For anyone familiar with the Grand Calumet River, the changes over the last few years are impossible to miss. The historically industrialized river, long ago abandoned by both people and wildlife, is now home to birds, fish, and other aquatic life in many areas. The revitalization is due to a series of remediation and restoration projects that will remove more than 2 million cubic yards—roughly 130,000 dump trucks—of contaminated sediment and add native plants to banks and marshes by 2015.
The east branch of the river is one of these revitalized areas, and it is there that representatives from government agencies and non-profit organizations, including IISG’s Caitie McCoy, met earlier this month for a tour of the remediation projects.
The tour, coordinated by Save the Dunes, was aimed at highlighting the work and thanking representatives from the offices of U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, and U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., for their support in the efforts and encouraging support for future funding.
“They’ve been our champions to maintain (Great Lakes Restoration Initiative) funding for the last four or five years,” Nicole Barker, executive director of Save the Dunes, said. “We are indebted to them.”
The group visited some of the river’s biggest success stories, including Roxana Marsh, which has been free of high levels of PCBs and heavy metals for over two years. They also heard from officials about local changes that are helping to secure the long-term health of the river. In Hammond, IN, for example, raw sewage that was previously discharged into the newly-remediated river is now being redirected to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the tour came during the stop at Seidner Marsh. Remediation for this part of the river wrapped up earlier this year and attention has been turned to dredging wetlands and rebuilding habitats. The group was able to see these efforts first-hand as workers delivered barge after barge of fresh sand to be spread along the riverbed.
“It is important that these restoration projects do more than just remove contaminated sediment,” said Caitie. “We also want to help jumpstart wildlife populations, and that includes the invertebrates and microorganisms that live at the bottom of the river. The clean sand gives them a home, a place to burrow in.”