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Monday Letters: How you can help reduce sewage backups

Mark Brown/Sun-Times

July 23 marked the fifth anniversary since 6.68 inches of rain fell on Chicagoland, making it the rainiest day in Chicago’s history to that point and causing massive flooding on expressways, railways, city streets and in peoples’ homes. That same storm also caused the release of a huge amount of sewage and other pollutants into the Chicago River system and Lake Michigan which made the water toxic for people and for wildlife.

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On a normal day, millions of gallons of wastewater and sewage from our homes, as well as commercial and industrial waste, flows through our sewers to be cleaned up then released into the Chicago River system. But when it rains like it did on that tempestuous July day or even less, stormwater is added to that volume which then overwhelms the sewer system. The excess water and whatever it carries with it is then released to our rivers, including all kinds of pollutants, sewage, and trash.

In 1972, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago adopted the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan to address this problem and improve the water quality in our rivers, protect Lake Michigan, and provide an outlet for floodwaters. TARP construction began in 1975 and today the 109 miles of tunnels and the two reservoirs which are complete have made a very significant dent in the problem. In 2017, the last reservoir at McCook will add 3.5 billion gallons of storage, but TARP won’t be totally finished until 2029. And even with TARP complete, it may still be inadequate in the face of severe weather and increased precipitation due to climate change. Last year according to MWRD, there were 41 combined sewer overflows throughout the system and MWRD research that shows that as little as .3 inches of rain can trigger one at any number of the more than 300 outfalls that flow directly into the Chicago and Little Calumet Rivers. We need to act collectively to keep water from entering the water treatment system.

To stop wasting valuable, clean rainwater and preventing the damage it can cause, Friends has launched Overflow Action Days to educate people about what they can do to reduce inputs when weather forecasts predict enough rain to overwhelm the sewer system. Based on the concept of Ozone Action Days, alerts are sent to remind members to conserve water through every day actions like reducing shower times, flushing less, and waiting to run the dishwasher. Moreover, Friends invites the public to join us by taking the Overflow Action Day Pledge and committing to conserve at least 20 gallons a day every day. If 50,000 people can commit to that minimal amount it will help protect the river and conserve one million gallons of water per day — or 365 million in a year.

Conserving water at home isn’t the only action that we need to take to clean up the river but it is an important start. Please help the river by taking a part in Overflow Action Days. Find out more at chicagoriver.org.

Margaret Frisbie, executive director,

Friends of the Chicago River

New book

Melania Trump’s new book: “The Art of the Steal

Edward Voci, River Forest

Sociopathic opportunist

Despite his labeling Mexican immigrants “criminals, drug dealers and rapists,” his talk of banning an entire religion from entering the U.S. and having those of that faith already here register with the government, including the native born or his trying to discredit a federal judge because of the judge’s nationality, which he was wrong about, I don’t think Donald Trump is a racist or a bigot.

Donald Trump is far, far, worse than that. Donald Trump is an opportunist of sociopathic proportions who has absolutely no qualms about using the racism and bigotry of others and to manipulate their fears and their basest qualities to get what he wants. It is doubtful that the party that just nominated him could ever find someone a farther cry from the cornerstone of their party, Abraham Lincoln, who entreated us all to be touched “by the better angels of our nature.”

Walter R. Kowalczyki, Jefferson Park