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Chicago Area Waterway System

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Contents

Watershed Overview

The Chicago River once flowed into Lake Michigan. Approximately 100 years ago, plans to facilitate a reversal of the flow of the Chicago River to divert water from Lake Michigan to the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) were implemented. As a result, the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the Calumet-Sag Channel and the North Shore Channel were constructed. The diversion and the artificial waterways facilitated navigation and protected the drinking water intakes in Lake Michigan from Chicago wastes. The Little Calumet River North Leg, the Chicago River, the South Branch of the Chicago River and North Branch of the Chicago River downstream from the confluence with the North Shore Channel are natural rivers that have been channelized.

Land use within the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) basin is generally urban with extensive industrial development. The basin includes the City of Chicago and 31 suburban municipalities. Flow in the CAWS is dominated by treated wastewater from 5 million residents and an additional industrial load of approximately 4.5 million population equivalents.

The CAWS includes the Calumet River and Chicago River basin water bodies that are generally classified as Secondary Contact Recreation and Indigenous Aquatic Life. The CAWS also includes Lake Calumet and a variety of tributaries designated as General Use.

Chicago’s wastewater system was developed with a combined sewer system that accepted both stormwater and sanitary waste. After rainstorms, the capacity of the sewer system became overwhelmed on a regular basis and combined sewer overflows (CSO) occurred. These CSOs are discharged into the CAWS and frequently from the river into Lake Michigan. To address this problem, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRDGC) developed the Tunnel and Reservoir Project (TARP), which included the construction of the Deep Tunnel project. The Deep Tunnel is a series of tunnels that lay 250 to 300 feet below the Chicago River and are located parallel to it. The first phase of the TARP project or “Deep Tunnel” project has been completed. During periods of heavy rainfall, the TARP project directs combined sanitary waste and infiltrating rainwater into massive tunnels and collection reservoirs where it can be withdrawn for treatment after the rain subsides.

Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, there have been major upgrades of treatment facilities along the Chicago Waterway. Under Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) oversight, extensive pretreatment programs have been implemented, as well as treatment of industrial wastes before discharge. In addition, a comprehensive multi-year evaluation of current conditions in the Chicago Waterway System, and its potential for expanded uses, has been launched by the Illinois EPA. This evaluation, also called a Use Attainability Analysis (UAA), will be the first in-depth look at the system in nearly three decades. The IEPA has announced plans for the project that involves the Chicago River, its two main branches (North Branch and South Branch), the Cal-Sag Channel, the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and tributaries in an area extending from the metropolitan Chicago area to the Lockport vicinity. The Chicago Waterway System makes up the surface drainage network serving the majority of the Greater Chicago metropolitan area. The system receives discharge from three of the largest municipal wastewater treatment plants in the nation as well as releases from more than 100 individual combined sewer outfalls.

As a result of these efforts, recreational boating and other sports are on the rise within the system and improved fish populations and species diversity now support a modest recreational fishing use. These benefits indicate that the current use classification is outdated, making the planned study a timely undertaking. Jointly, these efforts have significantly improved conditions and public interest in the waterway, resulting in increased efforts to restore abandoned areas and provide public open spaces along the banks.

Watershed Activities

Chicago’s shoreline habitats provide stopover sites for migratory birds and support rare plants. The dune restoration area at Loyola Beach currently supports State of Illinois endangered species. In addition the federally listed piping plover has stopped at this location.

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

Asian Carp

Asian carp have been found in the Illinois River, which connects the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan. Due to their large size and rapid rate of reproduction, these fish could pose a significant risk to the Great Lakes Ecosystem.

To prevent the carp from entering the Great Lakes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. EPA, the State of Illinois, the International Joint Commission, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working together to install and maintain a permanent electric barrier between the fish and Lake Michigan.  The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is also examining the issue through the Illinois Lake Michigan Implementation Plan and its goal to addressinvasive species.  A goal of Illinois' Coastal Zone Managment Program is to prevent the movement of Asian Carp to Lake Michigan.

More information is available at the USEPA Asian Carp website and at the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee website

Studies

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), in consultation with federal agencies, Native American tribes, state agencies, local governments and non-governmental organizations, is conducting the Great Lakes & Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS). In accordance with the study authorization, USACE will evaluate a range of options and technologies (collectively known as “ANS controls”) to prevent the transfer of aquatic nuisance species (ANS) between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River by aquatic pathways. During GLMRIS, the Team will compile Interim Products, many of which are generated from the data-gathering phase. These Interim Products will continue to be made available to the public as they are completed:

The Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Mayors Conference

The Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, with support from six funders, embarked on a project in July 2010 to identify engineering options for Chicago's waterway system that will prevent interbasin movement of aquatic invasive species, including Asian carp. The expedited study, now completed, also examines potential improvements to the waterway's roles in commercial navigation, recreational boating, flood and stormwater management, and water quality.

The report and other material completed through this process are found at the Great Lakes Commission's CAWS website.

Watershed Organizations

Additional Information

Information on other Lake Michigan subwatersheds can be found at: Lake Michigan Subwatershed Information

Impaired (303d) Waters

A listing of impaired waters can be found on the U.S. EPA website for the Chicago Riverand the Lake Michigan shoreline for Chicago

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Subwatersheds for Chicago River

HUC Watershed Name




Watershed Management Tools

Tools for addressing impairments in the watershed can be found at the Lake Michigan Lakewide Management Plan Watershed Tools page. Specific Lake Michigan Lakewide Management Plan Watershed Tools can be found at the following pages:

Personal tools