Lipinski, Kirk and Hultgren: End Great Lakes Sewage Dumping

To kick off the 2013 beach season, Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL-3) was joined by Sen. Mark Kirk (IL) and Rep. Randy Hultgren (IL-14) at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago to reveal new beach closure data highlighting the need for swift passage of the Great Lakes Water Protection Act. There are more than 50 public beaches in Illinois, and every year high levels of harmful pathogens, such as E.coli, cause hundreds of beach closures, costing the local economy millions of dollars.

Data revealed today by Rep. Lipinski, Sen. Kirk and Rep. Hultgren shows that Illinois public beaches had suffered more than 400 closures and advisories in 2012. Due to drought and historically low water levels, the number of beach closures is down slightly from 2011. In spite of these factors, the number of beach closures remains staggering, and the issue continues to affect the people of Illinois.

The Great Lakes Water Protection Act, introduced by Sens. Kirk and Dick Durbin (IL) in the Senate and by Reps. Lipinski and Hultgren in the House, would end sewage dumping, a primary contributing factor to beach closures, in the Great Lakes by 2033. The Great Lakes Water Protection Act increases fines to up to $100,000 a day per violation and provides communities 20 years to upgrade their sewage treatment facilities. Currently, fines are capped at $37,500 per day.

Money collected from fines would flow to a Great Lakes Clean-Up Fund, generating resources for Great Lakes states to improve wastewater treatment options and systems, as well as habitat protection. The Great Lakes Water Protection Act also makes it easier to assess fines at existing levels, beginning a year after the bill's passage.

“Improving and protecting our water quality should be a bipartisan goal. Both sides in Washington need to come together and work with all stakeholders to find thoughtful solutions to address the dumping problem in the Great Lakes,” Rep. Lipinski said. “Sewage dumping is a problem largely created because of inadequate infrastructure and outdated wastewater treatment facilities. As the state’s senior member on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, I am committed to helping improve our water treatment systems. This legislation offers a common-sense approach by directing fines from dumping violations to a special fund to improve water treatment facilities throughout the Great Lakes, so we hopefully can eliminate the problem in the future.”

“The Great Lakes Water Protection Act will allow us to make real progress toward protecting our Great Lakes – the crown jewel of the Midwest’s ecosystem and a source of drinking water for millions,” Sen. Kirk said. “This bipartisan, bicameral bill is a common-sense way to address sewage dumping and the environmental, financial, and public health hazards it presents.”

“No one wants their child playing in sewage-plagued lake water, so it's our responsibility to ensure clean and safe beaches for Illinois families as they get ready to head to the lakefront this summer,” Rep. Hultgren said. “Unnecessary sewage dumping in the lake ecosystem harms our health and our economy, which is why people of all political stripes would like a cleaner environment. With Americans exhausted and fed up at political gridlock and partisanship, it only makes sense for the Congressional leadership to move our bipartisan bill quickly through both the House and Senate.”

Cities around the Great Lakes Basin continue to dump directly into the Great Lakes and their tributaries during times of heavy rain. In 2011, Fort Wayne, Ind., dumped 7.5 billion gallons of combined sewage into the tributaries of Lake Erie. Reports estimate that 24 billion gallons of sewage are dumped into the Great Lakes each year, contributing to beach closures and advisories which, according to a University of Chicago study, costs the local economy about $2.4 million each year in lost revenue, in addition to harming the environment and putting the public at risk.  

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