A Green River Will Get Greener. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a day when the Chicago River is dyed green. Because of major changes in how we manage wastewater, the river will soon be much greener. Chicago is unique because of what it doesn’t do: fully disinfect its wastewater before pumping it into public waterways. This, though, will change soon. Last year, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District finally voted to disinfect area wastewater, and soon two standard techniques to treat that water will be implemented.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District said installing equipment to kill the germs in partially treated sewage will cost $139 million, about 7 times less than the $1 billion that top district officials once said it would require and half as much as they later argued it would take to disinfect the wastewater.

Contractors are set to complete the project by 2015, district officials said, much faster than the decade-long schedule outlined in records submitted last year to state regulators. They also said the equipment should cost about $5 million a year to operate, less than half of previous estimates.

David St. Pierre, the district’s new executive director, told elected commissioners that spreading the construction costs over three years will enable them to overhaul two massive treatment plants within their routine budget for bricks-and-mortar projects. The work won’t cut into money set aside to complete the Deep Tunnel, the district’s long-delayed pollution- and flood-control project, St. Pierre said….

To improve water quality, the district plans to zap wastewater at its Calumet plant with chlorine — technology widely used elsewhere, including at two of the district’s smaller treatment plants. The Calumet plant already has a large tank to hold the wastewater long enough for chlorine to kill germs; the toxic chemical will be stripped out before wastewater is pumped into the Little Calumet River.

The North Side plant will rely on ultraviolet radiation, which is more expensive technology but saves the district the cost of installing a holding tank, St. Pierre said.


Professor Mike Bryson
has made the river a central aspect of his teaching at Roosevelt University, devoting assignments, field trips, and entire courses to the role of water in the Chicago area. This fall, he offers SUST 220 Water as a hybrid course meeting several Saturdays and online, with select field trips. If you are interested in taking this or any of our courses this summer or fall, please contact your RU academic advisor for registration details. If you are not currently a Roosevelt University student, we encourage you to investigate our degree options, and our course listings. For more information, please visit our Sustainability Studies website, call 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or email applyRU@roosevelt.edu.

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