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EPA Approves Plan To Clean Up Chicago River

The Chicago River (CBS)

The Chicago River (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Plans are in the works to clean up the Chicago River and its connected waterways, following an order by federal authorities.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Marsett reports, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given its approval to the revised water quality standards for the rivers set up by the State of Illinois, the Chicago Tribune reported.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Marsett reports

In May, the EPA demanded that parts of the river be clean enough for “recreation in and on the water,” which means activities from swimming to canoeing. The order applies to all three branches of the Chicago River, as well as the North Shore Channel, the Cal-Sag Channel and the Little Calumet River.

Around the same time, the Chicago River also made the “America’s Most Endangered Rivers” list from the conservation group American Rivers, which called the river a “health threat.”

But estimates put the cleanup cost at $425 million, which will likely mean higher sewer bills in Chicago and suburban Cook County, where such bills are among the nation’s lowest, according to published reports.

The Chicago River system runs 156 miles, and is the waterway that first drew explorers to the area. French explorers Louis Jolliet and the Rev. Jacques Marquette explored the Chicago River in 1673, and Jean-Baptiste Point du Sable, the first permanent settler in Chicago, set up his farm on the north banks of the river in the 1780s.

But for longer than anyone has been alive today, the river has been associated with sewage and stink. In 1900, the Sanitary District of Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago River, after sewage emptying into Lake Michigan from the river’s main branch caused a public health crisis.

For most of the century afterward, the river was widely regarded as dirty and stinky, but beautification efforts have improved some parts of the river in the past 20 years.

Chicago is the only major city in the United States that does not disinfect human and industrial waste in the sewers before it ends up in the waterways, according to published reports.