Illinois' two Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) along with Illinois' Representatives Daniel Lipinski (D-Western Springs) and Randy Hultgren (R-Winfield) unveiled legislation today that would end sewage dumping 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.
Money collected from fines would flow to a Great Lakes Clean-Up Fund to generate financial resources for the Great Lakes states to improve wastewater treatment options, habitat protection and wastewater treatment systems. In addition, the legislation would make it easier to assess fines at existing levels, beginning a year after the bill's passage.
"We need to protect Lake Michigan, the crown jewel of the Midwest and the source of drinking water for millions," Sen. Kirk said. "This bipartisan, bicameral bill is the right approach to stop polluters from dumping sewage in the Great Lakes."
"We are faced with many challenges when trying to protect the health and safety of the Great Lakes -- from invasive species to air pollution around Lake Michigan," said Durbin. "This legislation tackles another significant threat to the water system -- municipal sewage. I will continue to work closely with Senator Kirk and Congressmen Lipinski and Hultgren to ensure that this national treasure is around for generations, providing drinking water, recreation and commerce for Illinois and other Great Lakes states."
"The Great Lakes are our region's most precious natural resource and we must do more to protect them. We cannot continue to allow the dumping of billions of gallons of raw sewage in the waters we use for drinking, swimming, boating, and fishing," said Rep. Lipinski. "By imposing penalties that will not only deter dumping but will help pay for infrastructure improvements that will help alleviate future dumping, this bill provides the type of innovative, bipartisan, bicameral action that we need to see more of in Washington. "
"Protecting the quality of the Great Lakes is essential for Illinois families," Rep. Hultgren said. "This bill addresses a critical public health concern and demonstrates how Congress can work together effectively to preserve our natural resources and improve the quality of life for families throughout the Midwest."
Cities around the Great Lakes Basin continue to dump directly into the Great Lakes and their tributaries. Reports estimate that 24 billion gallons of sewage are dumped into the Great Lakes each year, posing environmental, financial and public health hazards.
Decreased water quality can pose serious risks to public health and can contribute to beach closures and swim advisories along freshwater beaches. Data from the Illinois Department of Public Health shows that Lake Michigan beaches continue to be inundated with hundreds of beach closures and contamination advisories each year. A University of Chicago study concluded the closings due to high levels of harmful pathogens like E.coli cost the local economy about $2.4 million each year in lost revenue.