Environmental Groups Take Legal Action Over Trump Tower River Usage

June 19, 2018
Two environmental groups question the Trump Tower’s lack of documentation of fish protection efforts for the building's cooling intake

The Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club and Friends of the Chicago River have provided notice of intent to sue the Chicago Trump International Hotel and Tower over potential Clean Water Act violations. The environmental advocates argue that the building has been operating their cooling water intake structures illegally for the past four years without the proper permits and at a rapid intake level that threatens aquatic life in the Chicago River, according to a joint press release by the two groups. 

A Chicago Tribune analysis found that the Trump Tower is one of the largest users of Chicago River water for its cooling systems, utilizing nearly 20 million gal of water per day, and returning water to the river up to 35 degrees hotter. Records analyzed by the Tribune reportedly show that the Trump Tower has not been properly documenting efforts to follow federal and state regulations to minimize wildlife injury through pressure and temperature changes. Additionally, the building’s managers have not conducted a study of fish killed, a provision required by the Illinois EPA.

In 2012, Trump Tower developers failed to obtain a permit for a new cooling water intake and, consequently, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office filed a complaint and a $46,000 fine was issued. All of the other buildings that use Chicago River water for cooling intake have filed documents with the state detailing how their cooling systems aim to limit fish kills, the Tribune analysis found. Other buildings minimize fish injuries by pulling less water, slowing the velocity of intake or utilizing ice batteries.

Friends of the Chicago River, a non-profit dedicated to revitalizing the Chicago River, has spent roughly $484,000 releasing 275,000 channel catfish and 1,800 northern pike into the Chicago River system since 2012. Executive Director Margaret Frisbie and river advocates view the Trump Tower cooling system as a threat to river improvements. 

“These fish, and the multitudes of fish already in the river, are intended to take advantage of our public investment in cleaner water and improved habitat. Allowing the Trump International Hotel and Tower to continue to operate a system that traps and kills fish and other aquatic wildlife flies in the face of the momentum and investment surrounding a vibrant, healthy, revitalized Chicago River,” Frisbie said in a press release. “We can’t allow such an egregious violation of state and federal water law to go unchecked.”