Category Archives: Clean Water

Posts relating to clean water work.

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.

nsc2013

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.

upperil2011

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.

jackmwrd

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

image (1)

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.

unnamed

 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

MWRDFlowingEconResln.jpg

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 7, 2016

 

New Report: Clean Water Projects Employed 19,443 In 2014

Chicago Federation of Labor, Sierra Club Present Findings at MWRD Board Meeting

“A Flowing Economy” Details Clean Water Benefits to Workers & Regional Economy

Chicago, IL– The Chicago Federation of Labor and the Sierra Club today made a unique joint appearance before the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) to release a new report on the benefits that investments in clean water generate for the economy and the environment both locally and statewide, and to highlight upcoming opportunities for clean water projects.

“We are fortunate to have one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water right outside our front door, in Lake Michigan and all our Great Lakes,” said Jorge Ramirez, President of the Chicago Federation of Labor. “Thanks to an initial investment by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the City of Chicago Department of Water Management in 2014, we have already begun to see the economic and environmental benefits of investing in clean water projects in the Chicago area, namely job creation and increased worker productivity thanks to improved regional health. We need to build on this success and focus on upgrading and repairing the state’s clean water infrastructure.”

“Protecting Lake Michigan and restoring our rivers are not only essential for public health but also significantly contributes to a healthy economy,” said Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.

The report, titled “A Flowing Economy: How Clean Water Infrastructure Investments Support Good Jobs in Chicago and in Illinois” finds that for every $1 billion invested in clean water infrastructure, approximately 6,200 direct jobs are created in construction or water and sewage facilities, and 11,200 total jobs are created throughout the economy. Additionally, every $1 billion investment brings an 8 percent one-year GDP return on investment. The report was prepared by Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) and the School of Labor and Employment Relations at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Investments in clean water benefit the whole economy by making businesses and households run more smoothly, with less frequent disruptions from leaks, contamination and other water infrastructure failures,” said Frank Manzo, Policy Director at ILEPI and an author of the report.

Leading the region in clean water investments are the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago and the City of Chicago’s Department of Water Management. In 2014 alone, these two entities created or saved a total of 19,400 jobs and reduced the regional unemployment rate by 0.73 percent.

“America’s economy runs on water,” said MWRD President Mariyana Spyropoulos. “Between the City of Chicago and the MWRD, hundreds of thousands of annual jobs will be supported and billions in economic output will be produced over the next decade. When we invest in water, we put people to work, support economic growth and build a stronger foundation for our nation.”

While investments in clean water have led to major improvements in water quality and efficient water management, there are outstanding needs for additional investments that will continue to bolster the economy and enrich our communities. The report offers a snapshot of the challenges facing the Chicago Waterway System and waterways throughout Illinois and the opportunities to address these challenges through future investments.

“We need our local leaders and agencies to continue investing in two things every city needs: clean water and good jobs. Fortunately, there are opportunities to achieve both through smart investments in the right projects,” said Dr. Cynthia Skrukrud, Clean Water Program Director for the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We need to address serious threats to our water resources, such as invasive species, combined sewer overflows and nutrient pollution, which will require new water infrastructure to be built by hardworking men and women. We stand ready to help local, state and federal agencies prioritize investments to achieve clean water and a thriving economy.”

The report and its key findings were presented at the MWRD Board Meeting earlier today, and the District Board approved a resolution supporting the report.

To read the report visit:

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

 

###

Harmful Algal Bloom in Ohio River Shows Effects of Nutrient Pollution

Map from http://www.orsanco.org/ showing extent of current Harmful Algae Bloom and Advisory Areas on Ohio River (updated 10/21/15)

Map from http://www.orsanco.org/ updated 10/21/15

A record algal bloom extending over 664 miles of the Ohio River has halted recreation, threatened public health and put a spotlight on nutrient pollution and its impacts. Ohio is all too familiar with these impacts after a toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie last summer prevented nearly 500,000 Toledo residents from drinking their water. This year’s bloom stretches from West Virginia to the Illinois/Indiana border. It far exceeds the previous most extensive bloom, which covered 30 miles of the Ohio River in 2008.

The rapid growth, or blooms, of algae can discolor the water or produce floating scum on the surface, especially along shorelines and in warm, shallow water that receives a lot of sunlight. Algal blooms are fed by excess nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus, which are discharged into waterways from fertilizer runoff from agricultural land, urban stormwater and sewage treatment plant effluent. These blooms can devastate aquatic ecosystems and threaten the safety of drinking water sources. They can force utilities to spend more money to treat water in order to fight off the toxins that can cause rashes, diarrhea, vomiting and breathing difficulty. During much of last month, Cincinnati was forced to spend $7,700 more per day on added chemicals to make its tap water safe for drinking.

