Saginaw River and Bay
U.S. EPA RAP Liaison
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Region 5 Office of Regional Counsel
77 W. Jackson Blvd. (C-14J)
Chicago, IL 60604-3507
State RAP Contacts
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality – Water Bureau
525 W. Allegan Street
P.O. Box 30273
Lansing, MI 48909
Saginaw Bay Initiative Contact
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality – Water Bureau
401 Ketchum Street, Suite B
Bay City, MI 48708
Partnership for the Saginaw Bay Watershed
P.O. Box 325
Lake George, MI 48633-0325
- Michigan Department of Environmental Quality – Office of the Great Lakes
- Michigan Department of Environmental Quality – Water Bureau
- Michigan Department of Natural Resources
- Michigan Lakes and Streams Association
- Michigan State University Extension - Bay County
- Michigan Statewide Public Advisory Council
- Partnership for the Saginaw Bay Watershed
- Public Sector Consultants
- Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network
- U.S. EPA – Great Lakes National Program Office
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Natural Resource Damage Settlement)
- Saginaw Valley State University
- Beneficial Use Impairments
- Delisting Targets
- RAP Development and Status
- Significant RAP Milestones
- RAP Implementation
- RAP-Related Publications
- Community Involvement
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The Saginaw Bay area, located in the east central portion of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, is a southwestern extension of Lake Huron. The boundaries of the Saginaw River/Bay Area of Concern (AOC) includes the entire 22-mile (35 km) length of the Saginaw River and all of Saginaw Bay (1,143 square miles or 2,960 square kilometers) out into its interface with open Lake Huron at an imaginary line drawn between Au Sable Point and Point Aux Barques. Over half of the land use in the region is agricultural. The primary urban and industrial centers are Flint, Saginaw, Bay City and Midland.
The Saginaw Bay watershed is one of Michigan's most diverse areas – its rich resources support agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, outdoor recreations, and a vast variety of wildlife. It is also Michigan's largest watershed (8,709 square miles or 22,556 square kilometers in size), including a part of 22 counties and contains America's largest contiguous freshwater coastal wetland system. The watershed drains approximately 15% of Michigan's total land area.
Contaminated sediments, fish consumption advisories, degraded fisheries and loss of significant recreational values are the major reasons for this AOC designation. These problems are mainly caused by high amounts of soil erosion, excessive nutrients (e.g., phosphorus and nitrogen) entering the water, and contaminated sediments. Saginaw Bay priorities include remediation of PCB contaminated sediment, nonpoint pollution control, wetland restoration, and habitat restoration.
Beneficial Use Impairments
For information and details on all of the Saginaw River/Bay beneficial use impairments (BUI), see the Remedial Action Plan (RAP) documents listed in Significant RAP Milestones.
- Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
- Eutrophication or undesirable algae
- Tainting of fish and wildlife flavor
- Restrictions on drinking water consumption, or taste and odor
- Degradation of fish and wildlife populations
- Beach closings
- Degradation of aesthetics
- Bird or animal deformities or reproduction problems
- Degradation of benthos
- Degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations
- Restriction on dredging activities
- Loss of fish and wildlife habitat
In 2000, the Partnership for the Saginaw Bay Watershed (the Partnership), now serving as the Saginaw River/Bay Public Advisory Council, worked with Public Sector Consultants, Inc. (PSC) to develop measurable delisting targets for the BUIs. The targets were approved by the Partnership and incorporated into a 2002 Remedial Action Plan (RAP) Update for the AOC. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) will be working with the Partnership to evaluate the current delisting criteria for consistency with the statewide restoration criteria that is part of the MDEQ Guidance for Delisting Michigan’s Great Lakes Areas of Concern (PDF) (61pp, 508K)
See Exhibit 2 beginning on page 15 of Targeting Environmental Restoration in the Saginaw River/Bay Area of Concern (AOC): 2001 Remedial Action Plan Update (PDF) (88pp, 677K) for a table providing descriptions of the BUIs and indicators for recovery that were developed in Measures of Success: Addressing Environmental Impairments in the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay (PDF) (56pp, 358K)
RAP Development and Status
The Saginaw River/Bay RAP process began in July 1986. After
several drafts, the initial RAP document was completed in September
1988. Substantial progress has been made since then, with over
two-thirds of the actions identified in the 1988 RAP having been
implemented. The Saginaw River/Bay RAP document was updated in 1995.
In 2000, the Measures of Success report was completed by PSC. The
report provided the foundation for redirecting and refocusing
management efforts, and recommended a list of targeted conditions
that should be viewed as steps toward delisting the Saginaw
Bay/River AOC. The recommendations and the specific delisting
targets were incorporated into the 2002 RAP Update, Targeting
Environmental Restoration in the Saginaw River/Bay Area of Concern.
