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Posted 7/19/2016

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By Andrew Kornacki
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Flash back to the Great Lakes of the 1970s and you would see America’s industrial might booming across the largest source of fresh water in the world; back then, there was a cost associated with industry and the environment paid the bill. 

“Thankfully our Great Lakes today are much different than those of the 1970s.  We have seen programs like the Clean Water Act and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) do great things for our waters, but above all else partnerships have driven environmental restoration on the Great Lakes,” said Col. Benjamin Bigelow, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Great Lakes and Ohio River Division commander.

It is Col. Bigelow’s responsibility to oversee the three Corps of Engineers Districts who provide technical expertise in formulating and implementing strategic planning of water resources, environmental stewardship, and sustainable infrastructure policies and solutions across the eight states that encompass the lower watershed of the Great Lakes. 

“I think that the GLRI program, managed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has been one of the most influential programs to help connect partners and unify them to tackle the most significant ecosystem problems across the Great Lakes.  An example of a GLRI project making a difference is the Bi-directional Fish Passage Project in Michigan, which brings together agencies to find solutions on how to allow movement of native and desirable fishes while removing invasive fishes on a fragmented river,” said Bigelow.  

The Bi-directional Fish Passage project is part of the GLRI Action Plan’s Focus Area 4: Habitat and Wildlife Protection and Restoration.

The project team made up of members of the EPA, U.S. Geologic Service, USACE Detroit District, USACE Engineer Research, and Development Center, Great Lakes Fishery Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Michigan Department of Natural Resources are working to expand a robust and integrated marriage between engineering, technology, ecology, and biology. 

The objective of the Fish Passage Project is to develop and implement selective bi-directional fish sorting technology as an adaptive management experiment; determine protocols and methods for implementing bi-directional selective fish passage throughout the Great Lakes Basin, and set solutions in a global context to export the approach. Team members will first study the fish to understand their habits and then pass this information along to the engineers. 

“The selective fish passage project depends on strong partnerships with experts like those from the Corps of Engineers and U.S., Geological Survey. To succeed, this project will need a seamless design and integration of fish passage devices adapted to the life history, behavior, and ecology of the fish species being sorted. The integration of ecologists and engineers in all aspects of the project will be key to our success,” said Andrew Muir, Ph.D., Great Lakes Fishery Commission, science director. 

“While the Bi-directional Fish Passage Project is just getting started, another project in Braddock Bay on the shores of Lake Ontario in Greece, NY, part of the Rochester Embayment Great Lakes Area of Concern (AoC), is already under construction,” said Bigelow.

The Braddock Bay project is a priority action related to eventually delisting the AoC and is part of the GLRI Action Plan’s Focus Area 1: Toxic Substances and Areas of Concern.

The Braddock Bay team, made up of members from the EPA, USACE Buffalo District, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, New York State Parks, Monroe County, Town of Greece, and the Rochester Embayment Remedial Action Plan Oversight Committee, are working towards improving habitat diversity of the existing emergent marsh, and reducing erosion of the existing emergent marsh through the reconstruction of the historic barrier beach.

Already the channeling and pothole work, along with seeding, has been completed in the emergent marsh. In the fall of 2016, the contractor will begin placing stone to rebuild the barrier beach and will use sand from the navigation channel to backfill the stone before adding plants to make the structure greener.

"This project is a great example of a proud partnership working towards the combined goal of protecting and preserving a portion of Lake Ontario's shoreline, and the eventual delisting of an area of concern.  We are excited that this project will restore and protect this valuable natural resource, and we look forward to the completion of this Great Lake Restoration Initiative project later this year," said Bill Reilich, Town of Greece Supervisor.

Past events might have had a negative impact on the Great Lakes, but by partnerships coming together on current and future projects, changes are once again coming to the Great Lakes.  This time those changes will leave the Great Lakes in better shape for generations to come.

“The ability of the multi-functional regional team to look across the complex water resource systems to discover the high impact environmental projects is truly astounding. We must continue to work together as a team to find ways to build teams to find innovative ways to sustain our precious natural resources while balancing the needs of the critical economic engines that drive our nation,” said Bigelow.