WBEZ | water quality http://www.wbez.org/tags/water-quality Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en After Water: Science, art and journalism around climate change http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/after-water-science-art-and-journalism-around-climate-change-110544 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/After-Water_crop.png" style="height: 269px; width: 620px;" title="" />Join us as we focus on the future of the Great Lakes, in a way that is a little different for us. WBEZ&#39;s brought fiction writers and scientists together, then asked the writers to jump off from there, creating stories set decades from now&mdash;when clean, fresh water could be a rare resource.</p><p>We want to contemplate the future from a dual lens of <a href="https://soundcloud.com/wbez/sets/after-water-the-science">science</a> and <a href="https://soundcloud.com/afterwater/sets/after-water-fiction">art.</a> We&#39;ll be sharing our writers&rsquo; stories and the science behind them here. It&rsquo;s <a href="https://soundcloud.com/afterwater"><em>After Water</em></a>. We invite your thoughts.</p><p><strong>The stories</strong></p><p>Local author Nnedi Okorafor starts out the series on Chicago&#39;s South Side. In her story,<a href="http://afterwater.tumblr.com/post/92735533543/after-water-fiction-thirst-by-max-andrew-dubinsky"> </a><a href="http://afterwater.tumblr.com/post/92734891798/after-water-fiction-poison-fish-by-nnedi-okorafor">&quot;Poison Fish&quot;</a> (or, &quot;Poison Poisson&quot;), Okorafor brings us to a dystopian backdrop of memories and chaos, set along the waterfront on Chicago&#39;s Rainbow Beach.<a href="https://soundcloud.com/afterwater/after-water-an-interview-with-author-nnedi-okorafor/s-KJdW3">&nbsp;Listen to an interview</a> about this story with Nnedi Okorafor. Or<a href="https://soundcloud.com/wbez/sets/after-water-the-science"> hear some of the science behind her story.&nbsp;</a></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/159874918&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><a href="http://afterwater.tumblr.com/post/92735533543/after-water-fiction-thirst-by-max-andrew-dubinsky">In his story</a><a href="http://afterwater.tumblr.com/post/92735533543/after-water-fiction-thirst-by-max-andrew-dubinsky">,</a> &ldquo;Thirst&rdquo; Los Angeles-based author Max Andrew Dubinsky brings us to a California that&rsquo;s dry and dying, its inhabitants looking to the Great Lakes as their last salvation. <a href="https://soundcloud.com/afterwater/after-water-an-interview-with-author-max-andrew-dubinsky/s-mxJX9">Listen to an interview</a> about this story with Max Andrew Dubinsky. Or<a href="https://soundcloud.com/wbez/sets/after-water-the-science">&nbsp;hear some of the science behind his story.&nbsp;</a></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/159999662&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>In <a href="http://afterwater.tumblr.com/post/92743040588/after-water-fiction-world-after-water">&quot;World After Water,&quot;</a> Abby Geni brings us to a city drowned in dirty, toxic water. Four young brothers are forced to steal filtered water from their wealthy neighbors in order to survive. <a href="https://soundcloud.com/afterwater/after-water-an-interview-with-author-abby-geni">Listen to an interview</a> with Abby Geni about her story. Or<a href="https://soundcloud.com/wbez/sets/after-water-the-science"> hear about some of science</a> behind her story.</p><p><em style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 22px;"><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/160123800&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></em></p><p>In <a href="http://afterwater.tumblr.com/post/92840460528/after-water-fiction-the-floating-city-of-new-chicago">&quot;The Floating City of New Chicago&quot;</a>, we see a Chicago divided by class...and water. The wealthy have fled the city for a secret island in Lake Michigan. The &quot;wet-collar&quot; workers have been left behind to do the city&#39;s dirtiest jobs. <a href="https://soundcloud.com/afterwater/after-water-an-interview-with-author-tricia-bobeda">Listen to author Tricia Bobeda</a> talk about how she found inspiration in a <em>30 Rock</em> episode. <a href="https://soundcloud.com/wbez/how-do-you-sleep-at-night-michele-morano-asks-climate-scientists-how-they-cope">Or hear conversations</a> about the science behind her story.&nbsp;</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/160658367&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>In <a href="http://afterwater.tumblr.com/post/93235111273/after-water-fiction-the-last-cribkeeper-by-peter-orner">&quot;The Last Cribkeeper&quot;</a> we meet Harry Osgood as he walks along the shores of Lake Michigan. For years, he served as the guard for one of the water intake cribs miles from Chicago&#39;s shores. Now an old man, Harry looks out over the lake and reflects on how it has shaped the city&#39;s identity and his own.<a href="https://soundcloud.com/afterwater/after-water-an-interview-with-author-peter-orner"> Listen to author Peter Orner</a> talk about his lifelong fascination with the city&#39;s water cribs. Or <a href="https://soundcloud.com/wbez/how-do-you-sleep-at-night-michele-morano-asks-climate-scientists-how-they-cope">check out some of the science</a> behind the story.&nbsp;</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/160834671&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><strong>The science behind the stories</strong></p><p>The short&nbsp;stories you&#39;ve been listening to are solidly in the science fiction category.&nbsp;But some of&nbsp;the&nbsp;issues the&nbsp;writers touch on aren&#39;t as far out as you might think. Before they jumped 100 years into the future, we paired writers&nbsp;with scientists and policy experts to talk about the threats facing the Great Lakes right now. You can hear our conversations about the science behind the stories below.&nbsp;</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="450" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/44458855&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 22px;">Front and Center is funded by The Joyce Foundation: Improving the quality of life in the Great Lakes region and across the country.