When NRDC decided to open an office in Chicago, one of the first issues that we tackled was the sorry state of the waterway system that runs through the glittering city’s heart. I am pleased to report that as a result of brilliant legal work and pressure brought to bear in the press in coordination with other river advocates, the foul state of the Chicago River is about to change. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District voted late today to end the practice of dumping undisinfected effluent into local waterways. In more colorful language---the water that makes up 70% of the volume of the river will no longer be rife with the various bacteria and waterborne diseases that made it one of the nation’s most unique and infamous waterways. This means that the Chicago River can finally become the amenity that so many in this region desperately want, rather than an uncomfortable reminder of the embarrassing cesspool described in The Jungle.
My colleague Ann Alexander made waves recently when she said, “you can't have a third-world river running through the heart of a world class city.” With this move, we can start to ensure that the kayakers, rowers and other people drawn to the river can begin to do so safely. And the millions of dollars invested along the riverbanks---whether it be the gorgeous River Walk downtown or homes built along Bubbly Creek---can begin to really impart value on our economy. This is a huge, huge win for NRDC, Friends of the Chicago River, Openlands, Sierra Club, and ELPC. But it is a bigger win for Chicagoland. We can now start working towards the river that this City deserves.