WBEZ | grand calumet river http://www.wbez.org/tags/grand-calumet-river Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Grand Calumet River delivers toxic load to Lake Michigan http://www.wbez.org/news/grand-calumet-river-delivers-toxic-load-lake-michigan-105165 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/The-Grand-Calumet-by-Lloyd-DeGrane.jpg" style="height: 412px; width: 620px;" title="The Grand Calumet River in Northwest Indiana. (Lloyd DeGrane)" />The Grand Calumet River system winds for 13 miles through a Northwest Indiana industrial landscape that could almost be described as post-apocalyptic.</p><p>Alongside the several branches of the slow-moving waterway, a steel mill, gypsum plant and other heavy industry spew plumes of steam into the air while vines and shrubs grow inside vacant crumbling brick buildings.&nbsp; A fragment of the partially demolished Cline Avenue bridge still stands, twisted rebar and chunks of concrete hanging from each end. A rusty abandoned motorboat bobs half-sunken next to a soiled brown floating absorbent boom.</p><p>The Grand Calumet has long been known as one of the nation&rsquo;s most polluted rivers. It is one of 43 federal Areas of Concern targeted for remediation in the Great Lakes region. For many decades before the 1972 Clean Water Act, countless industries dumped contaminated waste into the river with abandon.&nbsp; Gary, East Chicago and Hammond discharge untreated sewage and storm water into it.</p><p>The Grand Calumet consists of two forks that join and empty into Lake Michigan via the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal and Indiana Harbor, in East Chicago. Though the land right around the river mouth is not open to the public, local residents fish, swim, boat and wade at nearby beaches, harbors and weedy access points.</p><p>The Grand Calumet&rsquo;s impact on this near shore area is hard to quantify given the way contaminants disperse quickly in Lake Michigan. But experts with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management say the river surely harms near shore lake water quality and habitat as it empties one billion gallons of water into Lake Michigan each day.</p><p>That flow includes material from overflowing sewers during heavy rains, contaminated sediment pulled from the river bottom, industrial run-off and contaminated groundwater.</p><p>Daunting as this toxic brew may sound, the Grand Calumet is getting cleaned up. Hence the near shore area of Lake Michigan should reap significant environmental and ecological benefits as well.</p><p>State and federal environmental officials are about halfway through a massive project to remove contaminated sediment and restore wetlands. And the state environmental agency is working with municipalities to reduce sewage overflow during rains.</p><h2><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Calumet-Industrial-Canal-by-Lloyd-DeGrane.jpg" style="width: 350px; float: right; height: 232px;" title="The Calumet Industrial Canal. (Lloyd DeGrane)" /><strong>A legacy of contamination</strong></h2><p>The Grand Calumet was &ldquo;originally mostly a slowly meandering wetland complex,&rdquo; said Jim Smith, an Indiana state natural resource damage coordinator. But with widespread dredging, channelizing, damming and the building of the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal which makes up the final stretch into the lake, &ldquo;the flow regime of the river has changed.&rdquo;</p><p>Today, in fact, municipal and industrial effluent makes up 90 percent of the river&rsquo;s flow.</p><p>&ldquo;There were industries from meatpacking to lumber to brickmaking and metal shops on the west branch to the big steel mills and the petroleum industry,&rdquo; Smith noted. &ldquo;Pipelines and everything came through this area. Also the municipalities developed their sewers going directly into the river. There was domestic contamination from human origin to organic stuff from the petroleum industry and steelmaking.</p><p>&ldquo;The river was the disposal point for years.&rdquo;</p><p>The river&rsquo;s sediment contains harmful metals and carcinogenic compounds including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals like mercury, cadmium, chromium and lead from the decades of industrial dumping. A&nbsp; 2000 study prepared for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found serious concerns and impacts from contaminated sediment in the Grand Calumet.</p><p>The river is also contaminated by leaching and run-off from nearby waste disposal sites and contaminated groundwater, according to the Areas of Concern website.&nbsp; It is even harmed by atmospheric deposition of contaminants from fossil fuel burning and waste incineration.</p><p>There are more than 460 underground storage tanks containing chemical and petroleum waste products in the area, the website says, and at least 150 leaking tank reports have been filed with the county.</p><p>&ldquo;The contaminants we&rsquo;re talking about affect organisms and can directly or indirectly affect the food chain,&rdquo; said Scott Ireland, U.S. EPA special assistant for the senior adviser to the administrator on the Great Lakes. &ldquo;They could wipe out the benthic community, so fish are not able to eat, or fish eat (benthic organisms) and are contaminated; then the contamination will enter the food chain. If humans eat the fish, they are taking up those contaminants as well.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://greatlakesecho.org" target="_blank">Great Lakes Echo</a> is a project of the <a href="http://ej.msu.edu/index2.php" target="_blank">Knight Center for Environmental Journalism</a> at Michigan State University.</em></p></p> Sat, 26 Jan 2013 10:06:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/grand-calumet-river-delivers-toxic-load-lake-michigan-105165 The Grand Calumet River’s road to recovery http://www.wbez.org/news/grand-calumet-river%E2%80%99s-road-recovery-105164 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Swimmers-at-Calumet-Park-in-Chicago-not-far-from-where-the-Grand-Calumet-River-meets-Lake-Michigan.-Photo-by-Lloyd-DeGrane..jpg" style="width: 620px;" title="Swimmers at Chicago’s Calumet Park near where the Grand Calumet River enters Lake Michigan. (Lloyd DeGrane)" />The sediment on the bottom of the Grand Calumet River in Northwest Indiana provides a toxic record of the region&rsquo;s history going back more than a century.</p><p>It is full of chemicals, heavy metals and other contaminants from steel-making, oil refining, waste incineration, smelting and other heavy industry that laid the economic and social foundation of the area.