Detroit River

October 22-26, 2014

The Detroit River corridor has suffered a long history of abuse, including toxic dumping and ongoing stormwater problems, and both rivers have been dubbed “Great Lakes Areas of Concern” by the U.S. EPA.

Combined sewer overflows, industrial development, a history of agricultural use, aging infrastructure, and shifting lake levels all contribute to significant water quality issues.  E. coli warnings and fish consumption advisories are still routine in a water body that gets heavy recreational use. The basin is also home to invasive aquatic species, changing fish communities, and reduced wildlife habitat. For all its troubles, though, Detroit is positioned for a surge in green infrastructure due largely to all the vacant land within its borders. And the United States and Canada have steadily pieced together the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, a massive complex of islands and wetlands that provide critical habitat and show that cooperative efforts between nations can make a difference.

Topics of discussion:

  • Detroit’s wastewater treatment plant, which still dumps millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Detroit River and ultimately Lake Erie.
  • The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.
  • The repurposing of Detroit’s expansive green space.
  • The community activists who are helping Detroit reinvent itself.
  • The public health impacts of decades of industrialization, particularly in impoverished areas and ethnic enclaves.

Please check out the Storify synopses of the Detroit River Institute:

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3 

Participating journalists:

Jim Bloch – The Voice (St. Clair, MI)
Mary Ann Colihan – Freelance writer/producer; book author
Steve Furay – Michigan Citizen; Common Breath Media
Weenta Girmay – Freelance multimedia journalist
Tom Henry – The Blade (Toledo, OH)
Tim Lougheed – Freelance writer/editor
James McCarty – The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH)
Alexa Mills – The Boston Globe
Peter Moskowitz – Freelance writer
Hannah Northey – E&E Publishing
Elizabeth Royte – Freelancer writer; book author
Zoe Schlanger – Newsweek
Kristina Smith Horn – Port Clinton News Herald and The News-Messenger (Ohio)
Al Smith – Freelance writer


Post-Institute Stories:

Urban farming is booming, but what does it really yield? - Elizabeth Royte, Ensia

Community gardening on the riseKristina Smith, The News-Messenger

Officials taking regional approach to birding - Kristina Smith, Port Clinton News Herald

Canadian river contributes to Lake Erie algae - Kristina Smith, Port Clinton News Herald

What is Detroit's contribution to toxic algae? - Kristina Smith, Port Clinton News Herald

Fremont considers riverfront walk - Kristina Smith, The News-Messenger

Detroit River comebacks benefit Lake Erie - Kristina Smith, Port Clinton News Herald

Arising from the Ashes? Environmental Health in Detroit - Tim Lougheed, Environmental Health Perspectives

Oak Harbor looks to capitalize on riverfront - Kristina Smith, Port Clinton News Herald

Detroit River a suspect in Lake Erie algal growth - Tom Henry, The Blade (Toledo)

Detroit River: The good, the bad, the ugly - Tom Henry, The Blade

Institute provides optimism, cause for concern - Al Smith, Lima News