Jenner & Block Secures Environmental
Win to Protect Lake Michigan
Federal Appeals Court Upholds Citizen Lawsuit Challenging
Milwaukee Sewage Overflows
Jenner & Block LLP
Published September 2nd, 2004
CHICAGO, Sept. 2 /PRNewswire/ -- Two environmental groups
can press forward with a lawsuit to halt the Milwaukee
Metropolitan Sewerage District's raw sewage discharges
into Lake Michigan after the case was upheld today in
the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago.
The ruling reverses a lower court decision in Milwaukee.
The lower court ruling concluded last year that the state
of Wisconsin was diligently prosecuting sewage overflows
from Milwaukee. The higher court today found the state's
prosecution to be questionable, at best.
"This ruling underscores the power that the Clean
Water Act gave to citizens in Milwaukee and elsewhere,"
said Lynn Broaddus, executive director of Friends of Milwaukee's
Rivers, one of the groups that filed the suit. "We
have the right and responsibility to insist on the end
to sewage dumping and compliance with environmental laws."
The court's ruling means that the Lake Michigan Federation
and Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers can proceed to argue
that MMSD's efforts do not comply with the Clean Water
Act and that Milwaukee's raw industrial and domestic waste
into Lake Michigan and Milwaukee's rivers, since 1995,
will continue. In their lawsuit, the two non-profit groups
call for a phase-out of such discharges, saying they put
recreation, drinking water and the region's quality of
life at risk. The groups also call for penalties that
can be directed to community projects that discourage
further waste dumping by MMSD.
"Today is a victory for citizens' rights to protect
clean water," said Cameron Davis, executive director
of the Lake Michigan Federation. "It means that states
can't file 'placeholder' lawsuits and force citizens out
of the debate about the need to stop sewage overflows.
When untreated sewage flows into the lake, it is a regional
and national problem."
The two organizations filed suit in U.S. District Court
on March 15, 2002, charging that MMSD had violated the
Clean Water Act by discharging about 1 billion gallons
of raw industrial and domestic waste to area waterways.
The organizations focused their citizens' suit on MMSD's
sanitary sewage overflows in the years following the completion
of Milwaukee's deep tunnel. The nearly $3 billion deep
tunnel project was designed to virtually eliminate sanitary
sewer overflows, yet during the period in question approximately
1 billion gallons of raw domestic and industrial sewage
was dumped into area waters. Though not included in the
lawsuit, approximately 600,000 gallons of untreated sewage
was dumped in 2002, and nearly a half billion gallons
have been dumped to date in 2004. Based on a report released
earlier this year, overflows may be underestimated by
as much as 30 percent.
Sanitary sewer overflows are not permitted by the state
except in the most extreme situations. The groups' lawsuit
does not address the issue of combined sewer overflows,
which led to another 4.1 billion gallons of sewage dumped
this spring alone, or the practice of "blending,"
the release of partially treated effluent directly into
The Lake Michigan Federation and Friends of Milwaukee's
Rivers are represented by Karen M. Schapiro of DeWitt
Ross & Stevens, S.C. (262) 754- 2851, online at http://www.dewittross.com
and by James A. Vroman, Barry Levenstam, and Steven M.
Siros of Jenner & Block in Chicago, online at http://www.jenner.com/practice/practice_detail.asp?ID=31