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MMSD Is Not Responsible For Raw Spewage

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on July 22, 2010

Last week, Milwaukee had a torrential downpour, where over four inches of rain fell in a very short time in many areas in and around the Milwaukee area. The result of this was that the sewage system was overwhelmed and MMSD ended up dumping over 500 million gallons of waste water into Lake Michigan.

Obviously, this is not an ideal situation. No one in their right mind wants to have raw sewage mingling with their drinking water. It also presents a potential problem for people wanting to use the beaches to go swimming, due to the risk of e. coli.

But never one to let pass a chance to make a mountain out of a molehill, Scott Walker’s campaign, echoed by all the usual suspects, including the squawking heads of talk radio, jumped on the chance to use this to attack Tom Barrett and/or Democrats in general.

However, their raw spewage is heavy on rhetoric and light on facts or solutions. The fact is that, as bad as this last dump was, it is actually much better than it ever was before.

In a column by Bruce Murphy, of Milwaukee Magazine, written three years ago, he wrote:

The truth is that the Deep Tunnel works as planned and Milwaukee has one of the best sewage treatment systems in the country. Prior to the Deep Tunnel’s construction, Milwaukee spilled 19 times more sewage into the lake than is does now, some 8.5 billion gallons of sewage per year, compared to less than 450 million gallons per year today. Milwaukee went from averaging 60 or more overflows per year to less than two, just as planners had expected. (To reduce the overflow as close as possible to zero would cost another $7 billion, and would still provide no guarantee of total success, which is why community leaders rejected this approach.)

Now, as I mentioned above, 500 gallons of sewage water in the lake is not appealing, but it is a great deal better than 17 times that number, without a torrential rain like the one we just had. It is also better to have that 500 gallons in the lake than in everyone’s basement.

Even if one took the complaints of Team Walker and friends at face value, they don’t offer any solutions. Probably because there are no real viable ones out there.

As noted by Murphy, to eliminate all overflow, it would cost $7 billion (in 2007 dollars) and even then it might not work.

Another frequent “solution” which I’ve heard put out there would be to separate the rain and the sewage pipes. Again, this would be a prohibitive cost and is also not guaranteed to help.

Without offering any viable solutions, all the complaints about MMSD dumping into the lake makes them appear to be just whiny, desperate people. Of course, in reality, if Walker was in charge, the odds are that the end result would be higher taxes AND sewage in our basements. What a campaign slogan that would make!

Vote for Walker: I’ll raise your taxes and leave crap in your basement!

Sorry, I digressed there for a moment.

Anyway, as I was saying, for Walker to complain about this and not offer any solutions makes him seem even more of an empty suit.

There are two more reasons why it would be smarter for Walker to leave this subject alone.

One, related to this massive rainstorm, the rivers were running so hard and fast that the Menomonee River ripped a gate off. Said gate was meant to keep the river from flowing into the Deep Tunnel. Imagine how much worse it would be if we added all of Waukesha’s waste water to our rivers, as Walker would have it, if more responsible leaders hadn’t intervened.

Secondly, does Walker want sewage in the lake to be compared to collapsing buildings or the problems at the mental health complex?

Team Walker would be best served to remember that, like monkeys in the zoo, you can’t go flinging poo without some of it sticking to you.


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