Skip to main content

Sedimentality: sediment landscapes, socio-politics, and the environment in the lower Detroit River

Abstract

Sedimentation and dredging are two sides of the same coin; dredged landscapes are sediment landscapes, especially in the Great Lakes. Confined Disposal Facilities (CDFs)—often large dikes and/or islands full of dredged sediment—dot the Great Lakes landscapes as nearshore, onshore, offshore, submerged, and island sites. Some CDF islands are completely manmade while others were developed by depositing dredge spoils on original river islands. This article argues that new landscapes created through dredging in the Great Lakes were not static—in space, time, and public imagination—even if they were perceived to be so by experts, engineers, and even politicians. One specific sediment landscape, the Crystal Bay and Crystal Island in the lower Detroit River, was created out of material dredged to make a more efficient shipping channel. In the 1970s, there was a proposal to further augment the dredged landscape and open Crystal Bay and Crystal Island to public use. The move was met with stiff resistance in Canada, where the island and bay had ironically become a sentimental symbol of ‘nature.’ The bay and island are also bi-national, straddling the international border between the United States and Canada, and thus make dredged landscapes an issue of international diplomacy. Through the experience of the Crystal Bay and island, this paper argues that understanding the socio-political histories of these sediment landscapes is imperative to better understanding the entanglement of science and technology, with river systems and social dynamics.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig 2
Fig. 3

Notes

  1. 1.

    Note on spellings: For the sake of fidelity to sources, I have not modified Canadian spellings into American spellings. Thus, variations include ‘dyke’ and ‘harbour’ among others.

  2. 2.

    Although the Detroit River is not a part of the St. Lawrence Seaway, dredging received a boost in the late 1950s due to the Seaway to facilitate the movement of deeper and wider ships throughout the Great Lakes.

  3. 3.

    According to the Corps, other management strategies include placing dredged material directly in the water body; beach/littoral nourishment i.e. dredged material disposed onto a beach or into shallow water; capping i.e. placing contaminated dredged material on the level bottom or in a subaqueous pit and covering the material with a layer of clean material; beneficial use at upland sites. See Department of the Army – US Army Corps of Engineers United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Great Lakes Confined Disposal Facilities,” p. 6. Available at: https://www.lrd.usace.army.mil/Portals/73/docs/Navigation/GL-CDF/GL_CDF.pdf.

  4. 4.

    Open water disposal involves dumping dredgings in open water at a pre-designated site instead of creating a CDF.

References

Primary sources and Newspapers

  1. Ashby WT (1969) Letter from The Reverend W.T. Ashby, Rector, to Mr. Eugene Whelan, Parliament Secretary, Department of Fisheries of the Government of Canada, Ottawa, Canada. The Marsh Historical Collection, Crystal Bay and Hidden Lake File

    Google Scholar 

  2. Brunelle, Rene. 1969. “Letter from Rene Brunelle, Minister, to Donald Jamieson, Minister of Transport.” RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969-70.

  3. Brunelle, Rene. 1970. “Telex Message to the Minister of Transport.” RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969-70.

  4. Burridge, E.W. 1969a. “Letter from E.W. Burridge, Deputy Director, Resource Development Branch, Department of Fisheries and Forestry to Dr. C.H.D Clarke, Fish and Wildlife Branch, Ontario Department of Lands and Forests, Parliament Buildings, Toronto, Ontario.” RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969-70.

  5. Burridge, E.W. 1969b. “E.W. Burridge, Deputy Director, Resource Development Branch, Department of Fisheries and Forestry, Letter to Dr. C.H.D. Clarke, Fish and Wildlife Branch, Ontario Department of Lands and Forests.” RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969-70.

  6. Burridge, E.W. 1969c. “E.W. Burridge, Deputy Director, Resource Development Branch, Letter to Dr. C.H.D. Clarke.” RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969-70.

  7. Burridge, E.W. 1970. “Re: Crystal Bay Dredging.” Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969-70.

  8. Caverly DS (1970) Letter to Mr. F.A. Burr, MPP (Sandwich-Riverside). The Marsh Historical Collection, Crystal Bay and Hidden Lake File

    Google Scholar 

  9. Chicago Daily Tribune. 1957. “Detroit River Is Blasted to Deepen Link to Sea,” May 29, 1957.

  10. Clarke, C.H.D. 1969a. “Memorandum to Honourable Rene Brunelle, Minister of Lands and Forests.” RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969-70.

  11. Clarke, C.H.D. 1969b. “Letter to E.W. Burridge.” Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969-70.

  12. Collins DJ (1969) Letter to A.J. Goodchild. The Marsh Historical Collection, Crystal Bay and Hidden Lake File

    Google Scholar 

  13. “Crystal Bay Is Back in the News.” 1969. Windsor Sportsmen. RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969–70.

