EPA, other US agencies expand urban waters effort

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Environmental Protection Agency, the White House and other federal departments announced Friday that they are expanding a program for restoring and improving urban waterways nationwide.

The Urban Waters Federal Partnership now operates in seven locations. Officials said Friday they’re adding the Grand River in Grand Rapids, Mich., the Middle Rio Grande in Albuquerque, N.M., and nine other areas. The program links economic development, recreational and environmental improvement goals.

“Since we launched the Urban Waters Federal Partnership two years ago, we’ve seen firsthand what the transformation of degraded urban waterways into clean, healthy and treasured centerpieces can do for local communities — not only from an aesthetic standpoint, but also from a public health and economic standpoint,” acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe said in a statement.

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The other new sites are the Big River and Meramec River around St. Louis; the Delaware River in Philadelphia, Camden, N.J., Chester, Pa., and Wilmington, Del.; the Green-Duwamish River in Seattle; the Mystic River in metropolitan Boston; Martin Pena Canal in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Middle Blue River in Kansas City; Passaic River in Newark, N.J.; Proctor Creek in Atlanta; and Lake Erie near Toledo, Ohio.

Among other participating agencies are the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Interior, Education, and Housing and Urban Development.

“Restoring these waterways is not only important for improving the water that we all depend on, but for spurring economic growth and creating recreational opportunities in these communities as well,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

In West Michigan, the program is expected to boost efforts to restore rapids to the Grand River in Grand Rapids. The previously planned rapids restoration involving the group Grand Rapids Whitewater and others is expected to cost about $27 million and calls for construction of new rapids and removal or lowering of dams. A phase of that effort could be completed by 2016, officials said.

“The Urban Waters designation is a major milestone for the Grand Rapids project,” Jason Carey, president of Carbondale, Colo.-based RiverRestoration, which has been involved in the effort. “What started out as an idea for a couple of whitewater features has become a huge revitalization project for downtown Grand Rapids, with the support and resources of the federal government.”

The original seven sites are the Anacostia watershed in the District of Columbia and Maryland; Patapsco watershed in the Baltimore area; Bronx and Harlem River watersheds in New York; South Platte River in Denver; Los Angeles River watershed; Lake Pontchartrain area in New Orleans; and northwest Indiana.