Chicago Water Team Hosts Wastewater Tour with Local High School Students

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This shows the size of some of the tunnels that carry wastewater to the treatment facilities! 

This afternoon, the Sierra Club’s Chicago Water Team and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) hosted an educational event to share the importance of sustainably managing wastewater with local high school students in celebration of World Water Day. World Water Day is a global day of awareness organized by the United Nations and celebrated throughout the world during the week of March 22 to bring public attention to world water issues and take action to address them. (Read our previous blog post about World Water Day.)

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Stage 1 of the McCook Reservoir

A group of 21 students and two teachers from Pritzker College Prep, along with six volunteers from the Chicago Water Team and MWRD Commissioner Josina Morita, traveled to the Mainstream Pumping Station in Hodgkins, southwest of Chicago, for the tour. This facility pumps wastewater collected by the deep tunnel system to send to the Stickney Wastewater Reclamation Plant for treatment. The group also stopped by the McCook Reservoir to see this storage feature that, when completed in 2029, will be able to hold 10 billion gallons and serve an area of 254.7 square miles, and is expected to provide more than $114 million per year in flood damage reduction benefits to 3,100,000 people in 37 communities.

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Students observe a model of the sewer system

The students learned about the importance of treating stormwater and sewage from the city’s combined sewer system before it enters the river in order to protect water quality in Chicago and downstream communities. Despite the current treatment system, untreated sewage and stormwater still enters the waterways when heavy rainfall overwhelms the combined sewer system and causes it to overflow at various outfall points along the river. The McCook and Thornton Reservoirs are intended to reduce the occurrence of these combined sewer overflows and reduce flooding in the areas they serve. While treated wastewater is currently sent downstream and away from the city, MWRD continues to look for ways to turn wastewater into a resource, as evidenced by their new phosphorus recovery system at the Stickney Wastewater Reclamation Plant.

During the tour, we talked about how we can change our behaviors to reduce our waste of water. Taking shorter showers, turning off the faucet when it’s not being used and refraining from doing laundry or washing dishes during rainstorms were some of the action steps shared with the group. Washing one load of laundry takes about 18 gallons of water, which can make a big difference in a city of almost 3 million people. If we reduce our water use, MWRD will be better able to treat the water and prevent sewer overflows into the river.

Here in Chicago, we’re lucky to have one of the greatest freshwater resources- Lake Michigan- which provides drinking water, recreation anClean Water Means Jobs.pngd tourism for the city. Sustainably managing this resource, reducing the waste of water and investing in new ways to protect human health and the environment by protecting our water quality will be increasingly important as the population grows and demand increases. Investments in clean water will bring good, green jobs and economic benefits that will ripple throughout the economy and support our communities and working families. To learn more about the benefits of investing in clean water, read our 2015 report, A Flowing Economy: How Clean Water Infrastructure Investments Support Good Jobs in Chicago and in Illinois.

As the youngest Commissioner on the MWRD Board, Josina told the students that she believes in the power and importance of having young people involved in this work. She encouraged the students to take advantage of internship opportunities with MWRD, which is an agency with every field: engineering, law, accounting, public relations, construction, and more. Talk about some clean water jobs!

We appreciate MWRD’s work to clean our water, and thank them for taking the time to show us how they do it. We also appreciate the enthusiasm of the students for protecting our water resources. With their minds, the future of water is bright- and clean!

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This trip was organized and funded in part by Chicago Inspiring Connections Outdoors, an outreach program of the Sierra Club with a mission of getting young people outdoors to explore, enjoy, and protect the environment. If you’d like to learn more about the program or apply to become a volunteer, please visit our website.

Please visit the Chicago Water Team’s website to learn more about the team’s efforts to improve the waterways of the Chicago area or to join the team. And join us on April 22 for a clean-up at Montrose Beach in celebration of Earth Day! Learn more and register here

World Water Day 2017: Why Wastewater?

WWD-GENERIQ-CMJN_EN_2017_squareToday is World Water Day. Every March 22nd the United Nations uses this day to draw attention to the importance of freshwater and the need to sustainably manage our limited freshwater resources.

This year’s theme is Why Wastewater? Globally, over 80% of the wastewater generated by society flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused. The UN has set a goal to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. The desired targets are universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water as well adequate and equitable sanitation for all. In addition, reusing wastewater as a resource can provide a sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials.

In countries like the United States, most of our wastewater is treated but we still have problems with the way we manage our water. Combined sewer overflows are commonplace, making our waterways unsafe for recreators when storms overwhelm sewer systems and raw sewage flows into our waterways. High levels of nutrients from wastewater discharges and agricultural runoff cause problems with algae over-growth in our waterways. Algae can create taste and odor problems for communities that pull their drinking water from rivers and lakes. An over-abundance of algae and aquatic plants in bodies of water can also consume the oxygen in the water that fish and other aquatic organisms need to survive. The largest example of this problem in the USA is the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that is the size of the state of Connecticut.

