Calumet-Saganashkee Channel (Cal-Sag Channel)

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This page is a work in progress and not the final ILMIP product. The content on this page does not necessarily represent the views of IDNR and the project partners.

Watershed Overview

The Cal-Sag Channel (short for "Calumet-Saganashkee Channel") is a navigation Canal in southern Cook County, Illinois. It serves as a channel between the Little Calumet River and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. It is 16 miles long and was dug over an 11-year period, from 1911 until 1922.

The Cal-Sag Channel serves barge traffic in what was an active zone of heavy industry in the far southern neighborhoods of the city of Chicago and adjacent suburbs. As of 2013 it is also used more as a conduit for wastewater from southern Cook County, including the Chicago-area Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP), into the Illinois Waterway. It is also used by pleasure crafts in the summer time.

The western 4.5 miles of the channel flow through the Palos Hills Forest Preserves, a large area of parkland operated by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.


This watershed is a subwatershed to the Chicago River Warershed. It is located primarily in Illinois in the City of Chicago and near south suburbs and is part of the Illinois Coastal Zone Management Program (ICMP) area. A small portion of the watershed extends into Indiana. The ICMP area, with the exception of the Chicago River waterway, flows to Lake Michigan. The plan will be the local implementation planning program for the Lake Michigan Lakewide Management Plan.

The ICMP area, with the exception of the Chicago River waterway, flows to Lake Michigan. The plan will be the local implementation planning program for the Lake Michigan Lakewide Management Plan.

Because the industries of the Calumet region are in the unusual situation of being situated side by side with significant wildlife habitat, it is necessary to consider the future of both industry and nature together, in a comprehensive and synergistic land use plan. It is also critical to consider Lake Calumet’s placement as a central component of a much larger ecosystem and trail network. There have been proposals for a “Calumet National Heritage Area” that would wrap around the southwestern end of Lake Michigan, reaching from the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on the east to the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor on the west. The region’s close association with northwest Indiana’s industries, and the enormous industrial corridor that is created when the areas are considered together, is also significant.


This section is excerpted from the City of Chicago Calumet Land Use Plan.

When Joliet and Marquette traveled through the area in the 1600s, the Calumet area was flat, grassy and wet. It varied from stretches of relatively dry prairies on slight ridges, to sedge meadows and marshes in low swales, to the open water of the lakes and seasonal ponds. During wet seasons with high water levels, shallow rivers coursed through the vegetation. Water and land graded gently into one another, and rigid channels that now define the area’s rivers and streams didn’t exist. A tall person could have waded the entire one-mile length down the center of Lake Calumet, for the lake was only three to six feet deep
Names for landmarks of the area reveal its early history. For example, Stony Island Avenue received its name because it was a high, dry limestone ridge that cut across marshy prairies. (Stony Island’s ridge is a truly ancient geological feature, an exposed coral reef left over from a time when tropical seas covered the region 400 million years ago.)
The name “Calumet” is believed to have been a Potawatomi word for “low body of deep, still water,” but it might well have meant something else or have come from some other source now lost. The word was spelled in wildly different ways on early maps: Kennomic, Callimink, Calamic, and so on.
Today’s spelling of “Calumet” doesn’t appear on maps until 1864. Over the past 125 years the bodies of water and the overall hydrology of the Calumet area have been altered dramatically. As some bodies of water were being filled up, other portions of Lake Calumet and the rivers were being dredged to make them navigable for deeper draft vessels.
Beginning in 1876, the Calumet River channel was straightened, and during construction of Burns Ditch in 1926, the Little Calumet River was straightened as well. These and other changes shifted the natural drainage of the Calumet area from Lake Michigan back the opposite way toward the Illinois River.
Today lakes and marshes have been filled in with slag and other waste materials to the point where some no longer exist. Lake Calumet itself used to extend to 98th Street and Woodlawn. But about a quarter of the lake has been transformed into land, and today the water’s edge is south of 103rd street.
Some portions of Lake Calumet reach a depth of 30 feet, as compared with its natural six feet. (Twenty-seven feet is minimum depth of navigable waters for international trade.)

