Water quality in the Clinton River has improved dramatically over the past thirty years. Industrial discharges are now regulated under the Clean Water Act. While live fish couldn’t be found from Pontiac to the mouth of the Clinton in the 1960s, a large, varied fishery exists today. Many people enjoy canoeing, fishing, boating and riverfront parks throughout the watershed.
The Clinton is typical of an urban river. When it rains, urban and suburban development in the watershed result in higher river flows than we see in natural watersheds. Water running off of our yards and paved surfaces (including roads, sidewalks, rooftops and parking lots) discharges into our waterways, carrying with it dirt, fertilizers, pesticides, oils, metals and other pollutants. The sheer volume of water entering the river during storm events results in significant erosion and sedimentation.
More than 200 sites within the Clinton River Watershed are listed as contaminated, with 27 on the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Superfund” list and four on the National Priority List. The watershed, which drains urban southern Oakland and Macomb counties, is listed as one of the 42 Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes. Sediments contaminated with heavy metals, PCBs, oil and grease are polluting Bear Creek and the Red Run Drain. Degraded biota, low dissolved oxygen, heavy sedimentation, excessive nutrients, pesticides and bacteria are also problems here.
Other challenges in the watershed involve coordinating the efforts of agencies responsible for water management at the federal, state and local level. New funding sources are also needed for water quality monitoring, pollution prevention programs and local water management activities.