A Summary of Environmental Quality and Stormwater Management and Green Infrastructure in the Calumet Region

A Summary of Environmental Quality and Stormwater Management and Green Infrastructure in the Calumet Region


by Leigh Alon, Patricia Brandt, Blaire Byg, Hannah Flynn, Leah Garner, Lily Gordon, Bryan Graybill, Kylah Johnston, Colin Parts, Hanna Petroski, Roberta Weiner, Sam Zacher, and Bailey Zweifel



The Calumet encompasses a broad swath of the area around Lake Michigan’s southern tip. Named for the calumet, a pipe used in peace treaties and other ceremonies by Native American tribes, the region is best known for its focus on industry and heavy presence in the area. From the factories of the south side of Chicago to the steel mills of Gary, Indiana, the economic and social character of the Calumet region has been heavily shaped by industry. However, the Calumet Region is also home to a number of species occupying various ecosystems, including wetlands, prairies, and woodlands. The region is called an ecotone, in that it occupies the transitional zone between the surrounding hardwood forests, tallgrass prairies, and evergreen forests. It also lives in the blurry space between what people think of as the “natural world” and modern cities. Pockets of nature have clung stubbornly to the cracks between factories, and with interest in conservation continuing to grow, more and more sections of ecosystems are returning to their flourishing pre-industrial state (“Heritage of the Calumet Region” 2012).

However, the integration of nature and industry is not always smooth, and the region continues to face many problems. Two such issues, which we will be addressing in this paper, are the necessity of environmental quality and green infrastructure. Environmental quality problems include any issue that threatens the wellbeing of the humans and other organisms inhabiting an area, or the wellbeing of the land. We will be specifically discussing water and air quality issues through the lens of the recent BP oil spill in Lake Michigan and the ongoing debate over proper petroleum coke storage. Green infrastructure mimics natural processes in order to manage and improve urban environments. This paper will focus on the green infrastructure plans surrounding stormwater management in Chicago.

Stormwater Management and Green Infrastructure


In this section, we will discuss the qualitative and quantitative benefits of green and gray infrastructure on stormwater management and the city setting. In a city like Chicago, Illinois, that is prone to spurts of heavy precipitation, proper stormwater management is imperative to prevent urban flooding. Flooding causes millions of dollars in damage every year in Chicago, and, unfortunately, with the periodic nature of the precipitation, it cannot always be avoided. This is an issue of increasing concern as climate change threatens to bring more frequent and intense storms. Still, its impact can be lessened with proper infrastructure. Gray infrastructure is the traditional urban stormwater management solution; it includes sewer systems, tunnels, reservoirs, and wastewater management plants. This can be augmented with green infrastructure, which works more directly by managing rain as it falls, instead of dealing with water as it becomes a drainage issue. The role of green infrastructure is to lessen the effect of urbanization on water resources and ecosystems within and around the city. This type of infrastructure brings both environmental and economic benefits: water is cycled more efficiently back into the hydrological cycle and ecosystem, and damages from flooding are far reduced, lowering repair costs. Green infrastructure helps in four main ways: it can sink water through permeable surfaces, slow it by using vegetation, reuse it through harvesting, and move it through creek daylighting.


Stormwater management and green infrastructure

Problems caused by stormwater runoff and the issues of how to manage these problems frequently go unnoticed by the average city dweller. They are, however,  a major issue that cities spend a great deal of money and time trying to solve. Modern cities are filled with concrete and cement, impermeable materials that are not conducive to the absorption or reduction of stormwater. As a result, figuring out what to do with water produced by storms so that it does not lead to major problems such as flooding and pollution is a major puzzle faced by urban planners. Cities take a variety of approaches to stormwater management, depending on the systems they have in place to cope with excess

A common system present in many older cities, including the city of Chicago, is a combined sewer system. Combined sewer systems are sewers that are designed to collect stormwater runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater in the same pipes (Environmental Protection Agency, 2012). When rainfall is at normal levels, the pipes can handle all of this water without a problem. Yet during intense storms or periods of heavy snowmelt, the amount of water entering the sewers can exceed the capacity of the pipes or the water treatment plants. During these occasions, the sewers overflow into nearby rivers and streams. These events are known as a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) and are a major source of pollution, as they contain untreated human waste and a variety of industrial pollutants and toxic materials that the water picks up as it flows towards the streams and rivers (Environmental Protection Agency, 2012). These pollutants can come from a variety of sources such as roads, farm fields, and parking lots.

In Chicago, when rainfall events are particularly heavy and rivers and streams are at risk of overflowing, the city must open the locks on the Chicago River system and allow the waters to flow into Lake Michigan (City of Chicago, 10). This results in untreated wastewater filtering into the city’s source of drinking water. Treating this polluted drinking water is a costly and intensive process and causes damage to the ecological health of the lake.

Another major issue that results from excess stormwater is basement flooding. When water in the sewers cannot flow fast enough to the wastewater treatment plants or into the outfalls that flow into the river, the water becomes backed up in homes and nearby buildings. This is a major issue in Chicago that affects thousands of homes each time there is a major storm (City of Chicago, 11). One of the major goals of stormwater management is to reduce the number of homes that are affected by basement flooding each year and the amount of money spent on fixing flood damage.

The problems associated with stormwater are only expected to worsen in upcoming years if new measures are not taken. The population of the Chicago region is expected to increase by 28 percent by 2040, resulting in an even larger strain on the sewer system, as well as an increase in need for infrastructure to deal with the excess wastewater (Chicago Population, np). Additionally, there has been a significant increase in the number of major storms in Chicago in recent years, which is consistent with the climate change projections showing that storms will become more frequent and intense (City of Chicago, 12).

