By Rich Trzupek
It appears that God has a sense of humor after all.
Having jumped on the “BP is poisoning the lake” bandwagon over a month ago, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago dumped a load of waste into Lake Michigan that vastly exceeded anything the oil giant has contemplated. If anything could put the BP project into proper perspective, this event should have done it.
Last Thursday’s storm pushed the MWRD’s north side treatment plant’s capacity to treat waste to the breaking point. And so, as they have done in the past and will undoubtedly do again, the district opened the floodgates, unleashing a torrent of raw sewage into the lake.
According to their 2006 report, every million gallons of untreated waste entering the north side plant contains an average of 7,394 pounds of solids and 102 pounds of ammonia. According to published reports, MWRD dumped over 224 million gallons of wastewater into the lake on Thursday. That would mean that they dumped over 1.6 million pounds of solids and ammonia into the lake. Even if BP operated their treatment plant at the maximum discharge levels allowed (which they won’t) it would take about eight months to match that kind of number.
Yet, there’s no need for alarm. The lake is robust and thriving. The plants that treat drinking water can handle the load. Nobody is doing to die and the lake will easily weather the storm. I have zero problems with this event. But that’s me. I’m not the one who has been hysterical about the purity of the Lake.
So where were Rahm Emanuel, Mark Kirk, Richie Daley and Dick Durbin when this happened? Why didn’t Michael Hawthorne write a piece warning us to head for the hills? They have all told us, again and again, that BP’s solids and ammonia discharges represent a threat to our drinking water and the health of Lake Michigan, and perhaps to the sanctity of motherhood and apple pie as well. Wouldn’t you think that a discharge over 200 times larger than what BP proposed would capture their attention? Shouldn’t they be denouncing MWRD? At the very least, you would think they would have headed over to the treatment plant with buckets and started bailing.
The hypocrisy of MWRD was exposed as well. The adage “what goes around, comes around” never rang more true than it does in their case. The website for the district prominently features a “Save Our Lake” link, encouraging readers to sign petitions condemning BP’s Whiting project. Before they joined the hysterical crowd throwing stones, MWRD should have checked the walls of their own house. From this vantage point, they appear to be made of glass – and covered in sludge.