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.
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,
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 Great Lakes Region
Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Plume in Lake Michigan (Milwaukee Harbor).
Jones Island Wastewater Treatment Plant - Milwaukee, WI.