Top 12 sewage polluters of the Great Lakes
CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–June 26, 2012. United States Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill), Co-Chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, today joined with United States Representative Bob Dold (R-Winnetka) to release the Great Lakes Dirty Dozen, a list of the top 12 sewage polluters across the Great Lakes. Although sewage pollution has been on the decline, billions of gallons of sewage are still dumped into the Great Lakes each year, threatening the safety of our drinking water, devastating the environment, and triggering thousands of beach closures annually.
“While many communities have made some progress in recent years to mitigate sewage pollution, 30 million people are still relying on highly polluted water for drinking and recreation,” Sen. Kirk said. “Polluters need a wake-up call, like the Great Lakes Water Protection Act, to realize that the continued diversion of sewage and toxic waste into the Great Lakes is unacceptable.”
“I have seen firsthand the critical work our local water and sewage districts do each and every day and support their mission to ensure a quality drinking water supply by protecting Lake Michigan,” Rep. Dold said. “However, while there has been a decline in the volume of sewage dumped into the Great Lakes, the fact there are those municipalities who believe it is still acceptable to dump untreated or ‘blended’ water into the largest bodies of fresh water in the world is unacceptable. I urge my colleagues in the House to pass the Great Lakes Water Protection Act so that we can work on preserving our precious natural resources for generations to come.”
Roughly 30 million Americans depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, yet billions of gallons of sewage are deposited into the lakes each year. Last year, for example, Fort Wayne, IN dumped a staggering 7.5 billion gallons of combined sewage into the tributaries of Lake Erie. Closer to home, 6.5 billion gallons in 2010, and another 2.3 billion gallons in 2011, were discharged into Lake Michigan from the Chicagoland area.
Figure 1. Unless otherwise noted, CSO discharge volumes for 2010 and 2011 are based on the 19 June 2012 Alliance for the Great Lakes Report – Reducing Combined Sewer Overflows in the Great Lakes: Why Investing in Infrastructure is Critical to Improving Water Quality. Volumes reported for Detroit include only raw sewage discharged. (*) Note these volumes are estimates by modeling typical annual rainfall (as reported in the June 2012 report by the Alliance for the Great Lakes). (+) Information provided by Indiana Department of Environmental Management upon request from Sen. Kirk’s Office. (^) Information provided by Ohio EPA upon request from Sen. Kirk’s Office. When necessary, data points were rounded to the nearest whole number.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an estimated 182 communities within the Great Lakes region have combined sewer systems (CSS). For CSS communities, sewage is discharged into the Great Lakes and their tributaries during periods of heavy rainfall, when the volumes of wastewater exceed the capacity of sewers and storage. When this happens, combined sewer systems are designed to send the excess of storm water, untreated human and industrial waste, and toxic materials into nearby bodies of water. This practice poses a serious threat to public health, is damaging to fragile freshwater ecosystems, and contributes to thousands of annual beach closings in the Great Lakes region.
Beach closures are a persistent threat to public health and have a significant economic impact on numerous cash-strapped communities surrounding the Great Lakes that rely heavily on tourism during the warm summer months. A University of Chicago study concluded that Lake Michigan beach closures – caused by high levels of harmful pathogens like E. coli – cost the local economy $2.4 million in lost revenue every year. The number of beach advisories and closings on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Illinois continues to remain high. In 2010, more than 570 beach closures and advisories were issued across Illinois’ freshwater beaches.
In early 2011, Sen. Kirk and Rep. Dold introduced the Great Lakes Water Protection Act, bipartisan, bicameral legislation aimed at protecting the Great Lakes from sewage dumping. The Act gives cities until 2031 to upgrade their sewage systems and put in place the infrastructure necessary to prevent sewage dumping in the Great Lakes. Beginning in 2031, those who violate EPA sewage dumping regulations will be subject to increased fines of up to $100,000 per day, per violation. Money collected from these fines will be directed into the Great Lakes Clean-Up Fund, which is created within the legislation to generate financial resources for Great Lakes states to advance wastewater treatment options and systems, and to improve habitat protection.