WBEZ | Chicago River http://www.wbez.org/tags/chicago-river Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Have your say: Lake Michigan vs. Chicago River http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/have-your-say-lake-michigan-vs-chicago-river-109317 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/132056571&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note:&nbsp;</em><em>Reporter Chris Bentley provided question-asker Devon Neff and his friend, Abby Ristow, with some homework; the idea was that reporting and insightful interviews could settle the pair&#39;s high-minded water fight. In the <a href="https://soundcloud.com/curiouscity/smackdowns-lake-michigan?in=curiouscity/sets/curious-city-podcasts" target="_blank">&quot;Smackdowns&quot;</a> podcast episode, you can hear the friends&#39; final take. In most circumstances, Curious City encourages peace among our readers, but here we hope you&#39;ll keep the fight brewing by voting in our </em><em><a href="#Poll">poll</a>&nbsp;and encouraging others to do so. <a href="https://docs.google.com/a/chicagopublicradio.org/forms/d/1UXSprLzQKqkThqcCOCbjuCAtNzz8xCG6TdU0gjxuAyY/viewanalytics" target="_blank">Current results</a>&nbsp;</em><em>are available if you&#39;d like to remain a bystander!</em><em>&nbsp;</em></p><p>Like so many questions for the ages, this Curious City query started as a bar debate. Our questioner Devon Neff and his friend Abby Ristow wanted to know:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Which is more important to Chicago (historically and today): Lake Michigan or the Chicago River?</em></p><p>Even though they&rsquo;ve argued this since last April, the issue still isn&rsquo;t settled.</p><p>&ldquo;She took the river and I took the lake, and we were very adamant about our discussion at the time,&rdquo; Devon said. &ldquo;I just see the lake as being more of an asset to Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p>His view of the lake from his apartment in downtown&rsquo;s<a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/aqua-tower" target="_blank"> Aqua Tower</a> might be a factor in his opinion. Abby acknowledged the river&rsquo;s got a bit of a checkered past (<a href="http://www.chicagojournal.com/News/09-16-2009/There_are_still_bubbles" target="_blank">bubbly creek</a>, anyone?), but she said that isn&rsquo;t the whole story.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve used it so much that we&rsquo;ve almost gotten it to the point of ruin. But I think it&rsquo;s changing,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;For me it&rsquo;s changing, but I&rsquo;m always a cheerleader for the underdog.&rdquo;</p><p>Whenever possible, we at Curious City like to settle things, but it&rsquo;s hard to be definitive in this case. Our editor, Shawn Allee, has been pulling his hair out over how broad this question is. And Devon and Abby&rsquo;s seemingly ironclad positions changed throughout our initial interview.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m actually torn,&rdquo; Devon admitted as we wrapped up the discussion. &ldquo;The more and more I think about it, I&rsquo;m really not sure if I&rsquo;m for one or the other.&rdquo;</p><p>Abby chimed in with a similar equivocation: &ldquo;I think specific to Chicago the river has more of an impact. But the region? The lake.&rdquo;</p><p>Almost <a href="#Audio">everyone we talked to</a> &mdash; shipping people, environmentalists, kayakers, even Mayor Rahm Emanuel &mdash; was hard pressed to pick one over the other. Even those that were for the lake or the river usually added the caveat that we&rsquo;d be remiss to discount the other entirely.</p><p>&ldquo;It was the confluence between the river and the lake, and the connection we could make to the Mississippi River that was what was important,&rdquo; said Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River.</p><p>So we&rsquo;re acknowledging right up front that the lake and the river work together, inextricably. Still, we need an answer.</p><p>So, what to do? Well, we&rsquo;re going to let you settle this one &mdash; with some help. We&rsquo;ve gathered facts on the waterways&rsquo; relative importance to our city and region below, as well as words of wisdom from a few people who work with <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/lake-michigan" target="_blank">Lake Michigan</a> and the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/chicago-river" target="_blank">Chicago River</a>.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s how you can help:</p><ul><li><p>Read and listen to the evidence: <a href="#Water">Water</a>,&nbsp;<a href="#Shipping">Shipping</a>,&nbsp;<a href="#Pop">Pop culture and symbolism</a>,&nbsp;<a href="#Recreation">Recreation</a>,&nbsp;<a href="#Natural">Natural resources investment</a>,&nbsp;<a href="#Infrastructure">Infrastructure investment</a>. (For folks who love audio homework, we have <a href="#Audio">interviews with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and others</a>)&nbsp;</p></li><li><p>Participate in <a href="#Poll">our poll</a>!</p></li><li><p>Call our hotline: 1-888-789-7752. (Leave concise comments, please. Who wins: The lake? The river? Why?)</p></li><li><p>Leave a comment at the bottom of this page.</p></li></ul><p><a name="Water"><strong>Water &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</strong></a></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/LAKE%20FINAL.png" style="float: left; margin: 5px; width: 50px; height: 50px;" title="" />Before we dive in too deep, the lake has one very big thing going for it; namely, it&rsquo;s the region&rsquo;s principal source of drinking water. More than 26 million people drink from the Great Lakes, including residents in Chicago and many of its suburbs.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/river%202.png" style="float: left; margin: 5px; height: 50px; width: 50px;" title="" />But the river has also served an important purpose: In addition to connecting Lake Michigan to inland waterways, it&rsquo;s long served <a href="http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/episode-86-reversal-of-fortune/" target="_blank">as an engineered extension of the city&#39;s sewer system</a>. Its<a href="http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-07-12/un-reversing-chicago-river-88976" target="_blank"> famous reversal in the 19th century</a> enabled the continued growth of a metropolis on the make that might otherwise have choked on its own waste. (<a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/jeanne-gang-and-henry-henderson-conversation-steve-edwards-94213" target="_blank">There&#39;s talk now of re-reversing the river</a>, which some say could spur another revitalization.)</p><p>So both serve a vital function to the city&rsquo;s daily life.</p><p><a name="Shipping"><strong>Shipping</strong></a></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/river 2.png" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 50px; width: 50px;" title="" />&ldquo;I would answer that from a broad and multi-state/national perspective, there is no doubt that the Lake itself is far more significant,&rdquo; said Stuart Theis, executive director of The United States Great Lakes Shipping Association. &ldquo;That said, certainly [the Chicago River] has much to do with commercial activity which takes place in Lake Michigan and in particular, Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p>The Chicago River<a href="http://www.navigationdatacenter.us/wcsc/webpub11/Part3_WWYs_tonsbycommCY2011.HTM" target="_blank"> saw more than 2 million short tons of cargo in 2011</a>, the last year for which data is available. Chicago is only the 34th most trafficked port in the country based on total cargo, but it is the second most popular in the Great Lakes (Duluth-Superior on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border is 21st in the country, with 35 million tons in 2011 compared to Chicago&rsquo;s 20 million). A lot of the bulk freight traffic at Chicago&rsquo;s port actually moves between the city and inland ports, staying out of the Great Lakes entirely. In 2011 Chicago handled about five times as much domestic freight as foreign.</p><p>But with highways, railroads and two major airports nearby, the port of Chicago could support more waterborne movement of cargo. In July Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Pat Quinn<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/mayor/press_room/press_releases/2013/july_2013/mayor_emanuel_governorquinnannouncenewportauthoritymanagmentplan.html" target="_blank"> announced plans</a> to spend $500 million updating the Port District over the next 10 years.</p><p>The connection between the river and the lake is still critical for shipping. Hear more from Delbert &quot;Del&quot; Wilkins, president of Illinois Marine Towing, Inc. in Lemont, Ill:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/123118317&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="350"></iframe></p><p><a name="Pop"><strong>Pop culture and symbolism</strong></a></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/river%202.png" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 50px; width: 50px;" title="" />The river is on <a href="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/d2/Chicago-muni-flag.png" target="_blank">Chicago&rsquo;s flag</a>, in the form of two horizontal blue stripes. It&rsquo;s also the inspiration for<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicagos-municipal-device-citys-symbol-lurking-plain-sight-107637" target="_blank"> the Y-shaped &ldquo;municipal device&rdquo; found throughout the city</a>, including on the Chicago Theater marquee and inside the Cultural Center.