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Urban Wastewater Management in the Great Lakes Watershed

Overview of Great Lakes Wastewater Management
The Great Lakes Watershed
History of U.S. Wastewater Management
Risks and Problems
Milwaukee, WI
Chicago, IL
Detroit, MI
Citizen Groups
Rehabilitation and Action Plan

              This website analyzes the growing problem of wastewater management in urban areas of the Great Lakes watershed. As urban populations explode, cities need to implement methods to meet the increased demand of wastewater collection and treatment. This increased demand is due not only to higher water use by the swelling population, but also to an increased amount of runoff from impervious surfaces. Underground sewer systems channel wastewater from its various sources to a wastewater treatment facility, where it is treated and re-released into the environment. These sewer systems may segregate sanitary and storm water, or else it may be combined in one sewer. Storm events, melting snow, or other times of high sewer demand may overwhelm the system; meaning there is more wastewater and runoff than the sewers and treatment plants can handle. In such times, the sewer systems will overflow, and cities are forced to dump their untreated wastewater. Records have shown that in severe cases, a city may dump more than 1 billion gallons in one discharge event (Whitman). An overflow event is either a combined sewer overflow (CSO) or a sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) depending on the type of sewer that overflows.

                 The problem is that most cities across the United States have failing wastewater treatment systems. It has been estimated that over 700 cities and municipalities in the nation are in need of serious rehabilitation, maintenance, and upgrades to their sewerage systems (Whitman). CSOs and SSOs are regular occurrences in many urban communities. Cities in the Great Lakes watershed are among the worst offenders (Gulezian). These sewer  overflows pose serious risks to both humans and the environment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, because the overflows contain raw sewage, “they can carry bacteria, viruses, protozoa (parasitic organisms), helminths (intestinal worms), and borroughs (inhaled molds and fungi). (EPA). These illnesses can range in severity, from diarrhea to death.  Furthermore, wastewater contains high concentrations of endocrine disrupting chemicals. Though research into the effects of these chemicals is still in the pioneering stages, their severe and frightening health risks have been well documented.

            The risks to the rest of the biotic community are no less severe. Wastewater discharges enter lakes, streams, rivers, oceans, wetlands, and other watershed systems and wreak havoc. Hazardous algal blooms such as Pfiesteria is one example (Meyland). Pollutants and chemicals that enter U.S. waterways destroy aquatic life as well as harming all those who depend on the waterways for life sustenance.

            Despite the alarming risks associated with inadequate wastewater management, the public and government officials alike have, for the most part, turned a blind eye to the problem. It is time for serious rehabilitation of urban sewerage systems in Great Lakes area cities. Public interest groups, environmental non-profits, and citizen scientists are teaming up to get this issue into the forefront of U.S. concerns. With urban sprawl charging onward exponentially, these problems could get much worse if action is not taken.

            This site will closely analyze three case studies of urban wastewater management: Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It will illustrate where these cities have succeeded, their major struggles, and where they have outright failed. These cities employ a variety of methods and systems, some of which could provide a model for sewerage infrastructure development in cities across the region.

The Great Lakes
The Great Lakes Region

CSO Plume, Milwaukee Harbor
Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Plume in Lake Michigan (Milwaukee Harbor).

 Jones Island Treatment Plant ( Milwaukee, WI)
Jones Island Wastewater Treatment Plant -  Milwaukee, WI.

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