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Our Watershed

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The Rouge River Watershed (land drained by the Rouge River) drains 467 square miles. It has four major branches (Main, Upper, Middle, and Lower) with 126 river miles and numerous tributaries. In addition to the flowing water, there are more than 400 lakes, impoundments, and ponds. Within the watershed, there are over 1.35 million people in 48 municipalities. Three counties (Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne) are part of the watershed and the land is more than 50% urbanized with less than 25% remaining undeveloped.

The Rouge River is a very flashy (water levels change drastically and quickly after it rains) system because of the hard clay soils and the large amount of paved surfaces. Runoff from paved surfaces carries fertilizers, oil, pet waste and other pollutants into the river. Additionally, there are combined sewers that still overflow into the river at times as well as illicit and illegal discharges. Industry makes up an additional 2% of the pollution problem. Despite all these problems, the Rouge has some beautiful and healthy habitat. Many animals and plants make their home in the watershed including eight species of frogs and toads.

In 1985, the Rouge River was designated one of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern, because “…significant impairment of beneficial uses has occurred as a result of human activities at the local level (” This led to the formation of the Rouge River Advisory Council in 1992 and in 1993 the Rouge River National Wet Weather Demonstration Project was created to administer several hundred million dollars to demonstrate stormwater remediation in an urban watershed.

What issues affect the health of the Rouge River watershed?

Although most would believe that industry is the biggest contributor to pollution in the Rouge River, industry only causes about 2% of pollution to the river. Individuals are a major contributor to the pollution of the Rouge River. Large amounts of pollution are carried by storm water runoff, or the water that runs over the ground during a rainstorm, and directly into the Rouge River.

Storm water picks up pollutants in the form of fertilizers, pesticides, oil, various chemicals and bacteria from animal waste. Eventually this storm water flows through storm drains and into the Rouge River without treatment. Therefore, the health of the Rouge River is affected by activities within the entire watershed. One of the things that you can do is practice River Friendly Lawn Care.

Our Watershed Activites

More about our watershed

Regional Projects

Report on Rouge River National Wet Weather Demonstration Project 1992-2014