&nbsp;</em></p></p> Wed, 23 Jul 2014 09:49:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/after-water-science-art-and-journalism-around-climate-change-110544 How Much Road Salt Ends Up in Lake Michigan? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-much-road-salt-ends-lake-michigan-109814 <p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: This episode of the Curiuos City podcast includes an audio story about road salt. It begins 5 minutes, 50 seconds into the program. (Subscribe via <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/curious-city/id568409161" target="_blank">iTunes </a>or <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CuriousCityPodcast" target="_blank">Feedburner</a>!)</em></p><p>Aaron Stigger is a graphic and web designer born and raised in Oak Park. He caught Curious City&rsquo;s attention with <a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/questions/1522" target="_blank">this question</a>:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em><font><font>How does all the winter salt runoff affect Lake Michigan&#39;s water?</font></font></em></p><p><font><font>But he </font></font><em><font><font>really </font></font></em><font><font>piqued our interest after telling us the backstory.</font></font></p><p><font><font>&ldquo;On my way to work everyday I pass by this gi-normous salt pile, which is kind of plopped down on some dirt and some broken-up cement,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;That kind of got me thinking: Well, if it&rsquo;s seeping into the ground under this big, uncovered pile, what is it doing, all the salt we distribute all around the city?&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><a href="https://maps.google.com/maps?ll=41.954739%2C-87.79664800000002&amp;cbp=%2C65.45%2C%2C0%2C9.139999&amp;layer=c&amp;panoid=S-PkH0iF7NxMblex4A7Wog&amp;spn=0.18000000000000152%2C0.30000000000001953&amp;output=classic&amp;cbll=41.954739%2C-87.796648" target="_blank"><font><font>The particular mound of salt</font></font></a><font><font> that Aaron saw is in Dunning, a neighborhood on the city&rsquo;s Northwest Side. That mound&#39;s got company: Chicago stores 19 piles of salt across the city. And that&rsquo;s not counting many more spread across the suburbs and Northwest Indiana.</font></font></p><p><font><font>But is there really a wall of brine heading to the lake and, if so, should we be worried? We found out that, at least according to a few environmental standards, Lake Michigan is actually in much better shape than Stigger expected. But another waterway may have earned his concern.</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>Just how much salt are we talking about, anyway?</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>Before we get to specifics on any effects on Lake Michigan, let&rsquo;s put the amounts of road salt we use into perspective, at least when it comes to Chicago.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Since November 2009, the city has spread an average of 215,456</font></font>&nbsp;tons of salt to melt snow and ice each year, according to figures provided by The Department of Streets &amp; Sanitation:<a name="chart"></a></p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="300" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="http://cf.datawrapper.de/CbhQh/2/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="350"></iframe></div><p><font><font>That&rsquo;s counting this winter,&nbsp;</font></font><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/just-how-bad-chicago-winter-109637" target="_blank"><font><font>which has been particularly brutal</font></font></a><font><font>. As of February 28, the city already dumped more than 370,000 tons of salt on city streets &mdash; a solid 42 percent more than the next heaviest use in the previous five years.</font></font></p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/aaron%20stigger%27s%20salt%20pile.jpg" style="height: 304px; width: 525px; margin: 5px;" title="The Chicago salt pile that Oak Parker Aaron Stigger sees on his way to work. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Stigger)" /></div><p><font><font>It&rsquo;s not just a problem in Chicago. Humans move a lot of salt. A 2004 study estimated that we mobilize more than 140 teragrams &mdash; that&rsquo;s 140 billion kilograms &mdash; of chlorides every year.</font></font></p><p style="text-align: center;"><font><font><strong>Video: </strong><a href="#video">Just how big are these salt piles</a>?</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>Salt&rsquo;s destination: our streams and rivers</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>So, with some of these figures in mind, let&rsquo;s consider the effects.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Aaron Stigger&rsquo;s &ldquo;aha moment&rdquo; came about when he saw one of the city&rsquo;s salt piles while it was uncovered. It&rsquo;s a reasonable concern, given that researchers from the University of Rhode Island </font></font><a href="http://www.uri.edu/ce/wq/ww/Publications/Chlorides.pdf" target="_blank"><font><font>estimate uncovered salt piles lost about 20 percent</font></font></a><font><font> of their salt each year. Much of it ends up in nearby waterways.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Most piles are covered during the off-season, however, so salt used for deicing is the main source of urban chloride pollution. Chemists know salt as NaCl, or sodium chloride, which breaks down in water. Hence there are pollution measurements and standards for &ldquo;chlorides,&rdquo; not &ldquo;salt.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>But where&rsquo;s this runoff headed? The hydrological lay of the land is such that most salt-laden runoff in Chicago ends up in the Chicago River and other inland waterways &mdash; not Lake Michigan.</font></font></p><p><font><font>The principal reason is that </font></font><a href="http://chicagopublicradio.org/story/should-we-reverse-chicago-river-again-95661" target="_blank"><font><font>the city reversed the flow of the river more than 100 years ago</font></font></a><font><font>, so most of our runoff ends up in the waterways that feed into the Illinois River, which flows into the Mississippi and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.