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PHOTOS: What Re-Reversing The Chicago River's Flow Does To Lake Michigan

By Chuck Sudo in News on Apr 19, 2013 7:40PM

Yesterday we told you about the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District "re-reversing" the flow of the Chicago River back into Lake Michigan in an attempt to alleviate the flooding affecting homes along the river's north branch. Lloyd DeGrane of the Alliance for the Great Lakes granted Chicagoist permission to run these photos showing what happens whenever MWRD has to do this — untreated effluvia is pumped directly into Lake Michigan.

As we wrote yesterday, the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was built over a century ago to reverse the flow of the Chicago River so that stormwater and sewage doesn't flow into Lake Michigan. But it isn't a foolproof system, by any means. The ongoing construction of the Deep Tunnel system is also designed to keep sewage and tainted stormwaters away from Lake Michigan. But when all 109 miles of Deep Tunnel fill up with stormwater and the river flows over its banks and onto the streets, MWRD opens the locks that keep the river from flowing into Lake Michigan and we get poo water surrounding the lakes boat slips and the tourist destination of Navy Pier.

Yesterday wasn't an isolated incident. As the National Resources Defense Council notes, the locks separating the river from Lake Michigan are opened with more frequency as storms like Thursday's become more common. Tom, LaPorte believes these storms are a result of climate change. Here's what he told Medill News Service.

"This is a new kind of storm associated with climate change. It's been around for five or six years. Other storms are rather local, but in this case the entire region got really walled.”

Illinois State climatologist Jim Angel also told Medill climate change is a factor, but another is modern building materials.

“The big challenge for any big city is that we have large areas of concrete, rooftops. It’s really hard for water to soak in,” he said. “It seems like there’s always more of a risk in an urban area.”