Not Suitable: Storm Brewing in North Shore Channel Water Quality Standards

Implementation of Federal EPA standards could effect the way that stormwater and sewage is disposed in the North Shore Channel.

Water Quality in the Chicago River has suddenly become an important issue for the Federal EPA and the Chicago Tribune, which has run a series of articles about sewage, waste, and stormwater disposal in the Chicago River. Coincidentally, they have a new Mayor in Chicago, replacing the one who tolerated the use of the Chicago River as a waste conduit during his 22 years in office.

The North Shore Channel is a man-made drianage canal, completed in 1910 which diverts wastes from the northern suburbs from Lake Michigan into the North Branch of the Chicago River. The Channel runs from Wilmette, near the Bahai Temple and Lake Michigan, roughly parallel down Frank Govern Golf Course and McCormick Boulevard to approximately the intersection of Kedzie Avenue and Foster Avenue, where it dumps into the Chicago River.

Per the Village of Wilmette

the North Shore Channel is subject to Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) a portion of the Village of Wilmette’s combined sewer system east of Ridge Road is diverted to the North Shore Channel by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRDGC) after their “Deep Tunnel” is full and can no longer accept any more sewage.

Thus it is entirely possible that the North Shore Channel receives untreated sewage directly into the canal without disinfection. In fact, per the MWRDGC, there have been 23 CSO overflow events this year in which dumping has occurred throughout its system. The proposed EPA requirements would force the MWRDC to treat all sewage before it is spilled into the canal, which seems quite a bit like the current proposal for the Deep Tunnel project, which includes wastewater treatment as one of its goals.

Which brings up about as many questions as the EPA proposal resolves....

1) What is the timetable for completion of the Deep Tunnel project in Wilmette? What are the parameters and thresholds for stormwater handling? We have had 3 "50-Year" floods in the last 4 years, could the Deep Tunnel completed as designed even handle a "50 Year" flood?

2) Why does liquid flow directly from a pipe into the North Shore Channel from the Frank Govern (formerly Peter Jans) Golf Course? It certainly isn't treated, is it only stormwater, or is it raw sewage as well?

3) How does Combined Sewer Overflow get into Lake Michigan to begin with? Wouldn't it generally spill into the North Shore Channel rather than the Lake? What is going on at the Winnetka Centennial Dog Beach that caused 10 incidents of high bacteria count last August?

4) Speaking of bacteria counts, it does not look like there is any governing body reporting bacteria and pollutant level in the North Shore Channel and Chicago River systems. Would it be possible to get those numbers published to read if there is actually a concern with water quality before using the Channel for recreational activity?

I think there is a general consensus that residents of Wilmette would like to have clean water running in the North Shore Channel, but there is also a general consensus that we have a wet basement and stormwater disposal issue that is not being adequately addressed by our various drainage programs. Proposing 19th century solutions like rain barrel installation seems a rather quaint affront to modern methods of keeping our basements dry and channel water clean.   

What monitoring and maintenance would you like to see to ensure safer water?  What long term capital investments would provide lasting solutions?  What are the chances of the Federal Government implementing standards which work locally to provide safe access to water, our greatest natural resource? 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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