</font></font><a href="http://www.isws.illinois.edu/pubdoc/B/ISWSB-74.pdf" target="_blank"><font><font> A 2010 study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found</font></font></a><font><font> road salt runoff and treated wastewater from the Chicago region are the dominant sources of chlorides in the navigable sections of the Illinois River, and two major tributaries in the Chicago region. The study says that number has risen steadily since about 1960.</font></font></p><p><font><font>&ldquo;The lake doesn&rsquo;t receive very much input from stormwater from the city of Chicago,&rdquo; says Scott Twait, who works in IEPA&rsquo;s Water Quality Standards division. &ldquo;However with all the salting, all the road salt enters into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and the Cal-Sag channel, and flows downstream to the Des Plaines River. And collecting all the runoff, the chloride levels can spike in those areas and get quite high.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>In high concentrations, chlorides can be toxic to aquatic life. But it&rsquo;s hard to tell how many times salt runoff from Chicago has caused toxic levels of chlorides in inland waterways, because the Illinois Pollution Control Board doesn&rsquo;t classify those waters as &ldquo;General Use&rdquo; waterways. Those waters are subject to Illinois&rsquo; 500 mg/L water quality standard. Instead, IEPA regulates &ldquo;total dissolved solids&rdquo; in Chicago-area waterways, lumping together chlorides, sulfates and other chemicals for a single reading. Chloride levels have spiked above 1000 mg/L in some inland waterways &mdash; twice IEPA&rsquo;s standard for most of the state.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Chicago-area waterways are the only ones in the state that aren&rsquo;t regulated by General Use standards. As Twait explained, that&rsquo;s because they were so polluted when the standards were set that they earned their own benchmarks. (You can see IEPA&rsquo;s </font></font><a href="http://www.epa.state.il.us/water/tmdl/303d-list.html" target="_blank"><font><font>full list of impaired Illinois waterways here</font></font></a><font><font>.)</font></font></p><p><font><font><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Aaron%20Stigger%20by%20Kurt%20Gerber.jpg" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 220px; width: 220px;" title="Aaron Stigger asked Curious City about road salt runoff. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Stigger)" />&ldquo;Back in the 70s these were the only waters that were kind of beyond repair, as to their thinking back in the 70s, so they got kind of special standards&rdquo; Twait says. &ldquo;They really had no hope for them in the future.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>But those waters are much cleaner now. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, which handles and treats the region&rsquo;s combined runoff and sewer water, has improved its filtration methods. MWRD Spokeswoman Allison Fore &nbsp;says they&rsquo;ve adopted best practices suggested by the DuPage/Salt Creek Work Group for managing their roadways and facilities.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Twait says EPA is looking to bring Chicago-area waterways in line with the rest of the state&rsquo;s rivers and streams. If they update the water quality standards, he says, &ldquo;one of the things we know is that we&rsquo;ll have chloride issues in the winter time.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>Regulators would come up with some kind of limit for chloride in Chicago-area rivers. That could make cities think twice before spreading so much road salt. It&rsquo;s much tougher for the EPA to regulate salt from so many spread-out sources (storm drains spread out across the city and suburbs) than from, say, a factory with a fallout pipe dumping salt into the river.</font></font></p><p><font><font>So our question asker Aaron Stigger is right to worry about salt runoff, but not so much in Lake Michigan. In Chicago&rsquo;s case, it&rsquo;s our inland waterways that are in trouble.</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>Corrosive chlorides and city infrastructure</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>Before it even gets into area waterways, salt works its way through the city&rsquo;s subterranean network of pipes. That can cause problems for the city&rsquo;s Department of Water Management, which provides drinking water to Chicago and 125 suburbs. They also deliver stormwater to MWRD for treatment.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Tom Powers, the city&rsquo;s commissioner of water management, says chlorides are at such a low concentration in Lake Michigan that his department barely takes note.</font></font></p><p><font><font>&ldquo;It would require an incredible amount of road salt to affect Lake Michigan &mdash; that&rsquo;s a very robust system,&rdquo; Powers says. &ldquo;When we test [the water], it doesn&rsquo;t even appear on what we&rsquo;re testing for.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>The EPA&rsquo;s national drinking water standard for chloride is 250 mg/L, some 20 times higher than Lake Michigan&rsquo;s current concentration. Chicago&rsquo;s Dept. of Water Management, like many such agencies, adds water softeners that can include salt. But it&rsquo;s not enough to even approach the EPA limits.</font></font></p><p><font><font>But road salt can corrode the pipes that carry that water, exacerbating the stress that the winter freeze-and-thaw cycle puts on an aging network of water pipes that would stretch 4,500 miles if laid end to end. About 1,000 miles of those water pipes are 100 years old or older, Powers says. In 2009 the department had to repair 8,873 catch basins &mdash; more than twice last year&rsquo;s 3,647.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Development in urban areas makes the salt corrosion problem worse, by funneling more runoff into the system. Studies have correlated growth in chloride levels with the rate of urbanization, and even with miles of road in the vicinity of the waterway in question.</font></font></p><p><font><font>&ldquo;While we are right to be cautious in applying &lsquo;common sense&rsquo; to such things,&rdquo; says Stephen McCracken, who coordinates the Conservation Foundation&rsquo;s DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup, &ldquo;in this case the relationship seems quite straightforward with salt being applied to road surfaces, increased road density means a larger salt total applied, even at a constant application rate.