Category Archives: Clean Water

Posts relating to clean water work.

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.

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:

A Brighter Future for Chicago and Illinois Waterways

chicagor1-19-17Today Sierra Club and partners celebrate a milestone agreement with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) to address nutrient pollution impacts in Chicago’s rivers and downstream waters. With guidance from representatives of the environmental groups and the Illinois EPA, MWRD will develop a plan over the next seven years designed to address excessive plant and algae growth in Chicago Area waterways.

Too many nutrients in our waterways, especially phosphorus from wastewater discharges and combined sewer overflows, fuel the overgrowth of aquatic plants and algae that in turn suck needed oxygen out of the waters. Chicago’s waterways have seen a remarkable recovery in diversity of fish and other aquatic life as water quality has improved in recent years, but further recovery is hampered by excessive plant/algae growth.

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Algae and plants in the North Shore Channel

 As a backstop to the to-be-developed plan, MWRD has agreed to further cut phosphorus discharges from its three large Chicago wastewater treatment plants to 0.5 mg/L by 2030, if a more stringent limit is not developed by then. MWRD will also study what it will take to reduce its phosphorus discharges to the even lower levels (as low as 0.1 mg/L) that some plants elsewhere in the nation are already meeting.  MWRD has already demonstrated its ability to find innovative ways to pull phosphorus out of its wastewater and has created a marketable fertilizer product with the addition last year of the world’s largest nutrient recovery system at its Stickney plant.

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Algae in the Illinois River

Understanding the impacts of nutrients on algae and plant growth and oxygen levels in our waterways requires good data. To that end, MWRD has also agreed to sponsor a water quality monitoring station on the Des Plaines River in Joliet for the next four years. It will continuously measure levels of nitrates, phosphorus, oxygen, and chlorophyll along with other basic parameters. At the same time, Illinois EPA will monitor chlorophyll and oxygen levels and basic parameters downstream in the Marseilles, Starved Rock and Peoria pools on the Illinois River. If, as we expect, it is found that serious problems are being caused by phosphorus in the lower Des Plaines and Illinois rivers, a watershed committee will be formed to address those problems.

Just 10 years ago, Chicago’s rivers were largely treated as a watery sacrifice zone. We didn’t require these waterways to meet the levels of cleanliness we set for other waters in the state. MWRD did not disinfect its wastewater, despite the growing number of people out paddling and rowing. The effort to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs) was uncertain, with completion of the Deep Tunnel project to capture and treat CSOs long-delayed and not mandated. Now MWRD disinfects its wastewater at all but the Stickney plant (we hope that is to come in the near future). They are busy working on green infrastructure
projects— such as the
Space to Grow program that converts paved schoolyards into beautiful playgrounds and gardens that also soak up rain and snow. They completed the Thornton reservoir in 2015 which can store 7.9 billion gallons. Both green and gray infrastructure projects are needed measures to reduce CSOs.

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Chapter Director Jack Darin addressing the MWRD Commissioners on partnering to implement the agreement.

It has never been more important that local governments and states show leadership in protecting our waters and investing in clean water infrastructure.  With this agreement, MWRD is setting an example of that leadership and we are excited to partner with them on this work in the years to come.

With progress being made on disinfection and CSOs, this agreement to address nutrient pollution is the third critical initiative needed for a brighter future for Chicago’s waterways. As we modernize our area’s water infrastructure, we also create good jobs, boosting our local economy along with the cleaner rivers that will also draw people and businesses. Today’s announcement sets the stage for Chicago’s rivers to truly become Chicago’s second great waterfront, where people will increasingly want to work and play.

See our joint statement with MWRD on this step forward for clean water.

See our press release on this agreement which settles two Clean Water Act legal cases we brought with our environmental partners to address MWRD’s phosphorus pollution.

Read NRDC’s blog if you’d like more detail on the history of the legal cases and the elements of this historic agreement.