</p><p>But federal and state officials are now in the midst of a multi-million dollar project to clean up the sediment and the river as a whole.</p><p>Since the 1972 Clean Water Act drastically reduced industrial discharges into waterways, once the legacy sediment is removed there will be relatively little industrial pollution in the future, said Scott Ireland, special assistant for the senior adviser to the administrator on the Great Lake for the&nbsp; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.</p><p>Dredging&nbsp; started in 2009. About 750,000 cubic yards of sediment two to three feet deep have been removed along a 2.5 mile stretch of river.&nbsp; The dredged area was then covered with a reactive barrier, composed of either organoclay mixed with sand or an activated carbon mat. These specialized materials help filter and contain toxic substances from the underlying sediments.</p><p>&ldquo;Our capping and dredging will sequester or isolate contaminated sediments that have been there for almost 100 years, reducing the total amount of contaminants going into the Great Lakes,&rdquo; said Jim Smith, a coordinator of the natural resources damages department for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. &ldquo;How much it will reduce it we really don&rsquo;t know &ndash; there will be some interesting monitoring done over the next few years.&rdquo;</p><h2><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/The-Calumet-River-enters-Lake-Michigan-by-Lloyd-DeGrane.jpg" style="width: 350px; float: right;" title="The Grand Calumet River enters Lake Michigan. (Lloyd DeGrane)" /><strong>Addressing combined sewer overflows</strong></h2><p>Overflowing sewers that pour into the river and then Lake Michigan&nbsp; contain E. coli bacteria and other germs as well as oil, grease and detritus picked up by storm water running off industrial and municipal areas. In 2011, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago released 1.2 billion gallons, 126 million gallons and 304 million gallons, respectively, of stormwater contaminated with sewage into the Grand Calumet waterway, according to Indiana officials.<br />But the state is working with those cities to curb these combined sewer overflows, including by separating the sewers that carry storm water from sanitary sewers (for human waste.)</p><p>East Chicago already is implementing an approved plan. Hammond and Gary are developing their plans &ndash; two of the last four municipalities in a statewide sewer improvement program involving 108 cities and towns and 10 separate consent decrees.</p><p>East Chicago&rsquo;s $20.8 million plan promises that only rains heavier than a relatively rare &ldquo;10-year, one-hour&rdquo; storm will cause sewer overflows into the Grand Calumet.</p><p>There are different techniques cities use to address the problem.</p><p>&ldquo;You might increase the size of wastewater treatment capacity, to accept and treat more of the flow,&rdquo; said Paul Higginbotham, branch chief over Indiana&rsquo;s office of water quality permits.&nbsp; &ldquo;You can also take out bottlenecks within the collection system &ndash; so you can get flow to the treatment plant versus overflow into the outfall&hellip;</p><p>&ldquo;Also, bigger communities can add wet weather treatment systems, like basins for the overflow where it&rsquo;s treated before it&rsquo;s discharged.&rdquo;</p><h2><strong>Restoring wetlands</strong></h2><p>State and federal officials have restored about 37 acres of wetlands that had been seriously degraded by contaminated floodwaters from the river over the years and choked with invasive phragmites. They removed the sediment in the wetlands and replaced it with clean sand. And they replaced phragmites with native vegetation.</p><p>In all, about 100 acres of wetland will be restored. It provides habitat for migratory birds and fish, improving the overall ecological health of the surrounding area. The wetlands also help prevent nutrient pollution and other contaminated runoff into Lake Michigan, as storm water&nbsp; filters through the wetlands before seeping into the lake.</p><p>The sediment clean up and wetland restoration are funded by the Great Lakes Legacy Act, a law meant to deal with contaminated sediment from years past. The Grand Calumet project so far has cost $72 million, about 65 percent of it federal money under the Legacy Act, which is part of the larger Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.</p><p>Another $75 million is needed to complete the project. Securing the full funding in the near future could be difficult given the federal budget crisis which is likely to mean moderate or even severe cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.</p><p>State officials will closely monitoring the project for the next 40 years, repairing the cap on the river bottom if needed and continuing to remove invasive species and plant native species as necessary.</p><p>Under a consent decree with U.S. Steel, Higginbotham said, starting next year there will also be monitoring done on five miles of the east branch of the Grand Calumet, including a site in the middle portion of the Indiana Harbor which is at the river&rsquo;s mouth into Lake Michigan.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ll be looking at fish populations, fish tissue contaminant concentrations, sediment contaminant concentrations, water quality, general parameters, chemical parameters, macro-benthic populations, sediment toxicity,&rdquo; said Smith.</p><p>Once the sewer, sediment removal and wetland work is done, the officials said, the river should be safer and more attractive for boaters. The beaches of Lake Michigan will become healthier for people and wildlife.</p><p>The Areas of Concern website notes that the Grand Calumet once supported &ldquo;highly diverse, globally unique fish and wildlife communities,&rdquo; and despite all the abuse &ldquo;remnants of this diversity&rdquo; still remain.</p><p>Theoretically it could be revived. Then ideally a paddling trip down the Grand Calumet into Lake Michigan will provide a view of both the area&rsquo;s proud industrial history and the way a battered ecosystem can be nursed back to health.</p><p><em><a href="http://greatlakesecho.org" target="_blank">Great Lakes Echo</a> is a project of the <a href="http://ej.msu.edu/index2.php" target="_blank">Knight Center for Environmental Journalism</a> at Michigan State University.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Sat, 26 Jan 2013 09:52:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/grand-calumet-river%E2%80%99s-road-recovery-105164