For our Special Theme on Inland Waterways (lakes and rivers), I talked with many agencies about beneficial use in Ohio harbors. The state is taking major strides in finding innovative ways to use its dredged material. The state is facing an all out ban on open-lake placement of dredged materials in Ohio harbors in July 2020, but the state has also provided funding and agency attention to the issue, including regulatory changes that make beneficial use easier in the state.
Many Great Lakes ports and harbors are facing issues with smaller budgets, dredging maintenance backlogs and dwindling confined disposal facilities (CDFs). CDFs were never intended to be a long-term solution, as Brian Hinterberger, outreach specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Buffalo District, pointed out when I asked about CDF capacity in Ohio. “They were a short-term solution to a long-term problem,” he said.
Development of CDFs
Through Section 123 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1970, the Corps was authorized to construct and operate CDFs to contain contaminated sediment around the Great Lakes.
The Corps and the EPA jointly regulate the discharge of dredged materials to the Great Lakes and tributaries through Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA).
In 1967, the Corps, in cooperation with the federal Water Pollution Control Administration (the predecessor of EPA) initiated a pilot investigation on alternatives to open-water placement for contaminated sediment. Projects included CDFs at Cleveland Harbor, Ohio; Buffalo Harbor, New York; Calumet River, Illinois; and Green Bay, Wisconsin. In 1969, the Corps published a report on its two-year study of technologies for treating contaminated sediment. The report concluded that open-water disposal was “presumptively undesirable,” and recommended more research into confining contaminated sediment.
In the 1970 Rivers and Harbors Act, Section 123, established the Diked Disposal Program to provide funding for CDFs. The same law also authorized the Dredged Material Research Program (DMRP), a five-year research program to examine the environmental effects of dredging and disposal.
Section 123 authorized Corps construction of CDFs to accommodate sediment from 10 years of maintenance dredging. In the early 1980s, questions arose about Section 123 authority, as it was clear that the need for CDFs would go beyond 10 years at most Great Lakes locations. In Section 24(a) of the Water Resources Development Act of 1988, Congress amended this CDF authority to allow the Corps to use CDFs until the facility was no longer needed or completely filled.
Section 201 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1996 authorized uniform cost-sharing requirements for all future CDFs.
Not surprisingly, funding is not available for new CDFs and old ones are reaching capacity quickly in Ohio’s harbors and beyond.
Benficial Use is the Answer
With further restrictions on open-lake placement, the state of Ohio needed to fast track beneficial use projects. Other states will follow suit, and some have already.
Last issue, we featured two articles on beneficial use projects in the Upper Mississippi and the Illinois River Valley. See Beneficial Use in the Illinois River Valley: Manufacturing Soil from Dredged Material and St. Paul District Uses Federal Beneficial Use Program to Study Island Creation in Upper Mississippi.
The Corps Buffalo District also pointed to other projects outside of Ohio, within its district, using beneficial use, such as projects as Buffalo Harbor, New York, and work at Unity Island (see page 25 for more information on this story.)
I thought the dredging industry had long ago shaken the negative connotations associated with dredged material. I thought most viewed it as a resource, but Ohio just changed its regulations and declassified dredged sediment as waste material, in order to make beneficial use happen around the state. And without a drastic ban, it might not have happened at all, or at least not as quickly. I think the ban itself is a statement about how the public and government views dredged sediment, as a waste, not a resource. It’s a reminder that dredged sediment might still have a public relations issue in some places. Some might need to be educated in how to better use the sediment for commercial purposes, as the state of Ohio has done. And with that, the state has a pipeline of beneficial use projects and money to support them.