There are multiple methods for alleviating problems associated with stormwater. Many of these fall under the category of gray infrastructure. Gray infrastructure includes traditional practices for stormwater management, such as sewers and tunnel reservoirs and increasing the capacity of wastewater management plants (Environmental Protection Agency, 2013). For example, Chicago’s Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP) is a civil engineering project designed to store sewage overflow in large tunnels until treatment plants can handle it (Booth, 2010). This project is scheduled to be completed in the next nine years and has already cost $3 billion (Booth, 2010).

However, gray infrastructure alone is not enough to solve all of the stormwater problems. Many cities, including Chicago, have been investing in green infrastructure solutions. Green infrastructure involves the use of a built environment, or natural systems, to capture rainfall and store it for later use or for letting it filter back into the ground (City of Chicago, 17). Various examples of green infrastructure include rain gardens, green roofs, bioswales, rain barrels, cisterns, permeable pavement, and porous concrete and asphalt (City of Chicago, 17). Rain gardens, green roofs, and bioswales all utilize vegetation and green space to absorb water. Rain barrels and cisterns are small-scale water collections methods where the water can be stored and used at a later time. Permeable pavement and porous concrete and asphalt are alternatives to traditional concrete that allow water to filter through into the ground below. All of these methods have the advantage of handling rainwater where it falls, rather than after it enters the sewer system. In addition, green infrastructure solutions have many other benefits, such as cooling and cleansing the air, reducing asthma and heat-related illnesses, decreasing water loss, lowering heating and cooling costs, boosting economic development, creating jobs, and beautifying neighborhoods and recreational spaces (City of Chicago, 17). The benefits and costs associated with green infrastructure will be further explored in the “Economic Costs and Benefits” section of this report.

Stormwater management is a major problem faced by the city of Chicago. This report will explore the various facets of this issue, including stakeholders, current policies and initiatives, future plans for dealing with excess stormwater, and the economic costs and benefits of various solutions. This report will place special emphasis on green infrastructure solutions and their potential for dealing with the increased stormwater and will conclude with several recommendations, largely focused on utilizing green infrastructure strategies.

Stormwater Management and Green Infrastructure Stakeholders

There are numerous stakeholders involved in stormwater management and green infrastructure in Chicago. The main agencies involved in the management of stormwater include the City of Chicago, which manages waste water in Chicago, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which manages water treatment in Chicago.  The City of Chicago has allocated $50 million over the next five years to build green stormwater infrastructure, detailed in a plan called City of Chicago Green Stormwater Infrastructure Strategy. This money will go to projects that will result in immediate benefits, such as the construction of permeable streets and bioswales, and enhance knowledge about green stormwater infrastructure through a cost and benefits analysis of green infrastructure and an analysis of rainfall frequency (City of Chicago).  After project construction, the projects will be evaluated to determine how initiatives can be expanded in the future. The City of Chicago claims that their projects will have a large effect on mitigating stormwater, stating, “Our $50 million commitment has the potential to provide 10 million gallons of stormwater storage, which could reduce runoff in Chicago by 250 million gallons each year” (City of Chicago, 32)

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) is another major agency responsible for managing stormwater in Chicago. The MWRD is an independent agency of state government, the goal of which is to protect the health and safety of the public and water quality, to improve water quality, to protect businesses and homes from flood damage, and to manage water as an essential resource for Cook County. It has a long history in Chicago, beginning in 1889 when Illinois State Legislature established the MWRD as the Chicago Sanitary District. At this time, the purpose of the agency was to protect the drinking water supply for the Chicago area, which was rapidly growing. As time progressed, it built in the late 1920s seven-wastewater treatment plants around Cook County, including the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant, the largest wastewater treatment plant in the world, even today. In the late 1960s, the MWRD began developing a plan to capture billions of gallons of stormwater overflow in a huge underground tunnel to reduce pollution in Chicago’s waterways. This plan, called Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP), is still underway. The tunnel portion and the Majewski Reservoir is completed, and two reservoirs are still under construction (“About the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District”).

There are also several other environmental and community groups involved in stormwater management in Chicago, such as The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC). MPC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group of business and civic leaders that promotes and implements planning and development policies. They are a particularly important agency in implementation of stormwater management, evident from the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative. The purpose of the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative is to create awareness of the various stormwater initiatives in the Calumet region, to share terms, to establish common goals, and to try to align existing projects (“Calumet Stormwater Collaborative.”). They began this collaborative by identifying that a common desire amongst stakeholders throughout the Millennium Reserve was better coordination and communication. Stakeholders range from federal government agencies, such as the EPA, to local agencies such as the MWRD, to nonprofits such as MPC. Residents and developers of the areas affected by stormwater also have a major stake in issues surrounding stormwater management and green infrastructure in Chicago.


