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GLIN==> Leading Great Lakes citizens' group call on Administration to drop proposed federal sewage policy

Posted on behalf of Bev McClellan <bmcclellan@lakemichigan.org>

Leading Great Lakes citizens'organizations are calling on President Bush's
new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Michael Leavitt, to
drop a proposed sewage policy, citing concerns about allowing more
discharges of viruses and other pathogenic pollution to the Great Lakes.

The federal policy, proposed late last year, would permit sewage treatment
plants to divert sewage around secondary treatment operations anytime it
rains, allowing largely untreated sewage to "blend" with fully treated
wastewater before discharge to waterways. Currently treatment plants are
allowed to divert sewage but only under very limited circumstances. The
public comment period on the proposed "blending" policy closes Fri., Feb. 9.

"With more than 1,000 beach closures around Lake Michigan alone in 2003
because of health risks from pathogenic pollution, the Great Lakes are
especially susceptible to any policy that allows unfettered discharge of
sewage-infested water," said Laurel O'Sullivan, attorney and manager of the
Federation's water quality program, which coordinated the comments submitted
on behalf of the organizations. "This policy turns back the clock on decades
of progress and billions of dollars in sewage treatment upgrades around the

According to the organizations, the proposed policy would provide a
disincentive for treatment plants to upgrade their facilities and make
necessary repairs. It would also allow viruses and parasites to more
frequently enter recreational and drinking water supplies, at a time when
water quality standards do not safeguard against or require monitoring for
many such pathogens. The proposed policy represents a sharp reversal of
long-standing federal policy and would violate the federal Clean Water Act.
Current federal rules authorize such discharges only for essential treatment
plant maintenance and where critical to prevent loss of life, personal
injury, or property damage. As written, the draft policy applies to any wet
weather event where treatment agencies do not have the physical capacity to
treat wastewater to secondary treatment standards.

"With viruses, bacteria, and other germs posing a threat to public health
and recreation around the Great Lakes, this policy will let sewage treatment
plants off the hook from having to undertake long-term wastewater discharge
control measures," O'Sullivan said.

Funding for sewage treatment plants could be available under a Great Lakes
restoration package proposed by Congress. Under the bipartisan legislation
(H.R. 2720 in the House and S. 1398 in the Senate) $4 to 6 billion would be
available for better sewage treatment, coastal habitat rehabilitation, and
water conservation measures, among others.

Formed in 1970, the Lake Michigan Federation is the oldest citizens' Great
Lakes organization in North America. With offices in Chicago and Grand
Haven, Michigan, the Federation works to restore habitat, conserve land and
water, and improve water quality through education, research, science, law,
economics, and strategic partnerships.

More about the Congressional restoration package is online at
www.lakemichigan.org/news/congress_moves.asp and the Federation at

Chicago Office: 220 S. State Street, Suite 1900
Chicago, IL 60604-2177
(312) 939-0838

Michigan Office: 700 W. Washington Ave., Suite 150
Grand Haven, MI 49417
(616) 850-0745

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