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The Alliance is pleased U.S. EPA and Illinois EPA have filed a lawsuit in federal court and issued a proposed consent decree to address much-needed and long-delayed improvements in the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago’s plans for protecting our precious fresh water resources.
The decree also demonstrates leadership by the MWRD Board of Commissioners in the last several months in beginning to confront long-standing threats to those resources, such as the lack of disinfection at MWRD’s sewage treatment plants. We are optimistic this leadership will continue as a guiding force at MWRD.
The Alliance believes that the proposed decree filed Wednesday, if properly implemented and enforced, has many positive elements that can reduce the volume of combined sewage discharged into Lake Michigan, build new green infrastructure to reduce discharges, and control flooding.
Unfortunately the proposed consent decree falls short of what could and should be done over the next several years to end the illegal combined sewer overflows that have persisted for decades in violation of federal and state pollution control laws. Several provisions of the decree must be improved to ensure that we have clean water on the timeline that the law requires, our resources need, and we all deserve. Specifically:
• Allowing delay until 2029 to achieve permanent reductions in combined sewer overflows to Lake Michigan is not acceptable. MWRD must compress this timeline through aggressive completion of the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan. The proposed consent decree creates too many contingencies and opportunities for delay.
• Operation of MWRD’s sewage collection and treatment system must be significantly strengthened. The decree should be modified to include enforceable schedules on how MWRD will achieve full compliance with the Clean Water Act’s specific requirements for maximizing the use of MWRD’s existing physical plant to minimize discharges of sewage to local rivers and Lake Michigan. This should include: the control of toxics; proper operation and regular maintenance programs for the entire sewer system; and the control of solid and floatable materials.
• Although the Alliance is encouraged by the new green infrastructure efforts to control flooding, these efforts are not enough to control the severity or duration of the ongoing discharges of combined sewage to our Lake Michigan and local waterways by MWRD.
“Federal and state enforcement to reduce combined sewer overflows to the Great Lakes is long past due, as our beaches and harbors are put at risk with every strong storm,” said Alliance President & CEO Joel Brammeier. “The proposed consent decree is a step in the right direction of a cleaner Lake Michigan, but hard work, innovative solutions and stronger commitments must be required. Our most precious clean water resource deserves no less.”
More about the decree on EPA’s website >
More about combined sewer overflows >
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