Floods force sewage, storm water into Lake Michigan - FOX 32 News Chicago

Floods force sewage, storm water into Lake Michigan

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The heavy rains swept garbage and animal droppings and a lot of other unpleasant things off our streets and alleys and into storm sewers.

The pop bottles and cans we dumped on the street without a thought and the pet poop we failed to pick up is now floating in a thick scum on the Chicago River.

Even worse: some was released Thursday into Lake Michigan, the source of drinking water for millions. The decision to open floodgates that normally protect Lake Michigan from unspeakable pollution and bacteria was made at the operations center of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

"It's a very tough decision. Because the mission of our agency is to protect Lake Michigan," Assistant Director of Operations Sergio Serafino says. "But when we have to do it, we have to do it because we have to also protect the city from flooding."

It's been almost two years since the flood gates were last opened, thanks largely to the water reclamation district's ability to store 2.3 billion polluted gallons in its Deep Tunnel and Reservoir project. A vast expansion is currently underway that will add another 10 billion gallons of storage by the end of this decade.

Engineers said that, had it been available, the 40 new species of freshwater fish that have recently returned to the Chicago River might not be swimming in this scum Thursday night.

Intake pipes for the area's water filtration plants are far enough off-shore and far enough from the mouth of the Chicago River that they don't expect any impact on drinking water.

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