When a blue-green algal bloom is producing toxin(s), it is referred to as a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB). The poisonous blue-green algae in the Ohio River give off a toxin called microcystin which can cause liver and nerve damage in humans and animals. The current bloom has forced the cancellation of the annual Great Ohio River Swim and triggered warnings to boaters to stay out of the water.

Blue Green Algae

Blue-green algal bloom (Image from Illinois EPA)

These problems are not unique to Ohio, but are real threats to all states with heavy agricultural use and urban areas including Illinois. In late summer 2012, highly elevated concentrations of microcystin were found in several northern Illinois lakes. One lake was reported to have a concentration of 31,500 µg/L, an astounding 1,575 times greater than the 20 µg/L World Health Organization (WHO) guidance value indicating a “high” probability of acute health effects due to recreational exposure. In response to these reports, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) sampled ten lakes and two rivers for several toxins over the period of August to October. Virtually all of the water bodies sampled had high or very high probabilities of associated health effects based on total cyanobacteria cell counts and four of the lakes had high probability for adverse health effects based on microcystin concentrations. The highest microcystin concentration detected was 240 times the WHO guidance value at 4,800 µg/L. Microcystins were found in five other lakes and one river, representing 85% of the water bodies sampled [1].

The Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois EPA have recently posted warnings urging residents to “use caution while in or on the Illinois portion of the Ohio River due to potential toxins from blue-green algae.” The Agency says that “while a harmful algal bloom has not yet been confirmed in the Illinois portion of the Ohio River, river and weather conditions are favorable for such a bloom, particularly along shorelines” [2]. These warnings and results from the 2012 monitoring clearly indicate that blue-green algal blooms and algal toxins can be cause for concern in Illinois surface waters.

Fortunately, the state is taking steps to address this concern. The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy released earlier this year represents a historic agreement among stakeholders and government agencies to address the problem of nutrient pollution to reduce algal blooms within Illinois and in the Gulf of Mexico. Nutrient pollution from states along the Mississippi River travels downstream and collects in the Gulf, causing a dead zone where aquatic life cannot survive and giving it the name “Gulf Hypoxia.” The Strategy aims to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus leaving Illinois by 45% in order to help improve conditions in the Gulf.

Implementation of the Strategy will also reduce the amount of nutrients in Illinois waterways, helping to prevent more algal blooms in Illinois and situations like those suffered by Ohio residents. The headlines from Ohio must be taken as a call to action in Illinois to take the steps necessary to reduce nutrient pollution. Our health and the health of our waterways depend on it.

[1] Illinois EPA. 2012 Drought and HAB Reconnaissance Monitoring Effort. http://www.epa.illinois.gov/topics/water-quality/surface-water/algal-bloom/2012-drought-and-monitoring/index.

[2] Illinois EPA. Blue-Green Algae May Cause Harmful Algal Bloom.  http://www.epa.illinois.gov/topics/water-quality/surface-water/algal-bloom/illinois-urges-precaution/index

St. Johns Bayou – New Madrid Floodway Project Threatens People and Wildlife

The New Madrid Floodway is located on the west bank of the Mississippi River in southeast Missouri just below the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. It was authorized by the federal Flood Control Act of 1928 to divert water from the Mississippi River during major flood events in order to lower flood stages upstream, notably at Cairo and Olive Branch, Illinois. If it is not used to absorb flood waters during major storms, levees and floodwalls protecting Illinois river communities could fail causing devastating losses in Alexander County as evidenced in the 2011 flooding of Olive Branch, Illinois, which caused millions of dollars in damages. Closing off the floodway will also threatens an integral part of the Mississippi River ecosystem that supports aquatic wildlife.

NewMadrid1

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has proposed the construction of a  $165 million taxpayer funded project known as the St. Johns Bayou – New Madrid Floodway Project (SJNM Project) that will close the gap in the levee between the Mississippi River and the New Madrid Floodway with a 60-foot high, 1500 foot long levee wall.

This project needs to be vetoed now, before the Final Environmental Impact Statement is released. Senator Durbin has come out publicly against the SJNM Project. But, we need Senator Kirk to join him in opposition. Please join the Thursday SJNM Tweets to Senator Kirk. Email Kim Knowles at kknowles@prairierivers.org and ask to be put on the Thursday SJNM Tweet email list. Kim will send you a reminder along with sample tweets once a week.

050411-politics-cairo-levee

May 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blasted holes in a Mississippi River levee to prevent Cairo from flooding. The water level had reached a frightening 61.72 feet, threatening the home to approximately 2,800 people, 70 percent of whom are African-American, living in an historic city struggling to survive deep poverty and a deteriorating infrastructure. Photo credit: Riverfront Times

Closure of the gap in the levee system will make it even more difficult for the Army Corps of Engineers to operate the New Madrid Floodway during major storms, threatening Illinois river communities during major floods. Such flooding would cause disproportionate harm to the health and safety of low-income populations such as Cairo, Illinois, where census data shows that twenty nine percent (29%) of the city’s residents live below the poverty level.

