Due to the COVID 19 emergency, the May Monthly Meeting of the Waukegan Harbor Citizen’s Advisory Group has been canceled.

Proposed Removal of the Degradation of Phytoplankton and Zooplankton Populations Beneficial Use Impairment from the Waukegan Harbor Area of Concern

The Degradation of Phytoplankton and Zooplankton Populations BUI in Waukegan Harbor is demonstrated by inhibited photosynthesis of green algae (Selenastrum capricornutum) and toxicity effects to Daphnia magna, Ceriodaphnia dubia, and Selenastrum capricornutum in the presence of sediment elutriates from the AOC (Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, 1999). Ross et al. (1988) found sediment contamination from Slip 3 significantly altered the structure of protozoan communities commonly found within and near the AOC. These impacts to protozoans were positively correlated with areas having high suspension rates of contaminated particles, such as would be found in the lower water column of the AOC (Ross et al., 1988). In addition, water flea (Daphnia magna) mortalities of up to 100 percent were documented in the presence of sediment suspension samples
taken from the AOC (Marking et al., 1981).

In 2013, environmental dredging of Waukegan Harbor was completed and PCB concentrations in harbor sediments were reduced below the 0.2 parts per million (ppm) target level established by United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the State of Illinois, therefore reducing potential impacts of sediment contamination on plankton populations. Phytoplankton community surveys conducted in 2017 showed a lack of overlap in community structure between the AOC and non-AOC reference sites and no significant differences in taxa richness between the AOC and reference sites. 2017 zooplankton surveys showed no significant differences between taxa richness, diversity, or densities between sites but also demonstrated strong seasonal shifts that differed greatly between AOC and non-ACO sites. Following a series of generally inconclusive community surveys in 2012, 2015, and 2017, water toxicity testing was conducted within the AOC and nearshore Lake Michigan. Evaluation of ambient AOC water toxicity via bioassays of green algae (Selenastrum capricornutum) and water fleas (Ceriodaphnia dubia) demonstrated a lack of water toxicity throughout the AOC, thus, Illinois Department of Natural Resources Coastal Management Program (CMP) recommends the removal of the Degradation of phytoplankton and Zooplankton Populations BUI. The following data supports this recommendation:

  • Green algae (Selenastrum capricornutum) toxicity tests demonstrated mean cell densities in site waters were greater than the test acceptability criteria of 1 million cells/mL
  • Zooplankton (Ceriodaphnia dubia) toxicity tests revealed no consistent trend of poor reproduction at any site within the AOC or non-AOC reference site; furthermore, all Waukegan Harbor AOC sites had mean reproduction values greater than the test acceptability criteria of 15 young per female
  • Zooplankton (Ceriodaphnia dubia) survival rates at all sites from all testing dates were greater than 90%

CMP will be soliciting public comments on the full removal proposal until 5 pm CST June 12, 2020. To submit comments, please review the document linked here and email Danielle.M.Nelson@illinois.gov or submit this survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/6QRNLXW

In 1981, prompted by the discovery of high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in harbor sediments, Waukegan Harbor was designated as a Superfund site (see Superfund Process) and independently named as one of 43 Areas of Concern* (AOC) on the Great Lakes by the International Joint Commission, U.S. EPA and IEPA.  The harbor was identified as an AOC using protocols developed by the United States and Canada under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1987.

*(What is an AOC and how has the program addressed contamination in the Great Lake basin? View a short video – AOC 101 – created by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

The Waukegan Harbor Citizens Advisory Group (CAG) was formed by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) in 1990 to assume a leadership role in developing a remedial action plan (RAP) for the Waukegan Harbor AOC. The harbor at one time had the largest known concentrations of PCBs and PCB-contaminated sediments.

In addition to reducing contamination in the harbor, the CAG also worked with state and local government officials to deal with the open dumping of litter, garbage and tires, and has worked to identify older commercial properties that are candidates for redevelopment. The CAG received a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GRLI) Grant to restore portions of the Glen Flora Ravine and the coastal habitat located south of Illinois Beach State Park to the City of Waukegan public beach.

The membership of the CAG is representative of diverse community interests.  CAG meetings provide a public forum for representatives from business, education, government, industry, environment, civic and recreation interests and the local citizenry to present and discuss their needs and concerns related to the decision-making process at the Waukegan Harbor AOC.  The CAG has spearheaded the implementation of the RAP. See: Waukegan Harbor Remedial Action Plan Final Stage iii Report 1999.

In late October 1998, the Waukegan Harbor CAG was presented the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC) “Success Story” award for their efforts to restore Waukegan Harbor’s beneficial uses. The award says “The SOLEC 98 Steering Committee and the Canadian and the United States Consuls General extend their sincere congratulations to all those who have participated in the Waukegan Harbor environmental activities. Successful efforts such as yours serve to inspire and encourage others to assume responsibility and take an active role in the improvement of the Great Lakes ecosystem.”

In 2013, the final environmental dredge of Waukegan Harbor was completed thanks to the efforts of staff at the US and Illinois EPA, local, state and federal elected officials, representatives from industries located around the harbor and from the efforts of residents who were committed to seeing that the cleanup would meet rigorous environmental standards in order to protect the public. As of January 2018 , the Waukegan AOC is two thirds of the way through the Beneficial Use Impairment (BUI) delisting process and well on the way to being declared an Area in Recovery.

The Waukegan Harbor CAG will continue to work with local,  state and federal agencies to assure that the remaining contaminated sites located along the Waukegan lakefront are remediated and the remaining BUIs are delisted. The CAG will promote stewardship of the lakefront and work with others to protect this great asset for the people of Waukegan, Lake County and Northeastern Illinois.