Water Supply

The entire area is served by a water supply from Lake MIchigan through the City of Chicago Department of Water Management.  

Watershed Issues

The economy and communities of the Calumet area are still recovering from the loss of the steel mills, even during America’s recent period of prosperity. From 1992 to 1997, for example, employment in the U.S. grew by 13 percent and the City of Chicago grew by 6 percent. But during this national boom time, the Calumet area experienced a net loss of 2,000 jobs, mostly in the steel and steel processing industry.  Many properties in the area suffer from some level of environmental contamination. Roads are deteriorated and some are inadequate for the weight and frequency of truck traffic needed for bringing in supplies and removing products from industries.

303d Watershed Impairments

A list of impaired waters can be found at the USEPA Impaired Waters website for the Chicago River watershed.  Among the impairments found in the CHicago River watershed are Phosphorus, Total Dissolved Oxygen, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), Nitrogen, Fecal Coliform, Silver, Total Suspended Solids (TSS), Sedimentation/Siltation, Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), DDT, Hexachlorobenzene, Mercury, Aldrin, Zinc, Chlorides, Fluoride, Iron, Chlordane, Dieldrin, Ammonia, Un-ionized, Endrin, Nickel, Oil and Grease, pH, Arsenic, Barium, Cadmium, Chromium, Copper, and Lead.  No TMDLs for this area have been completed as of Spring 2013. 

Local Sub-watershed Goals

This subwatershed is part of a broader Calumet Restoration Plan developed by the City of Chicago and other Partners.  The City Land Use Plan identifies a series of goals.  These include:

Guiding Goals for the Plan

  1. Improve quality of life in the Calumet area and the surrounding communities by creating greater economic opportunity and enhanced environmental quality.
  2. Retain and enhance existing businesses and industries within the Calumet area.
  3. Attract new industrial and business development, and create new job opportunities.
  4. Protect and enhance wetland and natural areas within the Calumet area, and improve habitat for rare and endangered species.

Action Objectives for the Plan

  1. Visualize and enact a plan where large, viable tracts of land with excellent access to transportation can be assembled for industrial development.
  2. Create a Calumet Open Space Reserve, with connected green spaces.
  3. Develop effective design guidelines that encourage visually attractive buildings, industrial entrances, rights-of-way, and open spaces. Include river-edge and lakeside enhancements where possible, and emphasize natural landscaping and storm water management to enhance habitat for native plants and animals. Promote energy efficient and environmentally sustainable design and construction techniques.

Land Use 
Land use plans are intended to direct future development in the Calumet Area. Five major land uses are delineated:

  1. Industrial.
  2. Public open space—land owned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Chicago Park District, City of Chicago, Illinois International Port District, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is managed or available for public recreation.
  3. Open space preservation—land to be preserved primarily for habitat.
  4. Open space recreation—land to be developed for public recreation. These sites will have an open space character and may include public facilities.
  5. Open space reclamation—most of this land has been or is used for waste management purposes. These sites will have an open space character and may include public facilities for recreational, waste or water management or energy related purposes.

For most of the land use designations a consensus was reached among the partnership. However, Openlands Project proposes that the land south of 103rd Street on either side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad (commonly known as Railroad Prairie and the southern portion of Van Vlissingen Prairie), and the northeast land pier in Lake Calumet (Slip 8) be designated for open space preservation.

Watershed Activities and Projects

This section will be developed as part of the ICMP planning process.

This will include a listing of projects that partners would develop and would link to wiki pages containing specific project information

Current Projects

This section will be completed as part of the ICMP planning process. 

Potential Future Projects 

This section is envisioned to include a list of potential projects identified by project partners to address watershed problems.  There would be links to short project description pages.

Existing Plans, Data, and Resources

This section will be completed as part of the ICMP planning process. 

Watershed Plans

This section will be completed as part of the ICMP planning process. 

Local Plans


Resources and Reports

Watershed Groups

This section will be developed as part of the ICMP planning process.