River Clean-up Attracts Fish, Wildlife,

Economic Development

Federal Great Lakes restoration funds removed contaminants in a lagoon on the Detroit River, improving the water quality and allowing fish and birds to return. The project also sparked economic development along the restored river.


The Black Lagoon project was the first cleanup completed under the Great Lakes Legacy Act, a federal program established to remove contaminated sediments at toxic hotspots in the Great Lakes. The lagoon lies within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, which supports numerous species of fish and wildlife. The cleanup removed 115,000 cubic yards of toxic sludge from the bottom of the Black Lagoon, which improved water quality and spurred economic development along the Detroit River shoreline. Subsequent work restored wildlife habitat around the Black Lagoon. In 2007, the city of Trenton, Mich., officially changed the name of the lagoon to Ellias Cove in honor of the successful restoration effort.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Oil, grease and hazardous chemical pollution
  • Degraded water quality
  • Degraded fish and wildlife habitat


An excavator on a barge in the Detroit River

Removing sediment in the Detroit River, as pictured here, was an important part of the restoration of the Black Lagoon. Credit: Friends of the Detroit River.

Results and Accomplishments

Crews removed 115,000 cubic yards of polluted sludge from the Black Lagoon in 2004 and 2005. The cleanup removed more than 470,000 pounds of contaminants from the lagoon, including 160 pounds of PCBs, 38,000 pounds of lead, 360 pounds of mercury, 300,000 pounds of oil and grease and 140,000 pounds of zinc. The project improved water quality in the lagoon and the lower Detroit River and fish and birds have returned to the lagoon. It also sparked economic development along that stretch of the Detroit River — the city of Trenton plans to develop a marina in the lagoon. Because water in the lagoon is no longer black, the city of Trenton renamed the lagoon Elias Cove.