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>So more development, more impervious surfaces, more runoff.</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>A saltier lake?</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>So not much of that salt ends up in Lake Michigan. But there is enough runoff to register an increase in Lake Michigan&rsquo;s chloride levels since Chicago first started spreading road salt.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Kim Biggs, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, says the current chloride levels in Lake Michigan are around 12 milligrams per liter.</font></font></p><p><font><font>That number has risen since widespread use of road salt began around 1960, according to</font></font><a href="http://www.saltinstitute.org/" target="_blank"><font><font> the Salt Institute</font></font></a><font><font>. Chloride levels in Lake Michigan rise about 0.1 mg/L each year, but they&rsquo;re still well below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency&rsquo;s 500 mg/L standard for &ldquo;General Use waters&rdquo;. Nationally, EPA&rsquo;s criteria for chloride toxicity</font></font><a href="http://www.iowadnr.gov/portals/idnr/uploads/water/standards/ws_review.pdf?amp;tabid=1302" target="_blank"><font><font> are 230 mg/L over a four day average, or an hourly average of 860 mg/L</font></font></a><font><font>. (EPA is currently reevaluating that standard, which was first set in 1988.)</font></font></p><p><font><font>If you measure chlorides in Lake Michigan in the spring, however, you pick up all that winter road ice and runoff. Since 1980, springtime average chloride levels have risen almost 50 percent:</font></font></p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/epa data salt.png" title="" /></div><p><br /><font><font>High chloride levels choke aquatic species that depend on a certain salinity to keep their bodies in equilibrium. Amphibians, like salamanders and frogs, are especially susceptible to chloride pollution. Many of them breed in temporary </font></font><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/93733769@N03/9396817314/" target="_blank"><font><font>vernal pools</font></font></a><font><font> that are cut off from other bodies water, and thus have no way to flush out excess salt.</font></font></p><p><font><font>IEPA&rsquo;s Biggs says chlorides in Lake Michigan aren&rsquo;t threatening aquatic life. &ldquo;There are not significant concerns or actions being taken to reduce chlorides in Lake Michigan as they are still reading below the water quality standard,&rdquo; she wrote in an email. &ldquo;We do not feel that salt runoff from the Chicago area is a major contributor to the chloride levels in Lake Michigan.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>Winter deicing is the major driver of high chloride levels in Chicago&rsquo;s waterways, but wastewater treatment also contributes. In the outfall of waste water treatment plants in DuPage County, for example, chloride levels are more than ten times higher than they are in Lake Michigan. Studies by the Illinois State Water Survey and MWRD sampled the water flowing out from MWRD&rsquo;s Stickney wastewater treatment (the largest such plant in the U.S.), and found median chloride levels of 145 mg/L, compared to 8-12 mg/L in Lake Michigan.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Most of MWRD&rsquo;s contribution comes from human waste itself, which contains chlorides. They also use ferric chloride to help filter wastewater &mdash; the chemical is useful for, among other eyebrow-raising processes, &ldquo;sludge thickening&rdquo; &mdash; but are moving away from that in favor of biologically-based techniques that would replace ferric chloride.</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>If you can&rsquo;t beet &rsquo;em ...</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>So what&rsquo;s the city doing to cut back on its salt use?</font></font></p><p><font><font>Dept. of Streets &amp; Sanitation spokeswoman Molly Poppe says they train salt truck drivers to spread salt judiciously &mdash; that means waiting until plows have cleared most standing snow, since salt sprinkled on top of several inches of the white stuff won&rsquo;t do much. When the forecast calls for mild temperatures, salt trucks take it easy and let the weather do some of the work.<a name="video"></a></font></font></p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="323" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/WphGL9fjbbo" width="575"></iframe></p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>City workers move salt at the depot at Grand and Rockwell (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)</em></p><p><font><font>The city even enlists an unusual fruit cocktail of sorts to get more out of its salt: beet juice. It&rsquo;s full of sugar, and helps lowers the freezing point of ice. Mixing salt with molasses or another sugary substance can do the same thing. Salt solutions are good too, because they spread out easier than rock salt so they&rsquo;re more efficient. Wisconsin has started spraying cheese brine for similar reasons.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Typical salt (sodium chloride) is not effective in subzero temperatures, but other salt compounds can break ice crystals at lower temperatures &mdash; calcium chloride and magnesium chloride are common substitutes, but they eat into concrete and metal faster than table salt. Right now the city uses sodium chloride.</font></font></p><p><font><font>So Aaron Stigger&rsquo;s salt pile is probably going to exist as long as severe winter weather visits Chicago. But if IEPA ups the standard for the metropolitan area&rsquo;s inland waterways, he might start to see the salt disappear a little bit more gradually.</font></font></p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/"><font><font>Chris Bentley</font></font></a><font><font> is a reporter for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City and a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter at</font></font><a href="http://twitter.com/cementley" target="_blank"><font><font> @Cementley</font></font></a><font><font>.