U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3, Western Springs), joined by U.S. Sens. Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin of Illinois and U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren (D-14), unveiled legislation last week proposing to prohibit sewage dumping in the Great Lakes by 2033.
The proposed Great Lakes Water Protection Act would increase fines up to $100,000 a day per violation and provides communities 20 years to upgrade their sewage treatment facilities.
“The Great Lakes are our region’s most precious natural resource and we must do more to protect them,” Lipinski stated in a press release. “We cannot continue to allow the dumping of billions of gallons of raw sewage in the waters we use for drinking, swimming, boating, and fishing. By imposing penalties that will not only deter dumping but will help pay for infrastructure improvements that will help alleviate future dumping, this bill provides the type of innovative, bipartisan, bicameral action that we need to see more of in Washington.”
Money collected from fines would go to a Great Lakes clean-up fund to generate financial resources for the Great Lakes states to improve wastewater treatment options, habitat protection and wastewater treatment systems. In addition, the legislation would make it easier to assess fines at existing levels, beginning a year after the bill’s passage.
“We are faced with many challenges when trying to protect the health and safety of the Great Lakes — from invasive species to air pollution around Lake Michigan,” Durbin said. “This legislation tackles another significant threat to the water system — municipal sewage. I will continue to work closely with Senator Kirk and Congressmen Lipinski and Hultgren to ensure that this national treasure is around for generations, providing drinking water, recreation and commerce for Illinois and other Great Lakes states.”
Cities around the Great Lakes Basin continue to dump sewage directly into the Great Lakes and their tributaries. Reports estimate that 24 billion gallons of sewage are dumped into the Great Lakes each year, according to Lipinski’s press release. Data from the Illinois Department of Public Health shows that Lake Michigan beaches experience hundreds of beach closures and contamination advisories each year. A University of Chicago study concluded beach closings because of high levels of harmful pathogens like E. coli cost the local economies about $2.4 million each year in lost revenue.