Sewage dumps show need for lakes’ metrics

Great LakesThe numbers for raw sewage dumping from Milwaukee and Chicago shine a light on the need for a dashboard of Great Lake metrics. Chicago dumps twice as much as Milwaukee.
The numbers surfaced in a legal settlement between the EPA and the Chicago reclamation district that calls for two massive reservoirs to be built over the next 17 years to catch to store the raw sewage for treatment.
In the years 2007 through 2010, Chicago bypassed an average of five billion gallons per year, while Milwaukee dumped an average of two billion gallons. Neither is acceptable; hence the EPA agreement that will require an additional $400 million on the two reservoirs.
Chicago has spent more than $3 billion on 109 miles of deep tunnels, while Milwaukee has invested some $2 billion on its 28.5 miles. Both investments are worth it. The five Great Lakes contain 95% of the nation’s fresh waters and 20% of the world’s.
These treasures really aren’t lakes; they are inland seas.
Some metrics have surfaced through good journalism, such as Dan Egan’s reporting on the invasive species explosion in the Lakes. At last count, there are at least 180 foreign species in the lakes, mostly brought in by ocean going ships in their ballast waters. The Asian carp would add to that number if they get by the electric barriers in the Chicago Waterway.
We need to know those numbers, and the need to be widely publicized.
I know various Great Lakes scientists are keeping various metrics, but they are awfully quiet about their work.
Some entity needs to take the leadership as keeper of the metrics. The Great Lakes Commission is the logical place. But it could be The Nature Conservancy or the new College of Fresh Water Science at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.
The various metrics, including measures of water purity, clarity, contamination and levels, need to be collected in one place so concerned citizens and their leaders can identify problems and address them.
There’s an old rule in management science: if you ain’t measuring it, you ain’t managing it.

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  • Nixon79

    John,
    This is an important drum to keep beating in the manner you do it. The crazy environmentalists overstate everything to the point more reasonable and concerned folks equate them with Chicken Little. They probably do more harm than good for a lot of important causes because of that style. Keep up your approach and it will have positive results.

  • Dan Steininger

    It is great to see that John cares aboout my health. I swim in Lake Michigan almost every day in summer.
    So does Mike Lovell, Chancellor of UWM.

    We don’t want to die a painful death from polluted water.

    Dan Steininger

    • Anonymous

      I assume you are not dumping anything during your swims.

  • AP

    Here is what I understand about the issue:
    Be sure to distinguish between SSO’s (Sanitary Sewer Overflows) and CSO’s (Combined Sewer Overflows).  In Milwaukee, the WDNR permits the Sewerage District to have six CSO’s per year and zero SSO’s.  MMSD does a pretty good job at sticking to their permits with very few slips during emergencies.  CSO’s occur during HEAVY rainfalls, so on average more than 90% of the water coming from a CSO is pure rain water.  So if the 2 billion gallons you are referring to are from CSO’s, then the amount of raw sewage entering the Lakes is far less.
    On the issue about the deep tunnel; it’s a great tool, but it comes with problems.  There are better, cheaper, more sustainable, and less risky options.  We can work to reduce the amount of water entering our systems to begin with.  Reducing the amount of gray infrastructure and increasing green infrastructure.  Disconnect gutter and foundation drains, fix private laterals, add more pourous surface on light traffic areas (sidewalks, bike paths, driveways, alleyways, parking lots).  Incorporate more green space per paved surface.  I could go on and on.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for insights. That distinction between SSOs and CSOs is extremely important for coming up with the right metrics. We have to measure the right stuff. Because, in management, what you measure is what you get.

  • AP

    Oh….and the Sewerage District collects and analysis water samples daily at the influent and effluent.  They also collect random samples at various collection points throughout the watershed monthly.  And the Water Institute often collects data and compares or shares it with MMSD’s results…..at least that’s the way I understand it.

    • Anonymous

      There is a lot of data out there, even information. Now we have to turn it into intelligence and action.

  • Frank Krejci

    I like the idea of developing a balanced scorecard for the Great Lakes.  It would give us some standard measurements and a more comparable set of information for the press.  UWM and/or the Water Council should take the lead.  Not only would it provide a great service, but it would enhance their already growing stature as a water hub center of excellence.  At the MMAC board meeting yesterday, they announced that a balanced scorecard has been created with common measurements to be used with public, private and charter schools so we have an understanding of their progress or lack thereof.  That was perceived to be a big step forward in trying to help improve our schools.  Let’s do the same for water.

    • Anonymous

      Amen, Frank.

  • Leafe @ UWM

    John, some of the best metrics for tracking water quality issues and its effect on the ecosystem and human health can be found through the rapidly advancing technology of genomics.  Much of the work being done at the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences centers around how pathogens, emerging contaminants, heavy metals, invasive species and nutrient deprivation effects organisms on a genomic level, and these changes can be used to tell us what’s there, how healthy the ecosystem or individual organisms are, and how we can deal with any serious problems.  The sewerage district and other partners are working with UWM to establish a Great Lakes Genomics Center, which will become one of the most powerful tools available to us, and could be used for the very purpose you are describing in your blog if partners got on board to support it.

    • Anonymous

      That is an extraordinarily exciting development. Those of us trying to assess the state of Great Lakes for policy pourposes will need to be apprised and sharp about these kinds of advances. Maybe the new UWM college should be the metric keeper.