Chicago had a problem; they were dumping raw, untreated
sewage into Lake Michigan, which also happened to be the source of their
Lots of people were dying from cholera.
As a solution, they decided to start dumping 1500 tons per
day of their raw, untreated sewage into the Mississippi River instead.
Except that the Mississippi River was the source of all
of St. Louis' drinking water.
Typhoid fever deaths in St. Louis increased 77%.
Illinois argued that any increased deaths were probably
a result of other cities in Missouri dumping their sewage into the
Missouri sued Illinois to get an injunction to stop them from
poisoning St. Louis residents.
Missouri argued that this was a public nuisance
under the common law.
Defined as ' an unreasonable interference with a right
common to the general public'.
The key word is 'unreasonable'.
Since this was a 'dispute between the States' as defined
in the Constitution, the US Supreme Court had original jurisdiction to
hear the case directly.
Illinois argued that they didn't, but the Court ruled
that they did.
The US Supreme Court found for Illinois and refused to
issue an injunction.
The Court looked to the scientific evidence available at
the time and decided that any bacteria being released in Chicago would be
long dead by the time they reached St. Louis, so any increase in disease
couldn't possibly be coming from the sewage.
Missouri couldn't establish that their water quality had
declined because of Chicago.
The Court was swayed by the fact that Missouri had not
stopped Missouri cities upstream of St. Louis from dumping their sewage
into the Mississippi. Why should Illinois be held to a higher standard
than Missouri was requiring for their citizens?
The Court suggested that St. Louis start filtering their
water if they were concerned about disease.
Interestingly, 15 years later, Illinois was sued by other
States for diverting too much water from Lake Michigan to flush out their
sewage system (they were actually lowering the water level in the lake).
Missouri joined Illinois to keep the water flowing so that more water
would reach St. Louis.
Illinois lost, an injunction was issued, and Chicago had
to finally build a sewage treatment plant to handle their sewage.