Lake Erie site taken off list of pollution hotspots

Project Summary: After a decade of cleanup work, Presque Isle Bay on Lake Erie became just the second site in the U.S. to be removed from a list of Great Lakes toxic hotspots.


Project name: Presque Isle Bay cleanup.

Location: Erie, Pa.

An aerial view of Lake Erie's Presque Isle Bay.

An aerial view of Lake Erie’s Presque Isle Bay.

Description: Presque Isle Bay is a 3,655-acre embayment on Pennsylvania’s portion of Lake Erie. The 22.6 square mile watershed of the bay drains an urban area that includes parts of five municipalities and Presque Isle State Park in Erie. Pa. Polluted wastewater discharges that occurred prior to 1980 contaminated the bay with excessive nutrients, organic compounds and heavy metals. In the 1980s, anglers discovered tumors on fish caught in the bay, particularly on native brown bullhead catfish. Government officials believed contaminated sediments in the bay caused the tumors. The contaminated sediment and fish tumors prompted government agencies in 1991 to declare Presque Isle Bay one of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern. That declaration prompted a variety of activities aimed at cleaning up the bay. The Erie Sewer Authority spent $95 million to upgrade its wastewater treatment system and reduced sewer overflows into the bay and industries moved away from the city’s waterfront. A decline in the incidence of fish tumors prompted the federal government in February 2013 to remove Presque Isle Bay from the list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern. The Oswego River in New York is the only other site on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes to be removed from the government’s list of toxic hotspots.

Approximate cost of project: Government agencies spent $900,000

Boaters have returned to Presque Isle Bay. Photo from Flickr/catAsmith.

Boaters have returned to Presque Isle Bay. Photo from Flickr/catAsmith.

researching pollution and fish tumors in the bay and another $1.5 million on watershed restoration projects. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative contributed $1.2 million to the restoration of Presque Isle Bay and pollution reduction projects. The Erie Sewer Authority also spent $95 million to upgrade the sewer system and reduce sewer overflows into the bay.

Resource challenges addressed: Contaminated sediments, fish tumors, polluted runoff and sewer overflows.

Key partners (public and private): Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, City of Erie, Erie Sewer Authority, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Pennsylvania Sea Grant, Erie County Conservation District, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and numerous other partners.

Results and accomplishments: Bottom sediment in the bay is cleaner and fewer fish have tumors. Restoration work in streams that drain into the bay, and the replacement of paved areas with pervious surfaces that trap polluted runoff, improved fish habitat and reduced the amount of sediment washing into the bay by 334 tons annually.


Originally Published: February 20, 2013