Great Lakes Fouled by Raw Sewage

TORONTO, Ontario, Canada, November 29, 2006 (ENS) - Detroit, Michigan 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 released its first Great Lakes Sewage Report Card today, an investigative report that analyzes the performance of 20 cities in the Great Lakes basin.


Detroit, a city of 886,700 people, is located on the Detroit River, which flows into Lake Erie. (Photo by Shawn Wilson)
"The Great Lakes basin is one of the most important freshwater ecosystems on the planet - holding one fifth of the world's freshwater," said the report's author Dr. Elaine MacDonald. "Yet, the 20 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 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 documents that many cities in the region have antiquated systems for collecting and treating sewage and regularly release untreated sewage into local waterways.

MacDonald estimated that the 20 cities evaluated, representing a third of the region's 35 million people, dump more than 90 billion liters (23.7 billion gallons) of untreated sewage into the Great Lakes each year.


Signs like this warn of polluted stormwater that is discharged into the Great Lakes. (Photo courtesy City of St. Joseph, Missouri)
The cities that received poor grades have problems related to their combined sewers - antiquated systems that combine stormwater and sanitary sewers into a single pipe and 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, Ohio and Windsor, Ontario both got a "D+" grade, also for the amount of sewage allowed to overflow into combined sewers and discharge into the Great Lakes.

Green Bay, Wisconsin 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, Minnesota are also 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.

"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.


Polluted stormwater flows by the billions of gallons into the Great Lakes. (Photo courtesy New York DEC)
"The only way out of this mess," she said, "is to have all levels of government make a renewed commitment to upgrade our aging sewage systems and conserve our precious freshwater resources."

MacDonald offers solutions that include water conservation. She estimates that implementation of household water conservation programs can reduce water use by more than 40 percent.

"Keep the rain out of the drain," she says. "Disconnecting residential downspouts and footing drains can dramatically reduce the volume of storm water entering municipal systems. Encouraging rain barrels and use of porous landscaping materials also reduces the quantity of stormwater."

Physically separating stormwater 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 would reduce the environmental burden of sewage effluent and sludge.

The Great Lakes Sewage Report Card is online at: