Quebec turns treated sewage discharge into a whitewater kayak course

Apparently, you can make silk out of a sow’s ear.

Consider the case of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, a small Quebec city located on an island in the St. Lawrence River, near Montreal.

The city has turned the discharge from a sewage treatment facility into a whitewater kayak course on the St. Charles River. The river for years was too polluted for public use, but cleaning up the discharge from the city’s sewage treatment facility helped restore the river.

The Charles River now hosts whitewater kayak tournaments that attract paddlers from around the world. Check it out here.

The kayak course is just one of the ways Salaberry-de-Valleyfield has rebuilt its flagging industrial economy by investing in water-based projects, Mayor Denis Lapointe told attendees at the Great Lakes Restoration Conference in Detroit.

Salaberry-de-Valleyfield also invested $6.5 million to re-open an abandoned canal that once flowed into the St. Lawrence River. Reopening the canal has unleashed a prosperous recreational economy; 5,000 boats traverse the canal annually, Lapointe said.

“Over the past 15 years, things have changed, people are smiling and the city has grown up,” Lapointe said.

The canal generates $65 million annually in recreation-related revenue, Lapointe said. The city built on the success of the canal reopening by hosting a series of concerts in which moving images are projected onto giant water screens.

The images from these concerts are amazing. Check it out here, or visit

Salaberry-de-Valleyfield is just one of many Great Lakes cities that are capitalizing on the lakes and rivers in their midst.

The city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, has spent  $320 million to reduce sewer overflows, which plagued the Grand River for more than 50 years.

Eliminating sewer overflows improved water quality in the river and bolstered a salmon and steelhead fishery in the city’s downtown.

Grand Rapids was recently named one of America’s best urban fisheries, thanks in part to investments in cleaning up the city’s sewer system, Mayor George Heartwell said.

The city is now in the process of developing a whitewater kayak course on the Grand River, in the shadows of towering office buildings.

“We’re going to restore the Grand Rapids to the Grand River,” Heartwell said.

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