4_Card_WWD2017But the news is not all bad. Here in Illinois wastewater agencies are taking steps to improve the quality of the wastewater they discharge and to recover both the water and the resources it holds for reuse. For example, over 300,000 people drink water taken from the Fox River. By 2021, wastewater dischargers will reduce the summertime load of phosphorus going in the river by 75%. Less phosphorus means less algae in the water, reducing costs for treatment by drinking water suppliers.

The wastewater from McHenry County’s Valley Hi Nursing Home is used to irrigate farmland nearby, effectively returning the water to the ground from which it was drawn while the crops reap the benefits of the nutrients in the wastewater. McHenry County is 100% dependent on groundwater as its source of drinking water so aquifer recharge is vital to sustaining the county’s water supplies.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago is pulling nutrients out of its wastewater and turning it into a saleable fertilizer. The world’s largest nutrient recovery facility opened last June.

These examples of treating wastewater as a resource can be widely implemented. Of course, adapting our current water and wastewater systems to be more sustainable requires investment. Today the Value of Water Campaign released its Economic Benefits of Investing in Water Infrastructure report. The report concludes that investing in water infrastructure will build a prosperous America while creating high quality jobs. That’s what our Flowing Economy: How Clean Water Infrastructure Investments Support Good Jobs in Chicago and in Illinois report also laid out last year.

3_Card_WWD2017Providing safe water for people worldwide depends on all of us to not waste the precious limited freshwater resources we have. Investing in those resources makes sense both to develop a sustainable water future and to create good jobs now. That is why we are so dismayed at President Trump’s budget proposal to eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the fund targeted to protect and restore the source of 20% of the world’s freshwater. You can help by letting your national representatives know you are counting on them to save the Great Lakes.

You can also help by joining our Clean Water Team to help hold our elected officials accountable for protecting clean water and conserving water resources. Sign up here! Together we can create a world where we waste water no more!

Statement on Trump Proposal to Entirely Eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

Chicago, IL — Today, the Trump Administration released its 2018 budget proposals for discretionary spending. Among those proposals, Donald Trump has proposed a complete elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
In response, Sierra Club Illinois Chapter Director Jack Darin released the following statement:
“President Trump’s proposal to completely eliminate all funding for Great Lakes protection and cleanup programs is a shocking abandonment of crucial, successful efforts to protect our drinking water and the most important natural asset for our entire region.
Budgets are much more than numbers, they are statements of values and priorities.  By hitting the delete button on all federal efforts to protect the Great Lakes, President Trump is telling our entire region that our health is not his priority.  By cutting Great Lakes protection, President Trump is cutting good jobs in water infrastructure projects, he is cutting the cleanup of toxic pollution in our drinking water, and he is cutting off hope for communities that rely on these resources.
Protecting our Great Lakes has long been a bipartisan priority for our region’s leaders.  Trump’s Great Lakes cuts should be dead on arrival for all members of Congress from our region.  We are ready to work with all of the people and communities of our region to resist and reverse Trump’s cuts, and continue the critical work to clean up and restore the Great Lakes that are so important to all of us.”
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Read more about what the impacts the loss of the GLRI would mean here. View our March 13, 2017 press conference here.

Standing up Together for the Great Lakes

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Jack Darin introduces Great Lakes advocates at this morning’s press conference

You may have heard the latest bad news for the Great Lakes- the President’s proposed budget is expected to include a 97% cut to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a fund that the EPA receives and distributes to groups doing work on the ground to protect and restore our precious freshwater resource and its ecosystems. This morning, we held a press conference with the Alliance for the Great Lakes and other advocates calling on our elected officials to reject these outrageous cuts and invest in our Great Lakes and the communities across our region.

Our Director, Jack Darin, kicked off the morning with an important message to the Administration in response to the proposed cuts: “When you cut the Great Lakes, you cut jobs, you cut our health, you cut the future of an asset for our entire region” and a call to our members of Congress and all of us who depend on the Great Lakes: “Together we can stand up and do what our region has always done to show that protecting the Great Lakes should not be a partisan issue- it should be something that we all rally around and support.”

Joel Brammeier, President & CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, spoke of the bipartisan support for the GLRI, which started as a partnership between Republican and Democratic members of Congress and has grown to fund over 2,000 projects with over $2 billion and support from dozens of members from both sides of the aisle. The GLRI has funded projects and programs that have helped clean up the legacy pollution and contamination from the many years of industry in the region, which helped build our country but left many communities in danger. Joel remarked that “full funding for the GLRI is critical.”