Significant RAP Milestones
- 2002: Targeting Environmental Restoration in the Saginaw River/Bay Area of Concern (AOC): 2001 Remedial Action Plan Update (PDF 677Kb 88 pages) completed.
- 2000: Measures of Success: Addressing Environmental Impairments in the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay (PDF 480Kb 56 pages) completed.
- 1998: Saginaw River/Bay Remedial Action Plan (PDF 18.93Mb 620 pages)
- 1995: Saginaw River/Bay Remedial Action Plan: Draft 1995 Biennial Report Volume I (PDF 12.75Mb 290 pages) completed. Volume 2: Appendices (PDF 11.06Mb 292 pages).
- 1995: Remedial Action Plan for the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay Area of Concern: Summary Report (PDF 719Kb 12 pages) completed.
- 1995: Partnership for the Saginaw Bay Watershed (serves as the Saginaw River/Bay AOC PAC) formed.
Recent progress and achievements
- The Saginaw Bay Greenways Collaborative represents a group of local, state, and federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, and concerned citizens united around the goal of developing a green infrastructure system in Saginaw, Bay, and Midland counties. This group has created a vision for a green infrastructure network by using a scientific and community participation approach to identify land best suited for conservation and recreation in Saginaw, Bay, and Midland counties. The Collaborative identified and mapped important green infrastructure elements (hubs, cores, and corridors) across the tri-county region and has made this information available via the 2005 publication A Vision of Green for Michigan’s Bay, Midland and Saginaw Counties (PDF) (46pp, 6.7MB). The document can be used by municipal leaders and decision makers for pertinent land use plans at all scales and jurisdictions.
- Genesee, Lapeer, and Shiawassee Greenway Initiative Project - This project will continue the greenways planning activities that began in Midland, Saginaw, and Bay counties. The project will include research, planning, design, public involvement, and outreach education activities. Spearheaded by the University of Michigan-Flint and the Flint River Watershed Coalition, this project will connect planned greenways in the Detroit area with those being planned in mid-Michigan.
- Identifying Priority Conservation: A Green Infrastructure Based Strategy for the Tittabawassee River Watershed: East Central Michigan Planning in collaboration with land conservancies has developed a green infrastructure based strategy for the identification of priority conservation lands within the Tittabawassee River watershed. Utilizing the principles of green infrastructure, a strategy has been developed to evaluate and target properties for protection within the watershed. Geographic Information Systems and other planning information were the predominant tools used in the creation of this strategy. The strategy is complete.
- Evaluation of Lake Sturgeon in the Saginaw River Watershed - The origin, distribution and spawning success of lake sturgeon is unknown. During this three-year project, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alpena Fishery Resources Office will investigate the Tittabawassee, Shiawassee, Cass, and Saginaw Rivers to determine if lake sturgeon are utilizing these rivers for spawning. The study area includes the free flowing portions of these rivers from Lake Huron up river to the first impassable barrier. Anecdotal reports by recreational anglers indicate that occasionally adult lake sturgeon are being captured below the lowhead dam on the Tittabawassee River near the town of Midland. Information gathered will provide essential data required to guide future habitat protection, enhancement, and restoration activities in the Saginaw River watershed. This project will be a crucial first step in determining the present and potential contribution of lake sturgeon from the Saginaw River watershed to adjacent populations in Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron. In addition, this effort is consistent with Michigan Department of Natural Resources' (MDNR) Lake Sturgeon Rehabilitation Strategy.
- Promoting Healthy Choices of Fish and Wildlife Consumption from the Saginaw, Shiawassee and Tittabawassee Rivers - This project will develop informational materials related to contamination of edible fishes in these rivers. The project will identify choices made by local fish and wildlife harvesters along these rivers including amount, type, and frequency of fish and wildlife consumption from the Saginaw, Shiawassee, and Tittabawassee Rivers. Outreach materials will be developed and distributed to promote healthy local fish and wildlife consumption choices, and reduce exposure to PBT chemicals.
- Enhancing Fish Passage Over Low-head Barrier Dams in the Saginaw River Watershed - Based on research presented in the WIN Water Resources Fisheries Scoping Study. This document details lack of access to appropriate spawning areas caused by dams as a critical issue facing the natural reproduction of the Saginaw Bay fishery. In October 2003, the Partnership hired PSC to conduct an assessment and develop information for communities and resource managers to help identify the most cost-effective options -- including dam removal -- for enhancing fish passage over barrier dams to achieve the targeted, sustainable fish population goals for Saginaw Bay. This report is intended to help dam owners make informed and collaborative decisions about the future of their dam. It strives to establish social, economic, and ecological contexts for decision making and describes potential costs and benefits of enhancing fish passage in several key tributaries in the Saginaw River watershed. The report was completed in December 2005.
