The Rouge, the hidden river that runs to the heart of the motor city's neighborhoods, a river that once caught fire
during Detroit's go-go years, struggles to survive.
- Charlie LeDuff Canoes the Rouge River
The Lower Rouge River has a rich industrial past that began in the early 1900s when Henry Ford enlarged a man-made shipping canal to the Detroit River to allow freighter passage up the Rouge. This reversed the flow of the Old Channel, which wraps around Zug Island and now flows into the Rouge River's Main Channel. Before modern environmental controls were established, a suite of contaminants were discharged into the river. These contaminants, mainly PAHs and NAPL, remain in the sediment of the Old Channel.
Although water quality is still challenged by new pollution like combined sewer overflows, pollution that impacts sediment quality is mostly a thing of the past, especially in the Old Channel. Regulations prohibit the discharge of most well-known sediment contaminants. Yet, the old contamination remains, and so a voluntary Great Lakes Legacy Act project in the Lower Rouge River Old Channel is set to start this spring. A bank stabilization wall is being built in 2018 with a cleanup to follow in 2019.
The lower section of the Rouge River marks the boundary between southwest Detroit and the City of River Rouge. The Lower Rouge River Old Channel is located in the Detroit River Area of Concern.