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Sanitary And Ship Canal Named To Register Of Historic Places

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(credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago waterway that made it possible to reverse the flow of the Chicago River has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports, the addition of the canal to the National Register was announced Friday by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports

Construction of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal began in 1892.

Eight years later, the main 28-mile portion of the canal opened between the South Branch of the Chicago River and Lockport. On May 2, 1900, Adm. George Dewey came to dedicate the canal, two years after his acclaimed victory in Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War.

In 1907, the canal was extended further from Lockport to Joliet, and a navigation lock was built to account for the 36-foot difference in elevation between the two towns, the Encyclopedia of Chicago recalled.

Ultimately, the canal links the Great Lakes with the Mississippi River basin.

Chicagoans were clamoring for the canal before construction began, as the sewage-tainted river was sending wastewater into the canal and leading to typhoid fever and cholera. While the story that 90,000 people died of cholera in Chicago in 1885 is a myth, the problem was serious enough that action was needed.

But residents of St. Louis were none too happy about that idea. The Chicago History Museum says St. Louis threatened to sue to keep the canal from opening, because they did not want Chicago wastewater flowing through St. Louis.

Chicago, though, beat St. Louis to the punch – allowing water into the canal ahead of schedule and ahead of the Missouri lawsuit.

Today, the Sanitary and Ship Canal is under attack again, this time because of the threat of the reviled Asian carp.

In 2009, several other states that bordered the Great Lakes sued unsuccessfully in an effort to force the closure of the canal.

Following the failed lawsuit, attorneys general from six states – Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania – issued a letter asking colleagues along the Mississippi River to encourage the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close the canal voluntarily.

More recently, two environmentalist groups – the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative – said the canal must be closed to keep the voracious fish from entering the Great Lakes and damaging the ecosystem.

Currently, electronic barriers are in place on the Sanitary and Ship Canal to keep the Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

So far, although Asian carp DNA has been found in Lake Michigan, only one actual Asian carp has been found on the lake side of the electronic barriers to date, in Lake Calumet.

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