A new report analyzing government data from five Great Lakes cities - Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Milwaukee and Gary, Ind. - found that together they discharged 41 billion gallons of untreated sewage and storm water into the lakes from January 2009 through January 2010.
A Great Lakes Alliance report stated that “The main culprit is combined sewer systems that collect and treat both storm water and sanitary sewage, and are often overwhelmed by heavy rains.” The report goes on to say that solving this problem requires a combination of investments in “gray” infrastructure, such as Chicago's Deep Tunnel projects, and “green” infrastructure - parks, trees, rain gardens, wetlands and green roofs - to capture and cleanse storm water.
In late July, heavy rains struck again, and billions of gallons of sewage mixed with storm water and street litter (food wrappers, cigar tips, tampons, syringes and “other mystery trash”) was flushed into Lake Michigan - more than 2 billion gallons from Milwaukee topped by another 6.5 billion gallons from Chicago.
One sure way in which us Chicagoans can help alleviate some of this dump is by making sure our sewers are clear of debris, especially after a heavy rainfall or after watering our lawns. Heavy rainfall can devastate soil and cause some fertilizers to be washed into waterways. Sewers lead directly into streams and lakes, so never dispose of grass clippings or pet waste in or around sewers.
If you need to water your lawn, the best time is in the morning, not at night as watering at night can cause fungus and other diseases. Use fertilizer low in phosphorous or phosphorous-free as excess phosphorus causes algae to build up in waterways, disrupting the ecological balance. Sweep grass clippings and fertilizer that lands on driveways and sidewalks back onto the lawn to help keep nutrients out of waterways.
I believe if we do our part, as small it might seem, we can be a big help to a bigger problem – keeping our freshwater fresh.