</p><p>Hollywood also loves the river. Of course, the Blues Brothers <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTOg4aYGtdY" target="_blank">jumped the Chicago River</a>. And in <em>The Hunter (1980)</em>, actor Steve McQueen&rsquo;s last flick,a driver<a href="http://www.marinacityonline.com/history/you_parked.htm" target="_blank"> famously flung a green Grand Prix Pontiac off the 17th floor of Marina City</a>, plunging it into the water.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/JFEELqtNzGE" width="420"></iframe></p><p>Director Andrew Davis featured the river in <em>The Fugitive</em> as well as other films. He waxed poetic about this for the documentary <em><a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0252319/" target="_blank">Chicago Filmmakers on the Chicago River</a></em>. &ldquo;Almost every movie I&rsquo;ve done has shown some part of this river just because it is a vein of life in the city,&rdquo; Davis told documentarian D.P. Carlson. &ldquo;I think that showing the bridges, and the roads, the major roadways and the river is part of the blood of the city. It makes the city tick.&rdquo;</p><p>That visual fascination doesn&rsquo;t end with the pros. The tag &ldquo;Chicago River&rdquo; on the photo sharing site Flickr<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/chicagoriver/" target="_blank"> returns nearly 34,000 results</a>. &nbsp;&ldquo;Lake Michigan&rdquo; turned up more than 256,000, but that isn&rsquo;t specific to Chicago. &ldquo;Chicago Lakefront&rdquo; produced 2,269 uploads. But maybe people are using different tags (and just &ldquo;lakefront&rdquo; is too generic).</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/LAKE%20FINAL.png" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 50px; width: 50px;" title="" />Skyline shots often include the lake &mdash; say, from the popular photo spot in front of the Adler Planetarium &mdash; and Navy Pier, the state&rsquo;s biggest tourist attraction, is obviously lake-centric. The river does host the very popular architecture boat tours, though.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><a name="Recreation"><strong>Recreation</strong></a></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/LAKE%20FINAL.png" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 50px; width: 50px;" title="" />Biking and jogging<a href="http://www.choosechicago.com/articles/view/The-Lakefront-Trail/454/" target="_blank"> along the 18-mile lakefront trail</a> is one of the more popular activities for tourists and locals alike, at least when the weather&rsquo;s nice. Beaches along Chicago&rsquo;s<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/question-answered-how-has-chicago%E2%80%99s-coastline-changed-over-decades-104328" target="_blank"> &quot;forever open, clear and free&quot; shoreline</a> are packed during the warm months, a unique condition Joel Brammeier, president of Alliance for the Great Lakes, pointed out while singing the lakefront&rsquo;s praise.</p><p>Brammeier said the open lakefront is &ldquo;the envy of communities around the world.&rdquo; But it only got that way because of a series of careful decisions:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/123118170&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="350"></iframe>.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/river%202.png" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 50px; width: 50px;" title="" />A lot of people still cringe at the thought of Chicago River water, but its quality has improved dramatically in recent decades. Since the Clean Water Act of 1972,<a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/2009/08/the-chicago-river-is-too-dirty-to-be-useable/" target="_blank"> the number of fish species in the river has gone from 10 to 70</a>.</p><p>The <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/feds-okay-chicago-river-cleanup-93801" target="_blank">Environmental Protection Agency approved Illinois&#39; new water quality standards</a> for the river recently, requiring the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to start disinfecting the waste it pumps into the sanitary canal.<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/alison-cuddy/2012-03-21/can-cultural-resources-help-spur-different-future-chicago-river-97515" target="_blank"> The river should even be clean enough to swim in by 2016</a>!</p><p>Our question asker Abby Ristow has kayaked a few times, but I asked Ryan Chew, who founded Chicago River Canoe &amp; Kayak in 2001, how recreation along the river has changed since then. He said it&rsquo;s up dramatically, and he thinks that&rsquo;s because the river provides an unexpected connection to nature in the middle of the city:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/123118169&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="350"></iframe></p><p>Margaret Frisbie from Friends of the Chicago River made a similar point about seeing the city from the lake and from the river. She admitted the view from the lake captures Chicago&rsquo;s grandeur. But she says the river provides something different and, perhaps, more valuable:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/123118321&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="350"></iframe></p><p><a name="Natural"><strong>Natural resources investments</strong></a></p><p>Recently, several groups have called attention to the economic benefits of investing in both natural resources.</p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-05/report-drop-money-river-watch-it-float-back-107107" target="_blank">A report commissioned by Friends of the Chicago River and Openlands said each dollar invested in the river provides a 70 percent return</a>.</p><p>Likewise <a href="http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2007/09/04gleiecosystem-austin" target="_blank">a Brookings Institution analysis</a> said fully implementing the Great Lakes restoration strategy, which includes cleaning up pollution and preserving fisheries, would generate tens of billions of dollars in economic activity.</p><p>Even though he picked the lake, Henry Henderson of the Natural Resources Defense Council points out its value to the city is only guaranteed through constant and long-term investment &mdash; the kind he hopes the city will make in the river, too:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/123134710&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="350"></iframe></p><p><a name="Infrastructure"><strong>Infrastructure investments</strong></a></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/LAKE%20FINAL.png" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 50px; width: 50px;" title="" />Plenty has happened along the lakefront. The 31st Street Harbor<a href="http://www.wbez.org/chicago-unveils-new-south-side-boat-harbor-99912" target="_blank"> opened in 2012</a>, and<a href="http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-07-30/morning-shift-revamping-lake-shore-drive-108220" target="_blank"> plans to revamp Lake Shore Drive</a> could include more park space, as well as additional routes for bicyclists. Some 600 lakefront acres formerly home to U.S. Steel&rsquo;s South Works plant could become a futuristic community that developers<a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/lakeside-development" target="_blank"> U.S. Steel and McCaffery Interests have dubbed Lakeside</a>.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/river%202.png" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 50px; width: 50px;" title="" />But there&rsquo;s obviously a lot going on with the river these days, too, and even Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the river&rsquo;s catching up. He has<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/mayor/press_room/press_releases/2012/october_2012/mayor_emanuel_announcesplanstocompletechicagoriverwalk.html" target="_blank"> called the river</a> &ldquo;our second shoreline,&rdquo; and plans to continue an ongoing shift from industrial land use to recreation along the river:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/123118170&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="350"></iframe></p><p>The mayor&rsquo;s much-touted plan to extend the riverwalk downtown is the clear centerpiece: between State and Lake Streets, six themed areas like<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/cdot/bridge/general/TheMarina.pdf" target="_blank"> The Marina</a> and<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/cdot/bridge/general/TheRiverTheater.pdf" target="_blank"> The River Theater</a> are meant to attract businesses and pedestrians and give the riverfront a sense of place all its own. Construction on that could<a href="http://blog.archpaper.com/wordpress/archives/72708" target="_blank"> start soon</a>.</p><p>Three private developments where the main branch splits &mdash; Wolf Point, River Point, and 150 N. Riverside &mdash; all include landscaped parks at their bases, celebrating to varying extents their place along the Chicago River.