Tales from the Trail

Chicago River is plenty clean, Mayor Daley says

June 2, 2010

Chicago river photo2Photo Credit: REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

Upset that the federal government instructed Chicago to clean up its namesake river to make the water swimmable, Mayor Richard Daley suggested Washington attend to the Potomac River and leave him alone.

“Go swim in the Potomac,” Daley told reporters when asked about the letter from the Environmental Protection Agency addressing the condition of the Chicago River. “We’re trying to make this river every day more cleanable.”

The mayor was just warming up.

“They send letters all the time. They should get down to BP and start saving the people down in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama — all their lives and their livelihood — instead of sending us letters,” Daley said.

“The (Chicago) River’s been cleaner and cleaner every year,” he added.

A century ago, engineers reversed the flow of the river to direct the city’s filthy sewage away from Lake Michigan, the source of the city’s potable water.  The river has since been rerouted, hemmed in, and used as repository for untreated run-off during heavy rains.

But the river has also become a desirable backdrop for real estate developers,  is popular among boaters and  home to dozens of varieties of fish and birds.

Still, it is the only urban waterway in the United States receiving treated water not to be disinfected, making it unfit for a dip. It would cost millions of dollars to disinfect the river, experts have said.

(Additional reporting by Karen Pierog)

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