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Great Lakes AOCs

Lower Green Bay/Fox River AOC

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Sue Virgilio


The Lower Green Bay and Fox River was designated an Area of Concern under the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and is one of five AOCs located within Wisconsin. 

The Lower Green Bay and Fox River AOC is part of the Fox Wolf Watershed. The AOC spans the last seven miles of the Lower Fox River (downstream of the De Pere Dam to the mouth) and includes 22 square miles of southern Green Bay. 
Portions of the AOC have experienced great environmental degradation due to land use practices. Non-point and point source discharges from industrial operations, including pulp and paper mills, agricultural land, and urban areas in the watershed have cumulatively contributed to the Beneficial Use Impairments in the AOC. Additionally, wetland and shoreline areas have been filled or impacted by erosion.  

Several of the BUIs in the AOC are attributed to sediment contaminated with PCBs, metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from industrial land uses. PCBs generated during the manufacture and recycling of carbonless copy paper were discharged to the river from pulp and paper mills.  Metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) contamination in the river sediments resulted from manufactured gas plant operations.  

Land use practices have also contributed to excess nutrients within the AOC. As a result, harmful algal blooms, are common in lower Green Bay. The toxins released by these algae raise concerns for using the Lower Green Bay and Fox River AOC as a drinking water and recreational resource. Efforts are underway in the AOC to mitigate the impacts from land use and improve human and ecosystem health.

Of the 14 potential BUIs, Lower Green Bay and Fox River has eleven listed as present, and two as suspected.

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Beneficial Use Impairments

An interim success of remediation and restoration work is removing Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs). BUIs are designations given by the International Joint Commission representing different types of significant environmental degradation. As remediation and restoration work is completed, and monitoring demonstrates sufficient environmental health improvements, BUIs can gradually be removed. Once all BUIs are removed, the process of delisting the AOC can begin.

More information:
  • Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
  • Tainting of fish and wildlife flavor - Removed 2020
  • Degradation of fish and wildlife populations
  • Fish tumors or other deformities
  • Degradation of aesthetics
  • Degradation of benthos
  • Restriction on dredging activities
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat
  • Bird or animal deformities or reproductive problems
  • Eutrophication or undesirable algae
  • Restrictions on drinking water consumption, or taste and odor
  • Beach closings
  • Degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations

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Remediation and Restoration Work

The BUIs will be addressed through sediment remediation implemented through the Superfund program and restoration work will be implemented through the AOC program.  All remediation work to address PCB, metals and PAH contaminated sediments was finished in 2019.

EPA along with the AOC local, state and federal partners are currently working to identify and implement a final list of restoration projects that are needed to address the BUIs. In order to identify restoration projects, numerous monitoring efforts have been funded through the AOC program to evaluate the BUIs status. The monitoring projects that have been conducted using GLRI support include benthic organism surveys, mapping and sampling cyanobacteria blooms, water quality surveys, aesthetics surveys, fish studies, and river loading studies.


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