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EPA OKs Tougher Standards for Chicago River

By Chris Bentley in News on Nov 7, 2011 7:20PM

Looking south along Bubbly Creek. (Chuck Sudo/Chicagoist)

If the Chicago River smelled a little less offensive than usual this morning, it’s probably a coincidence. But the Environmental Protection Agency approved new water quality standards proposed by Illinois for parts of five Chicago area waterways.

Today’s action makes the state’s new regulations fully effective under the federal Clean Water Act.

EPA Regional Administrator Susan Hedman cheered the new standards, which she said in a statement, “will help to further the transformation of the Chicago river system from sewage canal to valuable recreational and economic asset.”

That transformation can’t come soon enough for canoe and kayak enthusiasts who already brave the waterways’ murky reputation.

In May EPA demanded the city step up efforts to clean the North and South branches of the Chicago River, the North Shore Channel, the Cal-Sag Channel and the Little Calumet River.

The six-month turnaround on EPA’s warning was not easily navigable itself. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioners squabbled over funding the cleanup, but eventually dropped their long-standing argument against tougher water quality standards. MWRD agreed to disinfect sewage it dumps into the river system, to the applause of all but the staunchest advocates of fecal bacteria.