Northwest Indiana Perspective
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE ON WATER QUALITY LEGISLATION AND APPLICATION TO NORTHWEST INDIANA
The first significant Congressional enactment bearing upon water pollution was the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1890, written in response to a decision by the United States Supreme Court that the United States lacked common law to prohibit obstructions and nuisances in navigable waters.1 The successor to this enactment was the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 which essentially re-enacted the prior law.2
The first Congressional effort specifically directed to water pollution was the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948. In a declaration of policy, Congress recognized the importance of public health and welfare and the primary responsibility of the states for addressing water pollution. Authority for water pollution control was placed in the Surgeon General with assistance from the Water Pollution Control Advisory Board. The primary enforcement mechanism to control water pollution were abatement suits, with water pollution being declared a public nuisance. Amendments made in 1956 and 1965 developed procedures to mandate the state establishment of water pollution control programs.
In 1972, Congress expanded the initiative into a more complex regulatory program to address water pollution. Substantial federal funding was provided for the construction and operation of publicly owned treatment facilities. Effluent limitations were developed, and the national pollution discharge elimination system (NPDES) was established. Regulations were authorized to control non-point source pollution. The Federal Water Pollution Control Act was extensively amended in 1977. At that time, Congress renamed the program as the Clean Water Act (CWA).3
The International Joint Commission was established by the Boundary Waters Treaty in 1909 to "prevent and resolve water resource disputes along the boundary between the United States and Canada."4 Recognizing that each country is affected by each other's actions, the two countries cooperate to manage and protect these waters. The commission has six members. Three are appointed by the President of the United States and three are appointed by the Governor of the Council of Canada. The commission has set up over 20 boards of experts from the United States and Canada to assist with the implementation of the Treaty.5
Concerns for water quality in the Great Lakes caused Canada and the United States to sign the first Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1972. The purpose of the agreement was to control pollution in these waters and to clean up waste waters from industries and communities. In 1978, this agreement was amended, adding a commitment to work together to rid the Great Lakes of "persistent toxic substances."6 The agreement requires the parties to adopt specific objectives that represent minimum levels of water quality for the Great Lakes system. The agreement also established the policy that the discharge of "persistent toxic substances" be virtually eliminated.7
Northwest Indiana Perspective
The industrial revolution in Indiana found energy along the Lake Michigan waterfront. Early ventures centered along Trail Creek, although the
primary location soon came to be the Grand Calumet River. A national ignorance of environmental significance at the turn of the century was particularly telling for the Grand Calumet River, and the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal at its mouth, because of the concentration of steel mills, oil refineries, and urban sewage disposal.8
A notable water quality dispute arose in 1944 in southern Lake Michigan. Illinois and the City of Chicago filed suit against Indiana, 16 Indiana-based companies, and the cities of Gary, Hammond, East Chicago, and Whiting for alleged water pollution. The plaintiffs alleged that pollution originating from Northwest Indiana was impairing the use of Lake Michigan as a water supply. A consent decree specifying corrective measures was entered in 1945, and the parties were determined to be in compliance by 1948.9
In the 1960s, evidence suggested that chronic water-quality problems were damaging the aquatic ecosystem of near-shore Lake Michigan. Bottom dredgings made between 1961 and 1963 indicated much of the lakebed was covered with dense, organic material. Subsequently, the benthic community was dominated by aquatic worms, fingernail clams, and other pollution-tolerant organisms. Trout and perch were thought to be scarce because of poor water and bottom-sediment quality. Pollution-tolerant species such as carp and buffalo dominated the nectonic community. Beaches in Hammond and Whiting were frequently closed because of high bacteria counts. Water purification facilities in Hammond, Gary, and East Chicago reported taste and odor problems attributed to phenols and other organic compounds. The Gary facility also reported some excessive ammonia concentrations at its intake crib during January 1963.10
By the mid-1960s, most streams in Northwest Indiana were viewed as having been impacted by pollution. The Grand Calumet River and the Little Calumet River were characterized by low dissolved oxygen, high biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), and aquatic communities dominated by pollution-tolerant organisms. Oil, grease, floating debris, and offensive odors made these rivers unappealing to recreational boaters; high coliform bacteria counts made them unfit for body contact. Poor water quality also inhibited the development of public recreation areas along the Little Calumet River in Cook County, Illinois and was responsible for lower property value assessments along the Grand Calumet River.11
In December 1964, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare organized a conference which focused on water pollution in Northwest Indiana and Chicago. Reports were presented on water quality and biotic conditions for Wolf Lake, Lake Michigan, Grand Calumet River, Little Calumet River, and other surface-water bodies to quantify the causes and extent of surface-water pollution. Evidence from these reports indicated the discharge of inadequately-treated industrial and municipal wastewater was the principal cause of surface-water quality degradation. Combined sewer overflows, spills, and dredgings were other factors degrading water quality.
The Department of Health, Education and Welfare recommended numerous corrective actions to alleviate the pollution load to southern Lake Michigan and its tributaries. Most of the suggestions established pollution-control objectives and water-quality monitoring criteria. The recommendations included: (1) the elimination of phenols, ammonia, phosphorous, acids, oil, tar, and suspended matter from industrial discharges; (2) regular effluent sampling by industry to provide reliable estimates of waste outputs; (3) long-term monitoring of surface-water quality by state and local agencies; (4) secondary treatment of all municipal wastes; and (5) disinfection of sanitary wastes.
Four similar conferences were conducted in southern Lake Michigan before 1970 to monitor the progress of the original effort. A technical committee was formed from the Indiana Stream Pollution Control Board, the Illinois Sanitary Water Board, the Metropolitan Sanitary District of Chicago, and representatives of the federal government. The fourth conference concluded that, although most recommended pollution-control measures had been implemented, the surface waters of the region were still seriously polluted. The failure of existing abatement measures was attributed to intermittent wastewater discharges and inadequate wastewater treatment at some localities. The technical committee recommended additional abatement measures: (1) Treated industrial and municipal wastewaters should be recycled. (2) Combined sewer overflows should be eliminated or controlled. (3) Daily sampling should be performed at each industrial outfall. (4) Adequate and consistent effluent criteria should be established.12
Section 208 of the 1972 amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act had mandated that water pollution management be executed on an area-wide basis. In 1975, the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission was designated as the planning agency to develop the section 208 water-quality management plan for Lake and Porter Counties. The primary goal of the plan was to protect high-quality surface waters and ground waters, but it did not provide a strategy for the remediation of water-quality problems. Neither did the plan address such issues as contaminated sediments, toxic pollutants in wastewater discharges, or cumulative pollutant loads on Lake Michigan.13