Water distrct to curb raw sewage discharges

December 14, 2011

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(WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)
New infrastructure could help keep raw sewage out of waterways like the Chicago River.

Wastewater managers in Chicago have agreed to spend billions to reduce the amount of raw sewage discharged into area waterways. The Environmental Protection Agency and water managers have struck a deal to head off combined sewer overflows, which happen when snowmelt or storm water overwhelm the sewers. That pushes the whole messy mixture of runoff and sewage into the rivers and canals.

The consent decree requires the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to build so-called green infrastructure, like porous concrete and rain gardens, to absorb runoff. It also gives the agency deadlines for completing the deep tunnel and reservoir project, now scheduled for completion in 2029.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups are suing the District over the discharges. Josh Mogerman, spokesman for the NRDC’s Midwest office, said he’s heartened by the agreement.

“This is part of a really positive trend with MWRD,” said Mogerman. “You add this to the very positive vote taken to decontaminate the sewage going into the Chicago River, and we see a more modern way of looking at sewage and water in this city.”

Mogerman said the NRDC is still mulling how this consent decree might affect the lawsuit. The agreement does resolve several Clean Water Act violations cited by the federal government.