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Urban Rivers Restoration Initiative

In July 2002, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army entered into a memorandum of understanding (PDF) (4 pp, 221K, About PDF) to address water quality issues, economic revitalization, and the public use and enjoyment of urban rivers. The two agencies agreed to designate eight (8) demonstration pilot projects to coordinate the planning and implementation of urban river cleanup and restoration.

An Urban Rivers pilot designation will bring about increased coordination and cooperation between the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with respect to restoring degraded urban rivers and will involve remedial, water quality, and environmental restoration activities related to each agency’s respective authorities (e.g., the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, various Water Resources Development Acts, the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Clean Water Act.

The first four rivers selected under the initiative are the:

Anacostia River (District of Columbia and Maryland) – This Urban Rivers pilot project will emphasize partnerships among many organizations promoting freshwater wetlands restoration and brownfields revitalization. Additionally, the pilot seeks to reduce pollution loads, restore ecological integrity, improve fish passage, increase wetland acreage, expand forest coverage and increase public and private participation and stewardship. The Anacostia River is contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, pesticides, heavy metals, and raw sewage discharges from combined sewer overflows, all of which pose threats to human health and wildlife, fish habitat, and limits recreational fishing.

Blackstone-Woonasquatucket Rivers (Rhode Island and Massachusetts) – This Urban Rivers pilot project will promote collaboration among businesses and the non-profit community within the watershed, and will advance pollution prevention, water quality improvements, and restoration of wildlife habitat, and will promote reuse by connecting the rivers to economic restoration through brownfields cleanup and improved river access. These rivers are contaminated by dioxin and toxic metals, which pose threats to human health, wildlife, fish habitats, and recreational fishing.

Elizabeth River (Virginia) – This Urban Rivers pilot project will promote collaboration with the business community located within the watershed and concentrate on reduction of toxics and nutrients from storm water runoff, pollution prevention, and restoration of wildlife habitat. The Elizabeth River is contaminated by heavy metals from military and industrial sources that pose threats to human health and wildlife.

Tres Rios (Arizona) – The goal of this Urban Rivers Pilot project includes restoration of native riparian habitat, water quality improvement, flood damage reduction, cultural resources mitigation, and environmental education. An uncontrolled, unstable landfill exists in the middle of the Tres Rios area (near the Salt and Gila Rivers) and is raising water surface elevations in the local flood-prone community, thus increasing the potential threat to public health and the environment. In additional, this pilot will help the City of Phoenix characterize the landfill and develop a cleanup plan as well as contribute to a plan for future revitalization of contaminated land located in the river and properties along the shore.

The second four rivers selected under the initiative are the:

Passaic River (New Jersey) – This includes a 17 mile stretch beginning at Dundee Dam in Garfield and extending to the mouth of Newark Bay. The watershed consists of approximately 173 square miles located in the highly urbanized areas of northeastern New Jersey, including Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Passaic Counties. This urban rivers pilot will emphasize partnerships among many organizations striving to improve sediment and water quality. The pilot proposes to conduct a comprehensive study of the Lower Passaic River to determine an appropriate remediation and restoration plan for the river. The study will be coordinated among the Corps, EPA, State of New Jersey and private and local authorities. In the longer term, this will lead to the restoration of benthic and aquatic habitat by remediating contaminated sediments and addressing combined sewer outfalls (CSOs), surface runoff and nonpoint source pollution and increase public and private participation and stewardship.

Gowanus Canal and Bay (New York) – This includes approximately 130 acres of open water between Bay Ridge Channel in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor and the beginning of the Canal. The watershed is a highly developed urban area totally located in the Borough of Brooklyn, City of New York. This urban rivers pilot project will promote collaboration within the watershed between business and non-profit community and will advance pollution prevention, water quality improvements, restoration of wildlife habitat and address impacts from combined sewer outfalls (CSOs) and sewage treatment plants, clean up and reduce contaminated sediments.

Fourche Creek (Arkansas) – Located within an EPA Brownfields Assessment Demonstration Pilot in Pulaski County and lies within a HUD/USDA Empowerment Zone, Fourche Creek has a large drainage basin or watershed of 108,8000 acres. The creek flows generally from west to east into the Arkansas River. The runoff from the watershed flows into Fourche Creek and its tributaries. Fourche Bottoms is located towards the downstream end of Fourche Creek. At the upstream end of the bottoms, Fourche Creek enters the bottoms from the southwest and Rock Creek enters from the northwest and ends where the two creeks join. Fourche Creek threads its way though the bottoms with several channels and rejoins itself before leaving the bottoms. The bottoms are about 3,500 acres of which the Corps proposed and Congress authorized to acquire 1,750 acres for environmental restoration. The bottoms store flood waters until it flows downstream into the channelized Fourche Creek. Fourche Creek drains most of the city of Little Rock; a small portion of western Little Rock drains into the Arkansas River.This urban rivers pilot project will promote collaboration with the watershed business community to reduce non-point source pollution, restore wetland functions and reduce flooding and educate the public on ecosystem systems restoration and sustainable growth.

City Creek (Utah) – Flowing through Salt Lake City's gateway district, it is an EPA Brownfields Assessment Demonstration pilot and has been designated a Showcase Community. The restored creek will lie between a 650-acre EPA Brownfields Showcase Redevelopment project known as "The Gateway" on the east and the Jordan River on the west. The new trails along the restored creek will connect the Gateway Development to a trail system that runs along the valley-wide Bonneville Shoreline. Although the Creek Plan is primarily for the restoration of an ecological system, the maintenance road and trail will have nodes along the creek that will allow for recreational use and ecological education for elementary and high schools. This urban rivers pilot project will promote partnerships with many organizations for the restoration of a riparian ecosystem, ecological enhancements, riparian habitat, and recreational use. Additionally, this pilot project will daylight and otherwise restore an ecosystem that was completely eliminated in 1910 when 2 miles of City Creek were encased below North Temple Street in the central portion of Salt Lake City.

For more information on the second four rivers selected under the initiative:

For more information on the MOU, contact EPA's Land Revitalization Group at 703-603-0048 or homepage.revitalization@epa.gov.

Download the URRI Summary Brochure (PDF) (2 pp, 151K, About PDF)


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