</font></font></em></p></p> Wed, 05 Mar 2014 13:45:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-much-road-salt-ends-lake-michigan-109814 Contaminated water trial starts in Chicago http://www.wbez.org/news/contaminated-water-trial-starts-chicago-106781 <p><p>The trial has started for a former suburban Chicago water official accused of lying about how the village drew drinking water from a tainted well for decades, apparently to save money.</p><p>The one-time Crestwood official, Theresa Neubauer, has pleaded not guilty.</p><p>A federal judge asked Monday during jury selection whether any would-be jurors ever worried about the quality of the water in their communities. At least one said he had.</p><p>Prosecutors say Crestwood continued drawing drinking water from the well even after environmental officials warned cancer-causing chemicals had oozed into it.</p><p>Neubauer is the first official from the village of 11,000 to go to trial over the allegations.</p><p>Earlier this month, co-defendant Frank Scaccia chose to plead guilty rather than take his case to jurors.<br />&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 22 Apr 2013 15:56:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/contaminated-water-trial-starts-chicago-106781 Midwest breweries lead environmental group's charge to fortify water laws http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/midwest-breweries-lead-environmental-groups-charge-fortify-water-laws <p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/chollsjr/8031541422/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/lakefront-beer-by-carlton-holls.jpg" title="Beer from Lakefront Brewery, one of 21 breweries to sign the Natural Resources Defense Council's clean water pledge. (Flickr/Carlton Holls) " /></a></div><p>Raise a cold one this weekend and make a toast to the Clean Water Act.</p><p><a href="http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/khobbs/cheers_to_brewers_for_clean_wa.html">That&rsquo;s the advice</a> of the Natural Resources Defense Council as they <a href="http://www.nrdc.org/water/brewers-for-clean-water/">team up with 21 craft breweries</a> in an effort to raise awareness of threats to the key ingredient in beer.</p><p>As any beginning homebrewer&rsquo;s kitchen floor will attest, the brewing process requires a lot of water. Beer is 90 percent water, and including all the water it takes to clean brewing materials and rinse the packaged product, it can take 7 gallons of water to produce one gallon of beer.</p><p>&ldquo;When you talk about beer, you have to talk about water. It&rsquo;s not as sexy as talking about hops and malt,&rdquo; said Jason Spaulding, co-owner of <a href="http://www.breweryvivant.com/">Brewery Vivant</a> in Grand Rapids, Mich. &ldquo;If we don&rsquo;t look after [our water] long-term, it&rsquo;s going to directly hurt our industry and our livelihood.&rdquo;</p><p>Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, following a series of high-profile pollution incidents including <a href="http://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/63">the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969</a>. Citing recent congressional attempts to tinker with the law or <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/01/us/01water.html?pagewanted=all">erode the Environmental Protection Agency&#39;s authority to enforce clean water provisions</a>, NRDC&rsquo;s senior policy analyst Karen Hobbs said the coalition of brewers isn&rsquo;t united for or against any particular policy proposal.</p><p>&ldquo;We&#39;re hoping to work with the brewers to have a consistent industry voice in support of clean water,&rdquo; Hobbs said. &ldquo;Some brewers will want to enter into specific policy issues.&rdquo;</p><p>Two supreme court decisions in 2001 and 2006 questioned the EPA&rsquo;s jurisdiction to enforce the Clean Water Act. <a href="http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/CWAwaters.cfm">The agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are waiting for clarification</a> from the Obama administration before they enter into legal battles over water pollution where the legal definition of what waters are covered in the act is unclear. In Arizona, for example, storm water containing grease and oil from nearby construction sites pours into the San Pedro River for only part of the year. Since the tributaries carrying pollution do not flow year-round, the EPA dropped its enforcement efforts there to avoid a long and costly legal battle.</p><p>The bottom line for the nation&rsquo;s craft brewers and their customers, however, is straightforward.</p><p>&ldquo;If your water&rsquo;s not good, your beer&rsquo;s not going to be good,&rdquo;&nbsp;Spaulding said.</p><p>Goose Island uses more than 18 million gallons of water each year, racking up a hefty water bill. Some large water users negotiate for a flat monthly fee for water, but many craft breweries, including Goose Island, pay a monthly rate based on how much water they actually use. Like any ratepayer in Chicago, Goose Island gets their water from Lake Michigan.</p><p>&ldquo;Lake Michigan water has a really great chemical content to it to use as your blank canvas,&rdquo; said Goose Island&rsquo;s Ian Hughes.</p><p>Like many breweries, Goose Island is pursuing water conservation efforts, <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&amp;v=e_HVUQW20Vs">reusing water that rinses beer bottles</a> after they&rsquo;ve been filled and commissioning a life-cycle assessment of their product&#39;s environmental footprint.</p><p>Despite some recent rate hikes, water in the Great Lakes region <a href="http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2010/world/the-price-of-water-a-comparison-of-water-rates-usage-in-30-u-s-cities/">is among the cheapest in the country</a>. Even where rates are higher, many argue <a href="http://www.glc.org/announce/11/11vglwi.html">they don&#39;t reflect the true cost</a> of water. If ensuring clean water costs more, Brewery Vivant&rsquo;s Spaulding said he is prepared to pay.</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s a cost we&rsquo;d be happy to pay,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Without that clean water you don&rsquo;t have a viable business.