Topic: Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone

May 16, 2011

In the News: Our Lawsuit Against Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Covered in Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune MWRD article

The Chicago Tribune and many other news outlets covered our recent lawsuit against the Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) to stop the routine dumping of raw sewage and under-treated wastewater into the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. During heavy rains (anything more than 2/3 of an inch), the pipes that would normally send a combination of wastewater and stormwater to Chicago sewage treatment plants cannot cope with the sheer amount of water and sewage and instead overflow, releasing that bacteria-laden water directly into nearby waters. The regular discharge of water from these treatment plants contains too much phosphorus which causes excessive growth of algae, blocking sunlight and using up oxygen that fish and other aquatic animals need to survive. The release of raw sewage and excessive phosphorous are both in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. The MWRD has actually been under investigation by federal regulators for nearly a decade, but no action has been taken.

A draft agreement on April 21 calls for more specific deadlines to finish the Deep Tunnel project, a labyrinth of large tunnels and reservoirs underground that serve as a holding area for excess water. The MWRD would also pay $670,000 in fines and spend $325,000 on “green infrastructure” that allows rainwater to better absorb into the ground rather than running off into sewers. This pales in comparison to the city of Cleveland, OH, which recently agreed to spend $42 million on green infrastructure and pay fines of $1.2 million.

The lawsuit was brought by Prairie Rivers Network, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Read the Chicago Tribune article here.

See these additional resources about reducing stormwater pollution:

Prairie Rivers Network’s Stormwater Management Guidebook, a guide to green infrastructure with examples throughout Illinois.

Rooftops to Rivers and Re-Envisioning the Chicago River (published by the Natural Resources Defense Council).  The first is a guide to green strategies for controlling stormwater and combined sewer overflows, and the second includes the benefits of green infrastructure specifically for the Chicago region, with a summary of how everything relates to invasive species such as the Asian Carp.

The lawsuit was also covered in these news outlets:

Huffington Post

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Pantagraph (Bloomington-Normal)

Park Forest ENews (Chicago area)

Mother Nature Network

Northwest Indiana Times


May 4, 2011

Press Release: Groups Sue to Stop Chicago Water Regulators from Polluting the Chicago River

Serial Spillers: Groups Sue to Stop Chicago Water Regulators from Polluting the Chicago River

MWRD’s illegal sewage discharges mucking waterways from Chicago to Gulf of Mexico

CHICAGO (May 3, 2011) – A coalition of conservation groups have sued to stop the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) from dumping raw sewage mixed with stormwater, as well as algae-fueling pollution, into the Chicago River system. Effluent from MWRD’s sewage treatment plants and combined sewer overflow pipes regularly violate Clean Water Act standards in the River, impacting downstream waters from Chicago all the way to the Gulf of Mexico according to the suit.

“Keeping raw sewage out of our waters is the District’s core responsibility,” said Ann Alexander, Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Yet the problem continues unabated, even after three decades and billions of taxpayer dollars. Chicagoland shouldn’t have to wait any longer for the District to do its job right.”

NRDC, Sierra Club and Prairie Rivers Network filed a federal lawsuit today in the Northern District of Illinois over the regional water treater’s pollution problem. The suit points to discharges of pollution from treatment plants that regularly violate federal standards requiring that discharges not cause or contribute to low levels of oxygen, which fish need to breathe; and unnatural sludge or growth of algae, which harms other forms of life in the water.

{Continue Reading »}

April 8, 2011

Prairie Rivers Network to Sue Chicago Polluter

Chicago ranks 14th of the top 30 cities that are at high heat risk
MWRD of Greater Chicago is allowing untreated sewage to flow into the Chicago River.

As reported previously in our press release and covered by the New York Times:

Prairie Rivers Network has joined with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club in notifying the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) that it intends to sue the District for illegally dumping pollution into Chicago area waters. Because the District is so big (its sewage treatment plants release billions of gallons of wastewater every day), the pollution is fouling waterways all the way from Chicago to the Gulf of Mexico.

The notification of intent to sue is the first formal step toward a lawsuit in federal court. Prairie Rivers Network and its partners are threatening a lawsuit because MWRD has steadfastly refused to remove phosphorus to safe levels. Too much phosphorus can be deadly to fish because it triggers the unnatural growth of algae. Algae then suck the oxygen out of the water, depriving fish and other life of the ability to breathe. Phosphorus from MWRD is helping cause the Dead Zone, a huge area in the Gulf of Mexico where fish and other forms of life cannot survive, because there’s not enough oxygen. Prairie Rivers Network is demanding that MWRD remove phosphorus to make the waters safe. {Continue Reading »}

March 7, 2011

In the News: The New York Times Reports on Prairie Rivers Network’s Work

NYT-chicagosuitThe New York Times is reporting on our recent notice of intent to sue the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago for violations of the Clean Water Act. Read the full NYT article here.

August 3, 2010

PRESS RELEASE: Oil Not the Only Pollution Problem in Gulf of Mexico

Immediate Release:
August 3, 2010

CHAMPAIGN, IL — Long before the BP oil spill, the Gulf of Mexico suffered from a chronic spill of chemicals that rush down the Mississippi River from Illinois and other Midwestern states. The influx of pollution results in an area appropriately known as the Dead Zone. Scientists from Louisiana just finished their annual research cruise of the Gulf and determined that this year the Dead Zone was 7,722 square miles, one of the largest since the cruises began in 1985 and almost the size of Massachusetts.

The Dead Zone is characterized by water so low in dissolved oxygen (<2 mg/L) that animals suffocate. When shrimp, crab, and other relatively immobile species cannot escape, fishermen must move to cleaner waters.

The primary cause of the Dead Zone is too many nutrients. According to recent studies by the U.S. Geological Survey, Illinois is the number one contributor of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution to the Gulf of Mexico. {Continue Reading »}

October 5, 2009

Plan to Fight Gulf ‘Dead Zone” Will Target Ag Polluters

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Stacy James, one of PRN’s Water Resources Scientist, was recently quoted by the NEW ORLEANS METRO REAL-TIME NEWS regarding a new initiative funded through the US Department of Agriculture to target and reduce agricultural runoff into the Mississippi river in order to reduce the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. Read the full article here: ”Plan to fight Gulf ‘dead zone’ will target agricultural polluters.”