<a name="Poll"></a></p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="450" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" scrolling="no" src="https://docs.google.com/a/chicagopublicradio.org/forms/d/1UXSprLzQKqkThqcCOCbjuCAtNzz8xCG6TdU0gjxuAyY/viewform?embedded=true" width="620">Loading...</iframe>;</p><hr /><br /><h2><a href="https://docs.google.com/a/chicagopublicradio.org/forms/d/1UXSprLzQKqkThqcCOCbjuCAtNzz8xCG6TdU0gjxuAyY/viewanalytics" target="_blank">Selected poll results</a></h2><p>&nbsp;</p><p><script type="text/javascript" src="//ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/static/modules/gviz/1.0/chart.js"> {"dataSourceUrl":"//docs.google.com/a/chicagopublicradio.org/spreadsheet/tq?key=0Ai7E2pZ6aCZtdEJQX25aMFUtdWpPcjE3OU1rUXJXNWc&transpose=0&headers=0&range=B1%3AC101&gid=0&pub=1","options":{"vAxes":[{"title":"Left vertical axis title","useFormatFromData":true,"minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null},{"useFormatFromData":true,"minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null}],"titleTextStyle":{"fontSize":16},"title":"Chart title","booleanRole":"certainty","height":320,"animation":{"duration":500},"page":"enable","width":620,"pageSize":5,"annotations":{"domain":{"style":"line"}},"hAxis":{"title":"Horizontal axis title","useFormatFromData":true,"minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null}},"state":{},"view":{"columns":[0,{"label":"","properties":{"role":"annotation"},"sourceColumn":1}]},"isDefaultVisualization":false,"chartType":"Table","chartName":"Chart 1"} </script></p><hr /><p>&nbsp;</p><p><a name="Audio"></a><iframe frameborder="no" height="450" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/16414907&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><br /><em>Chris Bentley is a reporter for Curious City. Follow him at<a href="http://twitter.com/cementley"> @cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 05 Dec 2013 17:26:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/have-your-say-lake-michigan-vs-chicago-river-109317 Bridges that span the river and the decades http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/bridges-span-river-and-decades-108903 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/topper%20bridge%20house%20mindfrieze%20flickr.jpg" title="The Kinzie Street rail bridge and deteriorated bridgehouse. (Flickr/Mindfrieze)" /><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F114901925&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>If you&rsquo;re admiring great architecture in the Loop, chances are you&rsquo;re looking at skyscrapers. But if you crane your neck a bit less, you might notice an often overlooked catalogue of Chicago&rsquo;s architectural movements. It&rsquo;s the parade of bridgehouses along the Chicago River. Art Deco, Beaux-Arts, Modernism &mdash; all the major architectural styles that typify the city are on display in the bridgehouses that line the river.</p><p>It can be enough to drive one to distraction, as it once did for Jim Brady.</p><p>&ldquo;I almost had an accident one time when I thought I saw a light in one of them,&rdquo; Brady says. &ldquo;I had to put my eyes back on Wacker Drive. So I never answered my question of if there&rsquo;s any life up there.&rdquo;</p><p>Brady, a journalist turned telecommunications specialist who lives in River Forest, tried to rectify this when he asked Curious City:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>&ldquo;Who stays in guard houses along Chicago bridges, and what do they do all day?&rdquo;</em></p><p>As we found out, the quick answer to Jim Brady&rsquo;s question is: Most of the time, nobody! But these beautiful structures still serve a function. Stories about the downtown river bridges and the workers who once tended them solidify the claim that Chicago&rsquo;s relationship with its river is every bit as notable as the one it has with Lake Michigan.</p><p><strong>Bridges to innovation</strong></p><p>Chicago has the most movable bridges<a href="http://www.landmarks.org/ten_most_2013_chicago_bascule_bridges.htm" target="_blank"> of any city in the world</a>. There are 37 in total, including 18 along the river&rsquo;s main branch downtown. Most are of a style called Bascule, from the French word for teeter-totter &mdash;&nbsp;drawbridges that lift up instead of swinging to the side.</p><p>Like a lot of its most impressive feats of architecture and engineering, the city&rsquo;s record-setting collection of drawbridges has its origin in a very practical concern.</p><p>&ldquo;We had all these big boats coming through and a pretty narrow river, so you couldn&rsquo;t really build those big bridge spans that would clear those large boats,&rdquo; says Ozana Balan-King, a <a href="http://www.chicagoriver.org/" target="_blank">Friends of the Chicago River</a> employee who helps run the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.bridgehousemuseum.org/home/" target="_blank">&nbsp;McCormick Bridgehouse &amp; Chicago River Museum</a>.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Jim Brady and bridge museum lady.jpg" style="height: 231px; width: 320px; float: left;" title="Our question asker Jim Brady with Ozana Balan-King, who helps run the McCormick Bridgehouse &amp; Chicago River Museum. (Flickr/Chris Bentley)" /></p><p>She adds that since our bridges needed to move out of the way quickly, &ldquo;A lot of the movable bridge innovation in the world has really taken place here in Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Now, a bridge for two seasons</strong></p><p>In 1920, the modern Michigan Avenue bridge&rsquo;s first year of operation, it opened 3,377 times. Back then bridgehouses were staffed around the clock and opened on demand. But the law began to favor landlubbers over boat traffic on the Chicago River, especially as commercial shipping shifted south to the Calumet Harbor.</p><p>Now bridges open only two times per week during a few months of the year:<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/provdrs/bridge/news/2013/apr/spring_bridge_liftsmarksstartoftheboatingseason.html" target="_blank"> Between April and June</a>, bridges open on Wednesday and Saturday mornings to let sailboats into Lake Michigan. On the same days<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/provdrs/bridge/news/2013/sep/fall_bridge_liftschedule.html" target="_blank"> from late September until mid-November</a>, they open again so sailboats can return to the Chicago River system before winter.</p><p>That system has been in place since 1994. Since they&rsquo;re no longer staffed 24 hours a day, bridgehouses are usually unoccupied, though the 18th Street bridge is still staffed around the clock.</p><p>During bridge lifts, seven crews from the Chicago Department of Transportation work to open and close 27 city-owned bridges. Crews leapfrog one another to keep the process moving, but it can take up to five hours. They start between 9 and 10 a.m. to avoid the worst of the morning and afternoon rush hours.</p><p>Boat owners can talk to their boatyards about signing up for a bridge lift. To find out when lifts are scheduled, CDOT spokesman Peter Scales says to<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/provdrs/bridge/news/2013/sep/fall_bridge_liftschedule.html" target="_blank"> look out for press releases</a>. James Phillips, who runs the website<a href="http://www.chicagoloopbridges.com/" target="_blank"> ChicagoLoopBridges.com</a>, also<a href="https://twitter.com/chicagobridges" target="_blank"> tweets the dates of confirmed bridge lifts</a>.</p><p><strong>The grinding gears of bridge duty</strong></p><p>Back when bridgehouses were staffed, bridge tending often meant more than just making sure boat traffic ran smoothly.</p><p>&ldquo;There was always something burning in this area here,&rdquo; said Bruce Lampson, 67, a former bridgetender. &ldquo;I had two telephones: one directly to City Hall, and one to &mdash; in those days &mdash; the Illinois Bell Telephone Company.&rdquo;<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/WEB lampson-at-z-1 by Virginia Lampson_Bruce mom.jpg" style="float: left;" title="Bruce Lampson operating the former Z-1 bridge. His mom came to visit and snapped a few shots. (Courtesy Virginia Lampson)" /></p><p>From 1961 until he was drafted by the Army in 1965, Lampson ran the Z-1 bridge that used to carry railroad tracks northeast across the river just north of Kinzie Street. He grew up in the area and had learned to operate the bridge by watching people work the control panel when he was a child. Instead of going to high school, Lampson lied about his age and got the job when he was just 14 years old.</p><p>&ldquo;I was very tall for my age,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;They never asked any questions. They just asked, &lsquo;Can you operate a bridge?&rsquo; &rdquo;</p><p>He worked from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. for six days at a time, earning two days off and $65 &mdash; not much less than his mother made working as a secretary in City Hall. In addition to opening the bridge, he sometimes had to direct street traffic with red flags when extreme heat or cold would jam the gates that kept motorists from driving into the river at the neighboring Kinzie Street bridge. But, he says, sometimes they did so anyway. He says he was once at his post on the east bank of the river when a man committed suicide.