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Does Pouring Raw Sewage in Lake Michigan Get You Endorsed by The Trib?

John Powers 31 January 2008 20 Comments

Following up one of my least favorite smells of the summer, raw sewage in Lake Michigan, I checked the Tribune’s endorsements for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

The Trib lets us know:

“If last year’s troubling saga of refinery effluent entering Lake Michigan imparted one lesson, it’s that the Chicago area needs to zealously guard the quality of its public waters.”

Of course BP did not pour much of anything into the Lake, nor did they propose to pour much more of anything into the Lake. The MWRD poured 220 million gallons of raw sewage into Lake Michigan, without the local press whispering any concern.

So, the Trib endorses Frank Avila, a board member at MWRD during one of the more botched up environmental messes in recent memory, without mention of any issues that may have occurred under his watch.

Candidate Spryropolous (endorsed by the Trib) tells us that she will “Stop Big Corporations from Polluting Lake Michigan”. Fair enough, but who is going to stop the MWRD?


  • Manny said:

    The Commissioners do not make the decision to dump. The General Superintdent Richard Lanyon.

    The dumping is not what you are making it out to be

  • Walter said:

    Dumping raw sewage into Lake Michigan is good for the environment. Raw sewage is basically fecal matter which has a lot of nutrients — raw sewage provides food for algae and plankton which increases the oxygen levels in Lake Michigan.

    Debra Shore advocated for dumping raw sewage into Lake Michigan.

  • John Powers said:


    If you are telling me the Commisioners do not control how the MWRD runs, then they are either not very good commisioners or they are not needed.


  • Howard said:

    The Commissioners make policy they do not run the day to operation of the district. They hire a a General Superintendent.

    Before Commissioner Avila, and more exactly-before the Deep Tunnel-the release you are talking about was frequently like 22 times vs 2 times.

    This particular time was a decision because of the heavy rainfall over numerous days.

    There is a big difference between human waste which is “natural” and normally put into the environment and what BP was doing.

    I am also curious why you only mention Commissioner Avila.

    Commissioner Meany was endorsed by the Sun Times and you don’t mention her name. There are 9 Commissioners you do not mention.

    What about the environmental groups who supported Commissioner Debra Shore? What about President Terry O’Brien? Commissioner Avila is 1 of 9 Commissioners and not the President. The 9 Commissioners pick the General Superintdent who makes the decision.

    There was no significant impact to the environment because of this.

    These are tactical decisions based on what the facilities can hold and what can cause flooding over a sustained rain. This was not the environmental situation you make it. The reason no other paper’s editorial board or environmental group mentioned it is that it did not change the chemical makeup of the water and was a necessary thing to do. It unfortunately happened on a regular basis before Commissioner Avila and because it was before the Deep Tunnel. Without the Deep Tunnel, what you are complaining about would of happened many more times.

    There is no environmental impact to what you are talking about.

    What you are talking about used to be a regular occurence.

  • Dan Kelley said:

    One of the possible reasons for not mentioning all nine commissioners of the MWRD is the fact that their terms are staggered. In alternating two year intervals, three commissioners are on the ballot. Why spend time discussing those persons who are not up for election next Tuesday?

  • Nemo the Fish said:

    Ok, Ok, fair enough. Commissioner AVILA is only mentioned because he’s up for re-election, but then let’s also mention the other two MWRD Commissioners that are up for re-election: Commissioner MEANY and SANTOS. (I mean it’s only fair) AND Commissioner Meany was endorsed by the Sun-Times too. You must be OUTRAGED over that as well. I am appalled. How are these papers endorsing our POOP being dumped into Lake Michigan. Actually, I hear Chicagoan’s poop is worse than what BP was gonna dump.

    But remember this happened under the watch of Environmentalist sent from G-d — all praise the great, the selfless, the one with nature: Commissioner Debra Shore. So, I mean, if it was ok for Comish Shore – it must be good for the environment. I hear she communicates with the water animals.

