After years of advocacy by the Environmental Law & Policy Center and our partners Friends of the Chicago River, Sierra Club of Illinois, Center for Neighborhood Technology and Openlands, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago adopted a new Watershed Management Ordinance today that is essential for preventing floods, protecting wetlands and safeguarding our rivers and streams.
These stormwater protections are good for the people of Cook County. So much of our county is covered with hard surfaces – buildings, roads, sidewalks, etc. – that rain has a hard time sinking into the ground. Instead, it races along cement and blacktop – picking up oil, metals and other pollutants along the way – until it rushes into our waterways and inundates our sewers. This fast-moving and polluted water contributes to flooding problems.
The new ordinance addresses floods and water pollution by:
- Requiring and promoting green infrastructure practices designed to help rainfall soak into the ground
- Protecting isolated wetlands that are being destroyed at an alarming rate
- Minimizing building homes and businesses on land that habitually floods
- Requiring buffers on waterways that remove pollutants in runoff, improving water quality and wildlife habitat
“Communities must manage stormwater well in order to thrive” said ELPC Staff Attorney Jessica Dexter. “Today’s decision is an important step in that process. The impacts of stormwater run-off are damaging to our wetlands and waterways and often to our basements with every rainfall. The water moves quickly through streets gathering pollution as it goes, eroding waterways and washing away important river habitats. While it might not be obvious, this is good news for everyone in Cook County.”
Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River, pointed out that today’s passage of the Watershed Management Ordinance is the third important development undertaken by the MWRD that will improve the water quality of the Chicago River. Two weeks ago, the MWRD broke ground for disinfection facilities at the O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant, last week they blew the “last blast” at the Thornton Reservoir, and today they approved this ordinance, she said.
“These actions are a significant step toward making the Chicago River the natural and recreational treasure it deserves to be,” Frisbie said.