Today a national river advocacy organization, American Rivers, named the Chicago River as #4 on its annual list of most endangered rivers in the country. According to American Rivers:
Every day, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) dumps 1.2 billion gallons of undisinfected wastewaterinto the Chicago River. This wastewater comprises 70 percent of all the water in the Chicago River, and threatens the health of area residents.
Nearly all other sewage dischargers in US cities disinfect their wastewater before discharging into their rivers. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency concluded after a five-year study that recreational activity on the river called for upgraded use designations and disinfection of sewage effluent.
It’s a shame that the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District has shirked its responsibility to clean up the Chicago River. MWRD has a long and proud history of cleaning up our water supply, but the current leadership stands alone in its refusal to finish the job. It stands as the only major sewage agency on the Great Lakes that doesn’t disinfect the effluent they dump into our waters. It stands against the City of Chicago, the State of Illinois, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the Obama Administration, and other public officials who have called for cleanup. It refuses to protect the health of the thousands of citizens who pay taxes for clean water, and who want to enjoy the Chicago River system without getting sick.
MWRD claims that disinfecting the river would be a waste of money. And yet, it has spent $13 million in taxpayer dollars so far to pay lawyers and consultants to defend its dirty discharges. Is that money well spent, when it could be used to make us safer?
Although MWRD doesn’t want to protect the health of Chicagoans, it has a double standard. They also treat the sewage in the northwest suburbs, and discharge that effluent into the DuPage River and Salt Creek. Those treatment plants do disinfect their wastewater, before putting it in those suburban waterways. Why does MWRD protect the health of DuPage County residents, but those in Cook County? After all, it’s Cook County taxpayers that fund the MWRD, and the protection of DuPage river users. Would it really be a waste of money for Chicago River users to get the same protection they’re paying for in DuPage?
Thank goodness the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is stepping in and ordering cleanup. The days of a Chicago River that’s too dirty to touch should be long past, and will hopefully be here soon.
The Illinois Pollution Control Board is also considering cleanup requirements for MWRD. You can voice your support for a clean Chicago River system here.