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The Rouge River National Wet Weather Demonstration Project (Rouge Project) in Southeast Michigan is a working example of how a systematic watershed approach to pollution management can result in cost-effective and ultimately greater and faster achievement of designated uses in a water body. The Rouge River Watershed is largely urbanized, spans approximately 438 square miles, and is home to over 1.5 million people in 48 communities and three counties. The Rouge Project expanded from a program to build and evaluate alternative approaches to control combined sewer overflows (CSOs) to comprehensive watershed-based river restoration.

Like many urban waterways, pollution, channelization, and industry severed the Rouge from people and ecology. Sixteen years ago, the Rouge was unquestionably the most polluted river in the state.

Since that time, 48 Metro Detroit communities, three counties and numerous stakeholders have made great strides in eliminating untreated combined sewer overflows (CSOs), non-point source pollution and other causes of impairment. This watershed approach to pollution control has been highly successful. For example, the Rouge has met the State water quality standard for dissolved oxygen (5 mg/liter) during dry weather for the past several years, and more diverse species of fish have been sighted. The Rouge River Gateway Corridor, shown in Figure 1, consists of an eight-mile stretch of the Rouge River extending from the confluence of its tributaries, near Ford Road in Dearborn to its mouth, at the Detroit River. As one of the most important natural and cultural assets of Southeast Michigan, it holds three national landmark sites and is one of six corridors within a newly established Automobile National Heritage Area. Due to the efforts of upstream communities, river water quality improved and the stakeholders in the Rouge Gateway Corridor combined forces to help one another understand appropriate responses to the clean-up effort.

From this initiative evolved the Rouge River Gateway Partnership, a diverse leadership alliance of Wayne County, five municipalities, and numerous cultural institutions and private businesses. The goals of the Partnership include attracting new investment as well as celebrating heritage, preserving natural habitats, and supporting recreational opportunities.

Narrative Under the Partnership's leadership, the Rouge River Gateway Master Plan (“Master Plan”) was developed to guide revitalization efforts for this segment of the Rouge. The Master Plan seeks to maximize natural, recreational, and cultural resources in balance with economic development and existing assets. This project demonstrates how a concerned partnership can achieve incredible momentum to accomplish seemingly impossible, yet obviously necessary, undertakings and become a national model for urban river restoration.

This paper will discuss the Rouge River Gateway Partnership and the development and implementation of the Rouge River Gateway Master Plan. Goals and strategies of the Master Plan are reviewed, along with the consensus building and public outreach activities necessary for such a comprehensive undertaking. The implementation status of the Master Plan is also presented.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2004

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