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Great Lakes Commission Takes Aim at Sewage Overflows

Satellite image of the Great Lakes
A new program from the Great Lakes Commission seeks to help cities find better ways to manage storm water to prevent overflows during heavy rains.

A new collaboration between the Great Lakes Commission and Lawrence Technological University in Michigan takes aim at sewer overflows that are polluting the Great Lakes.

Sewer overflows -- sometimes millions of gallons -- plague many cities in the Great Lakes region. The biggest cities, like Chicago, Toronto and Detroit, all have that problem. And in Niagara Falls, N.Y., heavy rains caused severe overflows that discolored the Niagara River this summer.

This new project, the Great Lakes Stormwater Technology Transfer Collaborative, hopes to ease these problems.

It helps communities identify more effective storm water management practices. That will help to keep sewage treatment plants from being overwhelmed.

“The way we have been managing storm water is pretty outdated,” says Michael Polich, a program specialist with the Great Lakes Commission. “We kind of just try to get it away from us as quickly as possible and let it end up in the streams, rivers and into the Great Lakes. With that storm water can come a lot of pollutants and sediments that really kind of dirty up the lakes.”

Some communities in the Great Lakes region shy away from new technologies and methods, because of issues like affordability.

But Polich says newer management methods, like rain gardens or porous pavement, could help reduce overflows.

Great Lakes Today is a collaboration of WBFO Buffalo, ideastream Cleveland, and WXXI Rochester.