Minimize the risk of contamination
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) challenges Cook County residents to help the MWRD minimize the risk of nutrient contaminants – such as phosphorus and nitrogen – and debris from entering our local waterways. Preventive actions, along with simple to modest lifestyle changes, can result in cleaner, safer and healthier waterways. MWRD’s “A healthy waterway begins with you: A Guide to Water Wellness” offers several prevention tips along with #Water Wellness facts that you and your family can use in your personal, social and work life. Collectively, we can reduce nutrient contamination and pollution in our waterways.
Take our online pledge to help protect the waterways.
Water is a Valuable Resource
Water is one of the world’s most valuable resources. Covering about 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, water is essential to our everyday life. Everyone has a right to clean water, so protecting it from contamination is important.
Identifying Contaminants in or Near Your Home
Many common household products could contribute to water contamination. For example, shampoos and body cleansers could contain compounds like phosphorus, phosphate, sulfates and nitrogen. These chemicals contribute to nutrient contamination in the waterways. Other potential contaminants include: chlorides, microbeads, paint, pet waste, detergents, stormwater runoff, medication and yard waste. To minimize or avoid the risk of water contamination, the MWRD encourages you to do the following:
You can call 1-800-332-DUMP (3867) or (855) 332-4801 (Español) to report waterway blockages, illegal or suspicious dumping to waterways or sewers, odors and dead fish. To submit your report online, click here.
Water Wellness Fact: Nutrient pollution is the process where too many nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, are added to bodies of water and can act like fertilizer, causing excessive growth of algae and aquatic plants.
About 21 percent of the world's supply of surface fresh water is found in the Great Lakes Region. When our water source becomes polluted, the effect can be widespread. Along with endangering aquatic and wildlife, contaminants can make our drinking water unsafe and threaten our recreational activities. Poor water quality can also devastate a community’s health and livelihood. Preventive steps we each take today are giant leaps towards helping the MWRD fulfill its mission to protect and improve the quality of our water supply source (Lake Michigan).
The MWRD is working hard to decrease the amount of nutrients entering the waterways. Our goal is to reduce phosphorus discharge by 90 percent. To help reach our goal, we partnered with Ostara in 2016 to open the world’s largest nutrient recovery facility at our Stickney Water Reclamation Plant (WRP) in Cicero. The facility works to recover phosphorus and nitrogen from the water treatment process to create a high value fertilizer called Crystal Green.
Thanks to this facility, we’ll recover up to 85 percent of phosphorus and 15 percent of nitrogen from Stickney’s sidestream treatment streams.
Phosphorus is a non-renewable resource that is essential for life. On estimate, there are fewer than 100 years of phosphorus reserves remaining worldwide. Capturing and removing phosphorus from the water and returning it to productive use represents a significant shift in the used water industry from being a treatment facility to a recovery center. Additionally, our nutrient recovery efforts provide significant benefits to the Chicago Area Waterways (CAWS) as well as downstream to the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico.
The MWRD views discarded water as a collection of raw resources like nutrients to be recovered and reused beneficially. Recovering nutrients like phosphorus, nitrogen and even algae before they are lost forever will make them available for reuse.
As the agency that reversed the Chicago River, we’re always looking for innovative ways to protect the waterways and recover valuable resources.
At our Egan WRP, we’re developing new technologies, including a nitrogen removal system that lowers the plant’s carbon footprint through a deammonification process.
We’re also researching the sustainability of growing algae in a “vertical revolving” fashion; this would reduce the footprint to grow an equivalent algae biomass in a surface pond and simplify the harvesting process.
Along with helping to remove significant amounts of phosphorus from used water, harvested algae can be used for the production of bioplastics, biochemicals, biofuels, pharmaceuticals and dyes. It can also be used as fertilizer or as aquaculture feed.
Preventing contaminants from going down the drain or sewer is an easy and effective way to protect the waterways. Here are more ways you can help:
Use yard waste (grass clippings and leaves) in mulch or compost for your garden or prepare them for community composting. This will help keep them from washing into nearby waterbodies.
Install green infrastructure, such as a rain garden or rain barrels, to collect excess stormwater. This will keep stormwater runoff from flowing directly into sewers.
Pet waste is a pollutant. It may be harmful to the environment as it can carry disease and contribute to nutrient contamination. Please pick up dog waste, place it in a securely closed bag and deposit it in the trash or flush the contents down the toilet. Definitely do not leave it on the ground.
When it comes to cats and birds, do not flush kitty litter or bird seed down the toilet as this can adversely impact aquatic life.
Take pets to an area like a park that allows the fluid to drain into the ground – away from sewers or waterbodies.
Plant a tree to help capture excess stormwater and alleviate flooding on or near your property. The MWRD “Restore the Canopy, Plant a Tree” program offers free oak saplings to Cook County residents, municipalities, schools, businesses and organizations beginning every spring. Click here for more information.