GRAND RAPIDS — The estimated $27 million effort to restore the rapids in the Grand River has a new supporter: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Urban Waters Federal Partnership.
The partnership selected the Grand River restoration project along with 10 other urban waterway sites around the country to receive coordination and resources support from more than a dozen different federal agencies.
The EPA’s Urban Waters Federal Partnership targets community-driven revitalization projects that focus on the nation’s water systems and promote economic, environmental and social enhancement.
The Restore the Rapids project aims to create a whitewater park in the Grand River near downtown Grand Rapids in an effort that would require the removal of several dams.
“This is huge for us and shows we have a lot of support behind us,” said Chris Muller, co-founder of Restore the Rapids. “The local and statewide support has been great, and now we have federal support so it allows us to utilize all those lines for permits, technical expertise as well as potential fundraising.
“It gives us horsepower and the right people to go to.”
Projects supported by the partnership also have a good track record of success. Of the seven sites that received support in 2011, “every one of them is making progress” in accomplishing reuse, environmental and economic goals, said Bob Perciasepe, acting administrator of the U.S. EPA.
“When (Grand Rapids) gets going — which (it) already is, and that’s why we’re here — these restored urban waters will create neighborhoods where people want live and businesses want to locate,” he said.
RiverRestoration, the Carbondale, Colo.-based engineering firm working on the Grand Rapids project, is still uncovering data and figuring out the opportunities for the Grand River, said Jason Carey, the company’s principal river engineer.
One key remaining hurdle for the Grand River project is figuring out how to manage sea lamprey. The existing Fifth Street Dam acts as a natural barrier to the invasive species. Removing the dam could lead to fisheries managers having to chemically treat more miles of the river and its tributaries to control the lamprey populations.
Carey said the goal is to find a balance of river benefits in conjunction with lamprey controls.
“It’s really a balance of different needs and uses,” he said.
For inspiration in seeing the project through to completion, the local supporters might look to the Ogden River in Utah, Carey said.
The Ogden River had flooding issues and limited access and uses. The first year after the restoration the river experienced a 100-year flood, but not one sandbag was needed. Economic development increased and the river eventually received Blue Ribbon Fisheries designation from the state, Carey said.
“There is so much improvement that could be done,” said Carey, referring the Grand River. “There are a lot of people who cherish it as it is, but there are so many opportunities.”
From the City of Grand Rapids’ perspective, the river restoration hits all of the desired triple bottom line impacts.
“It has economic impact where we expect more opportunities for people to spend money and create jobs downtown,” said Haris Alibasic, director of sustainability for Grand Rapids. “There is an obvious environmental benefit for clean, healthy water. On the social (angle), which is hard to measure, there is civic engagement and private and public stakeholders.
“This is driven by community.”