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MWRD Votes to Keep Local Athletes Lesion-Free Disinfect Chicago River

By JoshMogerman in News on Jun 11, 2011 7:00PM

Under the Michigan Avenue Bridge 1 [jmogs]
This week, the sordid saga of the Chicago River took a new turn with a near-unanimous vote from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District board to stop dumping partially treated sewage into the waterway. Chicago had been the last major city in the nation to allow treatment plants to return water to the river without killing bacteria from human waste. Water dumped from those plants makes up 70% of the river’s flow in many areas. Yuck.

With growing public distaste for the state of the river, this vote has likely been building for months---but recent public efforts from activists and new blood on the board, coupled with regulatory actions brought a decades-long fight for a cleanup to a surprisingly quick close.

Reaction was swift. The Trib, which has followed the story closely and forcefully editorialized for a cleanup, couldn’t help but get in one final dig:

The lone holdout was Terrence O'Brien, the board's longtime president. O'Brien has argued the endeavor will waste money, contribute to global warming and lead to children drowning.

Crain’s, on the other hand, came just short of lauding O’Brien for digging in, focusing their coverage on his argument the costs for the fix were too high. Testimony from other commissioners and staffers before the vote seemed to imply that the 12-15% sewer bill increases he estimates are overblown.

Chicago News Cooperative found the best quote of the day from public testimony:

Speaking at a public meeting before the vote, North Side resident John Friedman said several of his neighbors have complained of bacterial infections after swimming or boating in the river. He mentioned a young woman who quit the Loyola University crew team, which practices in river’s north branch, because of frequent skin lesions she attributed to the river.

“That’s toilet water they’re training in,” Friedman said. The vote to disinfect it, he said, was “historic.”

We applaud the District for doing their part to keep our local athletes lesion-free!