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Chicago River Regulators: Cleaning Up Waste is a Waste?

By JoshMogerman in News on May 14, 2011 7:00PM

One day after the EPA made it clear that they won't abide a Chicago River rife with poo germs, regional water regulators emphatically said they were not ready to clean up. The icky water in question comes from treatment plants operated by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, whose Board President Terrence O’Brien came out swinging at a press conference on Friday. Despite a recent court ruling ordering improved water quality on stretches of the waterway and calls from just about everyone else (including the City, State, Feds and local environmental groups) for the District to end the practice of dumping “undisinfected effluent” into the River, O’Brien called cleaning up the Chicago River a waste of taxpayer money. That is quite a statement coming from someone who publicly claimed, "It's my job to clean up our water and keep pollution out of Lake Michigan..."

The EPA response did not mince words:

Susan Hedman, the EPA's regional administrator for the Midwest, called the MWRD's assertions "absurd."

"Disinfection is something that virtually every other major city in the United States - and most major cities in the industrialized world - have found financially possible," Hedman said.

According to the Tribune, bacteria counts of water dumped into the Chicago River at MWRD’s North Side Treatment Plant are, on average, 521 times higher than those in Elgin on the Fox River. Some stretches of the waterway are made up of 70% effluent dumped from the treatment plants. EPA studies put the price of disinfection (which Gary, IN, Cleveland and Detroit somehow manage to afford) at no more than $7 per month per household and other analyses put it closer to the price of a latte each month.

This whole thing seems pretty crazy to us. We stopped dumping pig carcasses in Bubbly Creek a long time ago and public perception of the river has clearly changed in recent years, yet we continue to treat it like the Yangtze? You just can’t have a world-class city with a Third World river running through its heart.