For years, people in Chicago complained about Milwaukee dumping sewage into Lake Michigan. And Chicagoans didn’t complain just to each other. In 1970, Illinois sued Milwaukee over the pollution. As recently as 2002, eight Illinois members of Congress sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claiming Milwaukee dumped more waste into Lake Michigan than any other city. That same year, the Lake Michigan Federation and the Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers sued again, alleging a billion gallons of untreated industrial and domestic waste were being dumped into regional waterways, much of it ending up in the lake. Everyone was tired of the Milwaukee area releasing sewage into the lake whenever heavy rains overwhelmed the Wisconsin city’s treatment facilities.
But without fanfare, at least in Illinois, that’s changed. In recent years, the Milwaukee area has cleaned up its act to the point that it has lessons it can teach Chicago, beginning with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.