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Oswego River Removed From List of Polluted Areas; Historic Milestone for Efforts to Cleanup the Great Lakes

Release Date: 07/25/2006
Contact Information: Elias Rodriguez, (212) 637-3664 or, Michael Basile, (716) 551-4410 or

(New York, NY) The once degraded lower Oswego River made history today when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its state, local and international partners announced that cleanup efforts had improved conditions enough for the area to be taken off the list of the most polluted areas in the Great Lakes Basin. The lower Oswego River is the first U.S. area to come off the list of the Great Lakes Areas of Concern, which originally included 43 severely degraded geographic areas in the United States and Canada. EPA and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), in consultation with the Oswego River Remedial Action Plan Remedial Advisory Committee and the International Joint Commission made the historic announcement at a ceremony today in Oswego, New York.

“Today’s removal of the Oswego River from the list of the most degraded areas in the Great Lakes Basin is a first,” said EPA Regional Administration Alan J. Steinberg. “This is truly a historic moment, which demonstrates how much progress we’ve made in improving the environmental health of this area since it was listed as an Area of Concern in 1985. It reflects the Bush Administration’s continued commitment to cleaning up the Great Lakes and improving our environment and strengthening our economy.”

DEC Commissioner Denise M. Sheehan said, “The health of the Oswego River is integral to New York State’s environment, economy, history and recreation. This delisting announcement is a tremendous achievement both for our State and for our region. DEC and our partners will continue to build upon our diligent efforts to improve water quality, clean up contamination, and enhance our natural resources in Oswego and throughout the State for the benefit of current and future generations of New Yorkers.”

Today’s announcement comes as a result of years of cooperation and shared commitment between EPA, Canada and the state of New York. The river’s restoration is an essential part of Oswego’s economic and social revitalization.

The former Oswego River/Harbor Area of Concern is located on the southeastern shore of Lake Ontario, centered in the City of Oswego, New York. The Oswego River watershed includes the Finger Lakes, industries, municipalities, and extensive areas of farmland and forest that extend over 5,000 square miles. The Oswego River is second only to the Niagara River in size as a tributary to Lake Ontario.

Today, the Oswego River has been transformed from an area plagued by a legacy of pollution problems, uncontrolled wastewater discharges, impacted fish and fish habitats, and excessive algae growth, to an environmental success story. Excessive phosphorus from wastewater treatment facilities discharges, and urban/rural runoff in the watershed contributed to undesirable algae. A diversion of the river’s water by a power dam resulted in degradation of fish habitat and populations in an area below the dam. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s re-licensing agreement for the power dam includes specific provisions for maintaining the minimum flows necessary to provide conditions for spawning and development of fish. The collaborative efforts of many public, private, local, state, and federal partners has resulted in the remediation, revitalization and redevelopment of the Oswego River Area of Concern. Pollution reduction activities, watershed best management practices, cooperation by local municipalities, industry, power utilities, the Port of Oswego and many other positive improvements have all contributed to a healthier watershed.

Nearly a decade after the revised 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was signed by Canada and the United States to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem,” the two nations agreed that the worst areas would be given priority attention. Subsequently, 43 such areas were designated as Areas of Concern because they contained contaminated sediment, inadequately treated wastewater, runoff from diverse sources, inland contaminated sites or degraded habitat to a greater degree than the rest of the Great Lakes. With the delisting of Oswego River, 25 of the remaining sites are solely in the United States, 10 are solely in Canada, and five are bi-national. Two sites in Canada were previously delisted. Additional provisions of the agreement directs Canada and the United States, working with state and provincial governments, to develop plans (known as remedial action plans) to restore and protect ecosystem health so that the water is suitable for fishing, swimming, boating and other uses.

When sufficient monitoring shows that delisting targets have been achieved and maintained, a request to take an area off the list is made to the New York State Department of State via the EPA. The EPA anticipates continued progress in the Great Lakes areas of concern and estimates that by 2020, all known contaminated sediment sites in the Areas of Concern will be remediated.

To learn more about the Oswego River/Harbor link to