River Sewage Puts Public Health at Risk
The Chicago River flows through downtown Chicago, urban and suburban communities, forest preserves, parks, and industrial corridors.. Millions of Chicago-area residents use the river for recreational and commercial activities, including fishing, boating, transportation, and shipping.
Chicago’s founders chose it due to its location close to the river, which remains central to the city. The benefits of river restoration are reflected in the new waterfront economy, including shops, restaurants, and paddling outfitters. In the last ten years, Chicago-area municipalities have spent more than $100 million to improve riverfront access. However, more is needed. A study by the Illinois Attorney General’s office concluded that restoring water quality would provide a $1 billion boost to the economy – from recreation alone – in the next 20 years.
Every day, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) dumps 1.2 billion gallons of undisinfected wastewater into the Chicago River. This wastewater comprises 70 percent of the water in the Chicago River, and threatens the health of area residents. Nearly all other US cities disinfect their wastewater before dumping it into their rivers.
After a five-year study, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency concluded that recreational activity on the river called for disinfection of sewage outflow. However, the MWRD is spending more than $13 million in taxpayer dollars to aggressively fight this proposal. The agency’s position is that the waterway is a manmade system designed for shipping and sewage, and therefore good water quality is not necessary.
What Must Be Done
Water quality standards for the Chicago River have not been reviewed in more than two decades. Now is the time for the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) to approve the Illinois EPA’s proposed disinfection rule and require MWRD to join modern municipalities across the country in requiring disinfection of sewage before releasing it into the river.