Chicago, IL

Trump Int. Accused of Using "Gobbledygook" Math to Hide Amount of Water Taken From Chicago River

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Illinois Attorney General accuses Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago of intentionally underreporting how many millions of gallons of water from Chicago River water it uses daily to cool tower
Photo byJim Bauer/flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]

Since its inauguration in 2009, the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago, a towering glass structure owned by Donald Trump, has been dependent on the city's river to regulate the temperature of its 98 floors.

On a daily basis, the building draws in millions of gallons of water from the river, which is then returned as heated effluent in an unbroken and perpetual cycle.

However, in a recent legal filing by the Illinois attorney general, it is alleged that Trump has consistently underestimated the volume of water the tower extracts from and releases into the river. This systematic underreporting has led to a significant underestimation of the tower's impact on the aquatic life in the river, resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands of fish, fish larvae, and eggs annually.

According to officials, this miscalculation, attributed to a basic mathematical error that even a school child could catch, has persisted for an entire decade, causing Trump Tower's monthly reports to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to inaccurately indicate only 65 percent of its actual river-water usage.

The math mistake is this: Trump's meters gauge the flow of river water through the building in gallons per minute.

However, when converting this flow rate from gallons per minute to gallons per day, which is the measurement mandated by the state, the engineers at Trump Tower have reportedly been multiplying the per-minute volume by 1,000, according to allegations by the Attorney General. The issue here is that there are actually 1,440 minutes in a day, not 1,000.

Illinois' expert ecologist was questioned during a deposition about his opinion on Trump Tower's flow-rate calculations, which he had uncovered and found to be inconsistent. He called it "gobbledygook."

"I've seen many, many calculations," the Illinois expert said. "I've never seen anyone dividing a pulse by 1000 and then calling it gallons and then dividing by -- You read what Mr. Wiggins says and you tell me what he's actually saying. Frankly, it's gobbledygook."

The management of the tower has enlisted the services of two engineering firms to conduct a comprehensive examination of its monthly reports. In an August letter filed along with the Attorney General's recent court submission, Trump's legal representatives conveyed that, "401[401 N. Wabash Venture where the buildings management is located] is not yet able, as of today, to confirm the accuracy of past reports".

In response to the evident discrepancy, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took action by delivering a violation notice to Trump Tower on August 31. The notice specifies that the tower has not met the necessary standards for monitoring, sampling, and reporting as mandated, spanning from February 2013 to the current date.

The recent inconsistency is merely the most recent instance in a lengthy record of disregarding state and federal environmental regulations, as asserted by Illinois authorities in their legal action and during five years of subsequent court submissions.

Trump Tower stands as one of a dozen properties along the Chicago River that employ an outdated water intake mechanism known as a "once-through" system. This system possesses the capacity to cycle 21.6 million gallons of river water through the building each day, surpassing the capacity of any other tall building in the city.

During the initial construction phase in 2005, situated on the former grounds of the Chicago Sun-Times facility, officials maintain that the tower neglected to request the obligatory permit for operating this system. This permit is referred to as a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, as heated water is categorized as a pollutant under the federal Clean Water Act.

However, according to officials, the structure persisted in operating its system for the subsequent eight years without adhering to any oversight requirements. This included running the system without the necessary permit, without conducting an environmental impact assessment, with insufficient screening measures, and without monthly reporting of flow data, as alleged by officials.

According to Albert Ettinger, an attorney for the Sierra Club and Friends of the Chicago River, "Trump didn't apply for a permit at all. And it wasn't until 2012 that they got caught."

Trump was forced to pay a fine of $46,000 for the crime.

Trump Tower addressed its decimal-point issue and, in 2014, started operating with an updated permit. In July 2018, further alleged violations came to light, including the failure to conduct an environmental impact assessment and document the number of fish, invertebrates, larvae, and eggs drawn into the system.

Following these revelations, the attorney general filed a lawsuit the following month. This legal action aims to impose fines that could amount to $12 million, with the responsibility for payment falling directly on Trump himself rather than its insurers, as determined in a recent appellate decision.

The lawsuit filed by the Illinois attorney general also requires that Trump immediately improve its system in order to make it less fatal to river life.

Trump has argued that the property is committed to preserving the well-being of the river and has consistently adhered to all obligations related to reporting and supervision.

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