  14. Davis, Jack. 1969. “Water Pollution.” The Globe and Mail, June 14, 1969.

  15. Evans, B.M. 1969a. “Re: Proposed Filling-Crystal Bay-Amherstburg.” Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969-70.

  16. Evans, B.M. 1969b. “Re: Correspondence-Canada Department of Fisheries Dr. Clarke.” RG 1–282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969–70.

  17. Evans, B.M. 1969c. “Re: Recreational Use Crystal Bay.” RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969–70.

  18. Goodchild AJ (1970) Re: Crystal Bay. The Marsh Historical Collection, Crystal Bay and Hidden Lake File

    Google Scholar 

  19. “Great Lakes Confined Disposal Facilities.” 2003. Department of the Army – US Army Corps of Engineers United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.lrd.usace.army.mil/Portals/73/docs/Navigation/GL-CDF/GL_CDF.pdf.

  20. Great Waterways Conference Organization of the Canadian Deep Waterways and Power Association: Proceedings: Border Chamber of Commerce, 18th and 19th November, 1919. 1919. CIHM/ICMH Microfiche Series = CIHM/ICMH Collection de Microfiches ;No. 74367. [Windsor, Ont.? s.n. //catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100293898.

  21. Harris, Don. 1970. “Crystal Bay ‘Dead Issue’: Ottawa Rejects ‘Filling’ Plan”.” The Windsor Star, March 4, 1970.

  22. International Joint Commission (1913) Report on the Livingstone Channel, April 8, 1913. Recommendations in Reply to Questions Submitted by the Governments of the United States and Canada, October 16, 1912. Treaty of May 5, 1910. Government Printing Office, Washington DC. IJC Files

    Google Scholar 

  23. Jackson, Robert E. 1957. “Seaway Will Open Gate to Midwest: St. Lawrence River Project Will Put Great Lakes Cities on World Doorstep.” Los Angeles Times, July 21, 1957.

  24. Jamieson, Don C. 1969. “Letter from Don C. Jamieson to Rene Brunelle, Minister of Lands and Forests, Province of Ontario.” RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969–70.

  25. Jamieson, Donald. 1970. “Letter to Rene Brunelle.” RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969–70.

  26. Kasurak, Peter. (1969a, June 30). “Water Pollution.” The Globe and Mail.

  27. Kasurak, Peter. (1969b, July 21). “Keep Crystal Bay Unpolluted.” Detroit Free Press.

  28. Library and Archives Canada, Department of External Affairs fonds, RG 25 Vol 1603 File no 1931–585 Parts I&II, “Deepening of Detroit River Channels, 1931–1936.

  29. Logie, R. R. 1969. “Letter by R. R. Logie to O.C. Stoner, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Transport.” RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969-70.

  30. Malott, Helen J. 1970. “Leave Crystal Bay Alone.” The Windsor Star, February 23, 1970. RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, “Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969–70.

  31. “Memorandum to Fish and Wildlife Branch from Lake Erie, Department of Land and Forests, Ontario. On Behalf of W.B.N. Clarke, District Forester.” 1969. RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969–70.

  32. Meyer, Bob. 1969. “Open Seasons.” The Windsor Star, May 3, 1969. The Marsh Historical Collection, Crystal Bay and Hidden Lake File.

  33. Ontario Water Resources Commission. 1970. “Minutes of a Meeting Held to Discuss Dredging Spoil Disposal- Lower Detroit River.” RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969–70.

  34. Patterson DA (1969) Letter to A.J.Goodchild. The Marsh Historical Collection, Crystal Bay and Hidden Lake File

    Google Scholar 

  35. “Resolution by William Murdoch, Mayor of Amherstburg.” 1969. The Marsh Historical Collection, Crystal Bay and Hidden Lake File.

  36. Roseborough. 1969. “Memorandum to Mr. R.G. Code, Lands and Surveys.” RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969–70.

  37. Shaw, J. 1970. “More Comments on Crystal Bay.” The Amherstburg Echo, February 28, 1970. RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969-70.

  38. Tamblyn M (1969) Letter to the Mayor of Amherstburg. The Marsh Historical Collection, Crystal Bay and Hidden Lake File

    Google Scholar 

  39. Tenton, Terry. 1969. “Letter to B.M. Evans.” RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969-70.

  40. The New York Times. (1957, May 29). “Great Lakes Channel Work Starts”.

  41. The Windsor Star. (1970, February 19). “Dumping Rumors ‘Crazy,’ Says Federal Works Official,”.

  42. Thon J (1969) J. Thon, Letter to A.J. Goodchild. The Marsh Historical Collection, Crystal Bay and Hidden Lake File

    Google Scholar 

  43. “Whelan Airs His Views on the Crystal Bay Hassle.” 1969. The Windsor Star. RG 1-282-0-118 B397139. Provincial Archives of Ontario, Dredging Operations-Crystal Bay area of Detroit River 1969-70.

