May 12, 2011
After years of dilly-dallying by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, the US EPA has stepped in with a determination that will require disinfection at two of the district’s three sewage treatment plants, the Tribune reports.
The Tribune report neglects the crucial work of area environmental groups, which have battled the MWRD in rulemaking hearings before the Illinois Pollution Control Board for years. The district has spent $13 million fighting a proposed ruling, throwing up every argument it could muster that it should be allowed to continue polluting.
Just last week the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the Prairie Rivers Network filed a federal lawsuit under the Clean Water Act, seeking to stop the MWRD from dumping raw sewage and phosphorous in the the Chicago river system.
There may be a pattern here. Last July, NRDC and the Sierra Club were among environmental groups announcing they would sue Midwest Generation under the Clean Air Act to force the company to clean up its coal-fired power plants. A few weeks later the US EPA, Department of Justice, and the Illinois Attorney General initiated legal action against the company.
It’s one of the strengths of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts that they allow citizens to sue for compliance, said Josh Mogerman of NRDC.
The US EPA’s determination calls for “expeditious” action, and as NRDC’s Ann Alexander points out in a Switchboard post, that puts the onus on the MWRD to “stop squabbling.”
Alexander agrees with the federal agency that disinfection is more urgent at the two targeted MWRD treatment plants, which discharge into the North Branch of the Chicago River and the Cal Sag Channel. But she says the Clean Water Act will eventually require action at the district’s Stickney plant as well.
Also yet to be addressed in the environmentalists’ lawsuit is MWRD’s failure to remove phosphorous from its stormwater discharges. Like disinfection, it’s a matter in which Chicago lags other metropolitan areas.