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Over $1 Billion a Year in Budget, and Chicago River System Still Full of Raw Sewage

Chicago Tribune 28 August 2015 No Comment

Testing by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, the taxpayer-funded agency that handles Cook County’s sewage and stormwater, reveals high levels of bacteria from human waste at more than a dozen spots stretching through the North Side and downtown to the Bridgeport neighborhood.


Levels of disease-causing germs routinely exceed state standards for recreational waterways, the testing shows. Muck and debris flushed into the river during rainstorms leave it teeming with pathogens in staggeringly higher numbers, with levels frequently spiking tens of thousands of times above legal limits.

The water quality measurements — buried in jargon-heavy spreadsheets on the district’s website — reflect Chicago’s long history of treating a slow-moving prairie river as little more than an industrialized repository for the city’s waste.

By next summer, new germ-zapping disinfection equipment should help make the river safer. Even then, however, city and district officials aren’t planning to provide regular, easy-to-find updates about potential health threats in the waterways, unlike Lake Michigan beaches — where warning flags are raised when bacteria counts are high — or other cities that are reclaiming urban rivers after decades of abuse.

Read more in the Chicago Tribune

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