The words “clean” and “Chicago River” aren’t usually found in the same sentence.
In fact, descriptions like “frothy brown water” and “putrid eyesore” are more likely to describe the channel, as does a front-page article on the waterway in the May 15, 2006, issue of the Chicago Tribune.
However, Mayor Richard M. Daley and others interested in turning the river into a positive for the area are pushing for more rigorous standards that would improve the Chicago River’s water quality. According to the Tribune, the Illinois EPA is putting together rules for overseeing the first comprehensive look at the river in three decades.
Cleaning up the river will likely require equipment to disinfect wastewater at plants that handle sewage from Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Unlike most major cities, Chicago doesn’t disinfect its wastewater to remove disease-causing bacteria and other pathogens. And as a result, bacteria levels spike downstream from wastewater pipes and remain higher than state standards for miles, according to the Water Quality Association.
Most other major cities, including New York and Los Angeles, treat sewage with chlorine to kill bacteria first, then take out the chemical before dumping the remains back into waterways.
A U.S. EPA report estimates that installing a disinfection system would cost about $242 million. Spread over 20 years, the cost would be about $2 per month, per household in the district.