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Watershed Management

The early focus of the Rouge Project was on the control of CSOs in the older urban core portion of the downstream areas of the Rouge Watershed. As a finite number of point source CSO discharges could be identified and responsibility for each defined, the traditional regulatory approach of issuing NPDES permits mandating corrective action worked relatively well. Additional monitoring of the river showed that the other sources of pollution such as storm water runoff, discharges from illicit connections, and discharges from failed on-site septic systems, needed to be controlled before full restoration of the river would be achieved throughout the watershed.

Based upon what was learned, the focus of the Rouge Project became more holistic to consider the impacts from all sources of pollution and use impairments in receiving waters by using the watershed management approach. There is a clear inter-relationship of the pollution sources within a watershed that demands an inter-related approach to a solution in order to achieve water quality standards and associated designated uses within a watershed. A piecemeal approach of focusing only on sources of pollution or a group of sources will not achieve the desired results nor will it achieve the acceptance of the residents of the watershed. The Rouge Project has learned several very important elements of using the watershed management approach. Those include the need to: analyze all of the various sources of stressors to the water quality problems in a watershed-physical, chemical and biological; establish a hierarchy of pollution sources in a watershed-point sources and nonpoint sources-based upon the adverse water quality impacts of those sources; and keep reinforcing, at a watershed level, the concept of prioritizing the control of those sources and the other stressors to get desired environmental protection; to recognize it may take a long time to correct some of these pollution sources or other physical, chemical or biological stressors so it is important to prioritize the control programs to get the maximum environmental improvement as soon as possible; critically assess the cumulative watershed impacts to quantitatively assess the physical, chemical and biological processes and then fashion the watershed-based solutions to prevent treating the symptoms rather than effecting a cure. The management plan and tools that are developed must be tailored to address watershed specific problems.

The use of the watershed approach therefore has emerged as the most cost-effective and logical approach to water resource management in the Rouge Watershed and elsewhere.

The challenge for the Rouge Project became to develop innovative solutions to achieve water quality objectives that may be: 1) more cost-effective, 2) implemented in a more timely fashion and 3) better able meet local needs. It has also become clear that water resources management must have the support of the general public in order to be effective and to become self-sustaining.

At the heart of the watershed management approach being used in the Rouge Watershed is the Michigan General Storm Water Permit. This voluntary permit established the process for developing watershed management plans to address the control of storm water and other sources of pollution. This permit evolved from what was being learned by the Rouge Project.

The seven subwatershed groups (SWAGs) comprised of Rouge River communities have developed watershed management plans and submitted them to MDEQ in accordance with the requirements of the Michigan General Storm Water Permit. The subwatershed management plans do not require state approval; however, the individual pollution prevention initiatives emanating from the watershed planning process require state approval as the activities specified in the initiatives become permit requirements upon approval. The subwatershed management plans are now being implemented.

During the latter part of 2001, USEPA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted a nationwide audit of the national CSO control program. They interviewed EPA headquarters personnel, three EPA Regions, eight states, 22 communities and some others. The MDEQ, the Rouge Project and several Michigan cities were interviewed as part of the study. The OIG issued their final Evaluation Report on "Wastewater Management - Controlling and Abating Combined Sewer Overflows" in August 2002.

The report cites a number of examples of the successes of the Rouge Project's CSO control program. The following is a quote from the report about the Rouge Project's CSO control program and watershed approach being utilized:

"Rouge River Project a Blueprint for Success
The Rouge River National Wet Weather Demonstration in Michigan is an excellent
example of how utilizing a watershed approach can help to achieve water quality
goals more efficiently. We have previously described in this report some of the
successful results that have been achieved by this project."

The Rouge Project has provided a unique opportunity for a watershed-wide approach to restoring and protecting an urban river system by using a cooperative, locally based approach to pollution control.

View the Assembly of Rouge Communities Web page.


Last Updated: 4/16/2012

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The Rouge River National Wet Weather Demonstration Project is funded, in part, by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Grants #XP995743-01, -02, -03, -04, -05, -06, -07, -08, -09 and C-264000-01.