    Personally, I’m going with the Sierra Club endorsements: Maragos, Podgorski, Spyropoulos. I hear they’re going to start a “STOP SH*TTING, SAVE THE EARTH” campaign. As a fish (you may know me from such movies as “Finding Nemo”), I’m really getting sick of swimming in all your sh*t. I, also, think the punishment for the heinous acts of current Commissioners Avila, Santos, and Meany should be to force them to swim in Lake Michigan and the Chicago River for an unspecified period of time. We’ll see how much they like dumping our poop in our waterways after that.

  • Norbert Pavlovic said:

    I spoke to fellow engineers in water and flood control (not at the District).

    This is not what you are making out to be. You have a logical fallacy as you have no consequence or impact.

    You also are comparing apples and oranges when comparing BP to a 1 time (or even more) release.

    There was no significant or long term or atypical environmental consequence because of this discharge.

    You make this case to be an accident or negligence by the District or at least a bad decision but that is not the case.

    It was not an accident. The rain was not measured by one day but sustained rain. It is not a failure of the Deep Tunnel but an example of the best of a certain even a bad situation but but for the Deep Tunnel more would be released. The chemical nature of the water did not change significantly (also due to the water) although you would not want to have frequent discharge of waste water (as you did before the Deep Tunnel). The MWRD is a Civil Engineering wonder of the world. The Chicago Metro area has some of the best quality of water. The MWRD has a good cost per gallon of water ratio the best in the US.

    It is unfortunate any time that waste water is discharged into the environment but it is not an accident nor was it avoidable.

    Please talk to engineers and experts in this field.

    You look foolish comparing it to the BP situation. You also do not understand the activities of the board. Lastly, you do not state any immediate significant or long term impact–you do not cite any studies nor cite any consequences (like illness, death, different Ph levels etc). You also don’t recognize any reasons why this happened or what could of happened worse (eg flooding of waste water into peoples homes or inability to hold more water with billions (yes billions) of gallons from multiple days). You certainly are not familiar with what happened before the Deep Tunnel and other technologies. This could of been worse. You are not stating the consequence beyond the release itself nor understanding the process.

  • John Powers said:

    Glad to bring out such a stellar engineering staff to defend polluting the lake by the MWRD. Guys, it only rained three inches. You have spent undocumented billions on these tunnels, and you can’t manage 3 inches of rain?

    I only bring up Avila because the Tribune endorsed him as an incumbent. The MWRD Board never even attempted to explain why they poured sewage into the lake, nor how they will stop it the next time.

    Mr. Pavlovic, if it is such a harmless thing to pour sewage in the lake, why are we bothering with the enormously expensive storage tank systems? Do you think pouring sewage into the lake may have something to do with beach closings?

    I am pretty familiar with why this happened. And somewhere around 25% of the basements in Wilmette were flooded with sewage despite the discharge in the Lake.

    The MWRD is one of the least transparent entities in Illinois Politics. It is bewildering to endorse more of the same.


  • Dan Kelley said:

    Carter Harrison II (1860-1953) had the distinction of being elected as Chicago’s mayor five times. In his 1935 autobiography “The Stormy Years,” he made the still apt observation that the Sanitary District seemed to afford greedy politicians unlimited opportunities for boodling. Nothing seems to have changed except for the name of the district.

    There have been some great engineers and civil servants employed by the district, but unfortunately the politicians running the show have often included unrepentant horse thieves and rank incompetents.

  • Greg R. said:

    Actually, John and Dan.. I’m not necessarily a fan of any of the candidates for MWRD, but to throw out accusations that the “billions” spent is undocumented is very careless and irresponsible. How do you know it is undocumented? Have you ever sought the figures? BTW… I took a public budget and finance course and the instructor said the MWRD has one of the most transparent budgets of government agencies. Just because you never bothered to go ask for the budget or attend one of their meetings, doesn’t mean it is not transparent.