</p><p>&ldquo;I watched a man jump off the [Kinzie Street] bridge, go down, pop back up almost back up to the bridge, go back into the water and that&rsquo;s it. I never saw him. He just floated away under the water,&rdquo; Lampson says. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ve seen cows, horses, livestock floating down. I&rsquo;ve seen pieces of boats floating down. Anything that floated would float past you like that.&rdquo;</p><p>Z-1 was a bob-tail swing bridge that spun sideways instead of lifting up like a bascule bridge. It no longer exists, but the Z-2 bridge on North Avenue has a similar design.</p><p>In the summer of 2013, Chicago Tribune reporters Hal Dardick and John Byrne <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-07-06/news/ct-met-dick-mell-interview-20130706_1_alderman-70-jobs-popsicle">interviewed departing Alderman Richard Mell</a>, who says he &quot;put four kids through college as bridge tenders&rdquo;:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>&ldquo;I would get them on the second shift, from 3 to 11, where they could do their homework. Or 11 to 7, where they&#39;d sleep, and they were getting electrician&#39;s pay, and it was great. I helped.&rdquo;</em><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/z-1-bridge%20by%20Virginia%20Lampson%20web.jpg" style="height: 251px; width: 320px; float: right;" title="A look at the former Z-1 bridge. (Courtesy of Virginia Lampson)" /></p><p>Boat traffic on the Chicago River has dried up a bit since then, and the crew that operates the city&rsquo;s movable bridges has followed suit. Darryl Rouse, CDOT&rsquo;s Assistant Commissioner and Superintendent of Bridges, said his staff is down from hundreds of employees during the 1970s to just 51 today. The days of sleeping or doing homework on the job, he says, are long gone &mdash; the crew is too small, Rouse says, to give bridge tenders any time to slack off.</p><p>If our question asker, Jim Brady, wants a glimpse of the way things used to be, he can drop by five bridges in the Calumet system that are staffed 24 hours a day. Milwaukee also<a href="http://milwaukeeriverkeeper.org/content/milwaukee-bridge-overview"> still has several staffed bridgehouses</a>, although many of that city&rsquo;s bridges are operated automatically or by remote.</p><p>But maybe the bridgehouses themselves are enough, as Jim Brady and I learn when we tour the Bridgehouse Museum.</p><p>Brady leans out the window over Michigan Avenue. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a part of Chicago that Chicago can just walk right by if you&rsquo;re late for your 10 a.m. appointment,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s a lot going on that we just don&rsquo;t see.&rdquo;<a name="bridgevideo"></a></p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/a6r_Wee7BxA" width="420"></iframe><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/mJhnaTKEPOU" width="560"></iframe></p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/">Chris Bentley</a> is a reporter for Curious City. Follow him at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley">@Cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 11 Oct 2013 13:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/bridges-span-river-and-decades-108903 Reporter's Notebook: What happens inside Chicago's river bridgehouses http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/reporters-notebook-what-happens-inside-chicagos-river-bridgehouses-108772 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/bridge tender view flickr tom gill.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Curious Citizen Jim Brady from West Suburban River Forest says he&#39;s always found bridge houses on Chicago&#39;s rivers fascinating, not just to look at but also to let his imagine run wild as to what goes on inside. So naturally he asked us, &quot;Who stays in guard houses along Chicago rivers, and what do they do all day?&quot;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">WBEZ&#39;s Chris Bentley jumped at the chance to report this story. He&#39;s also an architecture buff and has long appreciated the variation in bridgehouse design. Chris and Jim are pairing up to find answers and you can follow their adventures via this reporter&#39;s notebook below. If you are a bridgetender, you know one, or you have stories about the goings-on inside those mysterious structures, please comment below! We&#39;d love to get in touch.&nbsp;</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="750" src="http://embed.verite.co/timeline/?source=0AgYZnhF-8PafdGduVjBNZWpZSGJqOWRzdXNDdlJ5RUE&amp;font=PTSerif-PTSans&amp;maptype=toner&amp;lang=en&amp;hash_bookmark=true&amp;width=620&amp;height=750" width="620"></iframe></p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/about-curious-city-98756">Curious City</a>&nbsp;is a news-gathering experiment designed to satisfy the public&#39;s curiosity. People like you&nbsp;<a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/#!/ask">submit questions</a>,&nbsp;<a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/#!/ask">vote&nbsp;</a>for their favorites, and WBEZ reports out the winning questions in real time on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/curiouscityproject">Facebook</a>,&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#!/WBEZCuriousCity">Twitter&nbsp;</a>and the reporter&#39;s notebook above.</p></p> Thu, 26 Sep 2013 08:46:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/reporters-notebook-what-happens-inside-chicagos-river-bridgehouses-108772 Loss of Red Line service brings changes to Chinatown http://www.wbez.org/news/loss-red-line-service-brings-changes-chinatown-107365 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/chinatown.jpg" title="Near the CTA Red Line stop at Cermak-Chinatown. Workers were out on the tracks Friday getting started on a massive reconstruction project. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F93713993&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Some business owners are worried about a slow summer near the Cermak-Chinatown Red Line stop, but expanded water taxi service may pick up some of the slack. Nine south side stations are closed until October for reconstruction.</p><p>Just down the street from the Chinatown Red Line, Michelle Zhang was ringing up a steady stream of newspapers and lottery tickets in her gift shop. But she said she&rsquo;s concerned about the Red Line.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s no good for the business,&rdquo; she said. The street was hopping with locals getting groceries, tea and pastries -- it&rsquo;s tourist shoppers that may be more of a concern. In another gift shop, Yat Wong agrees.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it will affect me a lot since the station is closed for more than 5 months, I guess, but nothing I can do,&rdquo; he said. And he says his daughter&rsquo;s been rerouted to school, as have other kids he knows. &ldquo;Almost affect everyone in Chinatown, I guess. Every family.&rdquo;</p><iframe width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F94308827"></iframe><p>Starting Tuesday, commuters looking for an alternate to the Red Line have a new way to travel between Chinatown and downtown: a water taxi. The Chinatown taxi has operated on weekends since 2009, and this year they&rsquo;ve added a new black and yellow boat to the fleet that will be used to provide weekday service.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a great alternative if for no reason other than it&rsquo;s more fun and scenic,&rdquo; said Andrew Sargis, Chief of Operations of the Chicago Water Taxi, which is a private subsidiary of Wendella Sightseeing.</p><p>A boat will depart from Ping Tom Memorial Park every twenty minutes from 10am to 9pm, and tickets are $4 one way. The ride to near Union Station is about 12 to 15 minutes, and a transfer can get you further north or east along the Chicago River.</p><p>But total travel time depends on traffic.</p><p>&ldquo;We can get barge traffic, we can get kayakers, we can get other commercial boat traffic,&rdquo; said Sargis, adding that on the weekends, sailboats can also be trouble.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr" style="line-height:1.15;margin-top:0pt;margin-bottom:0pt;margin-left: -36pt;margin-right: -36pt;"><em><b id="docs-internal-guid-23161088-d872-17fe-5060-74fbae141146" style="font-weight:normal;"><span style="font-size: 15px; font-family: Arial; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">Lew</span></b>is Wallace is a Pritzker Journalism Fellow at WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants">@lewispants</a>.</em></p><div>&nbsp;</div><br /></p> Sat, 25 May 2013 06:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/loss-red-line-service-brings-changes-chinatown-107365 Report: Drop money in the river, watch it float back http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-05/report-drop-money-river-watch-it-float-back-107107 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/vxla/4748458373/lightbox/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/river%20by%20vxla.jpg" style="height: 405px; width: 610px;" title="(vxla via Flickr)" /></a></div><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F91454655" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>The glitzy towers of downtown Chicago are filled with offices that boast impressive financial returns, but their biggest cash flow may be one they all share: the Chicago River.