Detroit River: Area of Concern

The contributions of binational, federal, provincial and local agencies, local industries, and other community partners continue to have a positive impact upon the water quality and ecosystem health within the Canadian section of the Detroit River Area of Concern (AOC).

Why was it listed as an Area of Concern?

The Detroit River was designated as an AOC in 1986 because a review of available data indicated that water quality and environmental health were severely degraded. Further monitoring showed that the history of industrialization, urbanization and agricultural land use activities along the shores and within the tributaries of the Detroit River had resulted in 12 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement's 14 beneficial use indicators (BUIs) of environmental quality being deemed as impaired. The primary sources of contaminants to the river have been the discharges from municipalities and from the watersheds, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in Turkey Creek. Urban stormwater runoff and runoff from agricultural operations within rural areas of the watershed contribute to environmental degradation of the River. Land use has resulted in loss of fish and wildlife habitat, along with loss of fish and wildlife populations.

What has been accomplished?

There have been many improvements towards restoring the Canadian section of the Detroit River AOC which has resulted in five BUIs being restored and re-designated as “not impaired”, namely: restrictions on drinking water consumption (2011), added costs to industry and agriculture (2011), tainting of fish and wildlife flavour (2014), beach closings (2016), and degradation of aesthetics (2016). Efforts continue to restore the remaining seven impaired beneficial uses: restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption, degradation of fish and wildlife populations, fish tumours or other deformities, bird and animal deformities or reproductive problems, degradation of benthos, restrictions on dredging activities, and loss of fish and wildlife habitat. Some of the highlights in restoring the Canadian portion of the Detroit River are outlined in the following paragraphs.

The implementation of the provincial Municipal Industrial Strategy for Abatement regulations in the mid-1990s virtually eliminated toxic substances and addressed other problems caused by industrial discharges entering the Detroit River.

In 2014, the Town of Amherstburg constructed its $34M municipal wastewater secondary treatment plant, from primary treatment standards. With this latest infrastructure project, a total of $212M in municipal wastewater treatment has been invested since 2008. The year 2008 saw the completion of the $110M Lou Romano Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade to secondary treatment standards. In 2011, a novel retention treatment tank costing $68M was constructed on the Windsor waterfront that prevents the majority of raw diluted sewage from combined sewage overflows from entering the Detroit River. These improvements have resulted in a ten-fold reduction in the amount of pollutants released into the AOC from when Remedial Action Plan implementation began. Funding was provided by the federal, provincial and municipal governments.

Monitoring in 2014 of sediment, water and fish in Turkey Creek shows PCB levels have decreased significantly, proof that the 2008 cleanup of 975 cubic metres of contaminated sediment and creek bank soil from the Grand Marais drain east of Walker Road to a cleanup goal of 1 ppm PCB was successful. The PCB contaminated sediment was removed through a partnership between Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Province of Ontario, local industries and local municipalities at a cost of $1.2M.

In 2013, 0.3 kilometres of industrial shoreline was naturalized in a collaborative project with industrial partners, Windsor Port Authority and Lafarge Canada. Up to 10 kilometres of natural shoreline restoration projects have reduced erosion and created habitat for fish and wildlife in Windsor, LaSalle and Amherstburg, replacing the less fish-friendly options such as vertical sheet pile walls.  

In 2008, Canadian and U.S. agencies collaborated to construct a lake sturgeon spawning reef at Fighting Island in the Detroit River. The project was an immediate success being used by not only lake sturgeon but other fish species as well including lake whitefish and walleye. In 2014, a second fish spawning reef adjacent to the existing one at Fighting Island was constructed utilizing the same binational partnership with U.S. agencies. The expanded reef continues to attract the highly desirable fish species including lake sturgeon along with another 20 fish species, the majority of them using the reef for spawning.

In 2015, a rain garden was installed at the Ojibway Nature Centre in the Detroit River AOC to promote its’ benefits and encourage property owners to install them to manage rainfall and lower pressure being placed on stormwater sewers and wastewater treatment plants.

Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Great Lakes Sustainability Fund has supported the restoration of more than 351 hectares of terrestrial habitat and 8.5 hectares of wetlands and fish habitat within Essex County. These funds have resulted in the percent of habitat coverage to increase from 5% in 1981 to 8% in 2015.

What is left to do?

While measurable improvements have been made, more work needs to be done. The 2010 Remedial Action Plan report lays out the remaining actions and monitoring that has to be done to address the remaining seven beneficial use impairments. Further habitat restoration, particularly the rehabilitation of coastal wetlands, construction of in-river fish habitats and shoreline naturalization projects, are a major upcoming priority in the remediation of the area. In addition, continued monitoring of the fish, wildlife, water and sediment quality will be required to track progress of restoration efforts and to inform the re-designation of the remaining beneficial use impairments.


Under the Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health, Canada and Ontario will continue to make significant progress towards remedial action plan implementation, environmental recovery and restoration of beneficial uses in the Detroit River AOC. It is anticipated that actions will be completed by 2020.


Efforts in the Detroit River (Canadian section) are undertaken in a partnership between the Government of Canada, other levels of government and non-government groups, including members of the public. 

Undertaking environmental restoration requires scientific and technical expertise, local knowledge and hard work. One agency or group cannot engage in such a large task on its own without the help of others.

Listed below are participants that have contributed to efforts in the Detroit River (Canadian section):

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