Officials warn Chicago residents to cut down on water usage over sewage concerns

After days of relentless rain, Chicago’s sewer system is feeling the strain.

That’s why residents are being asked to skip a shower or let the laundry pile up.

Engineer Brian Levy stands watch in the Command Center for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

“After a storm happens, we go to recovery mode, so our treatment plants are at maximum capacity were trying to get them down,” Levy said.

The heavy rains tested out a new $70-million stormwater diversion tunnel in Albany Park, keeping water away from homes.

While downtown, the riverwalk was shut down as the Chicago River spilled from its banks.

But the main strain is happening underground in Chicago’s unique sewer system. Storm water rushes into the deep tunnel and reservoir system, where it mixes with sewage from our homes and businesses, and then it all threatens to overflow into clean waterways.

“So basically hold off on running that dishwasher, washing that load of clothes, don't take that extra-long shower just because it's raining and you're stuck in the house. Use less water so we can make sure there's plenty of space available for the water to get to us,” said Kari Steele, president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

The last resort if the deep tunnel system fills up is to reverse the Chicago River and send storm water plus sewage right into Lake Michigan.

“We dodged it this time around,” Levy said.

Until the water recedes, you’re asked to conserve water, giving you an excuse to leave the dishes dirty.