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Great Lakes AOCs

Grand Calumet River AOC

Contact Us

 Kristen Isom ​
(isom.kristen@epa.gov)
312-353-6318

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Overview

The Grand Calumet River originates on the east side of Gary, Ind., and flows 13 miles through one of the most heavily industrialized areas in the U.S. The river is comprised of two east-west flowing branches that cover the southern end of the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal. The eastern branch of the river drains into Lake Michigan. The AOC area, which is 22 square miles in total, encompasses the cities of Gary, East Chicago, and Hammond, Ind.

Other sections of the AOC include:
  • The east branch of the river
  • A small segment of the west branch
  • The bottom of the Grand Calumet River and Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal
  • Illinois/Indiana state line

The river was designated as an Area of Concern (AOC) under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1987 largely due to legacy pollutants. Legacy pollutants remain in the environment for a long time after their deposition, creating the possibility of future water contamination. These types of pollutants were found in sediment (mud) both at the bottom of the Grand Calumet River and the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal. These contaminants include:

Other pollutants were also found in the river, including:
  • High levels of fecal coliform bacteria
  • Suspended solids
  • Ammonia
  • Oil and grease

Monitoring also revealed degradation in the form of biochemical oxygen demand, meaning the river water had too low a concentration of oxygen for microorganisms to decompose organic matter.

Sources of these pollutants can be attributed to some point sources such as waste runoff from industries in the watershed. The area became heavily industrialized from the 20th century onward with the influx of steel mills, foundries, chemical plants, oil refineries, meat packing plants, and pharmaceutical industries. In addition, potential nonpoint sources of contaminants, such as industrial and urban runoff, may have affected water quality in the river. Below is a list of other identified sources of pollution in the degraded area:

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Beneficial Use Impairments

All 14 possible beneficial use impairments have been assigned to the Grand Calumet River. Beneficial use impairments are designations given by the EPA for an AOC to recognize the area’s most severe examples of environmental degradation. When restoration or cleanup projects begin to make progress, site monitoring will eventually show sufficient improvement in environmental health. Once a BUI reaches this point, it can be designated as “removed.” The list below is comprehensive of all 14 BUIs identified at the Grand Calumet River AOC. So far, two BUIs, “Restrictions on Drinking Water Consumption, or Taste and Odor Problems” and “Added Costs to Industry or Agriculture” have been removed. Once the remaining 12 BUIs have been lifted, the EPA will work with the state to begin the process of delisting.

  • 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 problems REMOVED 2012
  • Degradation of fish and wildlife populations
  • Beach closings
  • Fish tumors or other deformities
  • Degradation of aesthetics
  • Bird or animal deformities or reproduction problems
  • Added costs to agriculture or industry REMOVED 2011
  • Degradation of benthos
  • Degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations
  • Restriction on dredging activities
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat
More information:

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Remediation and Restoration Work

EPA works with federal, state and local partners to implement remediation and restoration projects in the Grand Calumet River area. Their goal is to remove the river’s designation as an AOC and revitalize nearby communities.

To restore and eventually delist the Grand Calumet River AOC, EPA and partners identified 13 sediment remediation and habitat management actions. Three of five habitat management actions are currently underway. Of eight total sediment remediation management actions, five have already been completed and three are underway. The goal of sediment remediation projects is to dredge regions with sediment heavily contaminated by PCBs, PAHs, and heavy metals, after which sediment is capped to prevent further release of contaminants. Following capping, habitats in these areas, many of which lost functionality due to urbanization and habitat destruction, can be replaced. EPA and partners have implemented habitat restoration projects involving prescribed fire, reestablishing native species, and restoring globally rare swale and dune habitats. To delist this AOC, partners must restore 90% of lost habitat (867 acres) at current sites in which restoration will directly impact one or more BUI removals. Restoration and cleanup at this AOC will improve one of the most heavily polluted areas in the Great Lakes watershed and allow the surrounding communities to benefit more fully from the river and surrounding ecosystems.

More information:

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Highlighted Projects

Sediment Remediation Project Highlights: Stateline Remedial Action Sediment Remediation Project

In 2016 the remediation project funded by the Great Lakes Legacy Act (GLLA) to clean up contaminated sediment on the Stateline of the Grand Calumet River was completed. The project, a partnership between EPA, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, and Northern Indiana Public Service Co., removed approximately 14,600 cubic yards of contaminated sediment containing heavy metals, PAHs, and PCBs, from the river in a 0.4-mile stretch between the Illinois-Indiana state line and Hohman Avenue in Hammond, Ind. This effort was essential for removing the following BUIs:

  • Loss of fish and wildlife populations
  • Degradation of fish and wildlife habitat
  • Degradation of benthos

A cap, which provides clean habitat for benthic, or sediment-dwelling organisms, was used to contain another 30,000 cubic yards of sediment. The project also involved habitat restoration such as replacing invasive plants with native shrubs and trees. Overall benefits of this project include healthier benthos, which are the base of the food chain, lowered exposure to contamination for those who eat fish in the area, and improved aesthetics with more abundant fish and wildlife habitat.

photo of Dredging during the GLLA Stateline Remedial Action project.Dredging during the GLLA Stateline Remedial Action project.

photo of Clean habitat created by the Stateline Remedial Action Project supports wildlife. Credit: Greatlakesmud.org.Clean habitat created by the Stateline Remedial Action Project supports wildlife. Credit: Great Lakes Mud

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Habitat Restoration Project Highlights: Dune, Swale and Shelf Wetlands Restoration

With the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Nature Conservancy, and the Lake County Parks and Recreation Department, GLRI is funding the restoration of rare dune, swale and riverine wetland habitat. These habitats are home to many important species such as the Karner blue butterfly, Blanding’s turtle, spotted turtle, and various migratory birds.

The project, which began in 2015, will restore at least 900 acres of state- and local-managed habitat across 15 sites within the Grand Calumet AOC. The project’s main objective is to control dense areas of woody and herbaceous (non-woody) nuisance and invasive plant species such as phragmites, replacing these plants with native species. Controlling invasive species will improve the structure and quality of dune, swale, and wetland habitat, benefitting native species and leading to increased habitat restoration within the AOC. The project will help remove the following BUIs:

  • Degradation of fish and wildlife populations.
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat.

Map of areas within the Grand Calumet River AOC in which the Dune,  Swale, and Shelf Wetlands Restoration project was implemented. Credit: IDEM.Map of areas within the Grand Calumet River AOC in which the Dune, Swale, and Shelf Wetlands Restoration project was implemented. Credit: Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

photo of Riverine wetland near Lake George that is part of the Dune, Swale, and Shelf Wetlands Restoration project. Credit: GreatlakesmudRiverine wetland near Lake George that is part of the Dune, Swale, and Shelf Wetlands Restoration project. Credit: Great Lakes Mud

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Partners

The following links exit the site ExIT

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