Sewage Overflows

Tens of billions of gallons of raw or poorly treated sewage ends up in the lakes each year.

Tens of billions of gallons of raw sewage and stormwater end up in the Great Lakes each year. Old and failing infrastructure in cities is the culprit.

The problem isn’t just unsightly. It is a threat to human and wildlife health.

Bacteria and viruses thrive in untreated sewage. Once in the Great Lakes they can cause:

  • Skin rashes, eye and ear infections, stomach problems and diarrhea in those who come into contact with tainted water
  • Beach closings and swim advisories
  • Lost revenue to nearby communities

The cause? Aging infrastructure

The main culprits behind these overflows: aging sewage systems, leaking pipes and failing sewage treatment plants.

Combined sewer systems — pipes that carry sewage, as well as stormwater runoff from streets, lawns and fields, into treatment plants — also contribute to sewage overflows in the Great Lakes.

The problem is preventable

Public investment in updating wastewater systems is vital as it creates jobs, saves money and results in cleaner Great Lakes.

Continued funding of the federal Clean Water State Revolving Fund is critical. The fund helps local governments pay for sewer improvements and “green infrastructure” projects that keep stormwater out of the Great Lakes.

Read our special report—Reducing Combined Sewer Overflows in the Great Lakes: Why Investing in Infrastructure is Critical to Improving Water Qualityto learn more.