Our Water and Combined Sewers

One of the most pressing issues to me in the Chicago area is its near reckless policy of waste water management. Chicago has what’s called a combined sewer system, this means that sewers for both storm water runoff and waste water from human use is combined in the same sewer when being directed to a waste water treatment plant. All water is treated before release into the lake or river; this may seem like a good thing in the sense that both storm water and sewage is treated, unlike coastal cities where storm water is directed directly into the ocean untreated. However, the combined sewer system is far more detrimental as in the event of a major storm when, according to the City of Chicago, pours at least 1.5’’ in under an hour, then the sewer system will over flow and discharge raw sewage into the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.
This is not only a major concern for the environment but for public health as well as most of the Chicago region gets its water supply from Lake Michigan. Our main water source being tainted with raw sewage puts our water quality at risk and subsequently the health of all residents. Currently under construction is the Deep Tunnel Project, set to store some of the unwanted discharge during a storm, but completion is not until decades away while the environment around us continues to degrade. Most surprising is the allowing of kayaking in the river even after a sewer discharge. The City of Chicago and Cook County needs to address this situation with the concern that it needs. It is beyond my comprehension as to why both the federal and local governments choose to dismiss this. An immediate diversion is necessary in order to keep our water supply clean and our environmental impact minimal. Barney Cohen writes in “Technology in Society,” about developing nations and the potential for sustainable growth, it is important to acknowledge the mistakes developed cities like Chicago have made, such as the combined sewer, so that developing ones can avoid such problems in the near future.

Burko, Casey. “Deep Tunnel Opens.” Chicago Tribune. April, 2011.

City of Chicago. “Combined Sewers.” Department of Buildings. 2010.

Cohen, Barney. “Urbanization in developing countries: Current trends, future projections, and key challenges for sustainability.” Technology In Society. Elsevier, Washington, D.C. 2006


9 thoughts on “Our Water and Combined Sewers

  1. Your blog was informative. I learned more about the Chicago sewer system and agree with your concern about this issue. Water is vital for humans and thus we must perverse it. I believe that local government should prioritize a project on Deep Tunnel Project because it is very important to avoid future disaster that could contaminate our water. However, I think is very important that local government develops an emergence alternative plan to store unwanted discharge because climate change is not wanting for us to have the right infrastructure. It is crucial that the City of Chicago Sustainable Agenda 2015 provide with more rapid solution to this issue than only focus in the “[s]upport the completion of the first stage
    of the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan” (City of Chicago, 2015).



  2. Thank you for writing about this! I had no idea our sewage system was so bad and the solution is so far away. Lake Michigan is so important to the city; we need to take better care of it. Have you found solutions that other cities have used successfully? Do you think there’s any way for such a highly populated city to make a drastic change in the short time it needs to be made?


  3. Most of us never have the life that is lack of water and think that we have a large amount of water to use. We wash our hands every single time after we go to the restrooms, and we do a shower every day. Sometimes, we forget to turn the tap off after we wash our hands, but we do not think that is a problem because we think that this will not waster a lot of water. Even though we have Lake Michigan for us to use the water, if there is no rain or snow any more, how we will have enough water to use. Everyone should have the sense that save as much as we can when we have the water resource because we have the next generation need to use the water as well.


  4. Do you think the issues with flint’s water supply will force citizens to pay closer attention to their own water pollution and sewer systems? because after reading your blog we must focus some attention on these issues especially the overflowing of the sewer systems


  5. your blog really provides us lots of information! I know that many cities are now using separated sewerage system instead of combined sewerage system, which could not only reduce the water pollution but also for water reuse process. Chicago should have this system, the Great Lake area has the responsibility for protecting lakes and the basin; also, as a metropolitan are with millions people, we need to improve our system for recycling or reusing water. Unfortunately, from the information you provided, Chicago still has a long way to go..


  6. That was very interesting, I knew some kind of project was underway in order to help clean up our lake as you stated, but I had no idea it was decades away. Is it a project by the Army Corps of Engineers? With the information you provided us, I’m kind of surprised a Flint-esque situation hasn’t happened here yet. With a much bigger population here, it would be a crippling blow to the city and country if Chicago were to be hit by such a crisis. It sounds like we aren’t as far off as we’d like to think.


  7. Great blog! It is indeed a huge problem we face. Many homes with old sewage pipes or in certain areas of the city are prone to flood during periods of heavy rain. Unfortunately due to the combined sewer system we have, sometimes that back flow of water that floods our homes contains waste matter which can cause major health risks. A separate sewage system would address that problem.


  8. I think you brought up a very important and interesting topic. When I thought about this assignment, the sewer issue in Chicago did not even come to mind. I think if more people were aware then it would force the city to do something about it. At times as I am walking down the side walk, especially here at UIC, I can literally smell the sewers from a couple of feet away. The city should definitely take action and think about ways to rectify the overall issue with sewers.


  9. wow, very insightful blog ! i agree with you and i hope developing countries are learning from developed countries so they do not make the same mistake.


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