Illinois Acts To Require Testing For Schools & Daycares

Today the Illinois General Assembly passed Senate Bill 550, which will require testing for lead contamination in Illinois elementary schools and daycares.  Sierra Club volunteers worked over the last year to educate lawmakers about the risks of lead contamination to children’s health, and to support the new testing requirement.
Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter Director made this statement:

“We applaud the hard work of State Senator Heather Steans and State Representative Sonya Harper to better protect Illinois children from lead in their drinking water.  Lead can poison a child’s brain leading to developmental problems, and we need to be doing more to protect our kids everywhere they drink water, but particularly at school and in daycare.  Now parents, schools, and daycares will have the facts they need to make sure our schools are places of learning, not poisoning.
It has never been more important that states lead in protecting our environment and ensuring our infrastructure is safe.  We applaud Attorney General Lisa Madigan for her strong advocacy for this legislation and for our children, and the Illinois Environmental Council for working with all parties to reach this important agreement.”

New Report Shows Clean Water Means Jobs for Illinois

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Earlier today, we joined the Chicago Federation of Labor to appear before the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) to release a new report titled “A Flowing Economy: How Clean Water Infrastructure Investments Support Good Jobs in Chicago and in Illinois.” The report reveals some of the major benefits that investments in clean water generate for the economy and the environment, both locally and statewide, and highlights the need for additional clean water projects.

IMG_0402During the Board Meeting, the Commissioners passed a resolution recognizing the report and Commissioners Debra Shore and Barbara McGowan gave positive remarks. Bob Reiter, Secretary-Treasurer for the Chicago Federation of Labor, addressed the Board on the need to focus on upgrading and repairing the state’s clean water infrastructure to protect our water resources and expand the economic and environmental benefits they generate.

Frank Manzo, Policy Director at the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and co-author of the report, helped to highlight its key findings, including:

  • For every $1 billion invested in clean water infrastructure, approximately 11,200 jobs are created throughout the economy and there is an 8% one-year GDP Return on Investment.
  • In the Chicago area, clean water investments boost the regional economy by nearly $2 billion and lower the unemployment rate by 0.7 percentage points.
  • Employment in the water infrastructure sector increases an Illinois worker’s hourly earnings by 10.1 percent on average, providing a personal benefit that roughly equates to an additional year of schooling.

IMG_0397Our own Clean Water Program Director, Cindy Skrukrud, and Director Jack Darin spoke to the Board and the audience at the meeting about the need to address threats to our waters such as combined sewer overflows, aquatic invasive species and nutrient pollution. The report offers a snapshot of these challenges facing the Chicago Waterway System and waterways throughout Illinois and the opportunities to address them through future investments. Local, state and federal agencies have an opportunity to boost the economy and create good jobs for hardworking men and women while solving problems that threaten the health of our water resources.

One such problem is the threat of Asian Carp and other invasive species moving through the Chicago Area Waterways into Lake Michigan, and invasives moving from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River Basin. While there is broad agreement among stakeholders in both regions that a solution is urgently needed, there is additional information necessary to move decision makers to implement the best approach. We hope that local, state and federal agencies will work together to expediently fund and complete the necessary studies to move forward. We know that control measures must be constructed in the waterway system to prevent invasives from moving between the basins, and investing in this solution will bring benefits to the region’s economy and workforce while protecting some of our most valued bodies of water.

We’re excited to be a part of this initiative and stand ready with our partners to advocate for prioritized investments to achieve clean water and a thriving economy. We hope you’ll join us in being voices for the protection of our waterways and the future of our working class.

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 Read the press release:

 https://sierraclubillinois.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/2006/ 

 Read the full report:

http://illinoisepi.org/countrysidenonprofit/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/ILEPI-PMCR-Research-Report-A-Flowing-Economy-FINAL.pdf

 Watch a video of the January 7th presentation: 

http://mwrd.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=253&view_id=1&embed=1&player_width=720&player_height=480&entrytime=869&stoptime=1865&auto_start=0

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