget cuts and changing priorities, these monitoring programs have been substantially cut or eliminated.


    • Inadequate Citizen Involvement and Consultation:

      There is too little public awareness or acceptance of the need to restore uses in the Detroit River. Greater effort must be expended to inform citizens, including school age children, regarding current environmental conditions and specific restoration goals. IJC found no evidence of specific outreach programs directed at the most impacted subset of the AOC's population. In particular, more effort is required to inform subsistence fishers of the risks from the consumption of environmentally contaminated fish.


    • Notable Successes:

Notable successes in restoration include: Habitat rehabilitation and conservation projects implemented at Detroit's Belle Isle Park, Windsor's Coventry, Reaume, and Alexander Parks, Ruwe March and the Canadian Salt Company facility; pollution prevention efforts of Chrysler, Ford and General Motors in both the U.S. and Canada; removal of 20,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from Monguagon Creek; more than 1 billion dollars worth of upgrades to wastewater treatment operations in both Detroit and Windsor; and initial steps being taken by elected officials in Detroit and Windsor in cooperation with local companies to establish a local organization to improve the Detroit River waterfront.

The governments of the U.S. and Canada, in a 1987 Protocol to The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, designated 42 Areas of Concern around the Great Lakes Basin, such as the Detroit River, where poor water quality had caused or was likely to cause impairments to human uses of the water and its ability to support aquatic life.

IJC is a binational Canada-United States organization established by TheBoundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to help the two Governments prevent and resolve disputes over use of waters along the U.S. and Canada boundary. Under the 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, IJC assesses progress by the two counties to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. The full text of this report is available on the Internet at