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Continuing Drought Could Lead To Reversal Of Chicago River Flow

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The Chicago Lock separates the darker water of the Chicago River -- and the untreated sewage it carries -- from the lighter-colored water of Lake Michigan. (Credit: CBS)

The Chicago Lock separates the darker water of the Chicago River — and the untreated sewage it carries — from the lighter-colored water of Lake Michigan. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Chicago has set another weather record as the mild winter continues, and the latest record could cause some big problems for the Chicago River.

CBS 2’s Marissa Bailey reports the city has now gone 320 days without at least one inch of snowfall. In a new report, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said, if Chicago doesn’t get some significant rain or snow soon, there could be serious water flow issues in the Chicago River.

At the locks separating the river from Lake Michigan, the river usually sits about six inches lower than the lake.

However, due to the hot summer and the lack of rain or snow, water levels in the lake have started to level off with the river, and if the lake continues to drop, the river could reverse course and dump untreated sewage into the lake.

“If the lake level continues to drop, then there’s a point that can be a real concern,” said David St. Pierre, executive director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

If that happens, the Army Corps would have to limit contamination of the lake by closing the locks between the lake and river for longer periods of time, which would limit how often boats and barges could pass between the lake and river.

Roy Deda, an administrator for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the lake reached record low water levels in December.

The flow of the Chicago River is already an issue. Sewage in the river is usually swept upstream toward the Mississippi River, but much of it today bobs in the river at the cusp of the locks, just a few hundred feet from the lake.

One significant snow or rain event could change water levels. CBS 2’s weather department has predicted about an inch of rain from a storm system moving through the area on Thursday.

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