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EPA: Upgraded Water Quality Standards needed for portions of Chicago area waterway system

Release Date: 05/12/2011
Contact Information: Phillippa Cannon, 312-353-6218, cannon.phillippa@epa.gov

For Immediate Release
No. 11-OPA045

Chicago (May 12, 2011) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today notified the State of Illinois that water quality standards for portions of the Chicago and Calumet Rivers must be upgraded to protect the health and safety of people who recreate in these waterways. The changes are necessary because an increasing number of people are coming into direct contact with the water through kayaking, canoeing, boating, jet and water skiing and other forms of recreation.

To attain the new water quality standards, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago will likely be required to disinfect sewage discharged into the waterway system from its North Side and Calumet treatment plants. MWRDGC ceased disinfection at these facilities in the mid-1980s.

"The Clean Water Act requires water quality standards that protect people who use the river," said U.S. EPA Regional Administrator Susan Hedman. "A decade of investments in walkways, boat ramps and parks has provided people with access to the water - and now we need to make sure that the water is safe."

Today's action directs the Illinois Pollution Control Board to promptly adopt new or revised water quality standards for the North and South Branches of the Chicago River, the North Shore Channel, the Cal-Sag Channel and the Little Calumet River. If the board does not act, the Clean Water Act authorizes U.S. EPA to do so. Since 2007, U.S. EPA has repeatedly recommended that Illinois upgrade water quality standards for the waterway system.

"The Chicago and Calumet Rivers are incredibly valuable resources to area residents and visitors, and clean water is vital to people's health and the local economy," said acting Assistant Administrator Nancy Stoner. "Restoring and protecting urban waterways is a priority for EPA because it revitalizes communities, boosts local businesses, and creates jobs and a healthier environment for people."

In 2009, U.S. EPA made a similar determination under its Clean Water Act authority for a 28-mile portion of the Mississippi River near St. Louis.

For information on the determination and to view a map showing the affected segments of the Chicago Area Waterway System, go to http://www.epa.gov/region5/chicagoriver/

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