- With partial funding from the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network, additional support from other partners and a match from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, the City of Mt. Pleasant commissioned the removal of the Mill Pond dam. The dam removal opened up more than more than 71 miles (114 km) of river habitat in the Chippewa River to fish passage and spawning. Engineers removed the dam and installed a series of gradual "steps," called weirs, to lower the river level over a 500-foot corridor. Additional restoration and stabilization of the river bed and shoreline created safe recreational use and fish passage.
- Saginaw Bay Watershed Restoration Fund - The Bay Area Community Foundation has established a Saginaw Bay Watershed Restoration Fund to assist local communities and organizations throughout the watershed with environmental education projects, water quality improvement projects, watershed plan development, and capacity building support for environmental non-profit organizations. These four components provide the essential framework to restore the Saginaw Bay. Currently, the fund provides approximately $20,000 in annual grants.
- The Partnership, in cooperation with PSC, is conducting an evaluation of the Fish Tainting beneficial use impairment through a U.S. EPA-GLNPO grant.
- MDEQ and U.S. EPA performed a screening level survey of the horizontal and vertical distribution of dioxin/furan concentrations in the Tittabawassee, Saginaw, Cass, and Shiawassee Rivers. The sample cores will provide information on the vertical distribution of the contaminants of concern and provide insight into the depositional history of the contamination.
- MDEQ, MDNR, and U.S.EPA-GLNPO partnered to develop a Lake Huron GIS project to provide information for the management and conservation of Lake Huron’s aquatic resources. For more information, visit Great Lakes GIS.
- The MDEQ and the Michigan Department of Agriculture have been working closely to implement the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) . The goal of the CREP program is to reduce significant environmental effects related to agriculture in the Saginaw Bay watershed. There are over 45,000 acres of conservation practices that are either under contract or pending in the Saginaw Bay watershed.
- In February 1998, the Saginaw Bay WIN, on behalf of a coalition of 10 conservation partners, was awarded a NAWCA grant. This $754,155 federal grant project, which concluded in August 2004, resulted in the conservation of 4,178 acres of wetlands and associated grasslands on public and private land throughout the Saginaw Bay watershed.
Current projects and outlook
- The Partnership, in consultation with PSC, has received funding from the U.S. EPA for a fish tainting survey in the AOC. Results of this 2006 study will be used to evaluate the status of the Tainting of Fish and Wildlife Flavor BUI for the Saginaw River/Bay AOC.
- Ongoing: The DDT/PBB Pine River Sediment Cleanup Phase I, which was completed in 2003, included the installation of cofferdams. The Phase II activities include the dewatering and sediment removal, which began in 2004 and is expected to be completed in 2007. The Pine River sediment cleanup, including post-evaluation by the MDEQ and the U.S. EPA, are funded through the Clean Michigan Initiative and Superfund, respectively. NPL Fact Sheet for Velsicol Chemical Corp. (MID000722439)
- Ongoing: the Partnership continues to organize and host monthly education forums on environmental and water quality issues in the Saginaw River/Bay AOC. Ten forums in 2005 focused on toxic contamination. Topics covered included the Saginaw River PCB cleanup, the Pine River St. Louis Reservoir cleanup, dioxin issues on the Tittabawassee River, and fish consumption advisories in the Saginaw River and Bay. The focus of 2006 forums includes phosphorus and eutrophication issues.
- 2005: Enhancing Fish Passage Over Low-head Barrier Dams in the Saginaw River Watershed (PDF)(71pp, 1.0MB)
- 2004: Saginaw River and Bay Natural Resource Damage Assessment
- 2003: Summary of Monitoring and Evaluation of Coastal Habitats for Potential Restoration Activities: Lake Huron 2002-2003 (PDF) (116pp, 908K)
- 2003: Monitoring and Evaluation of Coastal Habitats for Potential Restoration Activities (PDF) (34pp, 134K)
Numerous activities continue to be implemented by local groups. Spearheading these activities is the Partnership, a voluntary, membership-based coalition of public and non-governmental agencies, organizations, and individuals committed to sustaining or restoring the ecology of the Saginaw Bay Watershed. The Partnership promotes comprehensive resource management and educational services by facilitating inter-governmental coordination and public involvement, formulating public policy recommendations, and undertaking various programs and projects to restore, protect and enhance Michigan's largest watershed. In addition, the Partnership is revitalizing membership to develop a strategic plan for achieving goals in the Saginaw River/Bay AOC.
The Saginaw Bay WIN is a community-based, voluntary initiative that connects people, resources, organizations, and programs. WIN works to improve the quality of life in the area by developing projects, supporting related organizations, and developing the region’s identity as a sustainable community. WIN’s emphasis is on supporting local projects that link economic, environmental and community goals. A key part of WIN’s mission is to increase communication between existing efforts and to provide appropriate support to help address local priorities that provide regional benefits.