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MWRD Commissioner Kari Steele speaks out for the Great Lakes.
Commissioner Kari Steele of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District said that as the agency that treats Chicago’s wastewater and manages flood control, “we 100% understand the importance of clean water.” The Commissioner said she was here to “support the Sierra Club and all the other organizations here today…to support the Great Lakes program and stress the importance of our primary natural resource.”

 Krista Grimm, President of the League of a Women Voters – Lake Michigan Region, spoke of the water issues our region deals with that require funding to resolve- issues like nutrient pollution and resulting algae blooms, invasive species and pollution from combined sewer overflows. These issues are cumulative, are made worse by climate change and will only get more expensive to resolve the longer we wait. Krista stressed that we can’t go back on the progress we’ve made with the GLRI, and we must continue to fix these problems and invest in our drinking water infrastructure to prevent situations like the Flint water crisis.

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Bria Foster speaks of how the GLRI supports jobs like hers

We heard stories about the impact of the GLRI, such as the restoration work it funds in the Cook County Forest Preserves. Bria Foster, a crew member with the Friends of the Forest Preserves, told of the importance of the work she and other young adults are doing with help from the fund. “We are the future and what we do is help protect the future, and that’s the environment. Without clean air and clean water, we have nothing to stand on.” Bria said that funding from the GLRI has helped her be successful in this field and she hopes that success will be shared by others like her.

Natalie Johnson, Executive Director of Save the Dunes, spoke of what the GLRI has meant for the Grand Calumet River system and how far we’ve come since the days when the river used to catch on fire. The 13-mile river system runs through the underserved communities of Hammond, Gary, and East Chicago in northwest Indiana and empties into Lake Michigan. Once plagued by industrial pollution, the GLRI has helped the river system see a total transformation. Today, the region enjoys a cleaner waterway with wildlife in areas that have been remediated and species that had been missing for over 30 years.

 Mila Marshall, a PhD candidate at University of Illinois-Chicago and research associate at their Freshwater Lab, as well as a member of the Alliance for the Great Lakes Young Professionals Council, shared some facts about the importance of Great Lakes water, which serves as 21% of the world’s supply of freshwater, 84% of North America’s surface freshwater and 100% of our drinking water in Chicago.

Mila said that “to reduce the GLRI budget by 97% is an attack on the Great Lakes economy because it would annihilate the progress we’ve made and would paralyze efforts for redeveloping what we like to call the ‘water belt’ region. This is a direct attack on our future.” Mila spoke of how clean, affordable freshwater is our lifeline to an equitable and a sustainable future and how disinvestment of this or any nature will continue to reinforce poverty. She stressed that funding cuts will destabilize the road to environmental reconciliation for current environmental justice communities in cities such as Flint, East Chicago, Gary, Benton Harbor, Detroit and Toledo and further put communities at risk of lead poisoning and other threats. Mila said that “with full funding of the GLRI, this Administration can indeed continue to revitalize the Great Lakes for welcoming industrial allies and for reducing threats to the quality of life for nearly 30 million Americans.”

Michael Mikulka, an EPA Region 5 employee and President of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704, spoke of the potential cuts to EPA funding that would devastate the agency’s important work to protect human health and restore the places where we live, work and play. Michael said that much progress has been made in the Great Lakes to clean up legacy contamination and restore beneficial uses such as fishing and swimming. Budget cuts threaten this progress and the additional work needed to maintain the value of our natural resources.

These speakers gave powerful insights into the impact of the GLRI and what it would mean to lose it. Here in Chicago, we understand what the Great Lakes mean for us- clean drinking water, tourism and economic growth, places for our communities to gather, not to mention a great backdrop to our city’s skyline. But we’re not the only ones who depend on this resource, benefit from its provisions and have an impact on its health. We want to be good water neighbors and work together with our neighbors to protect the resource we all depend on. This includes other states, Canadian provinces and Native American tribes along the lakes. Now more than ever, we must combine forces to maximize our impact and achieve our shared goals.

On Wednesday, I’ll be heading to DC with some of the advocates who spoke today and many others from all seven Great Lakes states to request the support of our members of Congress in protecting our freshwater resource. We will not let the Great Lakes- which provide drinking water, jobs and recreation to millions of people- be a casualty of this Administration. Please join us in our fight for the Great Lakes by signing up to volunteer with us.

Thank you for your support. Onward!

