Save the Chicago River

By Howard A. Learner
ELPC Executive Director

Environmental Law & Policy Center Friends,

Sunday was a bright and sunny day, and ELPC colleague and client Margaret Frisbie of Friends of the Chicago River and I were invited by U.S. senators Dick Durbin (D) and Mark Kirk (R) to join them on a morning boat tour of the Chicago River. We were also joined by Congressman Mike Quigley, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, U.S. EPA Regional Administrator Susan Hedman and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) Commissioners Michael Alvarez and Debra Shore. Please see photos of the tour at,0,5161511.photogallery (thank you, photographer Nancy Stone of the Chicago Tribune).

As the boat traveled up and down the Chicago River, we were joined by kayakers, anglers, cheering neighborhood residents along the shores with signs saying “Clean Up the River” and “Cut the Crap,” many herons and two Illinois threatened bird species. Through all of that, we got a bird’s-eye view of the crap and crud floating on the Chicago River and a better vision of what a cleaned-up Chicago River could be for our city and people’s use, recreation and enjoyment. So did the media who joined us for the boat tour—see articles at,0,3157073.story.

Sen. Durbin said publicly to the media what many of us were thinking: “Discharging sewage that has not been disinfected into the Chicago River is a threat to public health and unacceptable in a great city. . .We have an opportunity to improve our waterways and make them more accessible for future generations.”  And that: “Chicago is the last city in America that has not tackled this issue of disinfecting the sewage that goes into its major river. Come on. We can do better.”

Sen. Durbin didn’t say publicly what almost everyone on the boat tour was thinking: What in the heck is Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) President Terry O’Brien thinking? Enough is enough. It’s time for all of us who care to step up and act for a clean Chicago River!

Please join ELPC and our friends and colleagues to send a strong message to Mr. O’Brien that investing in cleaning up the Chicago River makes good sense.

Go to and click on “Chicago River Disinfection” to sign an electronic petition to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, asking them to demand that MWRD clean up its act. The Chicago River should be clean enough for Chicagoans and people in Cook County to safely enjoy for healthy recreation. The Chicago River can and should be an asset to our community.

Help us make the Chicago River live up to the “fishable and swimmable” promise of the Clean Water Act by signing the petition today! You can help to make a difference.

You may also call the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioners.

Please be friendly and non-confrontational when you call.

Sample call: “Hi, my name is (state your name), and I am calling to let (state the commissioner’s name) know that I support sewage effluent disinfection, and I hope (s)he does, too.

“This is an important issue for me and everyone in the Chicago area.”

Talking points:

– Because MWRD doesn’t disinfect waste water, there are high amounts of sewage pathogens in the Chicago river that can make anyone sick who comes in contact with the water.

– Every other major city in America disinfects its wastewater.

– Disinfection is affordable and safe. Costs to households in the Chicago area would likely be less than $1 per month.

Please call the MWRD commissioners in this order, and ASK these commisioners to support MWRD sewage effluent disinfection:

– Barbara J. McGowan, Vice-President           (312) 751-5640

– Cynthia M. Santos, Chairman of Finance (312) 751-5685

-Patricia Horton, Commissioner                           (312) 751-5694

– Kathleen Therese Meany, Commissioner (312) 751-5646

-Frank Avila, Commissioner                                 (312) 751-5620

-Terrence J. O’Brien, President                           (312) 751-5700

THANK these commisioners for their support of MWRD sewage effluent disinfection:

– Michael A. Alvarez, Commissioner                     (312) 751-5665

– Debra Shore, Commissioner                               (312) 751-5690

– Mariyana T. Spyropoulos, Commissioner (312) 751-5650

From the May 25-31, 2011 issue

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