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Infrastructure law begins to impact US rivers, as concern persists over power of legislation

Great Lakes river enthusiasts call it a 'downpayment'
Carbon Capture Environmental Justice
Posted at 5:00 AM, May 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-12 05:00:36-04

LORAIN COUNTY, OH — While some rivers are known for their beauty, others may be known for their pollution.

With summer right around the corner, it's the perfect time to get a status update on the state of our country's waterways, like the Black River outside of Cleveland, Ohio.

"A lot of people view this as an industrial river," Robb Koscho, a local enthusiast who owns a small kayaking business, said.

Near Lake Erie, this river viewed from above, or even from a nearby parking lot, might look just like any other river in the United States. Koscho though isn't afraid to mention its infamous nickname.

"The river was known as the river of fish tumors," Koscho remarked.

Like so many other rivers in industrial Midwest cities, this one, in particular, has struggled with pollution over the years. In fact, countless rivers around the Great Lakes continue to be listed as "Areas of Concern" by the federal government.

ENTHUSIASM FOR THE RIVER

While you may think being listed as an "area of concern" might scar a community from wanting to go near the water, Koscho says something exciting is happening: Interest is back.

"I view our river as a tourist river," Koscho said.

"You got kayaking, you got paddleboarding, you have boating," Koscho added.

Why the optimism? He says one reason is the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is getting a big boost in funding.

President Biden recently announced $1 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law will soon help fund more cleanup efforts, such as removing trash and dredging sediment along the Black River.

LONG WAY TO GO

Over in Toledo, Ohio excitement is happening too. New parks are being built along the Maumee River, which is also currently listed as an "Area of Concern."

"There are days when the river turns brown or green," Mike Pniewski, an engineer who works on the river, admitted.

He says the good news is that Republicans and Democrats are beginning to fund river cleanup efforts seriously. That in turn is encouraging local development of parks and new business.

The bad news is that $1 billion is nowhere near what's needed.

"It's not enough, but it does provide a good down payment," Pniewski said.

"The issue is the polluters that caused the majority of these issues, they are long gone," Pniewski added.

If you live elsewhere and are wondering why the Great Lakes is getting all this help don't worry. Funding from the infrastructure law is being allocated near you too. In Florida, over $1 billion has been allocated to revitalize the everglades.

In Virginia and Maryland, over $40 million to improve the Chesapeake Bay. Denver's South Platte River is receiving $350 million. Along the Colorado River basin, in Arizona, Nevada and California over $ 250 million will help protect the ever-shrinking water supply.

Back along the Black River, Koscho says it's a great time to love rivers. The next few years, he believes, will be transformational.

"They all have such unique dynamics," Koscho said.