As River Gets Cleaner, Property Taxes Get Higher

June 09, 2011

Well, we warned you, Chicago residents.

A new Chicago River disinfection policy approved this week is going to increase the cost of treating Chicago’s wastewater.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) has voted 8-1 in favor of a plan that will disinfect the waste flowing into the Chicago River from its North Side and Calumet treatment plants.

kayakers in the Chicago River

Cleaning up the Chicago River will make it safer for kayakers and other water enthusiasts.

Chicago is the only city in the country that skips an important germ-killing step when it comes to treating its sewage water. Effluent from the plants, which is full of bacteria and pathogens from sewage, makes up 70 percent of the water in our waterways.


“Treating this waterway like a sewer has sullied not just our backyards and downtown, but also the Great Lakes and Mississippi River system,” said Henry Henderson, Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Midwest Program and a former Commissioner of the Environment for the City of Chicago. “Today’s vote finally recognizes that fact and brings us in line with the rest of the nation. The river can become the amenity that Chicago deserves, not something to avoid for fear of illness.”

This new plan comes in response to a May 11 letter from the U.S. EPA demanding that the Chicago and Calumet Rivers be made swimmable.

But it’s going to cost.

Installing the disinfection equipment at the two treatment plants will come with a price tag of about $240 million, and that doesn’t include the operating costs of more than $10 million a year.

According to the MWRD, homeowners would see a 12 to 15 percent increase on their property tax bills for the portion that goes to the MWRD. So, a Chicago homeowner whose home is worth $100,000 and whose portion of the property tax bill that goes to the MWRD is about $300 would receive a $36 to $45 annual increase in their bill.

For business owners, the increase would amount to about 8 percent.

For residents who want to actually use the Chicago River for recreation, however, this is just a small price to pay for cleaner water.

“Instead of debating whether we should disinfect, we can work together to make it happen,” said Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River. “When Friends was founded 32 years ago, no one would have ever believed that this day would come.

“This is terrific news for all the people who use the river or wish they could.”

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