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Since 1991, the U.S. EPA has been promoting the watershed approach as a mechanism to
achieve the next generation of water protection. The focus on watersheds, or water drainage
areas as the place provides people living there a meaningful context in which to identify
problems and solutions. Below is a description of the Rouge River Watershed where the
watershed approach is making a difference.
                                                               Courtesy Rouge River Project
The system:

The Rouge Watershed comprises 467 square
miles, including parts of 3 counties, 48 munici-
palities and 1.5 million people.  The River itself
is 127 miles long, has four main branches, and
many tributaries. Located in southeastern
Michigan, the watershed contains the most
densely populated and urbanized land area in the
state, including major portions of Detroit. The
river empties into the Detroit River which con-
nects Lakes St. Clair and Erie.  Much of the river
is surrounded by parkland, making it highly
accessible to the public.

The State designated uses for the Rouge River
are: water contact recreation; warm water fish-
ery; industrial and agricultural water supply;
commercial and recreational navigation (e.g., canoeing); and general aesthetic.  In many parts ot
the river, these designated uses are not being met in dry or wet conditions.  The International
Joint Commission in the Great Lakes designated the Rouge River as one of the Areas of Concern
due to its highly polluted condition. There are fish consumption advisories m place and the
county health department has prohibited total body contact.

Many who could remember swimming and fishing in the river as children were deeply concerned
that the river would never again be usable as a recreational resource. Under the leadership of the
 state, local citizens pulled together to develop a remedial action plan to define the problem facing
the watershed and to identify causes and solutions.


  The stresses;

 Because the Rouge River Watershed is the drainage system for a heavily urbanized, industrial-
 ized area one would expect discharges from industrial and wastewater treatment plants to be the
 major stresses to the system. These, however, have been effectively controlled under the State's
  wastewater permits system. The main remaining stressor to the system comes from what is
  called "wet weather pollution".

  Despite the improvements in industrial and municipal wastewater treatment, watershed residents
  will be unable to freely enjoy the river without the threat of disease-causing organisms as long as
  raw sewage spills from combined sewer overflows and bacteria from leaking septic systems is
  still discharged into the river.

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 The sources:
 The remedial action plan identified significant pollutant sources and the Rouge River Project
 (see below description) has subsequently conducted sampling programs to better define all of the
 pollutant sources to the river. Initial sampling and modeling has shown that controlling com-
 bined sewer overflows is only the first step in restoring the Rouge River.  Other pollutant sources
 are stormwater, unpermitted discharges, failing septic systems, leaching dumps and possibly air
 deposition. Sampling in the headwater areas indicates that many sites failed water quality stan-
 dards for coliform bacteria, indicating that raw and/or semi-treated sewage is entering the river.
 These high bacteria levels are above the combined sewer areas, and the sources of the bacteria
 have not been confirmed.
 Potential sources include failing
 septic fields and illegal connec-
 tions of sanitary pipes to storm
 sewers.
 The strategy:

 Cleaning up the Rouge River is
 a multistep process that must be
 a team effort. A remedial action
 plan was developed by the
 Michigan Department of Natu-
 ral Resources (MDNR), now
 called the Michigan Department
 of Environmental Quality
 (DEQ), in partnership with
 communities, citizens, busi-
 nesses, industries, and local
 governments.
Construction of the Dearborn Heights Retention Basin
Wayne County is spearheading the plan's implementation via the Rouge River National Wet
Weather Demonstration Project (Rouge Project) with funding by EPA and local communities.
The Rouge Project oversees the 17 combined sewer overflow abatement projects under construc-
tion (11 retention treatment basins and 6 sewer separation projects - see above photo). These"
control technologies will then be evaluated to help quantify their effect on the quality of the river
so as to suggest the most appropriate combined sewer overflow (CSO) method. Because CSO
control will not eliminate all pollution to the river, the Rouge Project is assessing and implement-
ing non point source controls as well and pollution prevention programs for watershed residents
and businesses. Success will be shared with other urban watersheds.

Another key aspect of the Rouge Project is to get information into the hands of the community so
they can make informed decisions and obtain meaningful information on the portion of the
watershed in which they live. In 1994, the Rouge Project developed a windows-based applica-
tion of a Geographic Information System (GIS) to allow users to access, browse, and query
sampling data sets from their personal computers. This tool is expected to be particularly useful
to local officials who make land-use decisions.

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Measures of Success:
Success is achieved only if the citizens can once again use the river. Toward this end, a goal has
been set for one third of the combined sewer overflows (CSO) to be separated and treated by
1997. Signed permits
are in place to control
the remaining CSO by
2005. Before continu-
ing the massive CSO
construction effort, a
key objective is to find
the most effective
combination of solu-
tions (combined sewer
overflow and non point
source controls) that
will result in the most
significant water quality
improvements.

Watershed studies,
thanks to the grassroots
organization Friends of
the Rouge, are in place
in 100 schools, many of
which are linked by
computers. In addition,
predictive models have
been developed for pollutant loadings and remediation efforts have been prioritized. Finally, a
stretch of river has been opened for canoeing, with more scheduled to open in 1996.

          For more information, contact the Rouge River Project at (313) 961-0700.
 "By working cooperatively, the communities in Southeast Michigan can
finally expect to enjoy the many uses an urban river can provide."
             - U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-MI)
      EPA'sRole
      EPA, along with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Wayne County
      Department of Environment, Rouge Remedial Action Plan Advisory Council, and
      others are members of the Rouge River Project Policy and Steering Committees. In
      addition, EPA awarded $288 million to Wayne County for the Rouge River National
      Wet Weather Demonstration Project.  For more information on EPA's involvement,
      contact EPA Region 5 at (312) 353-2147.
      Nationally, EPA has been reorienting its programs and developing tools to facilitate
      the watershed approach since 1991. For more information on the watershed ap-
      proach, please contact the EPA at Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds, 401 M
      Street, S.W. 4501F, Washington, DC  20460 (Attention: Watershed Outreach coordi-
      nator) or visit us on the world wide web at URL:http://www.epa.gov/OWOW.

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