20 Cities Fail First Great Lakes’ Environmental Report Card
Detroit, MI, is at the bottom of the class, performing the worst of 20 cities graded by a Canadian environmental group in a report card on how well they manage their sewage.
Sierra Legal has released its first Great Lakes Sewage Report Card, an investigative report that analyzes the performance of 20 cities in the Great Lakes basin.
According to Dr. Elaine MacDonald, the report’s author, the Great Lakes basin is one of the most important freshwater ecosystems on the planet, holding one-fifth of the world’s fresh water. Yet the 20 cities that Sierra Legal evaluated are dumping the equivalent of more than 100 Olympic-sized swimming pools of raw sewage directly into the Great Lakes every day.
The Great Lakes Sewage Report Card is the first ecosystem 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 also documents that many cities in the region have antiquated systems for collecting and treating sewage and regularly release untreated sewage into local waterways.
MacDonald estimates that the 20 cities evaluated, representing a third of the region’s 35 million people, dump more than 23.7 billion gallons of untreated sewage into the Great Lakes each year.
The cities that received poor grades have problems related to their combined sewers–antiquated systems that combine storm water and sanitary sewers into a single pipe and thus are prone to releasing raw sewage during wet weather.
Detroit has secondary treatment at the largest sewage treatment plant in North America. But the city reported over 200 sewage overflows in 2005, earning it the lowest grade of D on the Report Card.
Two other cities are near the bottom of the class. Cleveland, OH, and Windsor, Ontario, both received D+ grades, also for the amount of sewage allowed to overflow into combined sewers and discharge into the Great Lakes.
Green Bay, WI, was given the highest grade, a B+, for reporting no overflows, bypasses, or spills. Green Bay sewage is given secondary treatment and the city removes phosphorus and dechlorinates the final effluent.
Peel Region, Ontario, and Duluth, MN, also are near the top of the class with grades of B for their sophisticated treatment processes that permit very little sewage to escape into the environment through combined sewer overflows, spills, or bypasses.
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. The solution, according to MacDonald, is to have all levels of government make a renewed commitment to upgrade their aging sewage systems and conserve freshwater resources.
MacDonald offers other solutions that include water conservation. She estimates that implementation of household water conservation programs can reduce water use by more than 40 percent, Also, disconnecting residential downspouts and footing drains and encouraging the use of rain barrels and porous landscaping materials can reduce the quanity of storm water entering the sewer systems.
Physically separating storm water and sanitary sewer systems would reduce overflows and total volumes flowing to treatment plants, she suggests. And preventing toxic chemicals from entering the sewage system also would reduce the environmental burden of sewage effluent and sludge.