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Chicago Moves to Clean Its Waterways

Despite decades of "steady improvement", Chicago is still home to some of the dirtiest waterways in the country. Now after years of obfuscation, the city's Metropolitan Water Reclamation District is finally moving forward with cleanup plans.
March 5, 2012, 1pm PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Michael Hawthorne reports on the rapid change of course for the agency that handles Cook County's sewage and stormwater, after years spent challenging cleanup initiatives.

With a new executive director, David St. Pierre, in place, the District is moving forward with plans to disinfect human and industrial wastewater. It is the only major U.S. city that skips this treatment step, "largely because officials assumed nobody would want to come near rivers that carry wastewater away from Lake Michigan," according to Hawthorne.

Now, as mayor Rahm Emanuel emphasizes the importance of the city's "recreational frontiers", and others seek to use the city's waterways and redevelop properties adjacent to them, the District has agreed to upgrade its treatment plants, with a healthy nudge from the federal government.

"The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District said installing equipment to kill the germs in partially treated sewage will cost $139 million, about 7 times less than the $1 billion that top district officials once said it would require and half as much as they later argued it would take to disinfect the wastewater."

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Published on Friday, March 2, 2012 in Chicago Tribune
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