Sewage Makes Cesspool of Our Waterways by Loretta Baughan
In the three months since the BP oil rig explosion, government estimates place the amount of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico at between 94 and 184 million gallons. (1,2) An enormous disaster, but even so, it doesn't begin to compare to the amount of waste spewing into Lake Michigan from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD).
"Who can wrap their mind around the 850 billion gallons figure? Putting that into perspective, Wisconsin's largest inland body of water, Lake Winnebago with 85 miles of shoreline, is estimated to only contain 696 billion gallons of water. (8)"
It's been more than just a rainy July in Wisconsin this year, it's bordering on becoming a monsoon. Or at least it seems to be so. The most recent deluge dumped 8" of rain in some areas of Milwaukee, causing widespread flooding, widespread sewer back ups into residents' basements, sinkholes, foundation cave-ins - and a massive spill of 2.1 billion gallons of untreated sewage into Lake Michigan... yes, BILLIONS. (9)
Thunderstorms poured 5.6 inches of rain on the city just the week before (7/15/2010), resulting in an estimated untreated wastewater spill of 506 million gallons. A July 7 storm discharged 1.65 million gallons and on June 15, it was 23.6 million gallons for a combined total of 2,631,250,000 gallons so far this year. (3)
There was a storm in June of 2009 which caused a sewer overflow of 935.7 million gallons and the previous June saw an unfathomable spill of 2.9 billion gallons. In December 2008, another 80 million gallons entered our waterways. (4) These incidents, over the past three years, have dumped a mind-boggling 7,078,200,000 gallons... that's in excess of seven BILLION gallons of sewage spewing into Lake Michigan.
But as disturbing as this is, it is hailed as an improvement over how things used to be when, according to his testimony before Congress, Kevin Shafer the Executive Director of the MMSD since 2002, revealed that in 1994 there were 60 sewage overflows. (5)
"I would agree with the suggestions of our witness from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District that the best way to avoid human health and environmental concerns for the sewer overflows is to ensure that they never occur in the first place."
--US Representative Timothy H. Bishop, The Raw Sewage Overflow Community Right-to-Know Act Hearing before the subcommittee of Water Resources and Environment of the Committee of Transportation and Infrastructure, House of Representatives, Washington DC (10/16/2007)
It should be noted that Milwaukee, along with many other municipalities along the shore, obtain their drinking water from Lake Michigan. In April of 1993, over 400,000 people were sickened, 4,400 were hospitalized and as many as 100 reportedly died from drinking city water contaminated by the micro-scoptic one-celled protozoan, Cryptosporidium, which originates from animal or human feces. (10) The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources admits that keeping our water supply free of Cryptosporidium is not totally preventable (6), but addressing and solving the sewage overflow problem by separating the storm and sewer lines would surely minimize this public health risk. In the meantime, problems persist, putting the metro area, residents and waterways at the mercy of the weather.
Being mindful of instances of recent sewage overflows or flooding and avoiding contact with bodies of water in affected areas is good advice not only for people, but also pets. Besides protozoans, sewage overflows contaminate waterways with biological agents such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites, as well as prescription drugs and unknown chemicals that can cause serious illness or death. Some of the health threats posed by sewage contaminated flooding of waterways include: Tetanus, Leptospirosis, hepatitis, cholera, typhoid, Rotavirus, Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. coli, Giardia and Cryptosporidium.
Toxic algae blooms are another concern traced to elevated nutrient levels caused by sewer spills, lawn fertilizers and careless farming practices. In fact, I experienced the painful loss of my young spaniel, Bailey, in April 2006, due to contact with an unseen toxic blue-green algae bloom containing potent neurotoxins in a pothole pond. It's vital that pet owners and hunters training their dogs for water work be aware of this potential danger. The problem isn't limited, though, to the warm-weather months. It can happen year-round. Waterfowl hunters and fishermen, alike, would be wise to avoid hunting their dogs in contaminated waters and consuming fish or game from questionable areas. (11, 12)
Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel published an article last August focusing attention on a three-year MMSD study that revealed a general level of deterioration or disrepair of the municipal storm sewers and raised concerns for the potential of a serious health threat. Even during dry weather, human sewage is exiting the system. (7)
But it is NOT just one metropolitan sewer district contaminating our waterways because of aging infrastructure and a failure to keep pace with development. It's not a problem specific to Milwaukee or Wisconsin or the Great Lakes, but is prevalent across the country, from coast to coast... and beyond.