</p><p><a href="http://www.chicagoriver.org/upload/Summary%20Review%20Doc%20SMALLER.pdf">A new report commissioned by Friends of the Chicago River and Openlands</a> says each dollar invested in the river provides a 70 percent return. Completed, planned and proposed improvement projects, the report says, amount to 846 new permanent jobs, 52,400 construction jobs and $130.54 million every year.</p><p>&ldquo;Investing in the Chicago River pays us back,&rdquo; said Lenore Beyer-Clow, policy director for Openlands.</p><p>Friends of the Chicago River, which began as a project of Openlands, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/question-answered-what%E2%80%99s-bottom-chicago-river-102651">has championed the once neglected river</a> since it was a &ldquo;back alleyway full of sewage and trash,&rdquo; in the words of the new report. Mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel have both called attention to the resource, most recently <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-plans-extend-chicago-riverwalk-102965">when Emanuel announced a plan to expand the city&rsquo;s Riverwalk by six blocks</a>. But Margaret Frisbie, the group&rsquo;s executive director, said despite recent progress most people still don&rsquo;t appreciate the full benefits of investing in the river.</p><p>The report looked at four major completed or planned projects involving the river over the last 30 years: the deep tunnel stormwater project TARP; disinfection of wastewater at three area treatment plants; $500 million worth of green infrastructure investment citywide over 15 years; and $93 million in projects by the City of Chicago and Chicago Park District.</p><p>The benefits came in the form of additional business income, tax revenue and jobs, but also avoided flood damage and sewage treatment costs. Investing in the river boots property values along its shores, too.</p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/programs/afternoon-shift-steve-edwards/2012-05-31/33-wolf-point-development-fire-union-negotiations">Wolf Point</a> and River Point are among the high-profile riverside developments in the portfolio of real estate firm Hines Interests.</p><p>&ldquo;Why are we focused on real estate along the river?&rdquo; asked Greg Van Schaak, senior managing director for Hines. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s very simple: it&rsquo;s more valuable.&rdquo; Van Schaak said whereas rent in most towers varies by floor, buildings along the river retain the same value from the first floor through the fiftieth.</p><p>Van Schaak added that most of the major companies &mdash; Boeing, MillerCoors, BP &mdash; who recently opened offices in Chicago did so in riverfront buildings. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think that&rsquo;s an accident,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Money talks, but it&rsquo;s impossible to neatly quantify many of the benefits that natural systems provide. That may make it difficult to invest strategically even when all parties agree on the overarching value of a natural resource like the Chicago River.</p><p>&ldquo;There are all these ancillary benefits to green infrastructure that aren&rsquo;t quantified when you only look at economic returns,&rdquo; said Debra Shore, an MWRD commissioner. Environmental benefits like carbon sequestration, soil retention and fresh air are valuable too, Shore said, but don&rsquo;t yet appear on the ledger of an economic analysis.</p></p> Thu, 09 May 2013 15:57:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-05/report-drop-money-river-watch-it-float-back-107107 A push to stop wasting Lake Michigan water http://www.wbez.org/news/push-stop-wasting-lake-michigan-water-107046 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Water loss_130507_LW.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has proposed an update to the rules for diverting water from Lake Michigan. Northeast Illinois takes hundreds of millions of gallons of water out of the lake daily for municipal use and for diversion into the Chicago area waterway system, but a great deal of the diverted water actually escapes through leaky pipes.</p><p>&ldquo;We waste a lot of money pumping, treating, distributing water that never gets sold,&rdquo; said Josh Ellis of the non-profit Metropolitan Planning Council.</p><p>Ellis estimates that as much as 70 million gallons a day are lost to leaks in aging infrastructure across the region. That&rsquo;s the equivalent of a Willis Tower full of water every few days, a loss that may not be sustainable as the regional population grows or new municipalities in northeast Illinois move to using Lake Michigan water.</p><p>&ldquo;The time to start thinking and figuring out what needs to be done is now,&rdquo; said Daniel Injerd, the chief of Lake Michigan management for IDNR. &ldquo;We need, as an agency, to try to send a stronger message to communities to say it&rsquo;s really time to start looking at water loss.&rdquo;</p><p>IDNR is in charge of the permits for all Illinois entities who get water out of Lake Michigan, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, and for the first time since 1980, the agency is proposing a significant change to the permitting policy. Rather than allowing a certain amount of leakage based on the age of the pipes in a village, town, or city, the new permitting process would require municipalities to account for all their water -- or submit a detailed plan for how to update aging infrastructure. Injerd says more than half of the 215 agencies that now have water allocation permits would be in violation of the leakage limits under the new rule.</p><p>The revised water diversion rule also includes more strict limitations on sprinkler use and requirements for water-efficient plumbing in new construction. Finally, the proposed documents suggests, but does not require, that municipalities adjust the price of water to reflect the real cost of moving and treating water and of upgrading water infrastructure.</p><p>Ellis thinks the proposed changes should go even further.</p><p>&ldquo;Right now most water rate systems don&rsquo;t generate enough revenue to cover the full costs of providing water services,&rdquo; said Ellis. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re paying for the pipes, the pumps, the chemicals, the electricity...we feel that IDNR, through its permit conditions can prompt more municipalities to develop rate systems that generate enough revenue to pay for these things.&rdquo;</p><p>Short of raising prices or pulling from other revenue sources, right now municipalities have to seek out state loans to support infrastructure upgrades.</p><p>But Injerd says IDNR is not planning to impose requirements on water pricing.</p><p>&ldquo;Probably most of our permittees think that&rsquo;s not an area we need to delve into,&rdquo; said Injerd. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s really not our role as a state agency to set water rates. But I have no problem recommending that communities develop a water rate that represents the true cost of providing a water supply.&rdquo;</p><p>A 1967 Supreme Court decision limited Illinois&rsquo; water diversion from the lake, and it&rsquo;s the role of the DNR to see that what the state pulls out doesn&rsquo;t exceed that limit. A full quarter of the water diverted by Illinois is <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-announces-new-flood-control-project-some-say-plans-need-adapt-climate-change-106791" target="_blank">stormwater runoff</a> that would have been returned to Lake Michigan via the waterways before the Chicago River was engineered to flow out of the lake in 1900.</p><p>Public comment on the <a href="http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/WaterResources/Pages/LakeMichiganWaterAllocation.aspx" target="_blank">proposed water allocation rule change</a> is open through the end of May, and the Metropolitan Planning Council will be holding an <a href="http://www.metroplanning.org/news-events/event/219" target="_blank">event Tuesday May 8</a> to discuss Lake Michigan water loss.</p><p><em>Lewis Wallace is a Pritzker Journalism Fellow at WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants" target="_blank">@lewispants.</a></em></p></p> Tue, 07 May 2013 07:46:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/push-stop-wasting-lake-michigan-water-107046 Chicago-area waterways slated for a clean-up http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-area-waterways-slated-clean-105467 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/RS6847_038-scr.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Asked whether people might one day go for a swim in Chicago&#39;s Little Calumet River, environmental advocate Tom Shepherd snorted.</p><p>&ldquo;When I was a kid we used to jump in there,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;And we didn&rsquo;t know anything about what kind of dangers were lurking in there but we did nevertheless, and we came out all black and grimy.&rdquo;</p><p>Shepherd, who works with the Southeast Environmental Task Force, now knows as well as anyone that the Calumet waterways have been <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/grand-calumet-river-delivers-toxic-load-lake-michigan-105165" target="_blank">severely polluted for over a century</a> by a potent mix of toxic run-off from steel mills and sewage from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of the greater Chicago area. To this day, water flows from MWRD plants into the river without being disinfected to federal standards. An innocent kayaker who splashes water in her own face may be hit with a faceful of fecal bacteria.<iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F78819839&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>&ldquo;We have been advocating for disinfection for a long time,&rdquo; Shepherd said.</p><p>That disinfecting treatment is finally in sight. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced Monday that the state is giving $250 million in loans to the MWRD to help clean up Chicago-area waterways and replace aging infrastructure. More than half of the money will go to build facilities at the Calumet and O&rsquo;Brien treatment plants that take dangerous bacteria out of wastewater before it hits the Chicago or Calumet Rivers. Some of the funded projects will also help keep sewers from overflowing, which sends raw sewage into the waterways with relative frequency.</p><p>Quinn also touted the creation of 2,000 unionized jobs with the low-interest loans, which are a part of the <a href="http://www.epa.state.il.us/water/financial-assistance/publications/clean-water-initiative-fact-sheet.pdf" target="_blank">Illinois Clean Water Initiative</a>.</p><p>The shift towards cleaner rivers hasn&rsquo;t come easy. For years the <a href="http://gapersblock.com/mechanics/2012/10/31/metropolitan-water-reclamation-district/" target="_blank">publicly-elected MWRD commission</a> fought for the right to not clean up Chicago&rsquo;s waterways. After a prolonged legal struggle, in 2011 the MWRD announced it had reached an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to start better <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/water-distrct-curb-raw-sewage-discharges-94902">managing polluted storm runoff</a> and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/reversing-course-water-agency-backs-chicago-river-cleanup-87524" target="_blank">enforcing EPA standards</a>&nbsp;for water it releases from its plants.&nbsp;At that time the <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-06-02/health/ct-met-chicago-river-politics-20110601_1_chicago-river-epa-order-epa-plan" target="_blank">Chicago Tribune reported</a> that between 60 and 100 percent of the water in the Chicago River on a given day originated in a wastewater treatment plant and came out only partially treated. The numbers in the Little Calumet, Chicago&rsquo;s branch of the Calumet River, are similar.</p><p>Shepherd said he doesn&rsquo;t see swimmers getting in the Little Calumet any time soon, but boaters are already coming back.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s pretty exciting. This summer we&rsquo;re doing more paddling on the river, we&rsquo;re bringing recreation, we have a great trail that&rsquo;s being developed,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>With Governor Quinn&rsquo;s support, in 2011 the Southeast Environmental Task Force was involved with declaring a large area of heavily polluted wetlands near Lake Calumet a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago-expand-open-space-calumet-region-94780" target="_blank">future wildlife reserve</a>. At a press conference Monday, Quinn referenced the positive effects the water clean-up will have on that project, called the Millenium Reserve.</p><p>&ldquo;You have eagles who actually live here. How many urban areas in the whole United States have eagles?&rdquo; Quinn said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;ll be the largest conservation area in any urban environment in the whole United States, but in order to make it worthwhile, you&rsquo;ve gotta have clean water.&rdquo;</p><p>Shepherd, who has seen the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/nesting-bald-eagles-jeopardize-south-side-gun-range-96220" target="_blank">eagles nesting in the south side wetlands</a>, was hopeful about the clean-up efforts, but a little more reserved than Quinn.</p><p>&ldquo;Someday we may be able to fish out there,&rdquo; he said.</p></p> Mon, 11 Feb 2013 15:09:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-area-waterways-slated-clean-105467 What’s causing the record-low levels in Lake Michigan? http://www.wbez.org/news/what%E2%80%99s-causing-record-low-levels-lake-michigan-105262 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Lake Michigan ICE2_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Earlier this month <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/what-happens-if-water-lake-michigan-keeps-disappearing-104748" target="_blank">WBEZ reported</a> that Lake Michigan water levels are at a record low. Today the lake levels are still dropping, putting the livelihoods of shippers, boaters and whole coastal towns at risk.</p><p>That news is not getting old, either: As of Jan. 28, the lake was two inches below the previous record set in 1965 (down from just one inch in early January). It was more than five feet below the record high of 1987. A person of an average height can stand on dry land today in spots where 26 years ago she would have been up to her neck in water.</p><p>A <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/what-happens-if-water-lake-michigan-keeps-disappearing-104748" target="_blank">few commenters on this story</a> asked about the reasons for today&rsquo;s low levels in Lake Michigan. The short answer is that there is no short-term answer. Lake levels are subject to long-term fluctuations caused by weather and precipitation patterns.</p><p>The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tests the lake levels in all five Great Lakes daily, and they have <a href="http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/data/now/wlevels/levels.html" target="_blank">data on lake levels</a> going back to 1860. That data shows relatively consistent fluctuations of several feet of depth, usually over the space of a decade or more. In one instance, the water in Lake Michigan went up three whole feet in only three years (1926-1929). Between 1965 and 1987, the levels went up five feet. Now they&rsquo;re back down, but our environmental concerns are drastically different than they were fifty years ago. As Greg Buckley, the City Manager of Two Rivers, Wis. put it, &ldquo;In &lsquo;64 nobody talked about climate change.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>The big picture</strong></p><p>The Great Lakes shapes and sizes have been in flux since the lakes were formed over 10,000 years ago by receding glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age. As recently as 9,000 years ago, what is now Lake Michigan covered a much larger surface area, and drained out to the Mississippi River system through outlets to the south. What is now Chicago was completely submerged.</p><p>It took another five millenia for the waters to recede to more or less their current level, by which point the St. Lawrence River far to the east had become the lakes&rsquo; main outlet. Simultaneously, the land surrounding the newly-formed glacial lakes began to rebound; without the weight of the massive glaciers pushing it down, the Great Lakes basin landforms rise on their own at a rate of about three inches every hundred years. And <a href="http://www.great-lakes.net/teach/geog/lakeform/lf_1.html" target="_blank">according to the Great Lakes Information Network</a>, sometime in the last 10,000 years the lakes were a full five feet higher than any levels recorded by the U.S. government.</p><p>Glacial change is powerful - but it&rsquo;s slow. Neither a few inches per century of naturally rising lands nor five feet of lake level loss in 10,000 years compares to Lake Michigan&rsquo;s recent decline of five feet over less than 50 years.</p><p><strong>Bottled water is chump change</strong></p><p>Some have suggested that bottled water and municipal water use are draining the lakes.</p><p>&ldquo;Water withdrawals for drinking water, for bottled water, and for municipal use&hellip; are unlikely to be a significant factor in lowering lake levels,&rdquo; said Dr. David Allan, a professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Michigan (and co-creator of <a href="#video">a new Great Lakes mapping project</a>). &ldquo;If you look at it from a water budget perspective, inputs and outputs, the inputs in the form of precipitation and runoff, and the outputs in terms of evaporation and flow...those values just dwarf the water use of human activity. They&rsquo;re just a small fraction of the total water budget.&rdquo;</p><p>Many cities and towns that draw water from Lake Michigan end up returning that water, used and semi-sanitized, to the same water basin. And although a <a href="http://www.greatlakeslaw.org/blog/bottled_water/" target="_blank">controversial legal loophole</a> allows Great Lakes water to be bottled and sold, the lake water that&rsquo;s disappearing to China enclosed in Nestle company plastic is a fraction of Chicago&rsquo;s daily use alone. It&rsquo;s not enough to <a href="http://www.mouthfrog.com/features/aquafina-to-buy-drain-and-refill-lake-michigan-with-bottled-water" target="_blank">drain the lake</a> by a long shot.