Re-elect Dan Lipinski Congressman

Lipinski Floats $1.25 Billion Plan to Keep Untreated Sewage Out of the Lake


Crain's Chicago Business

A Chicago-area congressman is renewing an old fight over curbing what may be the main source of Great Lakes pollution, and though the odds against political success appear to be pretty long, the issue is worth keeping an eye on.

Under a new bill introduced by Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Chicago, sewage disposal agencies generally would be banned from discharging untreated waste into the lakes, the source of drinking water for tens of millions of people. (You can read the bill at the end of this story.)

There would be an exception if such an action "is unavoidable to prevent loss of life, personal injury or severe property damage" after a storm. But the exemption would apply only if agencies like Chicago's Metropolitan Water Reclamation District had taken reasonable efforts to prepare for predictable events.

To help move reluctant areas along—Milwaukee, in particular, has made progress in recent years but still is a problem, in the view of some—Lipinski's bill dangles a big financial carrot: federal funds of $250 million a year for five years, starting in fiscal 2020, to help local governments pay the costs of new treatment plants and related anti-pollution steps.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., is expected to introduce a similar bill in her chamber soon.

The new measure is similar to a bill once advanced by former U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. But whereas Kirk's bill merely outlawed untreated discharges, Lipinski's offers financial help.

"We really made an effort to figure out what we can do that will work," said Lipinski. MWRD "is making good progress. The opening of the McCook reservoir last year was a big help." But it and other government units could use federal help, too.

Lipinski said he believes the bill has a decent chance of passing the House if Democrats take control of that body in next month's elections. 

But he conceded Republicans so far have been unable to make a financial commitment.

The new bill did get a vote of support from Environmental Law & Policy Center chief Howard Learner, who called it "a step in the right direction to reduce raw sewage being dumped into the Great Lakes, creating both health threats and ecological harms. Some wastewater treatment systems have blended untreated sewage with treated water, but that only partially reduces the contamination. This legislation would mostly ban blending and provide support for wastewater treatment facilities to install better technologies and equipment."

Duckworth's office confirms she’s all aboard on this one. Says the senator in a statement, "The Great Lakes is the source of drinking water for tens of millions of Americans and supports 1.5 million jobs. Yet, under the current rules, roughly 22 billion gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater are discharged into the Great Lakes each year, threatening the health and livelihoods of millions. Our legislation will help fix this problem by banning discharges of untreated sewage into the Great Lakes to protect local economies and ensure our water is clean for families in Illinois and throughout the Great Lakes region."

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