Report: Great Lakes cleanup leads to economic and community growth
Aug 16, 2019 06:17AM
By Lindsay Charlton of the Windsor Star - August 16, 2019
In 1985, Canada and the United States together committed to clean water, focusing on the most polluted areas which became known as the Great Lakes Areas of Concern. Great Lakes Revival, a report released Tuesday by the International Association for Great Lakes Research, took a deep dive into 10 of those areas.
The Toronto waterfront rejuvenation alone has led to $4 billion-plus in economic activity, while the Detroit riverfront makeover has initiated more than $1 billion, among many other public and private investments.
“What these show collectively is that cleanup of these areas of concern — these most polluted areas of the Great Lakes — reconnects people to the waterways through greenways and blueways that leads to community and economic revitalization,” said John Hartig, a science policy adviser and visiting scholar at the University of Windsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, who contributed to the report.
The 10 case studies presented in the collaborative report include Collingwood Harbour; Hamilton Harbour; Severn Sound, Ont.; Toronto Harbour; Buffalo River, N.Y.; Muskegon Lake, Mich.; River Raisin, Mich.; St. Louis River, Minn. and Wis.; Cuyahoga River, Ohio; and the Detroit River.
“Historically we’ve made environmental arguments for the cleanup of this but now we’re saying, ‘Hey look, investing in this stuff — it’s another side,’” Hartig said. “Invest in this and it’s a strategy for revitalization.
“You have businesses now who want to locate near greenways. You have housing developments but also businesses who want to be located in a cool place for their employees.”
Detroit River pollution peaked in the 1960s. Oil, phosphorous and other pollutants resulted in contaminating fish and reproductive impairment in wildlife. The report also notes, as with many other large cities, Detroit “made the river its back door” and residents lost connection to the river.
“We were looking at where did they start, what were the environmental and ecological conditions, what was the pollution back then in ’85 and how has that changed over time,” Hartig said. “How has the ecosystem responded? So like in the case of the Detroit River we have bald eagles and peregrine falcons and osprey and lake sturgeon and lake whitefish and walleye back — amazing recovery.”
Making the commitment to water through decades of cleanup has led to an 85 per cent reduction in mercury in fish and a more than 97 per cent decline in oil release.
“We had to look at how the ecosystems responded,” Hartig said. “Is there science-based evidence of improvement? From there we saw these patterns of people rediscovering waterfronts.
“A clean and healthy environment and connecting to it are much more important in achieving a healthy community than we realized before.”
Investments boosted waterfronts, including the creation of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy in 2003. The group started the Detroit RiverWalk, which stretches 5.6 kilometres and counting and has sparked more than $1 billion in investments in the first 10 years. The walkway cost $80 million to construct, with a $60 million endowment from the conservancy for maintenance.
“Connecting the dots has been really important to get people to see they’re not just giving money for the environment,” said Hartig. “They’re giving money for the community and the economies and helping these communities attract and retain employees for businesses and achieve competitive advantage in the future.”
“That whole linkage from cleanup to reconnecting people to water to economic and community revitalization, we’re hoping that those will be a great argument to sustain funding,” he said.
Hartig notes the report is timely in that both the Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health, as well as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the US, are “up for negotiation.”
He said it’s important to look at the collaborative approach that was so successful in 1985 and see that the cleanup of these areas helps to revitalize communities
“There’s something about waterfronts that are magical places where we connect to the water and the ecosystem,” he said.
To read the original article and see related reporting, follow this link totheWindsor Star website.https://windsorstar.com/news/local-news/report-great-lakes-cleanup-leads-to-economic-and-community-g...