  • Greg R. said:

    And, by the way, the reason there may be so many beach closings has to do much more with the fact that Milwaukee dumps raw sewage into Lake Michigan on a far more regular basis — and Milwaukee’s sanitary district is managed by a private firm. Do you think the MWRD wakes up and says let’s dump more raw sewage into the Lake… they didn’t have a choice that day. What solution do you propose that the engineers couldn’t think of?

  • John Powers said:


    It is not transparent because they never explain what they are doing.

    Per the Civic Federation, the MWRD has excellent accounting records. That is not really the troubling part. Enron had accounting numbers that footed up pretty well too.

    The troubling portion is, what are they doing with the money? There is not a stop point, defined goals or even evidence that systems are working as designed.

    Show me something along the lines of “By 2010, you can have 3 inches of rain in Evanston and we will not pour raw sewage in the Lake” before you claim there is some transparency.

  • John Powers said:


    “they didn’t have a choice that day”

    They had 20 years and many $Billion to figure out a way to manage 3 inches of rain. They failed.

    “What solution do you propose that the engineers couldn’t think of?”

    Use basic arithmetic to design a system that has capacity for 3 inches of rainfall. Take some historical studies of how much rain can be expected on any given day vs. system capacity. In Wilmette, buy a backup generator. These are not that complicated. Mostly inform the public of what you are doing.

  • Greg R, said:


    The fallacy in comparing accounting records of Enron with the MWRD is that Enron was a company, not the MWRD. Now while some of its accounting had to be disclosed because it was publicly traded… it did not have to be anyhere as transparent as a government agency. You were the one that said they spent billions of “undocumented” dollars — the budget will probably dispute that. What is more… bond rating agencies pour through these budgets and demand strong, transparent accounting standards in order to earn high bond ratings. If you can prove shady accounting… I urge you to… otherwise it is irresponsible to say or imply otherwise.

  • John Powers said:

    How is that a fallacy? Neither entity explains what it does with its money. Undocumented is a completely accurate term.

    Tell me again, what is the hard part about setting some type of performance metric, outside of making arithmetic footings, for the MWRD?


  • Jack P said:

    I think we need to seriously examine the source of financing for one of the Tribune’s “fresh newcomers” Mariyanna Spyropoulos.

    It seems that her campaign is financed (by huge amounts) by petroleum companies tied to Venezualan owned Citgo.

    Should someone with those ties to the petroleum industry have a voie about our clean water?

  • Bill Farnan said:

    This was not one of the more botched up environmental messes in recent history. That is not true.

    It was not one day of 3 or 4 inches but numerous days of rain and each of the inches countywide is billions of gallons.

    There was sewage that was poured into the Lake but it used to be more 22 times more.

    The finances are in the Public budget. You can FOI anything you want.

    Why don’t you call Commissioner Avila or any of the other 9 Commissioners for a budget and a tour of the Deep Tunnel.

    The Deep Tunnel makes sure that what happen is many times less likely and emperically less likely than years past.

    There may be some waste at the MWRD and please feel free to point it out (although you have not)

    But the Deep Tunnel does work and it is better than before.

    The basic arithmetic is for more than 3 inches of rainfall but not necessarily for sustained numerous days of 3 inches of rainfall and depending on other factors on what is going on.

    You still don’t have an alternative to what happened and you exxagerate based on looking at 1 day and the inches for one rainfall not multiple rainfalls.

    The MWRD is considered the best in the world and the largest in the world. Can you provide an alternative to the Deep Tunnel? or a superior system?

    Please do….

    Also Commissioner Avila is one of 9 Commissioners (and they do not make the decision their professional staff does) and there are three incumbent Commissioners up and you do not mention them.

    You are not correct in this posting.

  • Anonymous said:

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  • saebbaby said:

    how did you get the water so clean if it had all of that waste in it? please let me know

  • chris bannon said:

    it needs to end! anyone here ever tried to go swimming in lake michigan (dunes for me) only to find that swimming is temp. banned due to high levels of polution?

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