Table of Major Chicago Stormwater and Green Infrastructure Stakeholders


Stakeholder Type of Stakeholder
Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning State Government
Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Independent Organization
Watershed Planning Councils Local government
City of Chicago City government
Open Lands Nonprofit
Chicago Wilderness Nonprofit
Policy Advocacy Nonprofit
Environmental Protection Agency US government
Metropolitan Planning Committee Independent, Nonprofit
Cook County Land Bank Nonprofit
Space to Grow Nonprofit
Center for Neighborhood Technology Nonprofit
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency State Government
Southeast Environmental Taskforce Nonprofit
Funk Linko Steel Fabrication Manufacturer
Chicago Park District Independent
Cook County County Government
Forest Preserve District of Cook County County Government
Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources State Government


Economic Costs & Benefits

The distinction between gray and green infrastructure is important when thinking about economic costs and benefits of stormwater management. Because gray methods are much larger, physically, they cost more and generally have one main economic benefit: preventing costs associated with flooding. Alternatively, green infrastructure methods are far more plentiful and therefore have more nuanced economic benefits; often, ecological effects translate to those positive influences. Overall, green tactics are used to complement gray tactics, and the green strategies have more marginal economic benefits. (Value, 14) This section will focus on said economic benefits of green stormwater management practices, separated by public, widespread effects and more private, individual effects, and an example of how ecological costs benefits are valuated, producing economic-cost-and-benefit comparisons.

The economic costs of many stormwater management practices often vary based on the context, but many figures can be estimated; some examples include green roofs, rain gardens, bioswales, and rain barrels. Green roofs have been measured to start at $10 per square foot for extensive roofs (Green Roofs 2013) (usually thinner; more focused on performance of energy use reduction; more commonly found on private houses) (Intensive 2012) and $25 per square foot for intensive roofs (Green Roofs 2013) (thicker; can support larger variety of plants and more soil layers; more commonly found on commercial buildings). (Intensive 2012) Rain gardens are estimated to cost $3-5 per square foot. Bioswales are estimated to cost $0.09-1.85 per square foot. (Create 2008) Rain barrels can cost anywhere between $70 and $300 each. (Rain Barrels 2012)

While the economic costs are simple to find, the economic benefits are far more complex to calculate. First, it is necessary to describe what ecological, health, societal, aesthetic, energy, and structural benefits translate into economic benefits on a public scale. Trees act as carbon sinks, which avoids the cost of polluting the atmosphere, they add shade, which can lower energy consumption costs of buildings, they also intercept falling stormwater, which slows and prevents runoff into sewers. (Values, 6) Green roofs, bioswales, rain gardens, and permeable pavements do the same, absorbing falling and running stormwater, which allows the water to permeate into the ground and slow its flow into sewers. (Values, 4-5, 8-11) Through all this, directing stormwater straight into the earth and slowing its journey to sewers prevents flooding, which saves the city money it would spend on flood damage control and treating water. The flood control also reduces pollution of natural bodies of water, which also costs the city money to clean. Some more abstract economic benefits include a society that functions more smoothly without flooding, and people can travel to work faster and make more money, and commercial spaces are more aesthetically pleasing, which attracts more tourism and boosts the local economy. Because of these economic benefits, the city can then charge higher taxes from higher standards of living—if it chooses to do so, since it might not actually need the increased revenue while spending less on flood damage control—and there would be decreased restoration costs since habitats would be better preserved.

In more private spaces, the economic benefits of stormwater management practices are also extremely prevalent. Rain barrels collect and store stormwater for reuse, which will cost citizens less on water, along with lowering energy costs from water transportation. (Values, 12) Green roofs, bioswales, rain gardens, and permeable pavements decrease threats of basement flooding, which will allow citizens to save money, too. (Values, 4-5, 8-11) Additionally, green roofs and trees decrease temperatures of buildings and energy costs for citizens. (Values, 4-7) All of these aspects will increase property values along with decreasing health risks, with lesser threats of runoff pollution.

On public and private scales, these benefits have all been qualitative. Now, the precise, quantitative, economic benefits of one specific tactic, green roofs, will be examined from a case study done by the Center for Neighborhood Technology. It is important to understand that many values of stormwater management practice benefits are based on contingent valuation, which means the benefits are not necessarily seen directly in the market, but often measured based on how much people would pay to avoid stormwater issues. These are called stated preferences, as opposed to many economic agents that are valuated based on observations from revealed preferences. (Contingent, Ecosystem) The four most significant categories that stormwater management practices benefit are hydrological, energy consumption, air quality, and climate change mitigation.

The economic benefit valuation of any stormwater management tactic involves two steps: benefit quantification and valuation of said quantification. For green roofs, the hydrological benefit (total runoff reduction) is first calculated from annual precipitation and amount retained:

[annual precipitation (inches) x GI area (ft^2) x %retained] x 144 (in^2/SF) x 0.00433 (gal/in^3)

= TOTAL RUNOFF REDUCTION (gal). (Value, 17)

For this particular example, which is a roof at the Illinois Chicago Botanical Garden, this green roof with an area of 5,000 square feet and a 60% retention rate (those values plugged into equation) was able to reduce 71,100 gallons of runoff per year. (Value, 18) Then to valuate this benefit, the runoff reduction is multiplied by “avoided cost per gallon” of stormwater, to produce the total avoided treatment cost:

Runoff reduced (gal) x avoided cost per gallon ($/gal) = avoided stormwater treatment costs ($).

This value turns out to be just $6.53 per year of treatment cost, which is so low because of the miniscule cost per gallon to treat the water—$0.0000919/gallon. (Value, 21)

Next, the green roof energy consumption benefit is valuated using two equations [(1), (2)] involving temperatures of cooling and heating days, and two constants:

(1) annual number of cooling degree days (ºF days) x 24 (hrs/day) x ∆U

= annual cooling savings (BTU/ft^2).(Value, 28)

(2) annual number of cooling degree days (ºF days) x 24 (hrs/day) x ∆U

= annual cooling savings (BTU/ft^2). (Value, 29)

At this particular site, which has a 5,000 square-foot roof, the annual natural gas energy consumption savings was 36,158,750 BTUs (British Thermal Units):

5,000 (ft^2) x 7,231.75 (BTU/ft^2) = 36,158,750 BTU. (Value, 29)

The total energy consumption savings totaled $552.35, when added together:

0.2244 (kWh/ft^2) [cooling] x 5,000 (ft^2) x $0.0959/kWh = $107.60 annual cooling savings

7,231.75 (BTU/ft^2) [heating] x 5,000 (ft^2) x $0.0000123/BTU  

= $444.75 annual natural gas heating savings(Value, 32).

