The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Chicago’s Sewage Plight

Aug 30, 2021

A heavy rainfall of more than two inches often produces severe flash flooding in Chicago, leaving streets dangerously impassable and sewers overflowing.

Flooding has plagued the city for many years, but politicians proclaimed the final solution would be construction of a 109 mile “Deep Tunnel Project,” to capture over 20 billion gallons of rainwater and waste. Forty-eight years, nine mayors, and four billion dollars later ... it’s still not done. Its new “completion target” is 2029. Parts of the project have been in use since 1985, and the massive stretch of tunnel has been operational since 2009. So far it’s been totally insufficient—it can’t handle big storms.

Just last June, a 5-inch rainfall produced chaotic scenes, with frantic stranded motorists desperately seeking safety and a way home from work. Many arrived home to find raw sewage backed up into their basements.

During May 2020, 27,000 flooding complaints were lodged by residents. Hardest hit were the poor and working class communities of Auburn-Gresham and Chatham on Chicago’s South Side. Just a year earlier these communities were even more severely stricken. One resident described how her basement was flooded with human waste six times in the previous 10 years.

Researchers found that between 2007 and 2016, 75% of flood damage was in thirteen working-class zip codes, including the Gresham, Chatham, Austin, Roseland, and West Englewood neighborhoods.

These neighborhoods suffer horrible consequences. Flash flooding leaves sewage-laced water flowing into streets, alleys and basements. This septic goo carries waterborne diseases of all kinds. The filthy runoff spills into local rivers and Lake Michigan, the city’s source for drinking water.

The effects of climate change make things much worse. Lake Michigan will experience ever larger variations of water levels, ensuring the population will suffer even more extreme flooding and sewage overflow in years to come.

The “Deep Tunnel Project” was just one of several engineering projects launched over the years to “manage” flooding, but these were primarily designed to enhance capitalist profit-making while protecting downtown business interests and rich and politically connected neighborhoods. They intertwined with big money-making projects of the most powerful city developers. Huge government contracts were doled out to politically connected firms.

Effective systems to prevent flooding and dispose of human waste are among the most basic needs of society. Designing them is not rocket science! We have the resources and know-how to do this right, but the capitalist-run government has other priorities.

A system organized to create super-profits for capitalists, which cannot meet even the most basic needs of society, needs to be trash-canned and replaced by one that does.