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Great Lakes Article:


Pols rip Milwaukee over 'cheesehead sewer water'
By Fran Spielman
Chicago Sun Times
Published June 8, 2004


Could 4.6 billion gallons of "cheesehead sewer water" dumped into Lake Michigan after last month's torrential rains trigger a border war between Illinois and Wisconsin?

It just might.

On Monday, Daley and Reps. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill) used a congressional meeting on the Great Lakes to pummel the city of Milwaukee for dumping more raw sewage into Lake Michigan during the month of May than at any time in the 11-year history of that city's "not deep enough" tunnel project.

"If there's anything that upsets my constituents -- and yours as well -- it's cheesehead sewer water," Kirk told Daley during the roundtable discussion at the Shedd Aquarium.

Daley demanded that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency throw the book at Milwaukee for a sewage dump that threatens a summer full of beach closings in Illinois.

"That's a lot of garbage.... Guess where it's coming? It's coming down here. What are we going to do here when we have to shut all our beaches down?" Daley said, accusing the state of Wisconsin of coddling its smaller lakes and turning its back on Lake Michigan.

Tom Skinner, the former Chicagoan now serving as head of enforcement for the EPA, blamed the problem on Milwaukee's decision to build a "not deep enough tunnel" that lacks the capacity of the Chicago area's Deep Tunnel.

Skinner refused to discuss specific enforcement action, except to say the fines could be substantial.

"They're using a combined sewer system where they're putting sewage water and stormwater all in the same system and it's just overflowing. Overflows don't happen every day, but they happen often enough that they have to be dealt with," Skinner said.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District said the Milwaukee area was hit with an average of 8.9 inches of rain from May 7 to May 24.

"That comes out to 65 billion gallons of water. Of that, 14.5 billion gallons got into our sewers. We captured and treated 10 billion gallons. Regrettably, we had an overflow of 4.6 billion gallons to prevent it from backing up into people's homes," said district spokesman Bill Graffin.

Milwaukee's $2.3 billion Deep Tunnel system has a 405-million gallon capacity, with an 88-million gallon expansion expected to be on line by the end of 2005. Two more "overflow reduction" projects are in the works and could be expedited, with total spending expected to top $900 million by 2010, he said.

"You can always do more, but it depends on how much your community can afford," Graffin said.

Kirk said he has little doubt that Milwaukee's decision is causing "hundreds of our beach closings" in Illinois, though EPA officials insist there is no scientific evidence to substantiate it.

"This is clearly a federal issue, with one state acting terribly towards Lake Michigan and the other state doing a good job," Kirk said.

 

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