</p><p>But bottling and some municipal water uses are a net loss to the lake. Illinois is unique in that on the small Illinois slice of the coast, water is pumped out of Lake Michigan to give Chicago and surrounding suburbs showers, fire hydrants and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/tap-what%E2%80%99s-behind-taste-smell-our-water-105214" target="_blank">delicious drinking water</a>&nbsp;&ndash; but it doesn&rsquo;t return. After it&rsquo;s used once, that water drains out into the Chicago River system.</p><p>The Chicago River has a special relationship to Chicagoans&rsquo; consumption habits. It used to flow into Lake Michigan and return Chicago&rsquo;s runoff and sewage. But since 1900, when Chicagoans decided they didn&rsquo;t want to drink their own sewage, it&rsquo;s been <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2012-01-02/january-2-1900-reversing-chicago-river-95172" target="_blank">flowing the other way</a>, out into the Mississippi River system. Even though a federal court decision keeps a cap on Illinois&rsquo; <a href="http://greatlakesecho.org/2011/06/22/great-lakes-diversions-does-illinois-catch-a-break/" target="_blank">water diversion</a>, nearly 2 billion gallons a day leave Lake Michigan for a single use in the Chicago area and never trickle back down.</p><p>Despite that gargantuan-sounding number, Allan says the impact on overall water levels is tiny. After all, we&rsquo;re talking about 4 percent of the entire world&rsquo;s surface fresh water in Lake Michigan alone. That&rsquo;s 1,180 cubic miles of water. A cubic mile of water holds more than a trillion gallons.</p><p>So when it comes to drinking water, the concern for northeastern Illinois is not so much that the lake will run out, but that Illinoisans could hit that <a href="http://ecomythsalliance.org/2009/12/lake-michigan-is-so-big-that-chicago-can%E2%80%99t-run-out-of-water/" target="_blank">federal cap</a> as soon as the year 2030. That means Illinois is going to have to limit use, keep the groundwater in the area clean enough to drink, or <a href="http://www.chicagolandh2o.org/documents/lake-michigan.pdf" target="_blank">renegotiate the deal</a>.</p><p>Of course, <a href="http://lakemichiganacademy.org/news/stories/read/2011-05_are-the-great-lakes-losing-water-" target="_blank">scientists will continue to disagree</a> on how urgently coastal communities need to reduce their diversions.</p><p><strong>What we think we know</strong></p><p>There are a few factors most researchers can agree are affecting lake levels.</p><p>1. Precipitation. The lake&rsquo;s major sources of water replenishment are rivers and streams, runoff, and rain directly over the lake. The water basin is the whole area that drains into that lake, and the area of the Great Lakes water basin is about 295,200 square miles. Last year&rsquo;s massive drought meant reduced precipitation in many parts of the basin. And when water evaporates from Lake Michigan, the movement of weather systems generally dictates that it comes back down further to the East, raining on Ohio or New York. And of course, no water system is contained: at the far eastern end of the Great Lakes basin, water flows out of Lake Ontario, into the St. Lawrence River, and towards the Atlantic. Moisture that leaves here headed east is unlikely to make a quick return.</p><p>2. Surface temperature. The sun has an upper hand on any human attempts to control or extract water from the lake. Evaporation across the lake&rsquo;s broad surface is the most reliable cause of water loss. And after the hottest year ever in 2012, we&rsquo;re now experiencing the second consecutive warm winter in the region. Those combined factors mean the lake&rsquo;s surface temperature stays a little warmer, and when the sun shines down, the water disappears even more rapidly than usual. Nearly a foot of the water lost to Lake Michigan disappeared in the hot spell between 2011-2012.</p><p>3. Ice cover. It&rsquo;s probably obvious that ice cover on the lakes is the inverse of warm surface temperatures. And through the winter months it can serve as a protective layer against evaporation. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-07-13/climate-change-hits-mightiest-great-lakes-89058" target="_blank">Great Lakes ice cover </a>has declined 71 percent since 1973 due to rising temperatures.</p><p>4. Dredging in the St. Clair River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says Chicago&rsquo;s perpetual diversion of water out of the system via the Chicago River is more than offset by other diversions into the Great Lakes basin from the north. But they concur with researchers who say that further east, the deepening of the St. Clair River accounts for over a foot of permanent loss in Lakes Michigan and Huron. The St. Clair, which connects Lake Huron with Lake St. Clair near Detroit, has been dredged to <a href="http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/pubs/fulltext/1985/19850006.pdf" target="_blank">keep shipping channels open</a> since the mid-1800s. Lakes Erie and Ontario, which receive the flow diverted through the St. Clair, are not facing the <a href="http://www.lre.usace.army.mil/_kd/Items/actions.cfm?action=Show&amp;item_id=3887&amp;destination=ShowItem" target="_blank">same low water crisis</a>.</p><p><strong>Climate change, right?</strong></p><p>Is climate change causing the water to disappear? As Allan puts it, &ldquo;the answer is a decisive maybe.&rdquo;</p><p>Looking back at the loss of five feet of water over the last thirty years, he said, &ldquo;you&rsquo;d like to be able to say what fraction of that drop is due to climate change. And I don&rsquo;t know how one would do that.&rdquo;</p><p>But climate is the major factor in changing lake levels, so even if cause is immeasurable, a correlation between climate change and low water is hardly a stretch. Global temperatures are rising, the Great Lakes region is warming, the lakes are heating up, which means more evaporation and less ice cover.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a whole argument that says falling lake levels are consistent with climate change,&rdquo; Allan said. &ldquo;What I don&rsquo;t think we have the ability to do at the present time is say, &lsquo;our models tell us that lake levels should drop by x amount.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p><strong>The return of the glaciers</strong></p><p>What&rsquo;s left of the ancient glaciers is now <a href="http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/big-thaw/" target="_blank">melting away</a>, but this time the runoff isn&rsquo;t flowing into inland freshwater lakes. So as lake levels go down, the salty seas are rising. As in the lakes, a process that might have happened naturally over many thousands of years has been accelerating exponentially in recent decades.</p><p>A saltwater invasion threatens coastal crops and raises the likelihood of full-scale destruction of coastal communities by storms and flooding. Plus, rising sea waters threaten fresh-water aquifers along the ocean coasts, which makes the preservation of clean potable water like the Great Lakes all the more pressing.</p><p><strong>A master index of Great Lakes stressors</strong></p><p>Dr. Allan and a team of researchers at the Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project (GLEAM) recently launched<a href="http://www.greatlakesmapping.org/great_lake_stressors" target="_blank"> a website </a>that breaks down environmental stressors including temperature change, ice cover, and loss of precipitation into a series of individual maps and a total &ldquo;stress index&rdquo;. Check out this video for a guide to how to use the site.</p><p>&ldquo;I would caution people that the whole mapping tool is designed to be something of a 10,000 foot look at the Great Lakes,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;The data get fuzzier the more you zoom in. But you can certainly get a broad picture.&rdquo;</p><p>The stress index across most of Lake Michigan&rsquo;s coast on the GLEAM map is very high. For example, those wide beaches Chicagoans have enjoyed in recent summers also mean shallower water just off the coasts, which can cause a host of problems including increased presence of dangerous bacteria. So much for a summer of safe Lake Michigan swimming. Check out the site for more information, but before you go, watch our instructional guide.<a name="video"></a></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="323" mozallowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/58664399" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="500"></iframe></p></p> Thu, 31 Jan 2013 15:32:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/what%E2%80%99s-causing-record-low-levels-lake-michigan-105262 Scouring a Scarred Watershed http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/scouring-scarred-watershed-104916 <p><p><object height="465" width="620"><param name="flashvars" value="offsite=true&amp;lang=en-us&amp;page_show_url=%2Fphotos%2F34610267%40N05%2Fsets%2F72157632517519364%2Fshow%2F&amp;page_show_back_url=%2Fphotos%2F34610267%40N05%2Fsets%2F72157632517519364%2F&amp;set_id=72157632517519364&amp;jump_to=" /><param name="movie" value="http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=124956" /><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true" /><embed allowfullscreen="true" flashvars="offsite=true&amp;lang=en-us&amp;page_show_url=%2Fphotos%2F34610267%40N05%2Fsets%2F72157632517519364%2Fshow%2F&amp;page_show_back_url=%2Fphotos%2F34610267%40N05%2Fsets%2F72157632517519364%2F&amp;set_id=72157632517519364&amp;jump_to=" height="465" src="http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=124956" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620"></embed></object></p><p>Before development clogged up natural plumbing with impervious surfaces, every drop of rain that fell within the Chicago River watershed would seep slowly through the soil into the river. Now as much as <a href="http://www.examiner.com/article/cook-county-flooding-is-a-product-of-poor-planning">42 percent of Cook County</a> is covered with surfaces that do not absorb water, and instead channel it more directly into the river.