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EPA to Chicago: Clean Up Your River

By Prescott Carlson in News on May 12, 2011 6:30PM

Photo by swanksalot

The disgusting nature of the Chicago River is legendary -- after all, at one point the city had to reverse the thing so we could send all of our (literal) shit downstate instead of into Lake Michigan. The river hasn't been safe for man or beast since before the Cubs won their last World Series, and when we see people rolling their kayaks in the river we just want to throw down a big bottle of penicillin and wish them a painless demise.

While outgoing Mayor Daley, to his credit, has made efforts to "make this river every day more cleanable," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency thinks Chicago's efforts aren't going far enough. Last June, the Obama administration and the EPA sent a letter to Illinois officials suggesting the river be made safe enough to swim in to comply with the federal Clean Water Act. EPA chief Linda Holst at the time said, "We might not be able to attain these standards now, but we need to look toward the future and what is possible."

Apparently that future is now -- the EPA on Wednesday sent out a press release stating that it has ordered the State of Illinois to begin upgrading measures to clean up both the Chicago and Calumet Rivers, and U.S. EPA Regional Administrator Susan Hedman seems to imply Daley put the cart before the horse with his "beautification projects," saying, "A decade of investments in walkways, boat ramps and parks has provided people with access to the water -- and now we need to make sure that water is safe."

If the Illinois Pollution Control Board does not take any action to improve water quality in the Chicago River, the North Shore Channel, the Cal-Sag Channel and the Little Calumet River, the EPA will step in and do it themselves and send the city and state the bill that will likely contain some hefty fines.

"The Chicago and Calumet Rivers are incredibly valuable resources to area residents and visitors, and clean water is vital to people's health and local economy," said acting Assistant Administrator Nancy Stoner. "Restoring and protecting urban waterways is a priority for EPA because it revitalizes communities, boosts local businesses, and creates jobs and a healthier environment for people."

The EPA demand comes at a bad time for the city and state which are both tremendously strapped for cash. The Chicago Tribune reports that the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District is estimating that the cleanup will cost up to $1 billion, although the EPA estimates it would only cost a quarter of that amount -- it obviously neglected to add in the city's Friends and Family Tax.