Durbin, Kirk, Quigley Tour Chicago River in Wake of EPA Decision Calling for Improved Water Quality Standards

[CHICAGO, IL] – More stringent water quality standards are needed on the Chicago River to create a safer and healthier waterway for generations to come, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said following a boat tour today. Durbin was joined on the tour by U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region V Administrator Susan Hedman.

“Discharging sewage that has not been disinfected into the Chicago River is a threat to public health and unacceptable in a great city,” said Durbin. “Today, Chicago is the only major metropolitan area in the nation that does not disinfect the sewage that flows into its river. I agree with the EPA’s decision to raise water quality standards in and around Chicago to reflect this new reality as many other cities – such as Washington, D.C. and Boston – have done. We have an opportunity to improve our waterways and make them more accessible for future generations. I will work with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago to identify federal resources to help make this change.”

"Whether Lake Michigan or the Chicago River, improving water quality standards is essential for the health and safety of the millions of families and tourists who come to Chicago each year for recreation," said Kirk. "I look forward to working with Sen. Durbin on improving these standards, which will broaden the use of this important body of water."

"One of our greatest natural assets should not be used as a toilet," said Quigley. "Disinfecting the Chicago River is long overdue, and we must work together to make sure that a waterway which runs through our communities is clean and safe. As I have before, I will continue to support the efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and anyone who is committed to creating cleaner air and water for our families."

Last week, U.S. EPA Region V notified the State of Illinois that water quality standards for five segments of the Chicago and Calumet River must be upgraded to protect health and safety on the rivers. Following the notification, Durbin received a briefing from U.S. EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, and then asked the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen its water quality standards for the Chicago and Calumet Rivers as soon as possible. Also last week, American Rivers – a national environmental group – named the Chicago River among the ten most endangered rivers in the country. The group estimates that sewage comprises roughly 70 percent of the water in Chicago River.

In order to attain the standard called for by the EPA, MWRD will be required to disinfect sewage discharged into the waterway system from two of its treatment plants: Calumet and North Side. MWRD ceased disinfection at these facilities in the mid-1980s. Every day, the MWRD releases 1.2 billion gallons of wastewater into the Chicago River. Chicago is the last major metropolitan area that does not disinfect its wastewater.