Decades of Cleanup Work
Paying Off for White Lake
Intensive cleanup activities have improved water quality, fish health and reduced phosphorus concentrations in White Lake, which is one of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern. White Lake could be removed from the AOC list by the summer of 2014.
White Lake was designated a Great Lakes Area of Concern in 1987 after contaminated groundwater beneath the former Hooker Chemical manufacturing facility seeped into the lake, polluting the water, contaminating the mud and sand at the bottom of the lake, and tainting fish and wildlife. A tannery on the other side of White Lake caused a variety of problems in the lake, including: polluted drinking water; contaminated fish; explosive algal growth; degraded fish an wildlife populations; loss of fish and wildlife habitat; and damaged bottom-dwelling organisms at the base of the lake’s food chain. This pollution crisis harmed the lake and gave the otherwise scenic waterway a bad reputation.
Cleanup efforts over the past decade have removed tons of contaminated sediments from the lake bottom, halted the flow of polluted groundwater into the lake and reduced the amount of phosphorus entering the lakes. In May 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that White Lake no longer suffered from excessive algal growth. By February 2013, restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption had been lifted. The remaining impairments to the waterway are on schedule to be addressed by the summer of 2014, at which point the AOC designation would finally be removed.
Resource Challenges Addressed
- Contaminated sediments
- Restrictions on fish consumption
- Excessive phosphorus causing algal growth
- Aesthetic degradation from debris and trash
WHITE LAKE AREA OF CONCERN CLEANUP AND DELISTING
Location: Whitehall, Mich.
Approximate cost: More than $20 million in both public and private funds. In 2011, $2.1 million came from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
Key partners: Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, City of Whitehall, City of Montague, White Lake Public Advisory Council, Grand Valley State University, Muskegon Conservation District, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.
Types of jobs created: Biologists, chemists, toxicologists, ecologists, excavators, truck drivers, heavy equipment operators and general laborers.
Results and Accomplishments
Two cleanup projects removed a total of 97,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediments, which improved water quality, improved fish and wildlife populations and bolstered a resurgent tourism industry centered largely on the lake. Large stones known as riprap were removed from the banks of the lake and were replaced with native plants. Great blue herons and other wildlife have been seen returning to White Lake and the planned removal from the Area of Concern list will be a victory for wildlife and local residents alike.