Environmentalists sue water district over discharges

The lawsuit alleges the agency is polluting the very water it's supposed to protect.

May 3, 2011

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(Lea McDermid)
The Chicago River is cleaner than it once was, but not clean enough, say conservationists.

Conservation groups are taking the Chicago-area’s water reclamation district to court, accusing the agency of chronically polluting the region’s river system. The plaintiffs call out the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District for allowing sewage and storm water to spill into waterways on rainy days, including 19 times this year so far. The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and Prairie Rivers Network say that overflow, along with excess phosphorous and other wastewater pollution, violate the Clean Water Act. 

The District is working on the deep tunnel and reservoir project, which would divert most overflows. But the Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Ann Alexander said that effort has taken too long.

“They need to get off the dime and finish the tunnel and reservoir project that they started more the three decades and three billion dollars ago,” Alexander said. “But they need to do more than that.”

The Sierra Club and Prairie Rivers Network are also plaintiffs.

The water district is in talks with the federal government over how to resolve the Clean Water Act issues through a consent decree. A spokesman says the district hadn’t received the lawsuit as of late yesterday, and, citing the ongoing legal negotiations, declined to comment.