Dow Dam Removal Might be Part of Local Watershed Work
Progress is being made in addressing issues within what's officially called the Saginaw Bay/Saginaw River Area of Concern (AOC), presenters told Saginaw Bay Watershed Conference attendees Friday.
By: Steve Griffin, Midland Daily News
Progress is being made in addressing issues within what’s officially called the Saginaw Bay/Saginaw River Area of Concern (AOC), presenters told Saginaw Bay Watershed Conference attendees Friday.
Ditto, upstream of that area, said an official who’s been working with The Dow Chemical Co. on current and future remediation measures for historic contamination by dioxins and furans.
In 1973, the International Joint Commission named Saginaw Bay a major pollution zone, Mark Coscarelli told about 200 attendees of the conference at Saginaw Valley State University.
When Areas of Concern were established in 1987, the Bay/River was one of 43 in the U.S. and Canada, one of 14 in Michigan. It was the state’s largest.
Each AOC has a Public Advisory Council. Here, it’s the Partnership for Saginaw Bay, of which Coscarelli, vice president of Public Sector Consultants, is a member.
Originally 12 problems called “beneficial use impairments” or BUIs, were ascribed to the Bay. Two of them — fish and wildlife tainting, and drinking water woes — have been resolved.
Michelle Selzer, DEQ environmental quality analyst overseeing the Saginaw River and Bay Area of Concern programs, said there are three other BUIs that “we can tackle right now”:
• Phosphate pollution and its harmful effects on key watersheds.
• E-coli caused beach closings along the Bay.
• Fish and wildlife habit and populations work on coastal wetlands, river mouths, and in tributaries, including she said, possible removal of such fish obstacles as the The Dow Chemical Co. dam on the Tittabawassee in Midland.
That last item dove-tailed with comments by Joe Haas, coordinator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Natural Resources Damage Assessment and Restoration program.
While Dow and the Environmental Protection Agency tackle specific trouble spots along the Tittabawassee River, Haas said NRDA is working with the company in anticipatory ways.
The federal Superfund Law, he said, authorizes NRDA to determine and collect compensation for contamination and spill losses, ultimately forging agreements with companies responsible.
Haas said Dow released dioxins and furans into the environment from the company’s early years to the 1980s. The chemicals, he said, are toxic at low concentrations; accumulate in plants and animals, including humans; and can have adverse effects on reproductive and immune systems, brain and liver and can cause cancer.
Haas said dioxin/furan contamination extends down 22 miles of the Tittabawassee from Midland, 24 miles down the Saginaw River to Saginaw Bay, and five miles out into the Bay. Highest contaminant levels have been found in floodplain soils, river and lake-bottom sediments, and in the flesh of fish and wild game.
A fish consumption advisory has been in effect since 1978, a soil advisory since 2002, and general or organ-specific cautions against eating wild game including deer, turkey and squirrels. The soil and game advisories, he said, are unusual.
Some response and remediation actions and projects have already been completed, both on and off the Dow plant site, Haas said. Restoration goals have included reducing or reversing harmful effects of habitat fragmentation, wetlands loss, invasive species introduction, water quality impairment and dam blockage of fish passage.
Haas called the Dow Dam “an obvious aquatic passage barrier. Walleyes and lampreys get past (in the spring), but for most of the year critters aren’t able to get up and down.”
As NRDA trustees eye remediation options, Haas said, “We may like something like what has been done in Cheasaning, with (a dam replaced by) a rock ramp” that maintains water levels above while providing fish passage.
Asked later if he thought the days of the Dow Dam are numbered, he replied, “I think so.” There will be “a hue and cry from local fishermen, until they realize that fish will still stack up there. At Cheasaning, they’re catching lunkers in the rock rap, right now.”
Besides holding water so it’s available for the Dow plant, Haas said the dam is also a component in a catch and containment system ringing the plant, and that a change would be expensive for the company.
No NRDA agreement can be forged, Haas said, until all EPA-mandated work is completed, and that’s not expected until 2118. Meanwhile, though, he said the NRDA and Dow continue efforts to minimize contaminant impacts and boost restoration projects.
Haas said NRDA takes a double thrust: moving toward agreement on one track, while preparing to take regulatory or courtroom action if that agreement doesn’t come.
Of Dow, Haas said, “We have a cooperative process going, working with them. They’re paying for some of the studies, but they also get to see behind the curtain as far as what the trustees are thinking,” and move in directions more likely to result in agreement, not argument.
“They’re spending a lot of money on this; I see the people they’re bringing in and they’re global experts. I think they’re trying, I really do.”