Running through the Windy City, the Chicago River is a major connector to the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. The river is historically known as a famed engineering success. For sanitation reasons, in 1900, engineers reversed its flow.
The river has played a vital role in the city’s history and development, as a link between nature, natural resources, and urban development.
On Aug. 25, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Josina Morita and Friends of the Chicago River hosted the second annual “Big Jump” event, highlighting the work that has been done to improve the river’s water quality and raising awareness around the commitment to make the Chicago River swimmable for all.
“The District over 100 years ago used to dump raw sewage into the river,” Morita said. “We now disinfect water from our O’Brien and Calumet plants that is cleaner than river water. All of us here today share the goal of ensuring that the Chicago River becomes swimmable for everybody someday.”
Held at Ping Tom Memorial Park, participants gathered on the dock for a river jump. Attendees included Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx; Congresswoman Robin Kelly, 2nd Congressional District of Illinois; Alderman Michele Smith, Chicago’s Ward 43; and State Rep. Robyn Gabel, Illinois’ 18th Legislative District.
State’s Attorney Foxx recalls the days of growing up in Cabrini-Green where “many of us were afraid of the river.”
“It’s come full circle to be here today to see what has happened to the river over the course of several decades,” Foxx said. “Access to the river is something young people from neighborhoods like the one I grew up in need to have.”
Since the Clean Water Act (CWA), there have been a great deal of improvements to the water quality and sanitation of the Chicago River system. The implementation of the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP), aka Deep Tunnel, and new water quality standards with disinfection at the O’Brien and Calumet plants have and will continue to improve the reputable waterway. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District states that the water treatment process is so effective that within 12 hours effluent is often cleaner than the river water itself.
More from Make It Better:
- Watch: Metropolitan Planning Council’s Chicago River Tour
- 9 New Visions for Chicago’s Riverfront From World-Class Architects
- 30 of the Best Things to Do in Chicago This September
Emily Stone is Associate Editor at Make It Better. She earned a degree in journalism from Elon University in North Carolina. Along with writing, Stone has a passion for digital storytelling and photography. Her work is published in Chicago Athlete Magazine. Stone is a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Stone is a fluent Spanish speaker who in her free time loves a good dance class.