After decades, Deep Tunnel work gets a deadline - 2029

SHARE After decades, Deep Tunnel work gets a deadline - 2029

People used to joke that anytime someone asked the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District about the deadline for completing the Deep Tunnel TARP plan, the agency would promptly move the deadline back a few years.

Not anymore.

On Tuesday, U.S. Judge George M. Marovich approved a two-year-old consent decree that, among other things, sets the deadline for finishing the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan at 2029. Fifteen years into the future might seem like a long time, but, to put that in perspective, the project was commissioned in the 1970s, so it’s already decades old. In fact it’s older that the MWRD name itself; back then the agency was called the Sanitary District.

Actually, the tunnels all are finished, and the remaining work involves three reservoirs. One is finished, one is due to be completed next year but the third, called the McCook reservoir, is the potential holdup that isn’t scheduled to be ready to go until 2029.

Of course, if problems crop up, the MWRD can still delay the completion date, but from now on it will have to explain itself before it does so. And it’s possible financial penalties could be assessed for blowing the deadline.

According to the MWRD, Judge Marovich said: “Tremendous public-works projects can take a significant amount of time—even decades—to complete. TARP is no small project. It has involved creating more than 100 miles of tunnels and mining rough holes that will eventually be large enough to hold 17.5 billion gallons of water. By the time TARP is finished, MWRD will have added an average of 323,000,000 gallons of storage capacity per year, which is an average of 885,000 gallons per day of additional storage capacity. That is impressive, not unreasonable.”

The consent decree also encourages using green infrastructure to reduce the amount of water flowing into the system, especially during storms. Plans have been around for years, but have been in limbo, awaiting the approval of the consent decree.

Now green infrastructure work — including a plan to distribute 15,000 rain barrels — can go forward. So can work on a comprehensive review of the district’s land holdings and land policies.

Another thing that can move forward is a plan to buy two new “skimmer” boats that will move around the waterways collecting surface debris, some of it sewage, that is euphemistically called “floatables.”

Deep Tunnel court opinion

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