Area politicos call for river to be swimmable

May 22, 2011
Sen. Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin announced they support a $250 million cleanup of Chicago River effluent. Credit: Jane RickardSen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Mark Kirk and Congressman Mike Quigley called on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to embrace higher water standards for its effluent discharges.  On a tour of the North Branch of the Chicago River Sunday Durbin said the waterway was 70 percent effluent, but also a place for wildlife and recreation. The three Federal officials joined Regional Environmental Protection Administrator Susan Hedman and a boatload of local officials including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and MWRD Commissioners Debra Shore and Michael Alvarez. The group called for approval of a $241 million project that would sanitize the MWRD's effluent at its North Shore and Calumet plants. The call for a cleaner river was criticized by the MWRD earlier this month. The MWRD said “disinfection is premature, costly and ineffective as a way to make the Chicago Area Waterway System swimmable.” “The Chicago area waterways are man-made conveyances built for navigation and drainage, not swimming. The US EPA is misleading the public by giving the impression that disinfection will suddenly make the Chicago area waterways an attractive place to swim,” the release said. “Disinfection will not make the river more accessible, reduce steep banks, or eliminate the muddy bottom. Disinfection will not remove the contaminated sediment nor make the waterways swimmable.” The Chicago River has seen a dramatic increase in recreation use. Credit: Patrick Boylan

Sen. Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin announced they support a $250 million cleanup of Chicago River effluent. Credit: Jane Rickard

The MWRD, in a presentation May said it would cost $3.3 billion to construct the facilities required to meet the EPA demand. Durbin noted that if the MWRD addressed the need for disinfection at North Shore and Calumet, the agency could meet the requirements with just $241 million.   Shore told The Bulldog she believes the MWRD will support the proposal at its June 2 meeting. The EPA standard is called Primary Contact Recreational Use, and usually referred to as swimming. Kirk said he wanted to swim in the river. It was reminiscent of Richard J Daley declaring he saw a day in the future when downtown office workers would fish in the river during their lunch, and also his son Richard M Daley last year telling Federal officials to 'go swim in the Potomac.' Stacy Meyers-Glen, a policy coordinator of Openlands, said that despite fiscal belt tightening her group keeps seeing expanded uses of the waterways including such amenities as the Clark Park canoe launch. Her group calculated the average cost of installing sanitizing equipment at the North Shore and Calumet plants to be less than $4 a month per household. She unintentionally emphasized how far the river has to go when her husband, who had been kayaking in the river appeared. She asked him to sanitize his hands prior to handling their 18 month old child. Noting his fiscal conservatism, Kirk said he supported the project and pledged to assist it in getting Federal funding.  

Chicago River bridge, North Branch. Note boy in water. From the MWRD collection

  Read a history of the Chicago River from the Friends of the Chicago River   See a map of Ravenswood as it was prior to the channelization project.   See a picture of the Chicago River from the archives of the MWRD, reportedly from the North Branch.   Read the press release Sunday from Sen. Dick Durbin.   Read the MWRD May 13 press release, along with their analysis of the proposal.   Read the MWRD June 3, 2010 press release responding to a Chicago Tribune article: Swimming in the Chicago River?

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