- Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop - http://www.newstips.org -

O’Brien: Keeping Lake Michigan clean?

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“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 [2]).  “It’s time to clean up Cook County.”

In fact, as Newstips [3] 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 [4].

Ann Alexander of the Natural Resources Defense Council [5] 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?