 

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Watch the press conference:

Lisa May: A Champion for Waukegan

by Kady McFadden, Deputy Chapter Director

I am proud to share that Sierra Club Illinois today announced our endorsement of Lisa May for Mayor of Waukegan. Residents of Waukegan who have long advocated for cleaning up their lakefront, for a transition from coal to clean energy, and a healthier community to raise their children will have a true champion on their side in Lisa May.

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Waukegan faces many of the issues our country faces – whether we transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, whether we protect our sources of water like Lake Michigan, how we generate just and sustainable economic development in our cities, and how we lift up all community voices in these decisions. Waukegan also faces unique environmental and economic challenges: a painful legacy of industrial pollution, including multiple U.S. EPA Superfund Sites, and a coal fired power plant that has polluted Lake Michigan and our shoreline for decades, hindering lakefront revitalization.

But Waukegan also holds tremendous opportunity and potential.

Lisa May will be the leader that Waukegan needs in becoming the true City of Progress and forging a healthier, more prosperous, clean energy economy for Waukegan. And she will do that in partnership with community members, because she knows one of Waukegan’s greatest strengths is its own residents who believe that this change is possible.

Lisa’s entry into public service grew from her passion for the environment and protecting our natural spaces. After seeing the Waukegan Beach continually littered and in threat of closing, Lisa founded the Friends of Waukegan Beach to engage community members in its protection. Over the last several years she has been an independent voice on the Waukegan City Council who listens thoughtfully to her constituents and represents their interests. When the Clean Power Lake County campaign needed a stronger champion on the City Council to boldly support a transition beyond coal to clean energy, she stepped forward and stood with the residents of Waukegan.

Lisa knows that Waukegan’s future is tied to the health of its Lake Michigan shoreline and that clean energy is one of the greatest opportunities for economic renewal. Sierra Club and many local community partners successfully passed the Future Energy Jobs Bill at the close of 2016 and we now need critical leadership to implement these clean energy programs in Waukegan. Lisa is ready and eager to seize the tremendous potential of the clean energy economy that can attract new businesses, create local jobs, generate consumer savings, and help build a more sustainable image for Waukegan. Waukegan is home to a growing, young workforce including talented students from the College of Lake County and other educational venues who can join clean energy job training programs. With city leadership to court clean energy businesses, these young men and women can find opportunities installing solar panels on rooftops and vacant lands, home insulation and other jobs in sustainable energy development.

At a time of great uncertainty for climate action, Great Lakes protection, and other important priorities at the federal level, we need bold leadership more than ever in cities around the country. Lisa’s commitment to climate leadership and to a transparent, inclusive government that lifts up all residents’ voices, especially minority families, is a breath of fresh air for our democracy. Sierra Club is proud to recommend Lisa May to voters in Waukegan and we hope you will join us in the fight for a healthier, brighter future for the City of Progress.

Sign up to volunteer on the campaign here, or make a donation to Sierra Club Illinois PAC here.

 

*Paid for by Sierra Club Illinois PAC. A copy of our report filed with the State Board of Elections is (or will be) available on the Board’s official website (www.elections.il.gov) or for purchase from the State Board of Elections, Springfield, IL.

Reviving the Everglades of the North

0700-kankakee1January 26, 2017  The Kankakee River Basin lies just south of Chicago in Kankakee and Iroquois counties. The Basin was once considered among the most important freshwater ecosystems in the world. Dubbed The Everglades of North,  it had some of the highest concentrations of wildlife on the planet and was known as Chicago’s food pantry.

Last year the Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area (NWR&CA) was formally established. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is now taking the next step in the refuge planning process to preserve and enhance the remaining wetland habitat along the Kankakee River Basin.

Support the USFWS in the development of a Land Protection Plan (LPP).

Protecting the remaining remnants of wetland landscape and working with landowners to interconnect them will protect the many endangered plant and animal species that depend on wetland habitat for their survival.

Please take action today to let the USFWS know you are in support of the Kankakee NWR&CA. The USFWS comment period ends January 31st.

You can learn more about the Refuge and the Conservation Map here.

People’s Climate Movement–Chicagoland

Join us Today! January 23rd from 3:30 to 5:30

The People’s Climate Movement is calling for 100 hours of action in response to the inauguration. Sierra Club Valley of the Fox is joining nearby Sierra Club groups in a rally at Rep. Peter Roskam’s office to let him know that his constituents and neighbors want action on climate change. If you want to do something NOW to have a voice in our future, come to this rally. We will have speakers, chanting, and marching. Make some signs. Have your kids make some signs.

Action nourishes hope.

January 23 – Monday – 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm
People’s Climate Movement-Chicagoland
Rally at Peter Roskam’s Office
2700 International Drive, West Chicago, IL

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Questions? Email Barbara Hill