WMU News

WMU to receive $1 million for Kalamazoo River clean up

Aug. 3, 1999

KALAMAZOO -- WMU's newly established Environmental Institute will benefit from more than $1 million of federal funds that have been set aside to help clean up the Kalamazoo River.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton announced Aug. 2 that provisions for the $1.1 million in funds were included in different appropriations bills ­ the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill which passed the House in July, and the VA/HUD Appropriations Bill, which will be debated by the House this week.

Of that money, $1 million will be used by the Environmental Institute to conduct a variety of studies, establish an information clearinghouse and provide scientific information on issues affecting the watershed.

The remaining $100,000 will be used by Army Corps of Engineers to study and assess cleanup projects along the river including habitat restoration, ecosystem enhancement and erosion control.

According to Chuck Ide, director of the institute, these efforts could ultimately result in a five-year, $12 million project to evaluate the entire Kalamazoo River watershed. One of the biggest concerns for the institute is ascertaining fate and transport of PCBs left in the river by paper companies.

"We will try to understand the extent of PCBs in the ecosystem," he said, explaining that PCBs often lie in river sediments and are consumed by organisms in the sediment and ultimately by fish and other animals. "While they are not terribly damaging to adult humans, they are to fetuses. PCBs don't leave, but this river can be cleaned up and it will be."

The City of Kalamazoo is also involved in the project and will use data provided by the institute in its efforts to develop the waterfront. Kalamazoo Mayor Robert Jones said that the institute's participation will be pivotal to development plans.

"We are real grateful that we have an institute like this that can give leadership to set the stage," he said. "This funding, as well as other funds, will provide opportunities for partnerships between WMU and the city of Kalamazoo to develop the river watershed. Armed with solid, comprehensive data, we can keep from recommitting past sins against the river."

Since it was established in April, the Environmental Institute has pursued a number of grants to fund research efforts involving the Kalamazoo River watershed. When funded, the projects will combine the talents of WMU researchers in the areas of environmental chemistry, geography, geosciences, biological sciences, statistics, psychology and science studies.

But just as important as the research outcomes, said Ide, is the river's future. "It is really a beautiful river and can be a tremendous asset to our community. Cities who develop their riverfronts have seen increased commerce because they can market these rivers as a beautiful natural resource."

According to Upton, the funds to begin the research efforts would be available in October when the federal fiscal year begins.

"This will give us time to work with Lansing and others to make it a more comprehensive effort," he said.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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