I read with interest Michael Miner’s recent article on our precious Great Lakes water supply [“They Need It. We Waste It,” January 13.]. Two observations. One. The Chicago “diversion” of 3,200 CFS to which he refers must include primarily the water taken into the Chicago offshore intake cribs. This water is treated and eventually finds its way south after it flows from our household spigots, toilets, yard hoses, fire hydrants, etc, thence into the sewage system, where it is again treated and at present partially released into the south-flowing river and canals. This water could be sent back into Lake Michigan without having, once again, to reverse the flow of the Chicago River. Just run a pipeline into the lake and pump it back, while leaving the river alone. Two. Down near New Orleans the Mississippi River carries multigazillion CFS of freshwater directly toward the Gulf of Mexico. From any point around New Orleans to Arizona and Nevada the distance is shorter and the terrain more benign than from the Great Lakes, so why not run a pipeline out west from down south, treat the water in large reservoir facilities in the west, and take the pressure off the Great Lakes? Surely this kind of diversion should be technically and financially feasible over the next 20 years or so.
Michael Miner replies:
According to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, most of the water that flows south from Chicago–about 1.2 billion gallons of the 2.1 billion-gallon daily allowance–is discharged from the city’s seven wastewater plants. Water flows directly from the lake whenever the lock’s open, and sometimes the Corps of Engineers lets lake water into the river simply to keep it high enough to be navigable. Remove the wastewater, and more freshwater presumably would be needed for the Chicago River to remain a commercial waterway. Thomas makes an excellent point about running a pipeline to the lower Mississippi. In fact, someone proposed tripling the amount of water diverted at Chicago to accommodate just such a pipeline. Opponents said it would lower Lake Michigan by about nine inches.