  44. Whelan E (1969) Letter from Eugene Whelan M.P., Parliamentary Secretary to the Clerk of Amherstburg, Mayor and Municipal Council of the Town of Amherstburg, Amherstburg Ontario. The Marsh Historical Collection, Crystal Bay and Hidden Lake file

    Google Scholar 

Secondary sources

  1. Agnew, Dave. (1970, February 17). “Crystal Bay Talks Scheduled.” The Windsor Star.

  2. Alexander Jeff (2009) Pandora’s Locks: The Opening of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, Mich

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bennion, David H., and Bruce A. Manny. 2011. “Construction of Shipping Channels in the Detroit River—History and Environmental Consequences.” Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5122. Scientific Investigations Report. Reston, VA: U.S. Geological Survey.

  4. Dale, Stephen. 2009. McLuhan’s Children the Greenpeace Message and the Media. Toronto: Between the Lines. http://site.ebrary.com/id/10134706.

  5. Fine LM (2012) Workers and the Land in US History: Point Mouillée and the Downriver Detroit Working Class in the Twentieth Century. Labor History 53(4):409–434

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Hartig JH (2010) Burning Rivers: Revival of Four Urban-Industrial Rivers That Caught on Fire. Multi Science Publishing, Brentwood

    Google Scholar 

  7. Larson John (1995) Essayson: A History of the Detroit District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit

    Google Scholar 

  8. Leeming Mark R (2017) In Defence of Home Places: Environmental Activism in Nova Scotia. Nature, History, Society. UBC Press, Toronto

    Google Scholar 

  9. Macfarlane, Daniel. 2014. Negotiating a River: Canada, the US, and the Creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Nature, History, Society. Vancouver: UBC Press.

  10. Manny, Bruce A., Thomas A Edsall, and Eugene Jaworski. 1988. “The Detroit River, Michigan : An Ecological Profile.” 85(7.17). Biological Report. Washington D.C.: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Interior. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015086473694.

  11. O’Connor Ryan (2015) The First Green Wave: Pollution Probe and the Origins of Environmental Activism in Ontario. UBC Press, Canada

    Google Scholar 

  12. O’Neill Karen M (2006) Rivers by Design: State Power and the Origins of U.S. Flood Control. Duke University Press, Durham, N.C.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  13. Rea DK, Owen RM, Meyers PA (1981) Sedimentary Processes in the Great Lakes. Rev Geophys Space Phys 19(4):635–648

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Stradling D (2018) Dike 14, Cleveland, Ohio: Containing Pollution in the Age of Ecology. Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Munich, Germany. https://doi.org/10.5282/rcc/8340

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. United States Army Corps of Engineers. 1968. “Dredging Water Quality Problems in the Great Lakes: Appendices A1 to A19 -Sampling Surveys with Separate Reports.” United States Army Corps of Engineers.

  16. United States Army Corps of Engineers. 1974. Pointe Mouillee Confined Disposal Area, Detroit and Rouge Rivers: Environmental Impact Statement. Volumes held: D, F, Fsup; Supplemental information report (1984) B1. //catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100938263.

  17. United States Army Corps of Engineers. 2013a. “The Great Lakes Navigation System.” United States Army Corps of Engineers. https://www.lre.usace.army.mil/Portals/69/docs/Navigation/GrtLaksNavSysBro_REV%2011%20Feb%202013.pdf.

  18. United States Army Corps of Engineers. 2013b. “The Great Lakes Navigation System: Economic Strength to the Nation.” United States Army Corps of Engineers. https://www.lre.usace.army.mil/Portals/69/docs/Navigation/GLN_Strength%20to%20the%20Nation%20Booklet2013v2_final2w.pdf?ver=2013-03-22-105831-010.

  19. United States Army Corps of Engineers. 2014. “Backlog Growth Under Constrained Dredging Funding 2013–2018.” United States Army Corps of Engineers. https://www.lre.usace.army.mil/Portals/69/docs/Navigation/FY2015/backlogslidesMay2014.pdf.

  20. White Richard (2001) The Organic Machine: The Remaking of the Columbia River, 6. Hill and Wang, New York

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ramya Swayamprakash.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Swayamprakash, R. Sedimentality: sediment landscapes, socio-politics, and the environment in the lower Detroit River. Water Hist 13, 95–116 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12685-021-00277-5

Download citation

Keywords

  • Dredging
  • Great Lakes
  • Environmental history
  • Sediment landscapes