Cross-border report says cleaning up Great Lakes makes financial sense

Cleaning up the Great Lakes makes financial sense, according to a new report linking cleanup and economic growth. 

'We've cleaned up the river and had this amazing ecological revival'

Cleaning up the Great Lakes makes financial sense — according to a new report that links cleanup and economic growth.  (Eric Albrecht/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

Cleaning up the Great Lakes makes financial sense, according to a new report linking cleanup and economic growth. 

The International Association for Great Lakes Research published an in-depth study, worked on by Canadian and U.S. researchers, which examined ten waterways to determine if cleaning up polluted waterways had a link to financial benefit.

"We've looked at the most polluted areas of concern for the last three years," said John Hartig, a visiting researcher for the Great Lakes Institute of Environmental Research and lead author of the study.

"Cleanup of these areas has led to connecting people to these waterways which leads to revitalizing the economy."

According to Hartig, the cleanup of Toronto's harbour has netted a $4-billion return in economic benefit. The Cleveland River, which burned 50 years ago, has been cleaned up and turned into trails and parks — Hartig said there have been $750 million in economic development in the last eight years.

"It's truly amazing," said Hartig. "Once we prevent pollution from entering the waterways and restore habitats, people rediscover the waterfront."

In Detroit, Mich., the Riverwalk is one example of rediscovery, with both economic and ecological benefits, including the return of bald eagles and beavers.

"The Detroit River is a compelling [example]," said Hartig. "We've cleaned up the river and had this amazing ecological revival. If you add it all up it's one of the most remarkable ecological recovery stories in North America."

According to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, the Riverwalk and associated areas see about three million visitors annually after improvements started in the early 2000s. A report from the conservancy said total spending by visitors and residents in the area reaches almost $44 million annually. 

Tap the player below to hear more from lead author John Hartig on the CBC's Windsor Morning:

"Without the early focus on cleaning up the river and improving water quality, this transformation of the river's edge would not have been possible," said conservancy president Mark Wallace. 

The study shows the linkage between cleanup and economic revitalization, using the Buffalo River, the Collingwood Harbour, the Detroit River and Muskegon Lake as examples. The ten areas of concern used as case studies were identified in 1985 as part of a list of 43.

Two of the ten studied remain on the list of "most polluted" — but the other eight were taken off in the last few years. 

According to the IAGLR report, the successes examined "illustrate a case for continued support" to continue cleaning areas of concern. 


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