&rdquo;</p></p> Fri, 12 Apr 2013 12:09:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/midwest-breweries-lead-environmental-groups-charge-fortify-water-laws Grand Calumet River delivers toxic load to Lake Michigan http://www.wbez.org/news/grand-calumet-river-delivers-toxic-load-lake-michigan-105165 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/The-Grand-Calumet-by-Lloyd-DeGrane.jpg" style="height: 412px; width: 620px;" title="The Grand Calumet River in Northwest Indiana. (Lloyd DeGrane)" />The Grand Calumet River system winds for 13 miles through a Northwest Indiana industrial landscape that could almost be described as post-apocalyptic.</p><p>Alongside the several branches of the slow-moving waterway, a steel mill, gypsum plant and other heavy industry spew plumes of steam into the air while vines and shrubs grow inside vacant crumbling brick buildings.&nbsp; A fragment of the partially demolished Cline Avenue bridge still stands, twisted rebar and chunks of concrete hanging from each end. A rusty abandoned motorboat bobs half-sunken next to a soiled brown floating absorbent boom.</p><p>The Grand Calumet has long been known as one of the nation&rsquo;s most polluted rivers. It is one of 43 federal Areas of Concern targeted for remediation in the Great Lakes region. For many decades before the 1972 Clean Water Act, countless industries dumped contaminated waste into the river with abandon.&nbsp; Gary, East Chicago and Hammond discharge untreated sewage and storm water into it.</p><p>The Grand Calumet consists of two forks that join and empty into Lake Michigan via the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal and Indiana Harbor, in East Chicago. Though the land right around the river mouth is not open to the public, local residents fish, swim, boat and wade at nearby beaches, harbors and weedy access points.</p><p>The Grand Calumet&rsquo;s impact on this near shore area is hard to quantify given the way contaminants disperse quickly in Lake Michigan. But experts with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management say the river surely harms near shore lake water quality and habitat as it empties one billion gallons of water into Lake Michigan each day.</p><p>That flow includes material from overflowing sewers during heavy rains, contaminated sediment pulled from the river bottom, industrial run-off and contaminated groundwater.</p><p>Daunting as this toxic brew may sound, the Grand Calumet is getting cleaned up. Hence the near shore area of Lake Michigan should reap significant environmental and ecological benefits as well.</p><p>State and federal environmental officials are about halfway through a massive project to remove contaminated sediment and restore wetlands. And the state environmental agency is working with municipalities to reduce sewage overflow during rains.</p><h2><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Calumet-Industrial-Canal-by-Lloyd-DeGrane.jpg" style="width: 350px; float: right; height: 232px;" title="The Calumet Industrial Canal. (Lloyd DeGrane)" /><strong>A legacy of contamination</strong></h2><p>The Grand Calumet was &ldquo;originally mostly a slowly meandering wetland complex,&rdquo; said Jim Smith, an Indiana state natural resource damage coordinator. But with widespread dredging, channelizing, damming and the building of the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal which makes up the final stretch into the lake, &ldquo;the flow regime of the river has changed.&rdquo;</p><p>Today, in fact, municipal and industrial effluent makes up 90 percent of the river&rsquo;s flow.</p><p>&ldquo;There were industries from meatpacking to lumber to brickmaking and metal shops on the west branch to the big steel mills and the petroleum industry,&rdquo; Smith noted. &ldquo;Pipelines and everything came through this area. Also the municipalities developed their sewers going directly into the river. There was domestic contamination from human origin to organic stuff from the petroleum industry and steelmaking.</p><p>&ldquo;The river was the disposal point for years.&rdquo;</p><p>The river&rsquo;s sediment contains harmful metals and carcinogenic compounds including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals like mercury, cadmium, chromium and lead from the decades of industrial dumping. A&nbsp; 2000 study prepared for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found serious concerns and impacts from contaminated sediment in the Grand Calumet.</p><p>The river is also contaminated by leaching and run-off from nearby waste disposal sites and contaminated groundwater, according to the Areas of Concern website.&nbsp; It is even harmed by atmospheric deposition of contaminants from fossil fuel burning and waste incineration.</p><p>There are more than 460 underground storage tanks containing chemical and petroleum waste products in the area, the website says, and at least 150 leaking tank reports have been filed with the county.</p><p>&ldquo;The contaminants we&rsquo;re talking about affect organisms and can directly or indirectly affect the food chain,&rdquo; said Scott Ireland, U.S. EPA special assistant for the senior adviser to the administrator on the Great Lakes. &ldquo;They could wipe out the benthic community, so fish are not able to eat, or fish eat (benthic organisms) and are contaminated; then the contamination will enter the food chain. If humans eat the fish, they are taking up those contaminants as well.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://greatlakesecho.org" target="_blank">Great Lakes Echo</a> is a project of the <a href="http://ej.msu.edu/index2.php" target="_blank">Knight Center for Environmental Journalism</a> at Michigan State University.</em></p></p> Sat, 26 Jan 2013 10:06:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/grand-calumet-river-delivers-toxic-load-lake-michigan-105165 The Grand Calumet River’s road to recovery http://www.wbez.org/news/grand-calumet-river%E2%80%99s-road-recovery-105164 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Swimmers-at-Calumet-Park-in-Chicago-not-far-from-where-the-Grand-Calumet-River-meets-Lake-Michigan.-Photo-by-Lloyd-DeGrane..jpg" style="width: 620px;" title="Swimmers at Chicago’s Calumet Park near where the Grand Calumet River enters Lake Michigan. (Lloyd DeGrane)" />The sediment on the bottom of the Grand Calumet River in Northwest Indiana provides a toxic record of the region&rsquo;s history going back more than a century.