The New Standard  [Printer-friendly version]
December 4, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: A new report says massive discharges of
sewage into the Great Lakes are making fish unsafe to eat, rendering
the lakes unsafe for recreation, and polluting one of the main
sources of drinking water in the region. The Lakes contain 84% of all
the fresh water in North America.]

By Catherine Komp

A new report has found that U.S. and Canadian cities are polluting
the Great Lakes system with billions of gallons of a toxic "cocktail"
of sewage and storm water each year.

The Canadian-based Sierra Legal Defence Fund, which produced the
report, says it means parts of the largest freshwater ecosystem on the
planet are "in peril."

The researchers say the massive discharges of sewage into the lakes
are making fish unsafe to eat, rendering the lakes unsafe for
recreation, and polluting one of the main sources of drinking water in
the region. About 84 percent of North America's "surface fresh water"
comes from the Great Lakes, according to the US Environmental
Protection Agency.

The "Great Lakes Sewage Report Card" analyzed twenty US and Canadian
cities, from Deluth to Kingston to Cleveland. It concluded that
despite billions of dollars invested to improve sewage treatment over
the last three decades, the cities dump a combined 24 billion gallons
of municipal sewage -- a mixture of water, human waste, micro-
organisms, disease-causing pathogens and toxic chemicals -- directly
into local water systems each year.

Detroit and Cleveland ranked the lowest in the Sierra Legal report,
generating a combined 338 billion gallons of sewage per year. Both
scored poorly for some 19 billion gallons of "overflow" from their
sewer systems into the environment.

Green Bay, Wisconsin received one the highest scores in the report
because it had no known discharges of untreated sewage, no sewage
overflow and no pollution-related violations.

Unlike Green Bay, the researchers said, numerous cities around the
Great Lakes use combined sewage systems, or CSOs, that carry both
sewage and storm-water. During heavy rainfall, these systems can
exceed capacity and raw sewage can overflow directly into the

The US government drafted a Combined Sewer Overflow Control Policy in
1994 and requires communities to develop long-term CSO control plans
to help local governments comply with the Clean Water Act. The problem
is not isolated to the Great Lakes region. As previously reported by
The NewStandard, some 770 cities across the country use combined

In 2004, President Bush signed an executive order creating the Great
Lakes Interagency Task Force to deal with the accumulating
environmental problems facing this freshwater system. The task force's
responsibilities include improving water quality.

Calling the Great Lakes "a gift to all that live in the basin," Sierra
Legal makes several recommendations, including a bigger financial
investment from federal and local governments to improve CSOs. The
group also says that more regulations, from banning toxic substances
in manufacturing industries to enforcing sewer-use laws, could help to
protect the water and biodiversity of the Great Lakes region.

"Countries as wealthy as Canada and [the] United States can surely
afford to adequately treat their waste accordingly," wrote the
report's authors.