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Water District Doesn’t Disinfect

As officials study the rising number of bacteria-related swimming bans, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District continues dumping sewage into Chicago waterways without disinfecting it.

The MWRD is the only major metropolitan water agency that doesn’t disinfect its waste, said Laurel O’Sullivan of the Lake Michigan Federation. The District removes solids and sanitizes wastewater, but agencies in virtually every other U.S. city go one step further: they also disinfect using chlorinization or ultra violet technology to destroy bacteria, she said.

Overflows into riverways from large storms bypass treatment plants, and during “extreme” storm events locks are opened and river system water is released into Lake Michigan.

In Mayor Daley’s new Water Agenda, the city has pledged to “work with the MWRD to end the practice of discharging untreated wastewater into Lake Michigan” — but it hasn’t addressed the issue of disinfecting wastewater during routine treatment.

“There is undoubtedly bacteria from the waterways system getting into the lake,” said O’Sullivan. “The overall quality of the water sent out to the lake would be much higher if they disinfected.”

While Friends of the Chicago River, the Lake Michigan Federation, and the Sierra Club have raised the issue for years, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency recently started a study of increased recreational use of the Chicago River system, asking whether water quality standards need to be increased.

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Category: environment, Lake Michigan, water

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