'Cheeseheads' Get The Blame For Lake's Woes

Milwaukee sewage dumping blamed for beach closings.

Chicago officials accuse Milwaukee, Wis. of sending "Cheesehead sewer water" into Lake Michigan, not taking the lake and their neighbors into consideration.

"The state of Wisconsin, and especially the city of Milwaukee, is a terrible environmental steward of Lake Michigan," said U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who led the verbal (Cheesehead pollution) assault. "We are seeing hundreds of our beaches closing that I believe are caused by Milwaukee dumping raw sewage."

Mayor Richard Daley said that Chicago hasn't just tighten control on boaters who discharge waste into the lake and has promoted recycling of bottles and cans at city harbors, only to see millions of gallons of storm and sewer water dumped at Milwaukee.

"That is a lot of garbage, and it is going to float down here," he said. "What are we going to do here when we have to shut our beaches down?"

In May, during heavy rains, 4.6 billion gallons of sewer overflows was dumped into Lake Michigan, acknowledged the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. An estimated 65 billion gallons of rainwater saturated the district's 420-square-mile service area, which includes Milwaukee and 27 other municipalities, between May 7 and May 27, according to Chicago Tribune.

"There's a lot of frustration here with overflows, including right here in our own building," the district spokesperson Bill Graffin said. "Unfortunately, Mother Nature brings along some storms that your system just can't handle."

According to Kirk, this in only the latest incident, "They have been doing it repeatedly," he said. "They have tried to save some budget dollars on their sewer system, and it is pretty easy to save budget dollars when you just dump raw sewage in the lake. That is why I think we need much stronger (federal) action against Wisconsin and, especially, Milwaukee."

Graffin declared that local officials have spent $2.3 billion over the last two decades for capital improvements, including a deep tunnel project, and are investing another $900 million by 2010 for additional upgrades to solve a long-standing problem. As a result, last year there were no overflows for the first time in recent history, he said.

Possible fines may follow the May dumping, said Thomas Skinner, acting assistant administrator for enforcement; however, penalties alone will not solve what he said has been a chronic problem.

"It is going to [take] pressure from the congressional delegations, pressure from their citizens and pressure from the federal government to get the system to do what they need it to do" to eliminate overflows, he said. "We are going to have to sit down with the state of Wisconsin now and really undertake some serious discussion about how we get Milwaukee to move in the direction they need to move."

Beaches were closed in the Milwaukee area after the recent dumping, but Skinner said there is no scientific evidence that discharges north of the state line have caused beach closings in the Chicago area, according to Chicago Tribune.

At Monday's hearing, Kirk, Daley and U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) called for passage of Great Lakes legislation that would authorize $4 billion a year in federal funding for projects ranging from harbor cleanup to fighting invasive species.

Chicago Tribune

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