The Sierra Legal Fund released its first Great Lakes Sewage Report Card today, an investigative report that analyzes twenty cities in the Great Lakes basin and grades them based on how well they manage their sewage.
Although many cities have made efforts to clean up their act, waters surrounding urban areas throughout the Great Lakes are still commonly unsafe for recreational use and many parts of the vast freshwater ecosystem are in peril.
“The Great Lakes basin is one of the most important freshwater ecosystems on the planet – holding one fifth of the world's freshwater,” said report author Dr. Elaine MacDonald. “Yet, the twenty cities we evaluated are dumping the equivalent of more than 100 Olympic swimming pools full of raw sewage directly into the Great Lakes every single day.”
The Great Lakes Sewage Report Card represents the first-ever ecosystem-based survey and analysis of municipal sewage treatment and sewage discharges in the Great Lakes basin. The report grades cities on issues such as collection, treatment and disposal of sewage based on information provided by each municipality.
The report documents that many cities in the region have antiquated systems for collecting and treating sewage and regularly release untreated sewage into local waterways. It is estimated that the 20 cities evaluated, representing a third of the region’s 35 million people, dump more than 90 billion liters of untreated sewage into the Great Lakes each year.
The cities that fared poorly, such as Detroit and Cleveland, typically have serious problems related to their combined sewers; antiquated systems that combine storm water and sanitary sewers into a single pipe and are prone to releasing raw sewage during wet weather.
Green Bay, Peel Region and Duluth are at the top of the class. All three generally have more sophisticated treatment processes and permit very little sewage to escape into the environment through combined sewer overflows, spills or bypasses.
In addition to grading the cities, the report provides an analysis of the region’s patchwork of sewage treatment laws and policies, and offers several recommendations to ensure the protection of water quality in the Great Lakes for future generations.
“Although it would be easy to point the finger at municipalities, the Great Lakes basin is a political quagmire that includes two countries, eight states, a province, dozens of tribes and First Nations and hundreds of local municipal and regional governments,” said MacDonald. “The only way out of this mess is to have all levels of government make a renewed commitment to upgrade our aging sewage systems and conserve our precious freshwater resources.”