Next, the green roof air quality benefit, economically, is quantified to find the total annual air pollutant uptake:

area of practice (ft^2) x average annual pollutant uptake/deposition (lbs/ft^2)

= total annual air pollutant uptake/deposition (lbs).

A range of uptake is calculated for the same roof, yielding a range of 1.50-2.39 pounds of annual uptake.

Lower Bound: 5,000 (ft^2) x 3.00×10^-4 (lbs/ft^2) = 1.50 obs total annual NO2 uptake

Upper Bound: 5,000 (ft^2) x 4.77×10^-4 (lbs/ft^2) = 2.39 lbs total annual No2 uptake. (Value, 33)

To figure out the economic cost, another equation is used to find the total value of pollutant reduction:

total annual criteria pollutant reduction benefit (lbs) x price of criteria pollutant ($/lb)

= total value of pollutant reduction ($).

Using figures from the US Forest Service, the CNT calculated that $100.83 could be saved when using a green roof to mitigate nitrogen dioxide pollution.


. (Value, 37)

Lastly, the climate change mitigation benefit range from the same green roof was calculated after converting a few units, to come up with 166-172 pounds of carbon per year.

Lower Bound: 0.0332 (lbs C/ft^2) x 5,000 (ft^2) = 166 lbs carbon per year

Upper Bound: 0.0344 (lbs C/ft^2) x 5,000 (ft^2) = 172 lbs carbon per year. (Value, 40)

This yields another range of economic benefits, using two different valuations for the price of carbon, of $49.04-$250.38 of annual benefit:

6,486.41 (lbs CO2) x $0.00756/(lb CO2) = $49.04 total annual climate benefits

6,486.41 (lbs CO2) x $0.0386/(lb CO2) = $250.38 total annual climate benefits. (Value, 45)

All in all, this green roof example proved to save between $708.75 and $910.09 annually, with this green infrastructure strategy primarily saving money from energy consumption. If the cost for this green roof is estimated from $15-30 per square foot (based on economic cost estimation mentioned previously), this 5,000 square-foot roof would have cost between $75,000 and $150,000, and might have been even more expensive. Here, initial economic cost far outweighs the benefit, but over time, the difference will be made up from the positive economic benefits.

In addition to green roofs, here’s specific evidence to show that simple trees have economic benefits—in this case, in New York City. The economic benefits from decreased energy consumption, decreased carbon dioxide, improved air quality, decreased sewage and runoff, and increased property value are broken down, revealing that $5.60 in benefits result from every $1 spent on maintenance for trees:

However, with other green infrastructure strategies (referred to as LID [Low Impact Development] in this figure), money is often saved with even the initial input cost:

. (Costs 2012) Additionally, the EPA studied green infrastructure strategies in Lancaster, PA, and produced the following charts, which show that not only did the implementation of bioswales and permeable pavement cut the construction cost, but it will also economic benefits over time:. (Economic 2014)

It’s also important to emphasize that many green infrastructure strategies, and specifically stormwater management tactics, holistically increase property values. In a study by Laverne and Winston-Geideman (2003) showed that “well-designed landscaping” added 7% to office building rent values, simply because of shade, which ultimately decreases energy consumption costs. Moreover, Tyrvainen and Miettinen (2000) showed that rent in “multifamily” apartment building units increased by 4.9% because of views of trees and forests. All of this shows that there are plenty of less direct economic benefits to property values because of green infrastructure. Private homeowners also have economic incentives in front of them, such as 80% discounts on the “stormwater fee” for Philadelphia citizens if they implement strategies that “manage” stormwater runoff for one inch of water. Similarly, in New York City, property owners can receive one-year tax credits of up to $200,000 for the installation of a green roof with at least 50% coverage. Economic benefits are quickly becoming very closely associated with green infrastructure. (Green Edge, 17, 23)

As is evident, stormwater management strategies, which have tangential effects, such as decreasing energy consumption, improving air quality, mitigating climate change, and more, have a plethora of economic benefits. All the benefits result in boosting economies of cities and private households (with some investments taking longer to payout than others—e.g. the Botanical Garden roof taking years), proving that green infrastructure strategies are effective.



Like many environmental management issues, stormwater management regulation is justified in the name of  the protection of public safety and health, because it seeks to ensure surface waters, a valuable public resource, remains free from inorganic and organic hazards. In the Chicago area, a strong legal framework on the  federal, state, and local level exists to ensure that stormwater is properly managed. Below is a summary of legislation and policy decision which have influenced the process and methods of stormwater management in greater Chicago.

