About forty residents along the Chicago River in Center Square assembled along the river bank to demonstrate in favor of cleaning up the river to a group of officials touring the river that included U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL).
The group, which included children, canoers and kayakers, sang songs and held up signs reading “Cut The Crap” and “Quack If You Love Clean Water” as the boat full of officials cruised by twice.
“If they don’t come down to the river very often, they don’t see how special this resource is and they don’t see all the things we do down here,” said Kevin Anderson, one of the organizers of today’s demonstration. “They’ll see how valuable having this river is.”
The tour group included Cong. Mike Quigley (D-IL), Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) Commissioners Debra Shore and Mike Alvarez, representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Madigan also lives along the river. The demonstration group included her husband, Pat Byrnes, and her children.
The tour, organized by Sen. Durbin’s office, was meant to showcase the elected officials’ support of a recent letter issued by the EPA directing the MWRD to begin disinfecting treated sewage discharge. The MWRD has resisted adding disinfection to its treatment process, claiming that it would cost over $500 million to do so and would result in sharply increased taxes. The EPA has countered saying that its directive would cost half that, at $242 million.
Later this morning, at a press conference following the tour, Sens. Durbin and Kirk made statements in favor of adding the disinfection process and that they would work to get federal dollars to foot the bill.
“It’s time for us to clean up the Chicago River,” said Sen. Durbin. “It has been a source of commerce and recreation. We need to clean up the river. It is 70% effulent, 70% discharge.”
“I’m particularly concerned that in the industrialized world, this is one the few cities left that does not disinfect its water,” said Sen. Kirk.
“It is a natural treasure. We have to stop treating it like a toilet,” said Cong. Mike Quigley.
MWRD Comm. Debra Shore did not think the additional cost to the average taxpayer even if there was no federal support. “I calculated on my home in Skokie that it might cost an additional $32 a year and that’s only if Cook County taxpayers shouldered the whole burden,” said Shore.