Environmental Groups Sue Illinois DNR over Wasteful Withdrawals of Lake Michigan Water

Last week, environmental protection groups filed a lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to overturn a decision permitting additional billions of gallons of Lake Michigan water to be used to improve conditions in the Chicago River system during periods of poor water quality.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) applied in 2014 to withdraw additional Lake Michigan water. The Alliance for the Great Lakes, Illinois Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Openlands opposed the application, arguing that water conservation practices could be used to more efficiently manage the resource and keep more water in the lake while still protecting water quality in the Chicago River system. IDNR’s Director Wayne Rosenthal issued a decision in March allowing an additional 420 billion gallons of water to be diverted from Lake Michigan through the year 2030. The groups are now challenging that decision in an effort to reduce the amount of Lake Michigan water diverted.

In response, Illinois Sierra Club’s Clean Water Program Director Dr. Cindy Skrukrud released the following statement:

“IDNR issued their decision to allow a drastic increase to the amount of water diverted from Lake Michigan after failing to properly consider whether there are alternatives to maintain sanitary conditions in the Chicago River without using this wasteful amount of water. Everybody wants the Chicago River to be as clean as possible, but IDNR refused to even think about whether that could be done using common-sense solutions like green infrastructure. We are bringing suit in Cook County Circuit Court to assure that Great Lakes water is not wasted.

“Under the Great Lakes Compact, all Great Lakes states are required to evaluate ways to conserve their use of lake water. We recommended that the IDNR require studies on how improved treatment at wastewater plants could reduce pollution in Chicago waterways and reduce the need for Lake Michigan water to flush pollutants out of the system. We also called for studies on how green infrastructure practices could be deployed to reduce pollution from stormwater and combined sewer overflows. In fact, MWRD is already working to reduce pollution to Chicago waterways by improving treatment of its wastewater and implementing green infrastructure practices. Their current measures and expansion of these efforts should be factored into the determination of the need for Lake Michigan water withdrawals over the next decade. IDNR ignored these developments and our recommendations and has not required any study of methods to reduce use of the water. Their decision to allow use of Great Lakes water without even considering conservation practices flies in the face of the Compact and sets a bad precedent for future uses of Lake Michigan water.

“As the Trump Administration moves to cut the flow of vital funding to the Great Lakes, Governor Rauner’s IDNR is also loosening controls on diversions of water from Lake Michigan. Now, more than ever, we need states to do their part to stand up and protect our Great Lakes resource, not waste it.

“We hope the Court will reverse IDNR’s decision and require proper consideration of conservation practices to reduce the use of Lake Michigan water and protect this precious resource.”

Read the Complaint, Alliance for the Great Lakes et al. v. IDNR et al., 2017-CH-05445 (4.14.17)

Read more about the Great Lakes Compact here.

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