The 1972 amendments to the Clean Water Act allow for the creation of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), a nationwide permitting system meant to regulate point-source pollution. Under this system, all municipal and industrial entities which release discharge into surface waters must obtain a permit, in order to make sure receiving waters meet water quality standards. [NPDES]In fact, these CWA amendments were the first to mandate a plan of action for the creation of stormwater management plans concerned not only with the prevention of flooding, but also with environmental protection. The NPDES was implemented on a state-by-state basis: most states received authority to run their own permitting entities once they could prove a plan to permit and test receiving waters was in place. Illinois was granted the authority to self-administer in 1977.[Permits,]

The next major stormwater management policy relevant to the Chicago region was Public Act 85-905 of 1987, which arose in response to the severe floods caused by abnormally heavy rains in the autumn of 1986 and the late summer of 1987. Public Act 85-905 gave Northeast Illinois counties the authority to create a Stormwater Management Planning Committee to prepare a stormwater management plan tailored to the needs of the specific region, as well as the authority to create a county-level ordinance to put plans made by the planning committee into action. Furthermore, this act authorized an increase in local property tax in order to fund the installation of the stormwater management plan.[CMAP] [General Assembly]

Public Act 93-1049 of 2004 was a Chicago-specific act that gave the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRDGC) the authority to be the entity that created the city’s stormwater management plan, and to draft a watershed management ordinance (WMO) for Cook County.[Murray] Progress on the creation of the watershed management ordinance began in 2007, and a public review period began upon release of its first draft in 2009. An issue of concern in the public review period, impact on real estate development, was addressed when the MWRDGC completed an economic impact study, and released its second draft in 2013 for public review. This version of the ordinance was adopted on October 3, 2013, and enacted on May 1, 2014.[CMAP]

The Cook County Watershed Management Ordinance specifically seeks to tackle some of the difficulties of stormwater management by ensuring controls for site-by-site planning, volume, discharge rate, erosion, operation and management, and maintenance.[WMO] The work done under the ordinance would seek to ensure the best possible course of action (in terms of cost-efficiency and effectiveness) is adopted.[MWRD] This is accomplished through the adoptions of Best Management Practices outlined in the ordinance. Best Management Practices (BMPs) are structural or engineered control entities defined by NPDES as the “the primary method to control stormwater discharges.” More generally, BMPs are specific, governmentally-determined recommendations on how to treat, retain, and address the issue of polluted stormwater or the structures in place doing so.[NCFS] The City of Chicago published a guide to help users determine which BMP is applicable and cost-effective. The BMPs listed include green roofs, downspouts, rain barrels, and cisterns, permeable paving, natural landscaping, filter strips, rain gardens, drainage swales, and naturalized detention basins, that is, many practices involved in green infrastructure.[City of Chicago] [WMO]

Additionally, the Public Act 96-26, the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act of 2011, mandated the Illinois chapter of the federal Environmental Protection Agency must assess the applicability of green infrastructure to stormwater management.[IL EPA]

One non-legislative influence on Chicago’s stormwater management policy is the EPA’s consent decree of 2011. A consent decree is a legal device used most frequently to ensure business and industry comply with existing regulations, where the plaintiff and defendant allow a court to enter their agreement. This allows the court to supervise the implementation of whatever is agreed upon, from exchanges of money to changes in the way the involved entities interact. In December 2011, the MWRDGC reached a settlement with EPA over the claim that untreated sewage and wastewater was allowed to enter Chicago waterways during combined sewer overflow events.[EPA CWA] This consent decree was also integral to the development of green infrastructure as a viable option for stormwater management in Chicago: one of the settlements reached in the 2011 consent decree mandated that a specific plan be laid out for including green infrastructure in the city’s water management efforts. Under the consent decree, this plan must utilize green infrastructure and ensure that the TARP project stays on schedule and is completed[MWDRGC Settlement EPA]



Stormwater presents a serious issue to any city. The city of Chicago is especially affected by stormwater given its combined sewer system. In order to improve this infrastructure, a new stormwater management plan is necessary. While it may be unrealistic for the city to solely implement green infrastructure as a solution, it is possible and efficient for the City of Chicago to use a combination of green and gray infrastructure in order to manage stormwater. There are many benefits of green infrastructure, including economic and environmental benefits, such as providing additional habitat for species that would otherwise be unable to survive in a developed area. The largest cost to implementing green infrastructure as a part of the city’s stormwater management system is the large investment necessary to properly create and integrate green infrastructure.

In any decision regarding the stormwater management plan of the City of Chicago there are a variety of stakeholders involved in a number of different ways. The most direct effects of the plan are those on the citizens within the effective radius of the stormwater management system, meaning local residents are the largest stakeholder group regarding this issue. Additionally, local environmental groups and local governmental groups are stakeholders, the most notable of the governmental groups being the City of Chicago as well as the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. The United States EPA is among other national governmental organizations that are stakeholders, but to a lesser extent than those of local organizations.

The policies currently in place by the EPA regarding stormwater management (the Clean Water Act and the Consent Decree) are partially responsible for the increased focus on stormwater management, particularly management implementing green infrastructure solutions. Two Acts created after the Clean Water Act by the Illinois General Assembly led to the creation and implementation of a stormwater management plan. The Cook County Watershed Management Ordinance and the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act then expanded the presence of green infrastructure within the stormwater management plans that had been created.

Future proposals for management using green infrastructure are already in existence and more are likely being created as well. The Cook County Stormwater Management Plan, as well as the Calumet Stormwater Initiative, will provide stormwater management goals for the future that will be refined and carried out by various Watershed Planning Councils. The Green Stormwater Infrastructure Strategy Initiative will deal most specifically with the role that green infrastructure will have going into the future. By analyzing the issue of stormwater management, potential costs and benefits of green infrastructure implementation, current policy and future proposals it is possible to understand the many facets of  an issue faced by cities across the world, through the examining the example of the City of Chicago.


Environmental Quality


In this section, we will explore environmental quality of the Calumet region. This includes an industrial history of the region, policy on petroleum coke (petcoke) and oil spills related to nearby oil processing activity, plans and proposals to improve environmental quality, air quality analysis, and a summary of economic benefits that could result from environmental quality improvement.