Mississippi_floodplain

The SJNM Floodway is a critical area for millions of animals who depend on the Floodway’s connection to the Mississippi River for clean water and habitat. Hunters and anglers from all over the country rely on the ecosystem services provided by the Floodway, bringing valuable recreation dollars to their states’ budgets. And half of Mississippi River fish spawn or rear in the Floodway. Photo credit: 1mississippi.org

Closure of the gap also threatens an integral part of the Mississippi River ecosystem, which provides vital fish and wildlife habitat, including important spawning and rearing habitat. The connection between the Mississippi River and this vital backwater habitat will result in draining more than 50,000 acres of wetlands, eliminating the most important backwater fishery in the Middle Mississippi River and threatening populations of migratory waterfowl and other wildlife that depend on the wetlands.

Join the Thursday SJNM Tweets and help Stop the Levee!

 

Citizens Speak Out in Favor of More Stream Protection at Coal Mines

Citizens for clean water.

Citizens for clean water.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) has proposed a new rule for regulation of coal mining intended to better protect streams, fish, and wildlife from the adverse impacts of surface coal mining operations and impacts to streams from underground mining. 

The proposed rule would update the nearly 30-year-old rule coal mines now operate under and:

  • include regulatory requirements for addressing the hydrologic balance outside the permit area.
  • require mine operators to establish an adequate baseline for evaluation of the impacts of mining and the effectiveness of reclamation.
  • adjust monitoring requirements to enable timely detection and correction of any adverse trends in the quality or quantity of surface water and groundwater or the biological condition of streams.
  • ensure protection or restoration of perennial and intermittent streams and related resources, including ephemeral streams.
  • ensure that mine operators and regulatory authorities make use of the most current science and technology
  • ensure that land disturbed by mining operations is restored to a condition capable of supporting the uses that it was capable of supporting prior to mining.
  • update and codify the requirements and dispute resolution procedures involved when the proposed permit or adjacent areas contain federally listed threatened or endangered species and designated critical habitat.

OSMRE held six public hearings in Colorado, Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, W. Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Citizens wait in line to get into the hearing.

Citizens wait in line to get into the hearing.

Illinois Chapter Sierra Club gives a loud shout out to the 38 citizens from Illinois, Missouri and Indiana who attended the Missouri hearing to tell their stories of destruction and pollution. They included citizens on the frontline from: Peabody’s Rocky Branch Mine in Saline County, Springfield Coal’s Industry Mine in McDonough County, Foresight Energy’s Deer Run Mine in Montgomery County and Pond Creek Mine in Williamson County, Sunrise Coal’s proposed Bulldog Mine in Vermilion County, and many more supporters from across the region.

Waiting for the hearing to begin.

Waiting for the hearing to begin.

Everyone did an excellent job of telling their stories and tying them to aspects of the draft rule. In fact, OSMRE staff presiding over the hearing thanked our folks for attending and extended high praise for telling such powerful, compelling stories.

Those testifying on the side opposing new, protective rules for clean water included representatives for Congressmen John Shimkus, Rodney Dave and Mike Bost, and State Representatives Terri Bryant and Avery Bourne. Due to some tricky maneuvering to have others hold their place in line, the vast majority, including those mentioned above, were the first to speak. Unfortunately, our elected officials did not bother to stick around to hear what their constituents, some of whom drove over 200 miles, had to say!

All hands-in celebration after the hearing.

All-hands-in celebration after the hearing.

Others in opposition included the Illinois Coal Association and the Indiana Coal Council and industry representatives from Foresight Energy, American Coal, Peabody Coal, Murray, Knight Hawk Coal, Alliance Coal, Sunrise Coal, Arch Coal. The main talking points among the opposition were that the new rules are: redundant, a solution without a problem, going to cause massive job loss, cause the lights to go out, cause severe rate hikes–all intermixed with lots of Obama blaming and some Sierra Club bashing.

Acid mine drainage can be highly toxic and, when mixed with groundwater, surface water and soil, may have harmful effects on humans, animals and plants.

Acid mine drainage can be highly toxic and, when mixed with groundwater, surface water and soil, may have harmful effects on humans, animals and plants.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) is a bureau within the U.S. Department of the Interior. OSMRE was created in 1977 when Congress enacted the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. OSMRE works with states and tribes to ensure that citizens and the environment are protected during coal mining and that the land is restored to beneficial use when mining is finished. Today, most coal states, including Illinois, have developed their own programs to do those jobs. OSMRE focuses on overseeing the state programs and developing new tools, such as the proposed Stream Protection Rule, to help the states and tribes get the job done.

nctakeaction65423