NRDC Files Suit against the Water Reclamation District: Time for the District to Become Part of the Solution, Not the Problem
NRDC and its coalition partners filed a lawsuit today demanding that the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District stop polluting the Chicago River and start protecting it. As described in our 60-day notice letter filed in March (and in my previous post), the lawsuit seeks an order requiring the District to clean up its discharges of raw sewage combined with stormwater, and to stop polluting the river with algae-fueling phosphorus – problems that are being addressed successfully in other cities.
It is no secret that Chicago’s water infrastructure is in bad shape. As I and others here at NRDC have described before, the Water Reclamation District operates a combined system that sends both raw sewage and stormwater runoff to its treatment plants through the same pipes – which works just fine until we get a rainstorm, at which point the system can’t handle the volume and has to dump the combined mess right into the River. The District has thus far spent more than $3 billion to try to fix the problem, but has little to show for it save vague, unenforceable assurances that it might be done by 2029. The phosphorus discharges, meanwhile, are fueling noxious algae blooms downriver, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
The District has been negotiating for nearly a decade with US EPA and the US Department of Justice over a possible settlement requiring cleanup of the CSO problem. We have heard through back channels that they may be close to inking a deal, although we haven’t actually seen a draft.
A settlement without green infrastructure front and center would solve almost nothing. It would be essentially an endorsement of a failed system, which $3 billion in taxpayers’ money for gray infrastructure has not fixed.
We remain hopeful that federal regulators will come forward with green infrastructure solutions to force the District to become part of the solution, not the problem. But until and unless they step up, we are proceeding with our lawsuit.
Rain garden photo courtesy of Seattle Public Utilities
Green roof photo courtesy of Roofscapes, Inc.