Overflow Action

The MWRD has partnered with Friends of the Chicago River to promote Overflow Action Days to invite the public to minimize the amount of water that goes into the sewer system, especially during storms.

Take the Overflow Action Days pledge!


Marketing Materials

Overflow Action Days”

Overflow Action Days in the News


"Water Conservation Urged to Keep Chicago River from Overflowing," North Loop News

“Campaign Will Ask Chicagoans To Cut Water Use On ‘Overflow Action Days,’” CBS 2 Chicago, WBBM

“Friends of the Chicago River declare April "Overflow Action Month," ABC 7 Chicago

“Overflow Action Month Offers Daily Tips To Conserve Water, Protect Chicago River,” Water Online

“April is Overflow Action Month: consumers urged to conserve water,” CBS 2 Chicago, WBBM

Overflow Action Month offers daily tips to conserve water, protect Chicago River
Overflow Action Month offers daily tips to conserve water, protect Chicago River

April Overflow Action Month to Help the Chicago River
April Overflow Action Month to Help the Chicago River

MWRD partners with Friends of Chicago River to promote “Overflow Action Days”
MWRD partners with Friends of Chicago River to promote “Overflow Action Days


“MWRD Pilot Project Supports Overflow Action Days,” Friends of the Chicago River

“Monday Letters: How you can help reduce sewage backups,” Chicago Sun-Times
Margaret Frisbie, Friends of the Chicago River Executive Director, encourages residents to take the “Overflow Action Day” pledge to help reduce combined sewer overflows to supplement the MWRD’s massive engineering projects including the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (aka “Deep Tunnel).

“Opinion: Delaying a Bath or Shower Can Make River Cleaner,” Chicago Sun-Times
Letter to the Editor from Congressman Mike Quigley, 5th Congressional District

People are familiar with Ozone Action Days—times when ozone levels are high and people should be cautious. They should also make themselves familiar with Overflow Action Days. Overflow Action Days are days when the Chicago area has been hit with so much rain that people really should conserve water at home until the local sewer system has a chance to catch up with all the extra water. Overflow Action Days are important because if people don’t conserve water at home, our sewers back up and untreated sewage is released into Chicago area waterways, including the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. While there has been dramatic improvement in the cleanliness of the Chicago River, it still faces daunting challenges, including the impact of combined sewer overflows. These overflows force untreated human and industrial waste, toxic materials and debris into the river, which exacerbates water pollution problems, makes people ill, and even kills fish and other wildlife. When we built our sewer system more than 150 years ago, we mistakenly believed we could build enough pipes to hold all of our wastewater and rainfall. But as the Chicago region developed and our climate changed, the system has become permanently overwhelmed, causing consistent overflows into the Chicago River. In 2015 alone, there were 41 combined sewer overflows within the Chicago Area Waterways System. And research from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago revealed that as little as 0.3 inches of rain can trigger an overflow at one of the 300 outfalls that flow directly into the Chicago River and the Little Calumet River. With data showing that 100-year storms are happening every few years with harder, more concentrated rain, we are seeing more overflows than ever. The data couldn’t be clearer: we must step in to help clean up our river. Friends of the Chicago River has set a great example with its new partnership, Overflow Action Days, which, like Ozone Action Days, serve as a public reminder to reduce water use before, during and after heavy rains. Working with local elected officials, the MWRD and nonprofit partners like the Shedd Aquarium, Friends of the Chicago River encourages simple, everyday actions on Overflow Action Days, such as reducing shower times, flushing less and waiting to run the dishwasher. These actions reduce the amount of water added to the sewer system when it rains. Also recommended are reducing our water footprints outside the house. Employing rain barrels, disconnecting downspouts, and installing permeable paving can retain hundreds more gallons of water onsite. And choosing to plant native plants over non-native plants allows their roots to infiltrate deeper into the soil, absorbing additional water while providing ancillary habitat benefits. In the United States, an average household uses 400 gallons of fresh water per day. From a global perspective, this is shocking because fresh water only makes up 2.5 percent of our water resources. In the Chicago area, we can do better; by incorporating some of these easy efforts into our daily routine, collectively we can save tens of millions of gallons of water across the region every time it rains. working together to meet this goal, it is possible that one day we might be able to swim in the river.