10:30 AM - 11:30 AM
19 October 2023

Reversal of the River

Integrated Systems

In 1900 construction of the Sanitary and Ship Canal was completed by the Sanitary District of Chicago (now the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago) which allowed the waters of Lake Michigan to flow out of the Lake Michigan watershed, pass through a subcontinental divide and then into the Mississippi River watershed via the DesPlaines River. This rearrangement of the drainage pattern of northeast Illinois was controversial during its construction in the 1890’s and remains so today.  The reversal of the Chicago River immediately led to litigation after it went into service and has been the subject of a United States Supreme Court Decision (Wisconsin vs. Illinois) that regulates the amount of water that the State of Illinois can divert from Lake Michigan. Additionally, there is the ongoing pollution of the waters of the DesPlaines and Illinois Rivers and the potential for the passage of invasive species such as the Asian Carp into Lake Michigan. The original concept of the Sanitary and Ship Canal was to provide an outlet for sewage from the growing Chicago area and protect the waters of Lake Michigan, the source of the city’s potable water.

Nearly 125 years later, the construction and operation of the Sanitary and Ship Canal remains a source of debate. This presentation discusses some of the impacts of a monumental civil engineering project constructed before environmental implications were considered.