At 4:29pm on Saturday, October 14th, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago announced via Twitter that “The gates at Chicago River and Wilmette Harbor are open to allow flow to Lake Michigan.”
The “flow” referred to is a “combined sewer outflow” -- in other words, untreated stormwater, wastewater, and raw sewage, all mixed together and dumped into the same Lake Michigan that provides our drinking water, as well as other parts of the Chicago Area Waterway System.
In most of Cook County, excess rainwater and wastewater from human sources all end up in the same pipes -- the “combined sewers” that give the events their name. When rainwater falls fast enough to fill the pipes, everything in them spills out, including the human and industrial waste.
Saturday’s sewage dump, in the midst of dramatic rains, underscores the position of the Green Party candidates for the MWRD Board of Commissioners: Cook County desperately needs to develop its water-absorbing green infrastructure, on a scale that the current all-Democrat board is unwilling to pursue.
No amount of drilling, tunneling, or laying concrete can fully cope with the billions of gallons of water that arrive in a severe rainstorm. Communities need soil and deep-rooted plants to absorb rain before it gets to the combined sewer systems. Green Party candidates are prepared to lead the way on investment in stomwater-absorbing green infrastructure -- starting on MWRD land, much of which is currently given over to private, industrial leases, including to known waterway polluters.
The MWRD website currently reports 57 days in 2017 on which “CSO events” occurred, including four so far in October. That’s about 20% of the year during which our taxpayer-funded system for floodwater management hasn’t fully succeeded in keeping untreated sewage out of our water supply.
Voters in 2018 should keep that in mind when they head to the polls.