We start with the industrial history, because the industrialization of the Calumet is the source of many of the problems in environmental quality that we face today, and finish with exploring some of the economics of the issue, as it seems that this is the way to appeal to most people and to show that change would benefit the region and the people for a number of reasons.

Industrial History of the Calumet Region

The industrialization of the Calumet region began in the 1850s, with the establishment of the railroad system. Provided with easy access, industries could not ignore the draws to the Calumet region. The location was ideal, as it was close enough to take advantage of the market in Chicago, but far away enough to minimize the negative impacts on the city (Sellers, 12). The area offered an abundance of cheap land that could be used for factories, storage, and disposal (Sellers, 12). In addition, access to the water way served as a method of transportation for heavy bulk materials and provided the cooling component to the manufacturing process (Sellers, 12).

Industry in the Calumet region has been dominated by steel production. Some of the most notable steel mills include the United States Steel South Works, Wisconsin Steel, Republic Steel, and Pressed Steel. Industry was not only limited to steel production, and expanded to a variety of manufacturing businesses. The most prevalent included shipbuilding, car assemblage, and coke production. Industry thrived from 1900 to 1970 (Sellers, 3). Residents were initially pleased with the financial gain from industry’s presence, as it provided thousands of community members with jobs. In 1970s, there was a shift away from coal towards imported oil and natural gas (Maktejka, 43). While transportation networks were the foundation of industry in the region, new interstate highways and air travel undermined the railroads and the companies that utilized the railroads (Maktejka, 43). Some industries left the region due to competition from foreign entities and competition from other states that offered lower wages (Maktejka, 43). Gradually, industry’s presence shrunk making the closing of Wisconsin Steel in 1980 just one of the many industrial operations to be closed (Sellers, 13).

Even though a large part of industry’s activity has decreased, what is left continues to impact the surrounding communities and environments. Initially, the concern was for the destruction of habitats–specifically wetlands–as they would be filled in to make space for factories. After the industrial boom in the region, pollution also became a major concern. Each manufacturing process produces a variety of by-products that are dangerous for both humans and the environment. Because of this water and land pollution from industry, Chicago has been described as “one of the filthiest places in the world” (Pellow, 4). The combination of habitat destruction and pollution has endangered the homes of many species, such as the yellow-headed blackbird. In addition, the regional industrialization brings forth the issue of environmental justice, as people of low income and of color are more likely to bear the burden of environmental hazards.  (Sellers, 47).


Petroleum Coke

In terms of environmental regulations, the vast majority of the United States’ federal air quality requirements are outlined in the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Guidelines for petroleum coke (petcoke), standardized as an inhalable coarse particulate matter between the size of 2.5 and 10 micrometers, set acceptable levels of airborne petcoke as less than 150 micrograms per cubic meter (Environmental Protection Agency, 2012). For an industry to circumvent these standards, the state EPA can issue permits allowing excess pollutants, but this requiers certain requirements, as described below (EPA, 1990).

A contentious issue in the Chicago region, petcoke storage has been the subject of a set of rules and regulations mandated by the Chicago Department of Public Health, as well as an ordinance from the mayor’s office restricting the expansion of petcoke storage sites in the city. The rules and regulations, titled “Control of Emissions from the Handling and Storage of Bulk Material Piles”, apply not only to petcoke, but also to other piles of previously unregulated solids. These rules require the full enclosure of unregulated solids within two years, and places strict requirements on the control of these substances in the air and water in the interim (Chicago Department of Public Health, 2014). In order to receive an exception to these rules, industry stakeholders must pursue a permitting and review process. While these regulations apply to existing petcoke sites and dictate their future, the ordinance from the mayor’s office is a definitive political step to halt the expansion of the petcoke storage industry at a moment when its production in Whiting, Indiana, is about to increase.

BP Oil Spill

The Clean Water Act’s Oil Pollution Act regulates the maximum acceptable amount of a number of pollutants in our water supply and includes an addition to address prevention, mitigation, and liability strategies in the event of oil spills If a spill takes place, liability is placed on the source, and the responsible party is expected to pay for cleanup (EPA, 1990).  The EPA also requires that facilities have a set list of procedures for the event of a spill, mandated in the Facility Response Plan Rule (EPA, 1994). Full disclosure and reporting if an oil spill occurs is also required. As it stands, the general federal policy about oil spills is focused on cleanup, reporting, and readiness, and is less concrete about prevention.

In terms of the oil spill in Lake Michigan on March 24, 2014, there has been no measured effect on drinking water quality (Valentine, 2014) and the cleanup was deemed complete as of April 4, 2014 (Jackson, 2014). However, the event has raised questions as to potential further water quality policy specific to the Calumet region. The spill occurred despite the EPA-mandated high-tech pollution control upgrade at BP’s Whiting facility (Lydersen, 2011). Additionally, with a predicted increase in shipments of tar sands across the lake from Canada, there is potential for more accidents. Finally, due to BP having acquired a new permit to increase their pollution limit, the likelihood of increased pollutants into the lake is higher than before. However, they have promised not to exceed the limits of their previous permit (Lydersen, 2011). Whether or not this promise is to be taken seriously remains to be seen. Because of this, there is pressure to make it legally binding. (Lydersen, 2011) As of June, 2014, no such legal binding has taken place.


Plans and Proposals

Planning for the future of the Calumet region is a constant part of the envisioning and reinvisioning of this area that takes place on both public and private sector levels. The following table explores the interests and ideas of a number of the most prevalent plans proposed for the Calumet region. Economic improvement, transportation infrastructure, and environmental protection appear the be the most prevalent threads across them.