</p><p>It is full of chemicals, heavy metals and other contaminants from steel-making, oil refining, waste incineration, smelting and other heavy industry that laid the economic and social foundation of the area.</p><p>But federal and state officials are now in the midst of a multi-million dollar project to clean up the sediment and the river as a whole.</p><p>Since the 1972 Clean Water Act drastically reduced industrial discharges into waterways, once the legacy sediment is removed there will be relatively little industrial pollution in the future, said Scott Ireland, special assistant for the senior adviser to the administrator on the Great Lake for the&nbsp; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.</p><p>Dredging&nbsp; started in 2009. About 750,000 cubic yards of sediment two to three feet deep have been removed along a 2.5 mile stretch of river.&nbsp; The dredged area was then covered with a reactive barrier, composed of either organoclay mixed with sand or an activated carbon mat. These specialized materials help filter and contain toxic substances from the underlying sediments.</p><p>&ldquo;Our capping and dredging will sequester or isolate contaminated sediments that have been there for almost 100 years, reducing the total amount of contaminants going into the Great Lakes,&rdquo; said Jim Smith, a coordinator of the natural resources damages department for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. &ldquo;How much it will reduce it we really don&rsquo;t know &ndash; there will be some interesting monitoring done over the next few years.&rdquo;</p><h2><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/The-Calumet-River-enters-Lake-Michigan-by-Lloyd-DeGrane.jpg" style="width: 350px; float: right;" title="The Grand Calumet River enters Lake Michigan. (Lloyd DeGrane)" /><strong>Addressing combined sewer overflows</strong></h2><p>Overflowing sewers that pour into the river and then Lake Michigan&nbsp; contain E. coli bacteria and other germs as well as oil, grease and detritus picked up by storm water running off industrial and municipal areas. In 2011, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago released 1.2 billion gallons, 126 million gallons and 304 million gallons, respectively, of stormwater contaminated with sewage into the Grand Calumet waterway, according to Indiana officials.<br />But the state is working with those cities to curb these combined sewer overflows, including by separating the sewers that carry storm water from sanitary sewers (for human waste.)</p><p>East Chicago already is implementing an approved plan. Hammond and Gary are developing their plans &ndash; two of the last four municipalities in a statewide sewer improvement program involving 108 cities and towns and 10 separate consent decrees.</p><p>East Chicago&rsquo;s $20.8 million plan promises that only rains heavier than a relatively rare &ldquo;10-year, one-hour&rdquo; storm will cause sewer overflows into the Grand Calumet.</p><p>There are different techniques cities use to address the problem.</p><p>&ldquo;You might increase the size of wastewater treatment capacity, to accept and treat more of the flow,&rdquo; said Paul Higginbotham, branch chief over Indiana&rsquo;s office of water quality permits.&nbsp; &ldquo;You can also take out bottlenecks within the collection system &ndash; so you can get flow to the treatment plant versus overflow into the outfall&hellip;</p><p>&ldquo;Also, bigger communities can add wet weather treatment systems, like basins for the overflow where it&rsquo;s treated before it&rsquo;s discharged.&rdquo;</p><h2><strong>Restoring wetlands</strong></h2><p>State and federal officials have restored about 37 acres of wetlands that had been seriously degraded by contaminated floodwaters from the river over the years and choked with invasive phragmites. They removed the sediment in the wetlands and replaced it with clean sand. And they replaced phragmites with native vegetation.</p><p>In all, about 100 acres of wetland will be restored. It provides habitat for migratory birds and fish, improving the overall ecological health of the surrounding area. The wetlands also help prevent nutrient pollution and other contaminated runoff into Lake Michigan, as storm water&nbsp; filters through the wetlands before seeping into the lake.</p><p>The sediment clean up and wetland restoration are funded by the Great Lakes Legacy Act, a law meant to deal with contaminated sediment from years past. The Grand Calumet project so far has cost $72 million, about 65 percent of it federal money under the Legacy Act, which is part of the larger Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.</p><p>Another $75 million is needed to complete the project. Securing the full funding in the near future could be difficult given the federal budget crisis which is likely to mean moderate or even severe cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.</p><p>State officials will closely monitoring the project for the next 40 years, repairing the cap on the river bottom if needed and continuing to remove invasive species and plant native species as necessary.</p><p>Under a consent decree with U.S. Steel, Higginbotham said, starting next year there will also be monitoring done on five miles of the east branch of the Grand Calumet, including a site in the middle portion of the Indiana Harbor which is at the river&rsquo;s mouth into Lake Michigan.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ll be looking at fish populations, fish tissue contaminant concentrations, sediment contaminant concentrations, water quality, general parameters, chemical parameters, macro-benthic populations, sediment toxicity,&rdquo; said Smith.</p><p>Once the sewer, sediment removal and wetland work is done, the officials said, the river should be safer and more attractive for boaters. The beaches of Lake Michigan will become healthier for people and wildlife.</p><p>The Areas of Concern website notes that the Grand Calumet once supported &ldquo;highly diverse, globally unique fish and wildlife communities,&rdquo; and despite all the abuse &ldquo;remnants of this diversity&rdquo; still remain.</p><p>Theoretically it could be revived. Then ideally a paddling trip down the Grand Calumet into Lake Michigan will provide a view of both the area&rsquo;s proud industrial history and the way a battered ecosystem can be nursed back to health.