A Close Look at Combined Sewer Overflows

Friends' Margaret Frisbie speaks with NBC 5 News

Friends’ Executive Director Margaret Frisbie joined NBC 5 Chicago for a story exploring how climate change impacts our daily lives and creates more intense rainfalls that can trigger combined sewer overflows (CSOs). The story, by NBC’s Kate Chappell, looks closely at the flooding problems associated with the combined sewers that run beneath the streets. The story also covers green and grey infrastructure solutions such as rain gardens and the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP) of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), who are our partners for Overflow Action Awareness Month. 

Watch the NBC 5 Story About CSOs

As the NBC 5 story reports, the “past three Mays in Chicago has averaged over 8 inches of rain, well above the normal 3.5 inches for the month,” each year worse than the one before. Highlighted in the story is Lori Burns a resident of the Chatham neighborhood of Chicago who worked with our partners at the Center for Neighborhood Technology to install a rain garden in her front yard and she also disconnected her home’s downspouts. The Center for Neighborhood Technology also worked to install a rain garden in a south suburban park to help relieve the flooding of a local street. During heavy rainfall, TARP can hold over 17 billion gallons of waste and rainwater, before treating it once the storm subsides. The net result has been an enormous improvement in water quality and increases in fish and other aquatic life populations; however, more is needed to meet our target of the total elimination of sewage discharges to the Chicago River System. Nature-based green infrastructure and reducing the burden on the combined sewer system before, during and after rain events through Overflow Action Days helps reduce sewer overflows and protect aquatic and human health.

Friends and the MWRD work together to raise awareness about how rainfall can cause combined sewer overflows (CSOs) to our rivers and Lake Michigan and what the effects are on public and environmental health. The NBC story also details what individuals and families can do to conserve water use during heavy rainfall to reduce the possibility of CSOs; tips include holding off on laundry, dishwasher use, and turning off the tap when brushing teeth.

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