2020 Goal: Water quality plans for all river stretches

Forest Preserves of Cook County

The existing requirement that some parts of our rivers be safe enough for “primary contact” like paddling or swimming should be considered for all stretches of our rivers.

In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined that some stretches of the Calumet, Chicago and Des Plaines rivers should be clean enough for “primary contact.” That designation allows safe swimming, paddling, fishing and more.

“We need policy that brings consistency to our rivers' water quality standards for public use and habitat.”

—Lenore Beyer-Clow, Openlands; Great Rivers Chicago Resource Group

These stretches have defined uses that serve as water quality goals, and the improvements needed to meet those goals are spelled out. By 2020, infrastructure and programming to support those uses will follow suit, in compliance with Clean Water Act requirements. Moreover, this process of defining uses, habitat needs and water quality goals will be expanded to all sections of our rivers so that the entire system’s needs are understood. This includes the Grand Calumet River and Lake Calumet, Lower Des Plaines, Bubbly Creek and the Chicago River southwest of Ashland Avenue. As recreational uses and thus the possibility of human contact increase, and as native species begin to thrive once again, we must develop operations plans and make capital investments that ensure safe water quality.

Making it happen

  • Initiate a Use Attainability Analysis for all stretches of the Calumet, Chicago and Des Plaines.
  • Establish roles, responsibilities and resources necessary to ensure updated Use Attainability Analyses every three years moving forward, pursuant to Clean Water Act requirements.
  • Determine capital investment and operation needs to achieve attainable uses for currently unplanned river reaches.

Key players

MWRD, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Ill. Environmental Protection Agency, Ill. Dept. of Natural Resources, Ill. Pollution Control Board, Chicago Park District, Forest Preserves of Cook County, Friends of the Chicago River, Openlands, environmental advocates, suburban municipalities and park districts, fishing and paddling enthusiasts

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