Summary of Economic Benefits from Environmental Quality Improvement

Air Quality and Petcoke

Petroleum coke, or “petcoke”, is a fine powdery carbon solid that is produced as a byproduct of the oil refining process. Petcoke that is produced in a refinery is called Green Coke, and can be used as fuel, commonly along with coal. The EPA no longer grants permits for burning petcoke, and so most of it is exported to countries with more relaxed environmental regulations, like China. (Alon, 2014) Thus in the context of Chicago, petcoke is stockpiled in the southside as a waypoint before being shipped elsewhere to be used as energy.

There are numerous costs associated with the stockpiling of petcoke for all parties that interact with the pollutant. However, many of these costs are “externalities,” or implicit costs, and as such might not be apparent as a cost of petcoke. The most contested of these externalities is the adverse health effects of petcoke. There is currently only one EPA study and an independent study that have been conducted on the health effects of petcoke, neither of which label petcoke as a hazardous material. However, this does not mean that petcoke is harmless.

Illness Yearly Cost (USD)
Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis All: $280.76
Pulmonary Fibrosis Age > 55:


Asthma Ages 4-5:


Ages 6-75:


Listed above are various pulmonary illnesses and their respective yearly costs. While petcoke has not been directly linked to causing these maladies except for asthma, the symptoms that petcoke brings on after chronic exposure (pulmonary scarring) have the very real potential to onset these illnesses. WBEZ recently reported that 1 in every 10 patients in Southeast Chicago goes to the hospital with asthma, and that the region has a 17% higher rate of heart disease than Chicago as a whole.

A recent response by the City of Chicago to the outcry from the Southside community has been to enact bulk material legislation that will target petcoke companies and force them to keep petcoke covered at all times. The groups that most openly oppose this legislation have left their thoughts on the City of Chicago website in the form of written comments. Unsurprisingly, petcoke companies opposed the legislation the most heavily (KCBX submitted 8 documents). Tugboat companies and workers unions that also depend on the coke industry also submitted letters of complaints. Their comments included open fears that such legislation had the potential to threaten the survival of their respective companies.

While petcoke has existed in the Calumet region of Chicago for many decades, it has only recently received such great attention as a pollutant and health risk. As is such there is not much data on petcoke. However, there is a wealth of information on the costs of particle pollutants that resemble petcoke because of the Clean Air Act first created in 1970 by the EPA. The study estimates that by 2020, the total benefits of the 1990 Clean Air Act will exceed its cost by a factor of 30-to-1 (low estimate), and possibly up to 90-to-1. These benefits exist mainly in contrast with the negative health effects that are caused by air pollution. A decrease in air pollution can be directly measured by the decline in cases of related illnesses, ultimately decreasing medical costs and increasing overall health of the general public. (Environmental Protection Agency 2013)

In summary, the total cost of what it means to stockpile petcoke in the Calumet region of Chicago is still being calculated as more data comes in. This does not mean that the costs are not there though, simply from looking at the evidence of shifts in equilibrium it is clear that health concerns will once again come into conflict with that lucrative and life-sustaining concept of profit that drives all industry. The past of the Calumet region is steeped in industry, but its future need not remain mired by more pollution. The petcoke industry is dirty by definition, and the benefits are not likely to ever exceed its costs, making ecological improvement and sanitization of the Calumet region the healthiest goal for the region to strive for.

Water Quality

There are many factors that make environmental quality improvements economically beneficial, and often, these factors can be difficult to quantify, especially in a microcosm such as the Calumet region. Studies have been done in order to create estimates of economic benefits.

One such study, performed by Jiaqi Ge et al. in 2013, included a meta-analysis of non-market valuations of water quality improvement, done using a standard water quality index that was measured out of 100. This study included a range of approaches to assigning monetary values to water quality improvements, as there is no market price for water. Jiaqui Ge et al. concluded that the average household is willing to pay $45 for a 10-point improvement in the water quality index. This number is even higher for lakes or larger bodies of water, versus smaller rivers. This study directly places a price on water quality improvement, based off of their standard water quality index (Ge 2013).

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the average willingness to pay for a day of swimming at the beach is about $35 per visitor. (NRDC 2013) With this number, the extent to which the average beach-goer values the recreational aspects of water resources, and in turn, the extent to which it is worth to maintain water quality at a safe level, could be calculated. Keeping water quality, as well as the greater environmental quality, high can draw in large amounts of tourism, which create positive economic benefits locally. One example of this can be seen through the Indiana Dunes. As a site that uses the natural landscape to bring in visitors from near and far, the Dunes generate $308 million annually from visitor spending (Indiana Dunes 2014).

Another local environment near the Calumet Region is the Chicago River. The Chicago River has been heavily degraded over time, but is now the cause of environmental quality improvement efforts. According to a report released in 2013 by Friends of the Chicago River and Openlands, there are many economic benefits to improving the quality of the Chicago River. The Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP), which began in 1998, has been a part of $250 million in flood damage avoided by the city of Chicago. Other economic benefits of environmental quality improvement around the Chicago River have come from stormwater management and green infrastructure and new and improved public parks. The total revenue of TARP, green infrastructure, Park District investments, and disinfection at three plants totals up to $7.9 billion and 52,400 jobs created. TARP alone is estimated to bring an income of about $2.1 billion to Chicago. (Friends of the Chicago River 2013)