"With documented needs of between $300 to $500 billion for wastewater infrastructure improvements nationwide, the cost of repairing or replacing our Nation's infrastructure is daunting and will not be successful without increased Federal support."
"The Environmental Protection Agency's own numbers on annual sewer overflows are staggering. For combined sewer systems, EPA estimates 850 billion gallons of raw or partially treated sewage is discharged annually into local waters."
--US Representative Timothy H. Bishop
Who can wrap their mind around the 850 billion gallons figure? Putting that into perspective, Wisconsin's largest inland body of water, Lake Winnebago with 85 miles of shoreline, is estimated to only contain 696 billion gallons of water. (8)
The fact that so much sewage is being dumped into our lakes, rivers, streams... and the oceans, serves to underline the fact that government is incapable of managing the situation. They are - and have been - well aware of the fact that they have a problem for at least fifty years. But beyond occasionally paying lip-service to the problem, they are unwilling to address it by spending the necessary dollars to actually fix it. Instead, our politicians, at all levels, turn a blind eye while they foolishly waste our tax dollars funding pet projects, exporting billions in non-humanitarian aid to foreign countries and by further bloating the government bureaucracy industry. Enough is enough! The dilapidated state of our nation's sewer system is a disgrace and poses a real threat to public safety.
Where's the national media, the environmentalists and the public outcry?sources:
(1) Gulf Oil Spill: BP Says No Sign of Leaks as Capped Well Nears 48 hours by Colleen Long and Harry R Weber, Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/17/gulf-oil-spill-bp-says-no_n_650035.html (7/17/2010)
(2) Relief Tunnel Should Reach BP Gulf Well by Weekend by David Dishneau and Colleen Long, Associated Press Writers (7/21/2010)
(3) Sewer Overflow from Rains Estimated at 506 Million Gallons by Don Behm of the Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/98779369.html (7/19/2010)
(4) Combined Sewer Overflow Nearly 1 Billion Gallons Friday by Don Behm of the Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/48925762.html (6/23/2009)
(5) The Raw Sewage Overflow Community Right-to-Know Act Hearing before the subcommittee of Water Resources and Environment of the Committee of Transportation and Infrastructure, House of Representatives, Washington DC (10/16/2007)
(6) Cryptosporidium: A Risk to Our Drinking Water, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/water/dwg/Crypto.htm (3/11/2008)
(7) Storm Sewers Oozing Human Fecal Bacteria to Beaches, Rivers, Study Finds by Don Behm of the Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/52319607.html (8/2/2009)
(8) Wisconsin DNR Wisconsin Lake Book, per Loon Lake Realty website, http://www.wisloonlake.com/wisconsinlakes.html, (viewed 7/22/2010)
(9) 2 Billion Gallons of Sewage, Storm Water Overflow by Don Behm of the Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/99365209.html (7/27/2010)
(10) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Surveillance for Waterborne Disease Outbreaks – United States, 1993-1994. MMWR 1996:45(No. SS-1). http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00040818.htm
(11) Blue-Green Algae in Wisconsin Waters: Frequently Asked Questions, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, http://dnr.wi.gov/lakes/bluegreenalgae/ (12/2/2009)
(12) Unseen Danger by Loretta Baughan, Spaniel Journal, http://www.spanieljournal.com/25lbaughan.html (2006)
Note: Copyright © 2010 Spaniel Journal and Loretta Baughan, all rights reserved worldwide
Reprint permission may be granted on an individual basis, please email requests. You may freely print out copies to distribute to puppy buyers, veterinarians, club members, legislators and others. Do NOT forward this - or any Spaniel Journal articles - in their complete form to groups or via email. You may post the first paragraph along with a link back to the actual page to your contacts.
Please use the icons provided below to easily print or distribute via email or social networks.
Thank you for your consideration and respect.
Loretta Baughan is the founder, editor and publisher of Spaniel Journal. She is an award winning professional photographer, webdesigner, owner of
Autumnskye, LLC. Loretta is a member of the Dog Federation of Wisconsin and is active in legislative issues involving animals. She resides in northern Wisconsin, with her husband, Steve, and their three children.