Protect Lake Michigan from Sewage Contamination!

Action Needed Now: by April 8, 2010
Comment on Chicago-area sewage plant permits

April 8, 2010 is the final day for the public to submit their concerns about state permits that govern sewage plants responsible for sending billions of gallons of sewage combined with stormwater into Lake Michigan from the greater Chicago area.

In Chicago, the stormwater collection system is connected to the sanitary system and, during periods of heavy rain, sewage treatment plants are overwhelmed and must release untreated wastewater in what is known as a combined sewer overflow (CSO). Even though past work on the comprehensive Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP) to serve as a temporary holding reservoir for raw sewage when it exceeds existing capacity has reduced the frequency of CSOs going into Lake Michigan, it still happens, including three events in 2009 that sent 413 million gallons of combined stormwater and sewage through the locks into Lake Michigan. In 2008, two events sent more than 11 billion gallons. We need to stay focused on eliminating these discharges.

Permit renewals are now proposed for three Chicago-area sewage treatment plants; the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant (WRP), the Calumet WRP, and the North Side WRP, each of which must address how to properly dispose of excess stormwater and sewage. Amazingly Chicago still doesn’t disinfect its effluent—a common practice at almost every other WRP in the country!

CSOs pose a significant health risk because bacteria and viruses are present in much greater concentrations in untreated sewage. While pollution from Chicago-area CSOs usually flows away from Lake Michigan, during very heavy rain events, locks can be opened that send millions of gallons of sewage combined with rainwater into Lake Michigan. This health risk is so serious that Chicago beaches must be closed to protect the public from becoming sick from bacteria in the water during these events.

In addition to addressing the problem of sewage overflows into Lake Michigan, hastening the completion of the tunnel and reservoir plan would reduce the frequency of lock openings that could allow invasive Asian carp into Lake Michigan.

Action Needed:
Ask Illinois to ensure the treatment plant permits do more to protect Lake Michigan from sewage contamination

    Points to make in comments include:

  • The permits should require that the public be notified when locks are opened releasing sewage into Lake Michigan during heavy rains;
  • The permits should require installation of equipment to disinfect wastewater and remove harmful bacteria;
  • Plant operations should be improved to maximize the flow to the plants to reduce the amount of sewage going into the water during CSOs.
  • As the Stickney WRP has had a steady decline in treatment capacity in recent years, the Stickney WRP permit should define flow maximization, include enforceable conditions to ensure it occurs and require the problems causing decreased treatment capacity to be addressed;
  • The permits must include deadlines for TARP completion and interim benchmarks to measure progress. Specifically, the permits should require completion of the Thornton Composite Reservoir and Stage 1 of the McCook Reservoir before the permit expiration in 2015;
  • All these measures must be enforceable, rather than simply voluntary.

E-mail comments to:
E-mailed comments must specify “MWRDGC NDPES Permits” in the subject line of the e-mail and be received by midnight April 8, 2010.

Mail comments to:
Hearing Officer Dean Studer
Mail Code #5      Re: MWRDGC NPDES Permits
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency
1021 North Grand Ave. East
P. O. Box 19276
Springfield, IL 62794-9276.

Comments must be postmarked by April 8, 2010.

For more information visit
or contact Lyman Welch at 312-939-0838 ext. 230 or

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Posting sponsored by the Alliance for the Great Lakes. If you have any comments or questions about this e-action alert, please contact Frances Canonizado at