</p><p><em><a href="http://greatlakesecho.org" target="_blank">Great Lakes Echo</a> is a project of the <a href="http://ej.msu.edu/index2.php" target="_blank">Knight Center for Environmental Journalism</a> at Michigan State University.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Sat, 26 Jan 2013 09:52:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/grand-calumet-river%E2%80%99s-road-recovery-105164 Water distrct to curb raw sewage discharges http://www.wbez.org/story/water-distrct-curb-raw-sewage-discharges-94902 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-December/2011-12-14/River spray.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>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 <a href="http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/cwa/mwrd.html">struck a deal </a>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.</p><p>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.</p><p>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.</p><p>“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.”</p><p>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.</p></p> Wed, 14 Dec 2011 22:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/water-distrct-curb-raw-sewage-discharges-94902 About Front and Center – in-depth reporting from the Great Lakes http://www.wbez.org/story/about-front-and-center-%E2%80%93-depth-reporting-great-lakes-87655 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-June/2011-06-14/Great Lakes Aerial_Flickr_NASA Goddard Photo and Video.jpg" alt="" /><p><div><div><div><div><div>The Great Lakes region has always been defined by water. The “sweetwater seas,” as the lakes were known, sustained indigenous people, and served as a thoroughfare for hunters, fur traders and early voyagers. &nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>More recently, water powered the region's growth as a critical input to the mills, processing plants and manufacturing complexes that propelled this region into becoming the industrial and agricultural powerhouse of America. &nbsp;Water was also the conduit for those goods to travel through the Great Lakes and out the St. Lawrence Seaway, but also down the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><table style="width: 290px;" align="left" border="0" cellpadding="10" cellspacing="10"><tbody><tr><td><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/story/insert-image/2011-June/2011-06-21/waterspromo.jpg" style="width: 280px; height: 50px; float: left; margin: 5px;" title=""></a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/great-lakes-face-increasing-pressure-water-world-own-backyard-88093">Great Lakes face increasing pressure for water from world, own backyard</a></strong></p><p><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/how-likely-fear-west-could-steal-great-lakes-water-88134">How likely is the fear the West could steal Great Lakes water? </a></strong></p><p><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/waukeshas-request-great-lakes-water-complex-first-test-law-88126">Waukesha's request for Great Lakes water is complex first test of law </a></strong></p></td></tr></tbody></table><div>Water helped build this region and made it rich. &nbsp;But in the process the Great Lakes became a dumping ground for toxic industrial, manufacturing and human waste. &nbsp;The lakes were poisoned, thousands of acres of critical wetlands paved over and the natural aquatic ecosystem destroyed by pollution and invasive species.&nbsp; Tough environmental regulations and cleanup efforts have brought dramatic improvement but today the lakes face new challenges.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Beginning on June 20th with a live call-in program and continuing with a series of in-depth reports and web-features, Front and Center will focus on one topic—water, the critical resource linking 42 million residents of the Great Lakes basin.&nbsp; Reporters from throughout the region will examine the politics and policies shaping the region, and highlight the people who have made Great Lakes's water their life's work.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>We will take you to the St. Lawrence Seaway where Canadian and U.S. officials are facing off over environmental shipping regulations, and travel down the Chicago River to consider the feasibility and the potential environmental benefits of re-reversing the river.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>We'll visit one of the world's only floating post offices making deliveries to the big ships on the Detroit River, and spend a week on a freighter chronicling the lives of the workers onboard.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>We'll hear from Native American leaders in Northern Michigan combating invasive species threatening their traditional fishing grounds and eavesdrop on wildlife biologists on the islands of Lake Superior tracking the remarkable recovery of the Bald Eagle population once decimated by industrial chemicals.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>With the region's industrial economic base in decline, experts are looking at how water can play a central role in a defining a new economic future that balances the need to create jobs and protect the environment.&nbsp; Some call it a "freshwater economy," while others label it a "blue" economy. &nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Already, with water becoming an increasingly scarce resource around the globe, companies in the region are scrambling to get ahead of the curve, inventing new technologies to conserve and better manage water use.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Ultimately, the future of the Great Lakes will be guided by the actions and commitment of all those who live in the region--the people who use the lakes but all too often have taken them for granted.&nbsp; Our hope is that these stories will educate and spark debate while inspiring those of us who live in the region to appreciate this unique resource that has enriched our lives.&nbsp;&nbsp;</div></div></div></div></div></p> Thu, 09 Jun 2011 20:43:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/about-front-and-center-%E2%80%93-depth-reporting-great-lakes-87655