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O’Brien: Keeping Lake Michigan clean?

“It’s my job to clean up our water and keep pollution out of Lake Michigan,” says MWRD president Terrence O’Brien in the first TV ad of his campaign for County Board president (watch it on youtube).  “It’s time to clean up Cook County.”

In fact, as Newstips reported last April, under O’Brien the MWRD has resisted calls to disinfect wastewater for nearly a decade.  In a letter to the Tribune last February, O’Brien claimed it would cost $2 billion; Newstips reported the US EPA’s estimate that it would cost at most $650 million, and perhaps as little as $250 million, over 20 years.

“Environmental groups believe MWRD is exaggerating the cost of disinfection as part of a strategy of delaying action,” we wrote, citing John Quail of Friends of the Chicago River.

Ann Alexander of the Natural Resources Defense Council pointed out that MWRD is spending millions of dollars on lawyers and experts in its effort to prevent the Illinois Pollution Control Board from implementing a recommendation by the Illinois EPA (endorsed by the city) to require MWRD to disinfect.

As far as “keeping pollution out of Lake Michigan,” here’s what we reported in August of 2003:

“During ‘extreme storm events,’ locks are opened and river system water is released into Lake Michigan.  ‘There is undoubtedly bacteria from the waterways system getting into the lake,’ said [Laurel] O’Sullivan [of the Lake Michigan Federation].

“‘The overall quality of the water sent out to the lake would be much higher if they disinfected.'”

UPDATE:  Last year we reported a ruling was expected by the end of the year.  Alexander now says she has no idea when a ruling will occur, noting this “has set the record for the length of a rulemaking proceeding.”

The delay results from MWRD’s effort “to contest the obvious,” she said.

“They’ve presented multiple purported experts before the pollution control board to defend the proposition that pathogens in the water aren’t really bad for you.” That’s forced NRDC to spend time and resources “to prove that in fact they are.”

It’s a remarkable story that to date has gone virtually untold.  Will O’Brien’s candidacy give it any currency?

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Category: environment, Lake Michigan, water


2 Responses

  1. Curtis says:

    (Passing along a new comment on an old, related post) –

    The MWRD is on the wrong side of history on this issue. Of the 23 largest dischargers of sewage effluent in the United States the MWRD is the only one that does not comprehensively disinfect its sewage. Yes, there is a cost to disinfection, and the MWRD is not accurate in it’s quote, but the greater issue is what is the cost of NOT disinfecting. The Illinois Pollution Control Board has been in a 2-year rule making process involving the MWRD and the Illinois EPA. These are three taxpayer funded bodies tied up and expending resources on this issue. Disinfection is the right thing to do, now is the time to do it. Let’s not spend more money fighting the inevitable. Sign this online petition to voice your support on this critical issue.

  2. politicalady says:

    Todd Connor is a candidate for MWRD who has put this issue at the forefront of his campaign. His reform agenda, “Clean Water, Clean Government,” prioritizes disinfecting the waterways. Disinfection is not only the right thing to do for the environment, but also for homeowners and taxpayers. This is a health issue and we are wasting money fighting the inevitable. Visit Connor’s issue-based site to support disinfecting our waterways;

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