</p><p>That runoff scores the landscape as it speeds through the watershed, carving out gashes in the soil over time. These gashes, called gullies, are like small ditches that let runoff water scrape away soil as they funnel it into the river.</p><p>John Quail, director of watershed planning for <a href="http://www.chicagoriver.org">Friends of the Chicago River</a>, explained Saturday to a group of volunteers how gullies encourage a vicious cycle of erosion. &ldquo;Topsoil is the currency of the forest,&rdquo; Quail said to the group he was training. Since fall, Friends of the Chicago River has recruited volunteers to become &ldquo;Gully Walkers.&rdquo;</p><p>In their effort to catalogue these scars and repair the ecosystem, Friends of the Chicago River has turned to crowd-sourcing. Gullies are a problem all over the Chicago River watershed, which comprises hundreds of square miles. The goal is to gather GPS data along at least 50 miles of the river. Once they know the size and locations of the gullies, they will dispatch volunteers to repair small ditches and call in contractors for the heavy lifting.</p><p>&ldquo;We talk about restoration, but we don&rsquo;t really mean it too literally,&rdquo; Quail said, leading the group through Edgebrook Woods on the city&rsquo;s far northwest side. &ldquo;That would mean turning the North Shore into a muddy swamp.&rdquo; Instead the term takes on a more general meaning: restoring nature to the urban environment. Before Chicago developed, the river meandered through a series of wetlands and marshes. Now it flows between concrete walls.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="(WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/gully-measuring-620px.jpg" title="" /></div><p>Volunteers measured the width and depth of several gullies Saturday, recording GPS data along the way. As they tracked the river downstream through the forest, they came to a hill topped with a parking lot. Standing water at the foot of the hill bled into a mat of shallow ditches &mdash; it was the source of the gullies. In the summer, Quail said, the runoff&#39;s path downhill would be more clear, appearing as chutes between the vegetation.&nbsp;</p><p>Whether volunteer efforts can keep pace with the growth of increased precipitation due to climate change or urban sprawl remains to be seen. The effects of negligent stormwater dumping are no drop in the bucket. In west suburban Theodore Stone Forest Preserve, stormwater dumped by a neighboring mall carved out a ditch so massive that volunteers have dubbed it &ldquo;Apathy Canyon.&rdquo;</p><p>A few years ago, Edgebrook Woods volunteers built a rain garden of native plants where a curb cut in the Forest Preserve&rsquo;s access road released stormwater into a field. After two 100-year storms hit in as many years, though, water began to pool up beyond the rain garden. So volunteers built another one. And another. Several years and four 100-year storms later, three rain gardens helped stabilize the flow of water off North Central Avenue.</p></p> Tue, 15 Jan 2013 06:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/scouring-scarred-watershed-104916 Drought could lead Chicago River to reverse course (again) http://www.wbez.org/news/drought-could-lead-chicago-river-reverse-course-again-104414 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/riverreverse.jpg" style="height: 169px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="Lieutenant Colonel Jim Schreiner with Senator Dick Durbin and John St. Pierre, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></div>The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced in early December that without much rain or snow this winter, the Chicago River could reverse course &ndash; for the second time.</div><p>&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Given the run-around</strong></p><p>In the year 1900, the city&#39;s civil engineers&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2012-01-02/january-2-1900-reversing-chicago-river-95172" target="_blank">reversed the flow of the Chicago River</a>, sending Lake Michigan water towards the Mississippi in a famously gutsy feat of engineering. As the city and its industries grew rapidly through the late 1800s, the amount of waste and contamination dumped into the river was threatening to make the lakefront unlivable and deprive Chicagoans of safe drinking water.</p><p>When the Chicago River flows in its natural direction, &quot;what you have is a great deal of, for lack of a better word, poo, going into the Great Lakes,&quot; said Henry Henderson of the Natural Resources Defense Council.</p><p>That&rsquo;s how we got the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which served the dual purposes of diverting dirty river water away from the lake, and connecting Lake Michigan &ndash; and therefore the entire Great Lakes water basin &ndash; to the Mississippi River water system for the first time, opening up the possibility of commercial navigation between the two. Needless to say many to the south weren&#39;t happy with the new arrangement, which Henderson has described as turning Lake Michigan into <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/henry-henderson/world-toilet-day_b_2171952.html?" target="_blank">&quot;the tank that flushes our waste thousands of miles away into the Gulf of Mexico.&quot;</a></p><p>The new connection between the two water systems has also had unforeseen consequences in the form of invasive species, and lately environmentalists and fishing interests to the north have been <a href="http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-07-12/un-reversing-chicago-river-88976" target="_blank">calling on the Army Corps to permanently close off the link</a> through the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) in order to prevent a full-fledged Asian carp invasion. That would also restore the river to its natural flow, and force Chicago to think differently about its water infrastructure and waste treatment.<iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F71626162&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><strong>Gravity Rules</strong></p><p>Waste treatment or not, the river might re-reverse on its own. After a long drought and one of the hottest summers ever, the water in Lake Michigan only has to go down six inches to sit below the level of the Chicago River. At that point, gravity would send the river back to where it came from.</p><p>Flowing into Lake Michigan with it: sewage runoff and only partially-treated human waste (<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/question-answered-what%E2%80%99s-bottom-chicago-river-102651">among other things</a>). The <a href="http://[http://www.wbez.org/story/feds-okay-chicago-river-cleanup-93801" target="_blank">Chicago River has been somewhat cleaned up in recent years</a>, but not enough to allow an uninterrupted flow back into the city&rsquo;s main source of drinking water and recreational beaches.</p><p>And those suspicious swim advisories you hear about in the summer? The Chicago Park District has warned they will happen more often if the river reverses.</p><p>&ldquo;Anytime you reverse the flow of the Chicago River, you want to monitor and ensure that there&rsquo;s no major impacts on water quality,&rdquo; said Lieutenant Colonel Jim Schreiner, Deputy Commander for the Chicago District Corps of Engineers. He said there are occasions when the Army Corps intentionally (re)-reverses the river to control flooding. All of this is manipulated by the Corps&rsquo; control over the Chicago Harbor Lock. The Army Corps is tasked both with supporting the massive shipping industry through the waterways and with helping control contamination, in partnership with the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/reversing-course-water-agency-backs-chicago-river-cleanup-87524" target="_blank">Metropolitan Water Reclamation District</a>.</p><p>If water levels hit the lowest projections, the Army Corps will regulate lake contamination by closing the locks at Chicago for longer periods. That would limit how often boats and barges pass between the two waterways. According to Lt. Schreiner, over 40-thousand vessels pass through the locks every year in about 11,500 lockages.</p><p>This strange scenario will only come to pass if the Army Corps&rsquo; lowest possible lake level projections for the winter come true; lake levels are almost always at their yearly low in late winter. If significant rain or snow hits the Michigan-Huron region in January or February, the water will still be unusually low, but it is unlikely to lead to a major change of course.</p></p> Mon, 17 Dec 2012 12:47:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/drought-could-lead-chicago-river-reverse-course-again-104414