Chicago River downtown


Michael Hawthorne has a good breaking story this morning on the EPA’s order that the Chicago River—as well as the Little Calumet and the Cal-Sag Channel—be cleaned up. Though it follows on the heels of an NRDC lawsuit focused on the city’s downstream effect on the Gulf of Mexico, the EPA’s reasoning centers around making the river itself safe for recreational use. Which is why the EPA order is no suprise: it’s been in the works for awhile now. The EPA stated its position back in June of last year, and Daley told them to go stuff it.

Which, I have to admit, surprised me. The mayor was (that sounds so weird to say) obviously obsessed with the city’s post-industrial future, which was expressed in large part by big, Loop-centric projects—note how many of the big plans Blair Kamin marks as Daley’s planning legacies are focused on downtown (one addition I’d make to Kamin’s list: Block 37). And the riverwalk was another if less intense focus.

Not that I’m surprised the city hasn’t taken action; obviously the city has limited resources. I’m just surprised that the famously green mayor didn’t soft-pedal it a bit. Though he was kind of right about the Potomac, not the only civic river to face substantial cleanup issues.

On the other hand, the city’s opposition did provide us with one of the all-time great moments of bureaucratic reasoning: "Making the river safe enough for swimming, they said, would put children at risk of drowning."

Update: Josh Mogerman from NRDC writes: "on the Chicago River, it is MWRD dragging their feet, not the City of Chicago. They have been advocating in court for a cleanup."

Update: Robert Loerzel has a good primer on the legal and environmental history of the river.


Photograph: AskDaveTaylor (CC by 2.0)