The Clean Water Act technically requires states to produce economic and social cost/benefit estimates that are necessary in order to achieve the goals of the Act, although this is a daunting task. In a document released by the Environmental Protection Agency, these estimates for the State of Maine are discussed. In 2000, the cost to administer water-related programs in Maine equaled $11.1 million. This price included measures such as water quality effects on property prices, lakefront property demands, and the recreational and economic uses of Great Ponds. It was found that Maine lake users spent about $100 million annually on recreational lakefront costs, which directly stimulate the local economy. In addition, the state of Maine estimated that the net benefit of avoiding water quality degradation is over $2 billion annually, and the willingness to pay for water quality improvement ranges between $2-6 million annually. (Environmental Protection Agency 2000)

The Clean Air Act also yields economic benefits. A 2011 peer-reviewed study conducted by the EPA concluded that the Clean Air Act would directly benefit Americans and the economy.  This study estimated that by 2020, the benefits of the 1990 Clean Air Act would exceed the costs by a factor of 30-to-1 (low estimate), and possibly up to 90-to-1. These benefits occur mainly because of the negative health effects that are caused by air pollution. By reducing air pollution, there are fewer related illnesses, decreasing medical costs and increasing overall health of the general public. (Environmental Protection Agency 2013)

However, it is often the case that the costs of the illnesses and maladies caused by pollution are neglected until the spotlight is consciously drawn towards public health. This is because, for most industrial developers, the only costs generally taken into account while manufacturing and generating waste are those that are explicit, and are those generally internal to the company. Needless to say, the health of the community in which said industrial companies operate should be the farthest thing from being an externality and, as such, the explicit costs to health must be brought to light at the very least when considering the total costs of industry. The range of pulmonary maladies that are possible from continued exposure to particle pollution span from asthma to potential pulmonary fibrosis. Incidentally, these maladies respectively represent the least and most severe results of pollution both in terms of physical health but also economic cost. It was calculated that the costs of asthma generally span anywhere from $298 to $1,579 and that the cost of full onset idiopathic* pulmonary fibrosis can reach up to $26,378 with incremental costs reaching $12,000 (Fitzgerald et al 2009, Collard et al 2012). While neither of these illnesses have been documented as fully developed cases in the Calumet region, the symptoms for pulmonary illnesses are nearly ubiquitous in the region because of particle pollution. There is no reason that fully developed cases of these illnesses should have to be documented, though, for action to be taken against particle pollution. The imminent potential for escalation of cost in terms of human health (and subsequently economic cost) should have already created overwhelming impetus for preventative measures to be taken with respect to air quality pollution. The concrete costs of illnesses associated with related pollution only serves as empirical evidence that should demonstrate the relatively marginal cost of mediating pollution now versus potentially dealing with ubiquitous illnesses whose costs will only increase if pollution runs unchecked.

In another study released by the National Center for Environmental Economics and the Environmental Protection Agency, the standard Water Quality Index is explained and a cost-benefit analysis of water quality improvement is done. Four functions were computed in the EPA Regulatory Impact Analysis, estimating that the benefits of water quality improvement range from a lower $82 million all the way up to $504 million. The total social costs of rule are estimated at roughly $335 million (Walsh 2012).


Source/organization Subject Low estimate High estimate Average estimate
Ge et al (2013) Willingness to pay for 10-point improvement in water quality index —- —- $45/household
Natural Resources Defense Council (2013) Willingness to pay for a typical day of swimming at beach —- —- $35/visitor
Indiana Dunes (2014) Economic benefit due to visitor spending —- —- $308 million, annually
Environmental Protection Agency (2011) Ratio of benefits exceeding costs of 1990 Clean Air Act by 2020  (benefit-to-cost) 30-to-1 90-to-1 60-to-1
FitzGerald et al (2009) Cost of asthma $298 /person $1,579 /person $938 /person
Collard et al (2012) Cost of full onset idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis —- $26,378 —-
National Center for Environmental Economics & Environmental Protection Agency (2012) Benefits of water quality improvement $82 million $504 million $293 million
National Center for Environmental Economics & Environmental Protection Agency (2012) Total social costs of water quality improvement —- —- $335 million
Friends of the Chicago River (2013) Business revenue generated from investments in Chicago River —- —- $8 billion
Friends of the Chicago River (2013) Total economic impact of Tunnel and Reservoir Plan —- —- $130.54, annually



After studying the Calumet region and the quality of its environment, it seems imperative that companies comply with the rules set in place to control air and water quality. As was shown in the case of Maine, these types of investments typically warrant returns in recreational activity, not to mention improving the health of citizens of the region.



Given the increased interest in both environmental quality and stormwater management through the use of green infrastructure, there is no time more opportune than now for all stakeholders within the Calumet region to come to a consensus and move forward on resolving key issues faced by all. By properly implementing green infrastructure as a stormwater management method, the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District have the opportunity to greatly increase the quality of local environments as well as improve the quality of life for those living in proximity to the installations of new infrastructure. The benefits, both economic and environmental, that come from the implementation of green infrastructure also have their parallels in the control of petcoke and other particulate matter encountered in the Calumet region. While recent policies regarding both problems have been put into place to create the most human and environment friendly solutions, there are even greater opportunities for improvement in the future.

As these organizations move forward and effect changes in the Calumet region and surrounding areas, the resurgence of nature and the harmony between humans, environment, and industry seem to be well exemplified in the slogan of the Millenium Reserve: “economy, community, environment.” The region, a patchwork of sites of great industry next to some of the most biodiverse habitats, is a great lens through which to view the roles of nature and humanity as time continues. By looking at the use of green infrastructure and environmental quality within the region in the past, present, and looking into the future, we can understand exactly what exists in a region so nearby.

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