Activists with Environment Illinois say it's time to give Lake Michigan the Halloween treat it deserves: protection from polluters.
At a news conference at North Avenue beach Tuesday morning, environmental organizers said loopholes in the Clean Water Act have allowed Lake Michigan to become a "witch's brew of pollutants" for more than a decade, leaving nearly 56 percent of Illinois' streams unprotected. The unchecked pollution has the potential to put the drinking water of more than 1.6 million Illinoisans at risk, the group said.
In September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers submitted to the Office of Management and Budget a draft rule designed to help clarify which U.S. waters are subject to protections under the Clean Water Act. Environmentalists say the proposed rule would be a big step in helping to restore Clean Water Act protections for streams, wetlands and others waters.
The proposed rule takes into consideration a recent draft report the EPA issued detailing the findings of more than 1,000 peer-reviewed articles and studies about the connectivity of streams and wetlands to downstream waters.
At today's press conference, the environmental organizers called on President Barack Obama to move forward with the proposed rule, which they say would help ensure Lake Michigan is protected from pollution such as sewage and runoff from factory farms.
"Major polluters like factory farmers and developers dump toxic chemicals and hazardous waste into our waterways, turning them into toxic potions," said Environment Illinois Campaign Director Lisa Nikodem. "Agricultural runoff, sloppy development and sewage pollution all haunt the health of our waters."
Environment Illinois also released a new fact sheet detailing the 10 "most frightening realities" about Illinois waters. According to the group's officials, who toted fake tombstones with the scary facts written on them, more than 34 billion gallons of raw sewage have been dumped into Lake Michigan since 2000.
In the summer of 2012, more than 50 Lake Michigan beaches tested positive for mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, which are used in coolant fluid, and E. Coli, according to data from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Overall, there were 334 beach closings in Cook County in 2012, according to the group's fact sheet.
Among other spooky water statistics, Illinois tied with Iowa in the upper Midwest as having the highest percent of monitored lakes with elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, according to an April 2012 "Troubled Waters" report from the Environmental Working Group.
Alderman Joe Moreno (1st) said he stands in solidarity with those calling for more stringent water protections.
"Pollution in (Lake Michigan) obviously has a detrimental effect on us now,” Moreno said in a statement. “But also, our future regional prosperity is dependent upon preserving this most precious natural resource. Clean water protections must be restored, and restored as soon as possible. There is no other way to ensure of future."
Nikodem said Illinoisans who want to see stronger protections for the area's waterways should submit comments to the EPA, which is currently accepting public input on the proposed rule through November 6. The EPA is slated to hold an informational public meeting in mid-December regarding the connections between streams, wetlands and other bodies of water.
Environment Illinois and other conservation groups are pushing for a final proposed rule that would close the loopholes by May 2014, Nikodem added.
Individuals should also keep in mind that littering can have a major impact on water quality, noted Brendan Hancock, an Environment Illinois field manager.
"That trash, if you just drop a candy wrapper on the street, actually gets washed out in the lake, so it's the little things that also add up as well," he said.