Thursday, June 3, 2010

On the Chicago River

Obama's administration and the EPA have called for Chicago to clean up the Chicago River, making it safe for recreational use.  In case you're not from Chicago, this is big news because the Chicago River has has long been more of a moving waste collection area than a body of water.  In 1900, engineers changed the direction of flow of the river to prevent sewage and waste from flowing into Lake Michigan, where drinking water is sourced.  Until the 1972 passage of the Clean Water Act, the river was treated as disposal by Chicago's industrial and shipping polluters.  The Chicago River has been largely exempt from all clean water standards, to the extent that sewage isn't even disinfected before being dumped into the river.  Of course, this call for clean up has received severely negative backlash from Chicago's industries and even Mayor Daley, who said the feds should "go swim in the Potomac."  

Chicago's movable bridges.  Image from

I, for one, am thrilled that someone is finally putting pressure on Illinois to clean up our act.  When our waste enters the Chicago River, it (much like our garbage) doesn't just go "away."  It goes into our river systems, diluted by Lake Michigan water, which lowers the Great Lakes water level.  For being such a "green" city, Chicago needs to make the Chicago River's health a higher priority.  We have a beautiful lakefront that attracts tourists, and our river could easily be an extension of the lakefront, drawing more sport and recreational users.  The eyesore, currently reputed as toxic and infamous for being dyed green each St.Patty's Day, could become another natural attraction in Illinois.  

The currently poor health of the river is no reason to ignore it.  Riverside industries have no right to destroy the river, even if their pollution has been overlooked for years.  I'm thrilled that the president's administration and EPA are forcing a long-overdue clean up of the river, because Daley obviously wouldn't initiate the change on his own.  My hope is that Tye and my grandchildren will be able to enjoy a beautiful Chicago River some day.

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